Whatever problems the Michael Bay-produced, Megan Fox-starring TMNT has, the biggest is that it belongs in the 90s.
If someone today walked into a Hollywood producer’s office and pitched an idea for a film that revolved around four irradiated, mutated turtles that practised ancient martial arts in order to save the world from aliens from alternate dimensions and a New York-based clan of ninjas, they probably would be, rightly, laughed out of town. Fortunately, the 90s was a different time. The Soviet Union had just collapsed, people still bought CDs and filmmakers would buy into preposterous concepts with a naïve innocence never seen before or after.
Such was the rampant capitalism at the time, Hollywood would snap up virtually any parody and present it as sincere storytelling
The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (TMNT) were at the height of their fame in 1990, and were about to embark on their first adventure onto the big screen after the success of the 1987 TMNT cartoon series, which itself had followed on from a 1984 comic book designed as a parody of several other comic series. Such was the rampant capitalism at the time, Hollywood would snap up virtually any parody and try and present it as sincere storytelling (see 1995’s Judge Dredd for reference) – this is what happened with TMNT. It paid off.
1990’s TMNT managed to tap into a glorious zeitgeist. People were still in fear of nuclear fallout because of that whole Cold War thing, the underground subculture of skateboarding was just breaking through into the mainstream and Jim Henson puppetry was still a big deal. Combine these three aesthetic components into one film and you had the ultimate 90s franchise. It would go on to spawn two more films, whilst the original cartoon series ran until 1996 before becoming a live action series running on from the third film. Skip forward to the present day, and we are just days away from the US release of the Michael Bay-produced CGI TMNT franchise reboot, and in theory it should work. But it won’t.
Bay, famed for his action-packed, over-exposed oeuvre, has previous with bringing things from a different decade back from the dead – see his super shiny, smashy robot series Transformers. TMNT brings back the acting ‘talents’ of Megan Fox, who played the female protagonist in the first two Transformer films, reuniting critically panned director with much-maligned actress, but this is not necessarily an area for concern. Bay isn’t actually directing the piece, but rather just throwing money and influence at it from his producer position. And despite being god-awful, the Transformers films are incredibly successful, appealing to the 13-year-old boy market that TMNT will undoubtedly be aimed at.
In a move of self parody, the trailer points out how stupid the actual concept is. This would’ve never happened in the 90s
No, my issues with a TMNT reboot in 2014 all arise in the short promotional trailer for the film. In just two minutes and 33 seconds, all of my worst nightmares are confirmed. Straight from the off we see images of a contemporary city – images of futuristic tech are interspersed with phrases such as “we’re taking your armour to the next level”, before iconic bad guy Shredder is displayed before us as some sort of cybernetic monstrosity (or a “robot samurai”, as the trailer so eloquently puts it). The chunky 80s/90s-esque skateboards have been replaced by super-dooper-hi-tech robot skateboards with weapons attached, and then, instead of cheesy hair metal, the Croydon-born sound of distressed urban youth in the 2010s blasts through in the form of dubstep.
These harsh realities show the turtles torn from their grounding and thrust into a time that does not belong to them – like being thrown into Dimension X to battle Krang, the Turtles are now flung forward to 2014 to battle the expectations of youth today. But the biggest sin comes at the end of this short trailer where, in a show of sheer bullishness from Hollywood, Fox’s April O’Neil is caught in a situation where she has to explain her sighting of ninja turtles to someone else, only for the idea to come across as ludicrous. Yes, the idea of ninja turtles sounds ludicrous, even to the people making the film. In a move of unparalleled self parody (unless it turns out Michael Bay’s whole career has been one sweeping statement of self parody), the movie itself points out how stupid the actual concept is. This would have never happened in the 90s, because we weren’t inundated by this age of cynicism. Things just seemed so much less ridiculous back then.
Read more: The corrosive appeal of Michael Bay
Featured image: Paramount
Inset image: Fox