These ‘Ninja Turtles’ are belly up
I’m not convinced Megan Fox is a bad actress. I’m not convinced she’s a good one either. She’s never been given much to do aside from scream and run in slow motion. I can’t think of another actor, outside motion capture, who’s spent as much time opposite green screens and cars and so little time opposite other actors.
For that tough job alone, she’s got my respect. Unfortunately, as reporter April O’Neil, she’s the only part of the rebooted “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” that does. If you’re sitting down to see a story about four 6-foot tall, walking, talking, sewer-dwelling turtles who use their ninja skills to combat a crime wave in New York City, you’re probably there for cartoon action and zingy one-liners. “TMNT” will get to these, but not before bending over backwards to create a murky origin story about how O’Neil and the Turtles are connected since childhood by a mystery surrounding her researcher father.
Coming out the week after “Guardians of the Galaxy,” which gets its origin story out of the way in a few minutes so it can jump into the action when everyone’s already blasting away at each other, “TMNT” feels especially old-fashioned in its tedious obsession with origins. We’re told the Turtles’ origins in an opening animation, again by the Turtles themselves, a third time by O’Neil herself, once more by their ninja master (a mutant rat named Splinter), and finally by the villain’s billionaire accomplice. Perhaps they think if they repeat it often enough, we’ll forget the laboratory-based origin story is lifted wholesale from “The Amazing Spider-Man.”
The action itself is a mixed bag. Early fights are filmed in so many shadow and strobe effects, and cut so quickly, you can’t tell what’s happening. An all-out battle in the sewer waffles between tracking shots where you can’t distinguish what’s happening to whom, and slow-motion shots that are actually very well orchestrated. It’s annoying to switch back and forth between seeing things clearly and being in the dark every other second. Later action, including a clever mountainside chase and a rooftop fight scene, fix these problems with brighter lighting and more slow-motion.
The big bad in “TMNT” is a ninja named Shredder, whose evil plan is the lousiest I’ve seen in two years, three months, and three weeks. How can I be so exact? I looked up when “The Amazing Spider-Man” was released, because the climax of “TMNT” steals it beat for beat, detail for detail. Are you noticing a pattern?
It’s one thing to deliver an underwhelming film, it’s another to steal large chunks of someone else’s movie and pass it off as somehow original. I’m sure enough details are changed to avoid a lawsuit, but this is as egregious a job of legal plagiarism as I’ve ever seen. More importantly for the viewer, the laziness shows in the final product.
The visual effects are passable. The Turtles look pretty good and Shredder, for all intents and purposes, is a mini-Transformer. There’s energy to the action when you can tell what’s happening. Splinter is a complete disaster, however, looking like someone left a giant, rubber Halloween mask out in the sun so long it’s half-melted and doesn’t fit right. I don’t know what they were thinking.
Fox herself is wasted. Her strength has always been as the comedic “straight man.” She can look a babbling Shia LaBeouf or a raving John Turturro or a giant, mechanical alien in the eye and deliver a measured reaction. She doesn’t create the comic beats so much as she makes sure the foundation under them is stable. Giving her world-renowned comedians, like Whoopi Goldberg (“The View”) as her editor and Will Arnett (“Arrested Development”) as her cameraman, is actually a very good idea. They’ve been baptized by the fire of live crowds and sitcom production schedules ... so it’s not just a bad idea to make them the unfunny straight men to Fox’s comedic stylings, it’s downright disastrous. At least the Turtles themselves, particularly Michelangelo (Noel Fisher) are pretty funny.
Like I said, I don’t blame Fox (or any of the other actors) for how bad this film turned out. I blame the writers and filmmakers, especially for how blatantly (and badly) they ripped off a two-year-old Spiderman movie. To make matters worse, the whole effort is drowning in some of the worst hidden product placement I’ve seen. You’ll be yearning for subliminal advertising by the end of this.
0 out of 4 stars. Trust me, go see “Guardians of the Galaxy” instead. If you’ve already seen “Guardians of the Galaxy,” then you’re probably planning to see it again anyway. Stick with that choice. “TMNT” is rated PG-13 for violence.
Gabe Valdez grew up in Chicago, went to college in Massachusetts, is a former news reporter in Floresville, Texas, and worked in politics in Oregon. He writes and directs films when he can find the time. Reviews, views, photos and more can be found at http://basilmarinerchase.wordpress.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.