Trailers@24 Panels: TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES (2014)

Here at 24 Panels, we like to give each new comic book movie trailer the roundtable treatment. This time, we take a look at the first trailer for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, directed by Jonathan Liebesman (Wrath of the Titans, Battle: Los Angeles).

DRU: It’s a tale as old as time: a classic property falls into irrelevance, only to be snatched up by Michael Bay and his production company Platinum Dunes, given a “dark and gritty” anti-polish, and thrust upon innocent film fans for their opening weekend dollars, only to recede into obscurity never to be heard from again (until the inevitable sequel — or, just as likely, prequel). Most of the franchises to receive this treatment appeal primarily to horror fans, as the resulting products are often forgettable, if watchable and largely interchangeable, efforts; they sometimes even feature major talents (in front of the camera, at least): Rooney Mara and Jackie Earle Haley both submitted to the Nightmare of Elm Street remake, for instance, and rebooted The Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise is largely known for its combination of actresses like Jessica Biel and Alexandra Daddario with increasingly bloodied white tank tops.

It seems likely that Bay knew what he was in for when he decided to tackle a comics property with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, given the similar ferociousness of horror and superhero fandoms. And yet, this trailer lacks any appeal whatsoever, as if intending to alienate all potential viewers. Let’s run down the list, shall we?

  • The original franchise is somewhat schizophrenic in its tone, alternating between Frank Miller’s Daredevil-esque grittiness and the kid-friendly cartoon of the late 1980s that many of us (myself included) grew up on. The first movie arguably combined these tones in an ideal way, walking a tightrope whose difficulty we don’t perhaps acknowledge often enough. This trailer gives us the 2014 version of that, which means the heroes are fairly obnoxious and contrast in an unappealing way against the cookie-cutter Grim Modern City.
  • Shredder, the TMNT’s primary antagonist, is a Japanese traditionalist whose old-world leanings contrast sharply against the Turtles’ fiercely contemporary perspective, though they share common ground in their respect for the martial arts. This movie makes Shredder an American, and a scientist, I guess?
  • The original Turtles are a mistake of science, rather than a product of genetic experimentation. The kid-friendly mythology of the original gets modernized by tying everything and everybody together, presumably giving everybody a set destiny. Boooooooo-ring.

I snark, but none of the changes to the story really bother me. At the face of it, the Ninja Turtles are incredibly stupid, and making them “more plausible in the contemporary world” is bound to be equally stupid. Can we accept that not all characters are realistic and move on? The reason I like the Ninja Turtles is — I’ll admit it — nostalgia. And what this reboot seems designed to do is suck the nostalgic pleasure out of the franchise. But what are you left with when you do that? A pretty girl, a white guy in a business suit, a generic cityscape, tired narrative tropes, and some ridiculous looking reptilian ninja Hulks.

I was probably the biggest cheerleader (or at least defender) of this film on the 24 Panels team, and I have concede that this trailer confirms pretty much everything everybody else has been saying about the project to this point. Consider my interest lost. Dave, how’s about you?

DAVE: I don’t agree that the Turtles are an inherently “stupid” concept, but they are an outright fantastical and goofy one. It is pretty clear when one reads the original comics that Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird tried to create the most outrageous concept they could in order to play with a wide variety of genres and riff on their favourite pop art, and most adaptations of the property, regardless of how different their tone and mythology may be from one another, at least have kept that crazy spirit alive.

This trailer though… dear lord. I knew Bay and crew would likely miss the mark with the Turtles, but not to this degree. Everything here just seems wrong: the tone is serious to the point where it seems like parody, the action seems ridiculously large scale, and the design of the Turtles is…dear God, where do I even begin? Love or hate the concept, the Turtles have always had a great streamlined look to them. The Turtles in this film, however, are over-designed and absolutely freakish. It is as if the crew focused on the “Mutant” part of the title and ignored the words “Teenage” and “Ninja.” How the hell are these… things supposed to blend into the shadows? Are they even going to try?

Even more problematic however is how the trailers suggest that the film is following the Transformers approach of pushing the titular characters to the side and instead focusing on their (inevitably) less interesting human friend. One of the great things Steve Barron’s 1990 film is how it put the Turtles at the forefront and didn’t seem embarrassed by the concept at all. Instead, it is a film where the storytellers work hard to earn the emotional investment the audience has in the family dynamics and drama of the Turtles. Here though, it is almost as if the filmmakers are trying to hide the Turtles until the very end of the trailer, and once they do show up, everything is about hard-selling them as being “cool.”

Perhaps the saddest part of this trailer is that it suggests this Turtles film is going to be everything parents’ groups complained about the Turtles being back in the day: loud, noisy, vapid, and violent. Especially violent. With Bay in charge, you just know he’s going to push the violence envelope as far as he can, regardless of the young target audience of the film.

What about you Nuno? Any thoughts?

NUNO: Huuurm. Oh boy. I really wanna disagree with you guys. I’ve actively avoided as many online opinions about this project for years now, and I want the TMNT flick to exist without that notoriously negative taint that associates itself with Michael Bay and/or nostalgia blockbuster productions. I want to have as clean an experience in the theatre as possible. I doubt that’s going to happen the closer we get to the release date… but strangely enough, I’m still hopeful.

It seems, in the early days, Dru defended this movie for his own reasons. My reasons, from the earliest of rumours this film was getting made, were tied to some early leaks that described the Turtle designs. The leak was purely descriptive, and I was actually excited (except for the description of Shredder which positioned the design as overtly outrageous with the blade motif). Although the design descriptions deviated significantly from the comic, or cartoon, or earlier movie versions, I was still behind them. Let me explain…

The TMNT comics were literally the first issues that got me into collecting comics. I collected the Archie series because I was 9 or 10 at the time. I got some of the B&W Eastman & Laird issues and was shocked at the violence in them — the foot soldiers were humans, not robots, and they got sliced and diced as required. I was addicted to the cartoon. I annihilated every version of video game that existed featuring TMNT. I loved the first movie. I owned the movie soundtracks on  cassette. In high school, I’d draw the Turtles in my notebooks, and even came up with a fifth turtle who wore a white mask and used a bow, named Botticelli. I loved the Turtles, guys — LOVED them. One thing I always wished about their designs, though, was that they’d be more unique from one another.

Maybe it was the artist part of me, but I wanted their designs to work in defining their personalities. In the last few years, I’ve come across numerous artist renderings that blew my mind. These concept artists would put the TMNT in street clothes, or pieces of makeshift armour found in their NYC environment. It made me excited about these characters again as an adult. It made me love the idea that this property could adapt itself to modern design sensibilities. So, that all said, I’m 100% behind their designs. 120% even. I think they’ll work great and give each Turtle unique visual interest; at the very least, they’ll look more like believable lifeforms in an over-the-top setting. I don’t believe that nostalgic design has any place in Hollywood blockbusters… unless the entire movie is constructed to reinforce that nostalgia (like X-Men: First Class… or like a Fantastic Four movie set in the ’60s would be). I think nostalgia needs to stay in the past. That’s what makes that stuff wonderful. Modern stories, in modern settings, for modern audiences, require modern approaches. I’ll never budge from that stance.

As you can see by my instalment, I’ve managed to completely avoid commenting on the trailer. Was I disappointed in it? Not really. Did it WOW me? Meh. Seen about 90% of this trailer in other trailers. Was I outlandishly excited by it (as I hoped to be)? Not at all. It felt like a poor man’s Spider-Man remake trailer to be honest — at first I thought you guys Rick-Rolled me.

City in terror? Check. City being destroyed? Check. Fight happening between cuts of flickering lights that make everything about the action indecipherable? Check. Corporate tycoon scientist enthusiast guy trying to create something to make the world better, but that will likely backfire into something worse but only after it creates something accidentally that rises against adversity to become the hero(es) of the movie? Check. Run on sentence that illustrates the tedious drag I felt before I got a cool shot of Leonardo (yes, I think he looked cool), only to be followed by a comedic moment that didn’t quite land between April O’Neil and Michelangelo (my favourite Turtle, and yes, I did love his surfer beads). Um… check.

Will I watch this movie? Absolutely. Will I be entertained by it? Most likely. Will it likely get tremendous web geek flack? Absolutely, no doubt. Will it get a sequel? Don’t be silly, of course it won’t. It’ll get two to five sequels, silly.


Dru Jeffries is the co-host of 24 Panels Per Second. Follow him on Twitter @violetbooth.

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