Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be…

“Just one adult?” asked the girl behind the ticket counter, looking around behind me to see if I had any kids in tow. It occurred to me then that the last time I queued for a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie, I was a kid myself.

I was about twelve during the height of Turtlemania, and just about everyone I knew was into Turtles. In fact, the only kids who weren’t were the ones who’d mastered Bach’s first book for the Well-Tempered Clavier and were moving onto the second, or the ones still making pictures out of fuzzy felt.

A generation later, and now I’m a guy in his mid-thirties going to see a kid’s movie by himself on a Saturday night. “Yes, just one adult,” I confirmed, trying to hide my shame.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)

Directed by: Jonathan Liebesman
Starring: Megan Fox, Will Arnett, William Fichtner, Johnny Knoxville

After several years of troubled production and pre-emptive fanboy outrage, Jonathan Liebesman’s TMNT reboot is almost perfect in its mediocrity. Those ready to rip up their seats and hurl them at the screen because of Michael Bay’s producer credit will be disappointed, because this outing for the half-shelled heroes is infinitely more likeable and fun than his putrid Transformers franchise.

On the flip side, it is annoyingly twee and well-behaved, paling in comparison to even Marvel’s weakest offerings.

The pic opens with a nicely visualised back story over the opening credits, reminding audiences of the franchise’s humble beginnings as a cult comic book in the mid-eighties. Then we are introduced to April O’Neil (Megan Fox), an ambitious New York TV reporter sniffing out the story of the Foot Clan, a shadowy crime cabal making ground in the city. She is after a big scoop, but her boss (a nice cameo by Whoopi Goldberg) thinks she is better suited to frothy human interest stories.

After witnessing the Clan’s nocturnal skullduggery thwarted by a mysterious vigilante, she is also on the scene when the villains attack a subway station. This time, four vigilantes come to the rescue and the intrepid reporter follows them up onto a rooftop, and discovers the heroes’ true identity. They are a quartet of musclebound, bandana-wearing, wise-cracking, mutant turtles…

The man behind the crimewave is Eric Sacks (William Fichtner), former partner of April’s late scientist father. With the help of the evil samurai Shredder and his Foot Clan underlings, Sacks plans to unleash a chemical attack on the city. Once the population of the Big Apple is infected, he intends to ride to the rescue with an antidote, created from a “mutagen” found only in the Turtle’s blood. All Sacks needs to do is capture the Turtles…

TMNT tries gamely to satisfy both older fans and new recruits, but is never quite sure what it wants to be. It neither mines the nostalgic possibilities of remaking an Eighties pop cultural phenomenon, nor brings the pizza obsessed mutants fully up to date. The boys name check Harry Potter, Lost, The Dark Knight, and Star Wars, as if to prove they’re still with it and relevant, but it’s like they’ve spent the twenty-five years since their heyday sat in their sewer watching the world pass them by on TV.

There are a few moments which suggest the screenwriters considered giving TMNT a Dark Knight-style treatment. Sacks & Shredder’s heinous plan plays on our post-9/11 fears of terrorism, and in the film’s most emotionally engaging action sequence, Shredder physically breaks Splinter in the manner of Bane pulverising Batman in The Dark Knight Rises. The rest is just lightweight, throwaway fun.

TMNT pic

It’s a shame, because the SFX team have clearly devoted much care and attention in their rendering of Leonardo, Michelangelo, Raphael, Donatello, and Splinter. In close up, the effects are almost photo-realistic. The vocal actors do a great job of making the turtles genuinely likeable and excitable characters to be around.

Strangely for an action adventure, the action sequences are the most boring part. The film’s signature spectacle is a madcap car chase down a snowy mountainside, which is like watching someone else play a computer game, utterly devoid of any thrills.

It is in this sequence that Michael Bay’s infernal influence bubbles to the surface like a fart in a jacuzzi. The Turtles have time to have a chat while slaloming under an out-of-control eighteen wheel truck, while April’s cameraman Vernon (Will Arnett) takes a few moments out from the mayhem to ogle April’s backside.

Most critics have already given Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles a critical kicking, but the fact is critics take things too seriously. The key words in the title are “Mutant”, “Ninja” and “Turtles” – from the very beginning TMNT was only supposed to be a cheeky spoof of superhero movies. It is a perfectly average, instantly forgettable piece of blockbuster fun.

Although I expect my goodwill towards the new series will wear thin by the time the third one rolls round sometime in 2018…

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  1. Pingback: Boyhood; Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles; Obecná škola, an interview… | Video Krypt

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