Do you ever feel frustrated with your job—maybe early in the morning when you haven’t gotten up to speed or late in the day when running on fumes. I suppose everyone struggles with their job, even if it’s enjoyable. I enjoy writing columns about films, but sometimes it’s difficult to muster enthusiasm while sitting in front of the computer. With some films, one barely has enough space to contain their rhetoric. Others are so bad conjuring adequate adjectives taxes. As well, there are films so banal they become a fading memory the moment the final credits roll. “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” is one of those movies.
It’s another joyless, high-polish product of the new Hollywood system, where every known property is dusted off, spit-shined, and released into theaters. It’s like the cinematic version of cotton candy: brightly colored, sugary sweet, but it falls apart in your fingers. With one pull, the whole thing falls apart. In a matter of seconds, the confection has been reduced to a goopy mess.
The original “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” (1990) was a charming little movie (filmed here in Wilmington). It came unapologetically corny and wonderfully lo-fi, especially compared to the new version. The decades-apart films embody the difference between an old analog vinyl record and an MP3. While the record is antiquated, it provides a rich and textured experience. This new version feels like a series of ones and zeroes assembled in a computer. It’s a digitized movie bereft of feeling or emotion. “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” tinkers with the recipe and reduces the turtles’ basic origin into a series of clichés.
The turtles are an experiment with which an evil businessman (William Fichter) plans to enslave New York City. The bad guys have to be stopped, and the only hope is the mutated test animals, who become ninjas because reasons.
Little inspiration in the movie colors the film. It merely is an attempt to replicate the Marvel superhero films and rake in the cash. The plot is so ridiculously similar to 2012’s “Amazing Spider-Man” reboot that the people at Marvel and Sony may have grounds for a lawsuit.
In previous entries, April O’Neil (Megan Fox) was a reporter seeking a story. She happened to stumble onto the turtles. In this new era of franchises—where everything has to be simplified for even the densest ticket buyer—she is the daughter of one of the scientists and frees the turtles and dumps them into the sewer. Films no longer can have a randomly involved character. Everyone has to be woven into the origin story because shitty writers think it gives more weight to the character. It doesn’t; it merely creates a stupidly convenient world, wherein characters’ actions feel predetermined by cliché.
The movie’s inattentiveness frustrates. The story is so boilerplate one could heat a sack of potatoes with it. The entire third act copies and pastes “Amazing Spider-Man”: The bad guys want to use a tower to launch a chemical agent into the city. No matter how brilliant the motion capture work is (it’s amazing) or how much effort is present, the movie never escapes its lazy premise.
As a writer, it feels shiftless to slam Hollywood studios for lacking creativity, but “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” is simply redundant. I can’t fathom the logic behind making the same basic movie over and over again. Actually, I can; it’s money. As long as the rate of return is high enough, they’ll continue to churn out these prefabricated stories.
I’m starting to feel like Bill Murray in “Groundhog Day.” I keep buying tickets, the lights go out, and I watch the exact same movie over and over again. I’m trapped in an infinite loop. Unlike “Groundhog Day,” I don’t laugh very much. “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” is the cinematic equivalent of purgatory. It’s not good enough to be heaven or bad enough to be hell; it merely is a void—an absence one drifts through with an uncomfortable sense of déjà vu.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Starring Megan Fox, Will Arnett and William Fichtner
Directed by Jonathan Liebesman