I saw the new “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” movie at its first matinee screening today. The theater was full of families and kids with most in the back than there were in the front. Some kids even came dressed as the Turtles which was far more amusing than what I would later see. For once, I never questioned what kids would be thinking when they see a movie like this. I’ve had families come in during “Wreck It Ralph” and “Frozen” with the typical reaction. They would gaze at the screen and marvel at the environment in front of them. But for this movie, I wondered how much this would really impact them. Not just fans of the old but for ages 4 to 8 who would be seeing this for the first time.
The story, that is if you call it a story, is a retelling of the origin while meandering weightlessly among plot elements. First is April O ‘Neil who is searching for the next big scoop and will do anything to convince her boss (Whoopi Goldberg) that her tracking of the Foot Clan is more interesting than spring workouts. Its not long till we see these mysterious vigilantes who turn out to be turtles she knew as a kid that were under experimentation. The results are 6-foot tall, walking, talking, teenage influenced amphibians that act like they know more about the Ghetto side of New York and less about the ways of Ninjitsu. Their motion capture designs are creepy and by far frightening to the point where I feel kids might have nightmares instead of adoring these creatures. These hulking bound turtles feel too beefy and talk like they are from the South part of Jersey Shore. I understand they are mutated but there is nothing remarkably astounding or good about the creature design. Its way too creepy for kids and even might unsettle some adults. Even the Turtles as a whole feel greatly hollow as all they do is argue a lot and just plain fight. There was more personality in the past versions then there is here.
And then, there is Splinter who looks more like a naked mole rat and less of a common rodent with Fu Manchu beard and mustache. We don’t see much of him to even give two cents about his fatherly connection to the Turtles. He is just there because it wouldn’t be “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” without Splinter. Same goes for Shredder who has an OK set up as a human but for the remainder of the movie is confined to a robotic suit with assorted knives at the ready. I’ve seen a Swiss army knife pack more punch than this one. It felt way too close to the Silver Samurai from last year’s The Wolverine and his menace I’m sure will stir up some nightmare fuel or make some adults question if they are watching a Transformers clone. It shouldn’t surprise them seeing it is produced by Micheal Bay and financed by his studio, Platinum Dunes.
The real villain of the movie is an evil scientist played by William Fichtner who plans to use the blood of the Turtles to create a deadly toxin to poison the air of New York City. I don’t remember the motive behind this and if there was one, I’m sure it was uninspired much like this film. A few years ago, we got Curt Conners in The Amazing Spider-Man planning to mutate New Yorkers into lizard like beings. Its sad when a similar idea makes more sense in a different film. But even The Amazing Spider-Man showed risk as the people started to alter where else in Turtles the whole thing works as a ticking time bomb. And once they defuse it, there really is no reason to keep the movie going on.
I questioned the generic writing of this movie as April is placed as this Lois Lane kind of reporter trying to get a big scoop but there were times when I felt she was just plain dumb. She tries to get proof of a story at the wrong time like being held hostage or during an avalanche where she could possibly die. Bust most confusing is one scene where she tries to prove her boss of the Turtles and shows video of her as a kid feeding the specimens pizza. Later she runs into her cameraman (Will Arnett) and shows instead an image she took on her phone of the Turtles bouncing off the rooftops. Logically, I would have shown the picture as opposed to the cutesy video. And as much as they make a straight character out of her, she still comes off as feeling useless and dumb aside from the climax but even then I lost interest.
This new Turtles movie is directed by Jonathan Liebesman who has collaborated with Micheal Bay before and his directing style adds a lot of confusing to the table. The movie is being released by Paramount and Nickelodeon Movies because of its idea of teenage turtles running about and fighting crime is suitable for kids. But a good bulk of the movie feels filmed and executed like a horror movie to the point it feels like one.Odd enough seeing Liebesman did Wraith of the Titans and the awful “Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning.” The color pallet and cinematography is really gritty and dark resorting to heavy dark colors as opposed to brightening up with comic book-like color pallet. There’s a lot of shaky camera in scenes that are not needed and even the sound mixing feels uncomfortable with sounds of scraping knives and hinted implements that gives a more uncomfortable vibe than imaged.
I went in with an open mind brushing off the negative reviews thinking it wasn’t going to be that bad but unfortunately,its no “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” case here. This reboot clearly doesn’t know what it wants to be with a concept that could work as a family summer blockbuster but yet its harsh environment and mean tone will probably turn parents away for an alternative (Guardians of the Galaxy? How to Train Your Dragon 2?… anyone?). And then there is the other crowd who will either accept it for what it is or just compare it so close to the previous incarnations to the point it will feel like nothing but a hollow shell at an attempt to introduce something to the new generation and fails in execution.
Nothing about this movie is pure fun or feels like fun. And even through parents complained about the level of violence in the 1990 film, that is far tame compared to the movies we get today. The fight scenes and dramatic tension are so intense that I feel it will way too much for little kids roughly infant age to maybe 8 or 9. There were at least six instances where my showing had crying kids and that is something to expect but not a single kid in the audience felt like they were really into it. Some quietly gabbed on while others sat there and didn’t know what to make of it. Thus, I urge parents that if you reading this that this incarnation of “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” is not for you. Its boring, dull and has some unintentional moments of fright that might give kids nightmares. Even more questionable is the turtle Michelangelo who keeps hitting on April as a means to try and romance her. You heard me right! A lab turtle she treated as a pet is now trying to played Romeo on her. If that doesn’t spell out how creepy and unsettling this movie is, by all means wait for it to become a rental and you’ll see what I mean. Overall, if your looking for a fun summer blockbuster that is full of action and vibrant color, this entry is not what you are looking for. Flush it down the sewer and hopefully it will mutate into a better movie.