Written by Ankit Ojha
What to Expect?
The thing about a movie like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is, you already have a clear set of expectations the moment you’re witness to the trailer, in which one of the title slates speaks out what the rest of the movie holds for you, loud and clear:
From Producer Michael Bay
Not that he’s necessarily an active part of the film, but for Bay’s hardcore action-frenzied trademarks, there’s always a possibility there’s one of his kinks snuck in quietly, without anyone possibly noticing.
The other major problem with this movie (yes, there are other potential red signals apart from Bay) is director Jonathan Liebesman. For those of you who find the name not ringing any bells, let’s remind ourselves of Wrath of the Titans and Battle: Los Angeles. Not to disregard any of the hard work done on the fantastic technical visual artistry in the films – or any appreciation otherwise for it – but the movies were major disappointments; more the latter than the former, in fact.
And to top it all, we have the return of Megan Fox in an (almost) Michael Bay movie. Not that she’s dislikable or does anything in the films to offend, but that’s basically the point. She usually doesn’t do anything. All people have gone over to the movies to see her for is strictly eye candy.
What it promises, however, to a younger section of the audience – and those looking for a possible nostalgia trip with this film – is entertainment. Whether it delivers is a completely different question.
What’s it About
April O’Neil (Fox; Jennifer’s Body) for one never seems to deliver well in her life. She has a job that she hates, wants to take up crime journalism, and is trying to track down the reason her father died. Much to the chagrin of her boss (Whoopi Goldberg; Boys on the Side) and cameraman-with-a-major-crush-on-her (Will Arnett; When in Rome), she begins to investigate the infamous foot-clan, only to discover there’s something more sinister about their plot.
Oh and there’s turtles too. They do cool stuff and eat pizzas and are trained by a mutated rat Splinter (voiced by Tony Shalhoub; performed by Danny Woodburn). But we get it – the human story is the definite point of concern here.
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
Much like Bay’s own Transformers franchise goes, there’s a lot more attention paid to the human angle of the story than its titular reference. Writers Evan Daugherty (Snow White and the Huntsman), and duo Josh Appelbaum and André Nemec (Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol) whip out a strictly functional three-act screenplay that doesn’t go anywhere. The presence of Daugherty has, not surprisingly, proven itself to be fatal yet again after Divergent – which obviously doesn’t bode well with the film’s final product. The turtles are mere props in a screenplay that includes a citywide conspiracy, a Megatron-like antagonist and a human angle that’s stretched way more than we’d like it to. The character arc of the lead protagonist O’Neil however is surprisingly decent and packs in a lot of proactivity – this for a female protagonist in such a film.
All of us who have grown up to understand the kind of self-aware franchise the Turtles are will find the “self-aware” portion missing. The makers have gone for a comparatively serious vibe – which some might like for a change of pace, but some might not. Evolution of some characters are stilted and plain regressive (Arnett’s Vern), whilst others (Splinter) are only there for the sake of being a major part of the franchise. Add to that some forced exposition in the form of not-so-subtle foreshadowing, and voila! You’ve gotten yourself a product.
That being said, whilst Bay is a more prominent name among the credits, it’s Liebesman who should be taking up full responsibility for directing a product like this without spunk. Not that anyone’s surprised, looking at his credentials, but what was needed anyway was a spark of adrenaline, which is missing from the film by a mile and a half. Not that the film is terrible. But it isn’t that great either. It sticks to an overly conventional setup and doesn’t do anything with it, thereby giving us a flat movie with very little to expect.
Of the little, what is to be expected is some really active camera operations, supported by eye-pleasing cinematography that boasts of a good amount of depth and dynamism. Here, you’ll notice that Bay does manage to add bits of his own visual stylistic elements – the flares, the usage of a telephoto lens for moving shots, dutch-angles (tilted frames) to portray unease and what have you. The visual effects are consistent and smooth. Considering they’ve gone for a comparatively serious vibe, the turtles and the rat are actually made to look convincingly mutated enough. Do they look creepy? To some, they might. But this approach would be fairly accurate considering their origin story. Some might complain that they don’t look realistic enough, but considering how smooth they look on screen and the way they’ve portrayed the turtles on screen in the past, there really should be nothing to complain about. The edit makes a sensible use of shots in the action sequences, making them tighter, but not a potential generator of epilepsy. What could have been avoided in some of the action set-pieces was the usage of terribly shaky camerawork that looked terribly off putting in what would be an otherwise smooth and consistent scene. Brian Tyler, whose scores have previously graced the likes of Into the Storm and The Expendables 3 this year, does functionally well, but it’s really not his fault that despite a fairly good score the situations don’t seem to have any sort of emotional elevation.
To Perform or Not to Perform
Megan Fox is known to be simple eye-candy in most of her films – the most prominent of which have to be her presence (or the lack of it) in the first two Transformers films. Personally however, if there’s any role I’ve seen her have fun doing, it has to be Jennifer’s Body, in which she gave away a surprisingly engaging performance. The issue with her presence in this role would probably have been if she would be more than just the let-me-strut-my-assets prop that she’s more often been. Surprisingly, her well-acted character has some heart and proactivity, and Fox turns out to be very pleasant to watch on screen. I daresay I found her remotely enjoyable even. Will Arnett, however, is a major disappointment here. Not that it’s his fault – his character is too annoying for the audience to care. Minae Noji has a terribly short role, but the emotional relevance she’s able to bring to a standard character like her is quite impressive. William Fichtner is alright. His performance is however limited to nothing but the foreshadowing of his character. Once the cat is out of the bag, however, there’s nothing he can – or does – contribute to. Another terribly wasted talent here is Whoopi Goldberg, whom I’d definitely have wanted to see more of. Of the turtles, it’s Noel Fisher’s (Red) Michelangelo and Jeremy Howard’s Donatello who are super-fun to watch, relative to Rafael or Leonardo. Shalhoub voices Splinter well, boding interestingly well with the body language of motion-capture performer Danny Woodburn. It’s just that Splinter doesn’t cover a lot of the screen, so there’s not a lot to see.
Tohuru Masamune’s Shredder? I wasn’t too pumped at all. Antagonists have become too disappointingly conventional these days, and like I’ve said over and over, there needs to be a change in pace to include antagonists we can either enjoy or fear watching.
Is it as bad as Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (for Bay) or Battle: Los Angeles (for Liebesman)? Not really. Is it as entertaining as The Rock, or (keeping in mind the directed audience) the first installment of Transformers? Again, not really. Then how is it?
It basically depends. As a nostalgia trip, it will have polarizing opinions, and as a movie for kids it’s not harmful; hell they may even enjoy it, because it does have some fairly entertaining moments, particularly in the second half. Taking this solely and solely as a potential entertainer however, this film goes nowhere. It’s thus one’s individual choices that would reflect upon what exactly is to be expected of the film.
Personally, I neither fully hated nor enjoyed the film. But then again, personal opinions don’t really count in potential money-spinning hyperkinetic entertainers. And this is why I rest my case right here.
Star Rating: 2 / 5