The new Michael Bay-produced reboot of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles topped the box office this weekend despite alienating scores of fans the moment the first picture of the new Turtles leaked online. For those fans seeing the movie was a Transformers-like experience in masochism, forking over money to see something they really didn't want to support mainly because they can't resist a new Turtles story. So what is there to complain about in the new movie? Let's tick off a few items, shall we? SPOILERS AHEAD!
#1. The Turtles Themselves
This one is divisive. While the backlash against the redesign was swift and brutal, there's also been a backlash to the backlash from fans who've always wanted to see photo-realistic Ninja Turtles. But for fans who never embraced the new look, the entire Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie experience has been torture. Despite being the producer and not the director, a lot of the blame for this new look has been laid on Michael Bay, and probably not unfairly. Seeing the movie, I actually didn't have a problem with the way the Turtles looked so much as I had a problem with that look not fitting in with the movie, which brings us to...
#2. The Tone Is All Over the Place
A lot of people called those first Turtles images "creepy," but they wouldn't look out of place in a grittier Turtles universe. The problem is they're in a movie filled with middle school jokes and references to the 1987 cartoon. The Turtles makers were looking for a happy medium between gritty Turtles and fun Turtles, and the result doesn't do either justice. On one end, this isn't a movie for kids because the Turtles, frankly, are creepy looking, and we see a guy die onscreen with his skin festering before our eyes because of some toxic junk forced upon him by one of the movie's villains. On the other end, it's not the gritty movie some fans might be looking for because the Turtles are constantly cracking wise with sophomoric jokes about things like their shells "getting tighter" in April's presence.
I think director Jonathan Liebesman and company set out to make the grittier movie, and after a lot of meddling ended up with a muddled mess. Apparently compromise in the Turtles universe means disappointing all parties.
#3. It Acts Like the Turtles Are Weird
The new movie never misses an opportunity to point out how weird the Turtles are. Megan Fox faints, Whoopi Goldberg rolls her eyes, and Will Arnett nearly breaks the fourth wall with lines like, "Four turtles, one's fighting a robot samurai. Why not?" But here's the thing: Ninja Turtles aren't that weird! At least not in the movies they aren't. This weekend the Turtles went head-to-head with a talking space raccoon and a sentient tree starring in a movie that barely, fleetingly, acknowledges how strange that is. Mostly, Guardians just throws all that weirdness in your face and asks you to deal with it, as do so many of the best sci-fi or comic book movies these days. The Turtles have been around for 30 years! They wouldn't even be close to the weirdest kids' cartoon on TV these days. Have you seen Uncle Grandpa? Now that's weird.
A recurring theme across the various Turtles continuities is the Turtles' sense of alienation in a world where they're considered "freaks." (Raphael especially hates this.) But the new movie never gets around to conveying any real feeling of alienation. Look to the 1990 movie if you want alienation. This version just wants to remind you how weird they are.
#4. William Fichtner Plays a Villain No One Wanted
William Fichtner plays Eric Sacks, a billionaire super-scientist with a non-sensical plot to hold the world hostage to make even more money, and blah blah no one cares, what about the Shredder? Why is this guy in the movie at all? Obviously because he was written in as the Shredder's alternate identity, but the script got changed halfway though. (Possibly because fans were pissed that Shredder might be some old white guy instead of a Japanese ninja badass.) So we end up with the worst, most boring Turtles villain ever, which is especially disheartening considering the Turtles' famously awesome rogues gallery.
#5. No One Seems to Know Who This Movie Is For
Is this meant to be a younger audience's first introduction to the Turtles? Is it meant to be a reboot targeting the '87 cartoon's thirty-something fans? If it really was made for a younger audience, why not incorporate some of the continuity from the current Nickelodeon cartoon? If it was made for those older audiences, why is it written with a seventh-grade sense of humor? It seems like the production team couldn't decide on the movie's audience, and tried to please both.
#6. Shredder and Karai Are Barely Developed
Shredder, aka Oroku Saki, has backstory for days in the comics and cartoons, but in the movie it looks like it was all given to non-Shredder villain Eric Sacks while Shredder just gets to fight the Turtles. He gets hardly any dialogue or character development, and his lieutenant, Karai, is even worse off. Karai, who has been written at various times as Shredder's daughter, his granddaughter, and even an alternate incarnation of Shredder, shows up here as the most one-dimensional character in the story.
#7. There's No Bebop, Rocksteady or Krang
Seriously, how many movies need to be made for any of these three to finally show up? Ugh, now I'm thinking of Tokka and Rahzar, and I'm angry again.
#8. So Many Loose Ends!
At the end of the movie the Turtles win, but who loses? We see Shredder's fingers wiggle, so you can bet $65.6 million he's still alive. Eric Sacks doesn't get to launch his evil plan, but presumably his company is still bringing him the kind of silly money it requires to buy a snowy mountain inexplicably located 20 minutes outside of New York City. And the last time we saw her, Karai was chasing down the Turtles before she just disappears from the script without any explanation.
After All Those Depressing Things, At Least There's This
The best scene in the new movie is probably the elevator rap.