Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles ~ 2014, Johnathan Liebsman, USA
When I went to see Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, I knew that it was going to be terrible… But the fact is, I could never be prepared for it to suck this badly, or in this way. I’m not even sure I can voice this clearly, but let’s give it a shot…
To be clear, I was among the many, many jaded former fans who were repulsed by early screen shots of the new Ninja Turtles, given that they are so damn hideous, but honestly, we have bigger problems. If the worst thing this movie had in it were lips and nostrils and an over the top pile of knives called “The Shredder,” I would have felt way better walking out of that theater. Now, after seeing the movie, I could not care less how the Turtles look. Who, to put it plainly, gives a shit? Did you see that film?! Don’t. If I listed what was wrong with this movie, the Turtle’s redesign wouldn’t even crack the top 5,000 flaws hammered into your brain and soul throughout the unmercifully lengthy run time of this satanic hog-orgy. I’ve already decided I was going to use much more R rated language to describe this, I can’t feel like I’ve been honest if I keep this PG-13.
So, the first thing wrong here is that this is, more than probably, the least engaging movie I have ever sat through. Is a Michael Bay movie funny? No, no it isn’t, but you at least can see and understand where the “jokes” are. Typically, these movies are made to be very bland, very universal, and very unobjectionable, so you get the same kind of humor that you might hear at a family reunion. No, it’s not really funny, but the jokes are easily spotted and if you don’t have a bad attitude you can understand why other people are laughing, and maybe even fake it yourself. That’s not happening here. From the beginning, I found myself confused by how flat, dis-interesting, unngaging and bland (even for this kind of film) the language, characterization and humor was. This isn’t a Michael Bay movie, it’s a Johnathan Liebsman movie, which is basically Michael Bay Jr… And you can feel it. This is what happens when you accept something so profoundly lackluster and insulting as Michael Bay, eventually they even water THAT down, and you get THIS. The writing is just embarrassing.
DEVIL’S ADVOCATE: Let’s try to help this movie… SOMETIMES the Turtles are funny enough. Everything else isn’t even one dimensional. Is zero dimensional even a thing? I feel like this proves that it can be, under extreme circumstances.
About the Turtles… Remember the turtles of yesteryear? Well, forget them, because evidently they were too boring, so they’re gone. These are basically The Hulk, with a shell. They’re fucking bullet proof. “Only their shells are bullet proof!” So? Nobody seems to be able to hit the rest of their bodies, so in effect, bullet proof. Also, they have super strength. Why? Because clearly that’s the only way a movie can be entertaining. Remember when you’ve seen entertaining movies before and the characters weren’t super strong, or bullet proof, or eight foot tall monsters? Michel Bay doesn’t remember that, not at all. The degree of scrutiny applied to this movie’s script while in development had to be bellow kindergarten level. What is a table read like when Michael Bay is your producer? I imagine he stands the entire time, guzzling vitamin supplements, ceaselessly curling a ten pound weight and shouting things like “AWW, TIGHT, BRA, THAT’S HELLA FUNNY.” Also, he’s probably chewing gum and is definitely not paying attention. America is an overly-medicated society, but Michael Bay proves that adult attention deficit disorder is a real thing.
Here’s an interesting point we should talk about- at a time when a black Captain America, a black Flash, and a female Thor are making headlines, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles seems to be trying deliberately to go the other way. This movie is WHITE. It feels like they wanted as few non-whites in it as possible. Two asians, no ninjas, anything non-Caucasian is limited to only the minimum allowable number of token minorities. The Foot Clan you know and love from prior Ninja Turtle adventures is now just a terrorist group, they carry guns and have no idea what the hell karate is. Splinter is now Tony Shalhoub, definitely not Japanese, and he learned the martial arts from a book he found in the trash, and then he taught the turtles. Here, go find a “teach yourself kung-fu” book and try to teach yourself. Then, challenge a traditionally taught martial arts novice- just make sure your will is in order beforehand because he/she is going to stomp the shit out of you so hard you will actually disappear from the memory of the universe, you will simply cease to be, because the idea that you can train yourself and others from a book with absolutely no instruction and then possess any level of proficiency is so stupid that I am insulted it was even considered for inclusion here.
AND THE SHREDDER…. The entire movie, Shredder is such an afterthought, he amounts to nothing more than a thug, and absolutely not the film’s real villain. The really bad guy in this movie is Eric Sacks, played by William Fichtner. Throughout the movie, I constantly felt like some secret regarding The Shredder was only moments away from being revealed, but then it never happened, Shredder is never adequately explored, and his role and inclusion feels murky and unfinished. In fact, the movie clearly seems to be heading for the reveal that Eric Sacks is in fact The Shredder, but it then establishes that he isn’t. The truth is that there is more going on here than the uniformed might think, and this ties into my point above about a lack of diversity. I guarantee, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that initially, William Fichtner’s character Eric Sacks WAS going to end up being The Shredder. Part of how I know this, is because in early interviews, multiple cast and crew members, Fichtner himself among them, it was confirmed that William Fichtner WAS The Shredder. “Eric Sacks” even sounds like an appropriately Anglo-Saxonized version of “Oroku Saki,” the Shredder’s name in traditional Ninja Turtles cannon. However, after this word came out, fan backlash kicked in, mostly to the tune of “Wait, the Shredder is some white guy? Why? Why are there no Asians in your damn karate movie, Michael Bay?!” Shortly after this, reshoots commence, and suddenly, William Fichtner isn’t the Shredder anymore, and instead there is a super tacked on, badly smoothed out Shredder character crammed into the film, and the hope is that we just buy it and don’t notice. Nice try, Michael Bay, but not everybody can be a white guy.
Maybe the worst part of this shit show is Megan Fox’s April O’Neil. Now, Megan Fox isn’t a great actor, but the problems we have here are not her fault- this comes right down to the writers. April O’Neil is the central character in this film, and there is a predictably generic “it’s a small world” attempt to tie her in to the Turtles origins by placing her in the laboratory where they (and the newly white Splinter) were created, by her father, when she was a child. That would MAYBE fly, if the movie didn’t also want her to be a sleuthy, gum-shoe style reporter who would constantly work to unravel the mystery of who, what, and how these mysterious turtles could possibly exist. The key to a good mystery isn’t having your detective slowly piece together “Oh, yeah, I remember now, it was because of me!” It just can’t be both. April O’Neil can’t logically be involved in the way that she was with the turtles origin and still constantly struggle to piece together the very origin she was a part of, it’s just not good writing. Even worse, after she remembers, she just forgets again and Splinter has to re-explain what she just pieced together. Basically, the Megan Fox April O’Neil has a severe learning disability. That’s the only way her character’s actions makes any kind of sense at all.
So, there is, out there, a desire to just be happy and enjoy this movie, and this is wrong. If you want to argue with the overwhelmingly negative critical consensus that this movie is horse shit incarnate, then you’re wrong, and you should feel deep, deep shame. Let’s look at some of these arguments:
- It’s a Kid’s Movie! : So what?! I’ve seen kid’s movies before, they don’t have to suck like this. That is not an excuse for this sham.
- “I just want to enjoy my Ninja Turtles!” : Hey, bud, I liked the Ninja Turtles too, but it’s not enough for something to just be called The Ninja Turtles. It also has to NOT suck really hard. Here, do you like Spaghetti? If I feed you vomit and garbage but it’s called Spaghetti, are you going to get mad at people who act like your “spaghetti” is gross? Logic doesn’t follow, friend, you’re eating garbage and vomit. That’s what this movie is.
- “You’re just mad because it’s different!” : Yes, exactly, I’m mad because it’s different in one key way, before, it wasn’t really, really, really horrible, and now it is. That’s a change that I do not support.
- The old Ninja Turtles was dumb, too!: It wasn’t this dumb, and you know it. We all know it.
I’m just sick to my stomach thinking about this.