Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Review: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

When it was first announced that a live-action TMNT movie was in the works and that Michael Bay was involved, a lot of concerned fans made their voices heard. Worry quickly escalated to fear once it was revealed that the shell-sporting heroes would no longer be mutants, but in fact extra-terrestrials. Now that the film has arrived, I think it's safe to say that, while it isn't quite the popular disaster many were anticipating, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles lacks the soul and joy to make up for its poor casting and overly brooding tone.

While this dark 'Turtles' reboot isn't exactly directed by Michael Bay, his presence is heavily felt. The martial arts master is obviously inspired by the long-lasting Asian stereotype, as is his nemesis. A lot of the action sequences, and even a few non-action, feature camera work that's so dizzying that, on more than one occasion, I had to look away from the screen. Dutch angles abound and there are more pointless, large-scale explosions than I could count on my hands. But perhaps the worse Bay offense comes from the casting (and eventual objectification) of Megan Fox.

For the first thirty minutes or so, Fox's April O'Neil takes center stage. She's a B-news reporter with a passion for the truth who is fully dedicated to her job. She runs around in her yellow jacket, digging for news scraps wherever and whenever she can. Her sidekick and cameraman, Vernon Fenwick (Will Arnett), exists as the obligatory comic relief who is more creepy than funny. Now the problem with Fox is, well, she's not a very good actress. She only seems capable of one expression and incapable of selling the roll of the inspired reporter who literally runs towards danger, even as everyone else is running away, all for the sake of a good story. Fox's soulless performance sucks any possible joy that could have and would have made this film more enjoyable had anyone else played the role instead.

Things get more interesting once April's introduced to Splinter and the turtles. This is where Tony Schalhoub's rat master of ninjutsu spews forth yet more exposition about his rat-pack's (pun intended) journey; just in case you missed the first five minutes of the film, which outlines the same events. However, Schalhoub's Splinter is the highlight of the film and I didn't mind indulging the redundancy of it all. As for the turtles, the tone becomes less oppressive once they become the main focus of the film and Fox's April disappears almost completely. However, their comradery, while entertaining at times, felt unbalanced. For most of the movie Raphael was a jerk who seemed to hold a disdain for his reptilian brethren. By the end, their not-so-brotherly bond couldn't fully combatant the overly serious tone and look of the film.

On a lighter note, the visuals are impressive and the 3D was often put to good use, even if most of the film is dark. The revamped Shredder suit becomes less a dorky spectacle and more a sweet piece of high-tech badassery as the film progresses through its many martial arts-based actions sequences. Sadly, the poor casting and unejoyable tone leave us with is a shell (again, pun intended) of what could have been a fairly entertaining, cheesy action romp.

Grade: C-