OpEd: Will the new 'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles' be successful?

By Will Ashton,

With the summer blockbuster season in full swing, one of the season’s biggest question marks remains the new Michael Bay-produced Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film.


Image courtesy of Carlos Diaz/INFphoto.com

With Transformers: Age of Extinction hitting theaters this summer, it is expected to make a killing and will probably walk away with at least $75 million in its pocket before Monday rolls around. But will this new franchise reboot have the same luck?

It is obviously too early to tell that for sure but we can at least look at the facts that have been presented so far and go from there.

Directed by Jonathan Liebesman, not Bay, this new film reboot of the series attempts to bring the turtles back in live-action form but appears to be avoiding at all cost the silliness of the original films. Or, so it would seem at first. Yet, as more trailers come out, the movie seems to be more and more at odds with what tone it is striving for exactly. Is it attempting to be a somber look at the franchise, or is it just another goofy romp with the characters like the ‘90s films were?

What is distressing fans most is the design of the turtles, which appear to give a more grounded, human look to the turtles, with noses and lips and all. Reactions to the new film have decidedly been mixed, with some looking forward to the new movies and others, naturally, bemoaning their very existence.

I should start off by noting that I am neither a fan nor a hater of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Even as a kid, I found the franchise to be rather silly. Yet, at the same time, I could understand the tongue-in-cheek appeal of the series, unlike, say, Transformers, which always just seemed stupid and uninteresting to me.

With that out of the way, let’s look at what we know about the film. Of course, the Bay association is not a good start. Considering what he has been doing to the Transformers series, with the newest film earning a 17% on Rotten Tomatoes so far, it doesn’t look like things have changed for the filmmaker. So, of course, the fact that he is working on this film roughly during the same time as he was with that is not good. But it is important to remember that he is not the director, Liebesman is. Does that make things better? Unfortunately, not.

Liebesman resume behind-the-camera includes duds such as Battle: Los Angeles, Darkness Falls and Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning. Although, according to Rotten Tomatoes, his film The Killing Room is at least semi-decent, so perhaps that proves that he is not a complete failure as a filmmaker.

Next, let’s look at the cast. When Bay’s go-to girl Megan Fox was cast as April O’Neil, I, like everyone else, thought that was a bad sign. But I tried to hold reservations until any footage was released. After all, Fox has proven something of a resurrection in her career with her supporting roles in Friends with Kids and This is 40. Unfortunately, Fox’s performance looks more wooden than a cabinet here and appears to be a Razzie-worthy effort. And that’s just from the trailers.

Besides Fox, the live-action cast is fairly solid. Will Arnett and William Fichtner are playing roles in the film and they have proven in the past that they are more than capable of giving strong performances, no matter the material. So things look pretty good here. Yet, the decision to cast Johnny Knoxville as the voice of Leonardo is just baffling. It’s not like he’s a particularly good actor to begin with and his voice is not especially distinct or memorable for the part. He was obviously picked for name-recognition but considering that most people only enjoy his work when he’s making a fool of himself with his fellow Jackass members, I don’t see how that is going to help ticket sales.

With that said, however, the casting of Tony Shalhoub as Splinter is kind of brilliant. Speaking of Splinter, while the character design of the turtles themselves is rather off-putting, the designs of Splinter and, especially, Shredder are pretty cool. They are detailed, well layered and show a good amount of hard work behind-the-scenes. It’s weird that they would seemingly spend more time on these designs than the turtles but I didn’t work on this picture.

A breakdown like this could go on for hours. The action looks kind of fun but the writing and jokes look cringe-worthy. Some of the lightning and color-grading looks appropriately mysterious, yet some of the action cinematography looks unbelievably bad. All in all, this movie looks like a decidedly mixed bag at best but that’s not what’s important here. What is important is to determine if it’ll be as successful as Bay has made the Transformers. For the sequels, and even the original movie at times, is equally off-putting, yet continues to make tons and tons of money. Is the same to be true for the new Ninja Turtles.

Well, right off the bat, this movie will probably appeal to children on some level. The fandom of the series continues to go strong with a new animated series on Nickelodeon doing well. Considering that the network is co-producing the films, it is safe to say that they will be marketing the movie on the channel. Some of which is probably bound to stick.

But what about the older audiences; is there anything for them here? Besides Shredder, it doesn’t seem like it. The movie appears to be pandering to the younger crowd more so than the Transformers movies which will probably affect them in the long run. Considering that the movie seems off-putting as it is, having the added discretion that this is “just for kids” will probably prompt most older fans of the series to just check this movie out on DVD, if that. There are probably some that will still see the movie in theaters, if just for curiosity but those are probably not the majority.

Of course, there are a number of factors here that can’t be determined. The word-of-mouth on the film will probably have a huge factor on the film’s financial success, especially with the older fans. There is also the budget, which is not officially announced but is reported to be north of $125 million, not including marketing. Even if the movie can bring in some fans, is there enough to make that much of a profit back?

It would seem that the movie will probably make some money but nowhere near what these Transformers movies are making. This is always subject to change but for now things aren’t looking as good for the next recreation of nostalgia and youth from Bay and company.

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