Nostalgia will face-off against a once obscure set of oddball rebels this week in theaters when the Michael Bay produced Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles takes on the current box-office champ Guardians of the Galaxy. Star-Lord may have conquered ticket sales and theatre seats with his unknown team of misfits, but now he is head-to-head with a very recognizable and profitable brand of heroes that have found success with merchandizing, previous cinematic endeavors, television shows and brand placement for years. However, don’t be quick to count Marvel out, especially when it’s film is a much more concentrated picture dedicated to story, visual effects, character development and star-making performances–all the things lacking in this newest adaptation of the Turtles.
For many people born into Generation-X, the Ninja Turtles have a special place in our hearts and memories growing up as kids. Dressing up like the turtles in our youth (or even in adulthood), always arguing which turtle was the best and declaring our favourites, the Ninja Turtles are considered a prominent part of many of our childhood’s cartoon memories. Like anything else, however, quantity may not always precede quality, even if the memories may well be better than the present. While the newest film adaptation of Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird’s beloved comic book characters get a contemporary vision, the Turtles get a good taste of twenty-first century overkill; between the unnecessary 3D format, a heavy-handed visual effects cluster that at times shreds the screen rather than gracefully transcends images, and its fair share of negative controversy over the last few years, the Ninja Turtles sure need some tough skin to come out on top in order for them to be declared a clear success story.
Between ramblings that the title of the film was going to be named only “Ninja Turtles”, to an origin story that finds itself lost in the depths of space (as do the main characters), to a returning Megan Fox, whose tarnished relationship with producer Michael Bay brought an onslaught of questions after ejecting her from his career-changing Transformers series, the newest Turtles may have been, at times, pressured to hide in their shells. Yet, with the direction of go-to Hollywood pushover Jonathan Liebesman and powerhouse producer Bay, even after criticism of the first trailer showed that the Turtles may have needed a nose job, the film entertains despite its poor constructive history. And even though our favourite four Turtles are named after artists of the Renaissance, the story could easily be one from that era as well.
I won’t lie, I was the first one in line to buy tickets to the new TMNT, but didn’t have high expectations, especially since the film was more of a punch-line than it was ever considered a serious summer contender. Despite all this, the film still brought its fair share of “woahs”, “ahhs”, and most importantly, laughs.
Light on any real narrative, the film provides a nicely put together origin story that ties the creation of our favourite band of green-superheroes with original characters in the comics, as well as new characters made directly for the screen. Taking cues from many superhero films before it, the band of brothers must join together to take down Master Shredder (Tohoru Masamune) before he consumes New York City.
Other than Bay, one of the biggest problems with the film is that it never really establishes the identity of any of the actors playing the good guys, nor does it give them any spotlight. The body actors and voice actors of many of the main characters, including the Turtles, are never given their due justice. Leonardo (played by Pete Ploszek but voiced by Jackass alum Johnny Knoxville), Michelangelo (played and voiced by Noel Fisher), Raphael (Alan Ritchson), and Donatello (Jeremy Howard), along with their noble Sensei Splinter (played by Danny Woodburn but voiced by Tony Shalhoub) seem to be mixed in a blended spectacle of martial arts effects faced only by not so funny man Will Arnett and the once iconic Megan Fox. Like any job, tasks need to be done, goals accomplished and work done properly, and Fox can rest assured that she never progresses the characters of April O’Neil, but at least she defied and got in the good books of one of the most explosive producers working. Plus, she isn’t bad to look at on screen, which will make fanboys really happy as throughout the film, she is explicitly the butt end of all the gorgeous women jokes of the film.
At times foamy and most of the time frothy, the Turtles are given a personality change for a new generation. If you know anything about the personalities of the Turtles from the past, you can always count on Bay to offer the most stereotypical versions of cherished childhood characters. Donatello, the brains of the four, is seen sporting gigantic glasses and a nerdy backpack throughout the film. Leonardo, the leader of the pack, is never short of speeches and guilt. Raphael is the certified badass of the clan, a true independent brute who defies his brothers and master and is the only turtle to face Shredder “Turtle-a-Mano”. Michelangelo may very well be the best written character of the film given his perfect comedic relief as well as timely moments of comedic gold mixed with a dash of immediate action (keep a watchful eye out for the ingeniously comical elevator scene).
Despite a jumbled up narrative as well as hectic visuals and foggy editing techniques that forcefully set-up characters, Liebesman’s newest adaptation of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles will undoubtedly be a happy new age of Turtles for a young generation with their own new memories and excitement to create. Contrary to rapper Wiz Khalifa’s closing credit song suggests, the film will surely not leave audiences shell shocked, but Donatello, Leonardo, Michelangelo and Raphael still know how to have a great time with some serious laughs at the movies. And what more can anyone say to that than, COWABUNGA!
And if you haven’t already guessed, my favourite turtle is featured down below.
Night Film Reviews: 6.5 Stars Out of 10.
What did you think of producer Michael Bay and director Jonathan Liebesman’s newest large-scale summer blockbuster? Do the turtles still have it despite their poorly constructed facial features and the ton of controversy surrounding this newest instalment? Does the newest movie rock or sink like a shell? Who is YOUR favourite ninja turtle? And why? Leave your comments, suggestions and thoughts on the newest TMNT adaptation below. Cowabunga readers!