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A hollow shell

Online reviews indicate Michael Bay-produced version sucks life right out of Ninja Turtles

By Philip Martin

This article was published August 8, 2014 at 2:18 a.m.


Leonardo in TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES, from Paramount Pictures and Nickelodeon Movies.

Welcome to the latest edition of stuff of up with which I must put.

As you might realize, there is a movie opening today called Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. This is, on its face, an absurd development. I find it nearly impossible to care about Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in general, and in this particularly fraught movie in particular because I am a grown-up and I do not wallow in '80s nostalgia. On the other hand, I understand that a great many people -- many of whom turned 12 years old in the 1980s, and thus prize the pop culture artifacts of the period above all else -- care very much about this movie. Mostly they worry that Michael Bay is about to "ruin" their beloved TMNT mythology.

I can see why they feel this way -- Bay is at once the most maligned and the most successful director working in Hollywood today. His twitchy editing, heavy use of CGI, stylized visuals, love of violent destruction and indifference to real-world physics and characters has resulted in a body of work some characterize as "Bayhem."

I don't much care for most of Bay's movies. I was with Pain & Gain until almost the end, I read his Transformers films as so much colorful noise. But I think he is an interesting filmmaker on a technical level. (You can watch Tony Zhou's video essay on exactly what Bay is doing in his movies on my blood, dirt & angels blog. Here's the link: And Bay's defense of his work is pretty bullet-proof: "I make movies for teenage boys. Oh dear, what a crime."

And it should be noted that Bay didn't actually direct TMNT; his name is on the film because it was produced by the production company he co-owns, Platinum Dunes. The actual Bay-approved director is South African Jonathan Liebesman (Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning, Wrath of the Titans), who is -- perhaps unfairly -- often viewed as a Bay manque.

Unfortunately, although there is much interest in TMNT, neither I nor any of the freelance critics who regularly write for our newspaper have had a chance to see it yet. This is probably because Paramount, which is distributing the movie, doesn't think that good words from mainstream movie critics will move the needle on the film. (They're right.) Nor will negative reviews much impede its commercial progress. And as I sit here, trying to decide what we'll put in the MovieStyle section you now hold in your hands, there is absolutely nothing showing up on our wire services about the film.

But people -- including some usually reliable critics -- have seen the movie. And we can most assuredly Google. And so I'm prepared to share with you some early reviews of the movie. So you can decide whether Bay ruined it or not.

In Variety, Justin Chang writes: "In keeping with the series' general lightness of spirit, this Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles runs counter to the gloomy, serious-minded tenor of so many recent superhero pictures, and it's not afraid to mock itself or the filmmakers in charge .... That breezy, self-deprecating tone, however, never really translates into an infectious sense of wit or fun, let alone the sort of unabashed, unironic enthusiasm for the material you get from a geek showman like Bryan Singer or Sam Raimi. Liebesman, a cheerful demolition maestro ... who wields the camera like a blunt instrument, isn't that sort of director, and the dull-witted screenplay, cobbled together by a trio of writers, wouldn't reward his instincts even if he had them."

Justin Lowe, writing for The Hollywood Reporter, says the movie's "humor [is] pitched at an appropriately juvenile level" but "[n]ot much of that easygoing style rubs off on the human characters."

Alonso Duralde kicks off his review in The Wrap this way: "There are a few thrills and a few laughs in this re-jiggered, CGI-heavy reimagining of the comic book/TV/movie superstars, but even by kid-movie standards, it's a hollow experience."

On the website SlashFilm, Germaine Lussier observes that the "biggest problem with ... Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is how disposable it is. If the movie was silly and goofy, but entertaining and engaging even on the lowest level, it might be something worth talking about. But this movie is a cinematic flatline that shows rare blips of life only to crash back down again into nothing.

"It's not a total disaster. The Turtles themselves, now fully realized with performance-capture CG, look impressive. Their demeanors often harken back to the happy-go-lucky characters from various hit TV incarnations. Unfortunately, those personalities rarely get to shine because the film is hell-bent on setting up an overly complicated, way-too coincidental plot that never gives the Turtles a chance to breathe. The rare times we're with them, they're always preoccupied with saving one person or beating up a bunch of others. And because the Turtles never get to be true characters, there's no emotional core and the movie fades away."

On, Eric Eisenberg says the movie is "[e]ntirely hollow, poorly put together, and will require an audience on its level of stupidity to survive."

Luke Y. Thompson, on Topless Robot: "This movie was not made by fans of Ninja Turtles, whatever they may tell you. It is a movie made by people going through the motions. Just for a far more minor example, there's a scene in an elevator where Mikey and Raph start beat-boxing, and it almost sounds like 'Ninja Rap' for a moment. Before long, Don and Leo have joined in and it's like a mini music video. It's fun, except that based on everything established about Leonardo thus far in the movie (he's the serious one), it's not the sort of thing he would ever do ....

"The way people have been talking about Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, you'd think Michael Bay directed it. After seeing it, you may wish he had. I did."

Currently, the film is clocking in a 44 percent favorable on the Rotten Tomatoes website. You have been advised. Carry on.


MovieStyle on 08/08/2014

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