Monday, 8 December 2014

"Four turtles... one's fighting a robot samurai. Why not?"

To express any disappointment in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for being a ridiculous mess is arguably ridiculous in itself. This is an idea that started as a quick doodle, a satirical parody of, among others, Daredevil and Frank Miller's Ronin comics. It was a goof that found itself morphing into a merchandising phenomenon, with multiple movies and TV series seeing them renew their appeal again and again. There latest incarnation has grossed north of $300 million worldwide. Which  arguably makes it a pretty serious goof.

The movie might be more enjoyable if it took more pleasure in its core silliness. This, though, because it's the era of introspective superheroes, has to have some grit under its shell. The wide-eyed cartoons of 1980s and the squishy animatronics of the 1990s are succeeded by slick, hulking motion capture. They scowl and growl more than they joke. Luckily, as counterbalance, the humans are relentlessly cartoonish.

The plot is so light it might not actually be there at all. There's a plucky reporter April O'Neil (Megan Fox in a role so joyless and underwritten that much of her dialogue is simply breathing loudly or shouting proper nouns) who has convoluted history with the turtles. A scientific genius (but the sort of idiotic genius who snarls, "Drain all their blood, even if it kills them!" who has a convoluted plan to hold New York to ransom. And a big, metal Samurai foe, Shredder, who has sundry impenetrable convolutions all of his own.

Jonathan Liebesman (Battle: Los Angeles) further carves his niche as go-to guy for perfunctorily plotted tripe about imaginary creatures. There are directors who can make this kind of daftness fun – Justin Lin (Fast & Furious), for one – but Liebesman doesn't seem to be in it with his viewers. Letting story slide in favour of violence severe enough to secure 12A, for a film with a big PG following, suggests a want to satisfy studio bosses, not the fans. These turtles are neither for kids nor adults – they're teenage in the most awkward, annoying sense. Heroes in a half-arsed shell more like.

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