Let me preface this review by saying I was not expecting Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to be good. It wasn’t like The Amazing Spider-Man, where there are great casting choices at play and you know it could be worth your time and money, only it wasn’t. I was angry watching The Amazing Spider-Man. I was not angry at Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Instead, I was staring at the screen in complete and utter shock. It’s almost impressive how bad this movie manages to be.
What’s wrong with it? Where to start? What it all boils down to is this—Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles has no idea what it is or who it’s for. The original premise of the turtles mythos, the one you’re probably familiar with from the cartoon or the ’90s movies, is fairly simple: Turtles get oozed. Turtles are raised and taught martial arts by a rat named Splinter, whose own master was killed by Shredder. Shit happens. I don’t need anything more complicated than that—it’s a movie about ninja turtles, for Chrissakes. I don’t need story complexity. I need charming, goofy fun.
But instead of charming, goofy fun, director Jonathan Liebesman tried to make a bombastic action movie with a needlessly intricate plot involving the stupidest plan to take over New York City ever and a turtle backstory that hinges on a coincidence that’s so mindbogglingly huge I’m not sure the people who wrote it are human and not howler monkeys. I won’t spoil the specifics for you, because you probably won’t believe me if I tell them to you, but I will say this: April. O’Neil’s. Father.
I would have preferred aliens.
Nothing about this movie makes any sense. It took everything that made the original story work and stripped it away in favor of generic Michael Bay blockbuster schlock. If you’ve seen a trailer or any pictures, you know about the turtles being giant scary bodybuilder types. Shredder (Tohoru Masamune) barely gets any screentime before he’s slapped into a suit that basically turns him into a personality-deficient robot. I wanted so badly for him to turn around, slap William Fichtner’s character, and remind him who the real Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles bad guy is. “Who the fuck is ‘Eric Sacks?’ I’m the goddamned Shredder.”
But no. It never happened. Fichtner’s our main bad guy. I’m not spoiling anything for you there, because the trailer straight up tells us that he is, even though the movie itself whiles away a good few scenes on “Good guy sci/tech developer who only wants to help the city” before the reveal that he’s secretly evil, which of course we already knew.
That’s a prime example of the fact that every single thing about this movie—every dramatic moment, every bit of attempted character development—is unearned. There are a few things that work. The personalities of the turtles are mostly right (even though Michelangelo being a blatant horn dog was supremely uncomfortable—more on that later). But that’s not all too impressive considering that’s the easiest thing to get. You have the goofball, the nerd, the rebel, and the
boring one leader. Congrats on not screwing that up. And for the first 30 minutes or so of the movie, April O’Neil (Megan Fox) actually showed some reporterly gumption, which I was impressed with.
CASEY “Sir Not Appearing In This Film” JONES BREAK:
But then. In keeping with the “Is this movie for kids? For adults? For half-blind iguanas?” theme, this movie is weirdly sexualized in a way I’d hoped a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie would never be. Vernon (Will Arnett) and Michelangelo (voiced by Shameless’ Noel Fisher, and why, Mickey, why?!) are constantly hitting on April. And no shit. It’s a Michael Bay-produced movie where the Megan Fox character is objectified. I’d be shocked if there weren’t a scene where Vernon blatantly ogles her ass. The part where one of the first things Mikey tells April is that she gives him a boner… yeah, I could have lived without that. If you see this movie (don’t see this movie), please report back and tell me whether that line is a thing that actually happens, because by the time that scene rolled around my brain was already halfway glazed over.
What’s really fucked up about Vernon and Michelangelo’s behavior, though, is that April never responds to it. Not once. At first I thought it was cool, like “Oh, April has more important things to do than respond to juvenile flirting.” But then it keeps happening. And April keeps ignoring it. Never an eye roll, never an impatient sigh, never a “Stop it. I don’t want to date you. You are a teenager and also a turtle.” It’s like she doesn’t even notice it. As the movie goes on, April’s role in the story becomes more and more one of following the turtles around and being a passive object for a frankly creepy level of sexual obsession. The writers don’t have her respond to the constant come-ons because, to them, what she thinks about them doesn’t matter: She’s there as eye candy.
I have nothing bad to say about Megan Fox. Was she good in this movie? No. She delivers shit lines with breathy woodenness. But you could’ve gotten Meryl Streep to play April O’Neil, and it still would have been embarrassingly awful. The screenwriters took an awesome character, someone a lot of people grew up admiring, and turned her into sexy cardboard. It’s gross. And in a kid’s movie, no less.
I could go on and on about other little details that made me think I might be hallucinating the 101 minutes (oh, it felt longer) I spent in the theater. The way part of Sacks’ backstory involves being a poor little bullied white kid in Japan. The way I’m not entirely sure Shredder wasn’t written in at the last minute after the studio realized “Shit, this character’s Japanese—we can’t have William Fichtner take his role!” (On the one hand, the Shredder shit was absolutely tacked on. On the other, Hollywood realizing they’re whitewashing a character and then deciding not to? That doesn’t happen, right?) The way even the action sequences were boring and poorly shot. The way nods to the original movies and cartoon were shoehorned in and incredibly awkward. The way a flashback to the ’90s featured a camera with the Bluetooth logo on it. The Victoria’s Secret product placement.
But you get it. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a sloppy, unholy mess. It is a blight, not only upon the art of cinema, but upon humanity itself.
To cleanse yourself of what you have just been vicariously exposed to, here’s another Casey Jones gif:
Babe. You got out. You are so lucky. No one mention the word “sequel” to me.