Wednesday, May 9, 2012

I Won't Care if the 'Ninja Turtles' Reboot Sucks - And Neither Should You

I'll be blunt - I'm not at all concerned that the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie might be awful. The truth of the matter is I can't understand how anyone my age could be so worked up about it. Yet, countless message board threads, comments sections on movie news sites, and Facebook posts indicate that they do care. A lot.

For those who need a quick recap, Michael Bay (Transformers, Armageddon, scourge of fanboys everywhere) is producing a new live-action Turtles film. It's being directed by Jonathan Liebsman (Battle: Los Angeles) and they've shortened the title to just Ninja Turtles. That minor change is small potatoes, though. The alteration that everyone seems to be up in arms about involves the origin of the eponymous characters. Instead of actual turtles who are mutated by a mysterious ooze, Bay indicated that in this incarnation the heroes-in-a-halfshell will be members of an alien race. It was a vague statement. No one even really knows what exactly that means yet. That didn't stop the internet from exploding with venomous rage and a ridiculous chorus of cries from grown men bemoaning the fact that another filmmaker was once again raping their childhood.

I suppose fans have been nervously anticipating this sort of misstep from Bay. After all, he notoriously mangled the Transformers property into something with only a passing resemblance to its source material. It was probably a given that he was going to degrade the TMNT brand in similar fashion. My feeling is that with Bay producing it, the turtles being aliens is probably going to be the least of the film's problems. It has an incredibly slim chance of turning into something I'd be interested in watching. I think the difference is, I'm not getting myself all worked up about it. Because this film isn't for me. The Ninja Turtles aren't for me anymore. Bay makes flicks for adolescent boys. The same ones who keep showing up for his Transformers movies, despite how dreadful the rest of us think they are.

Let me be clear - this is not a judgment against anyone that still reads comic books, watches cartoons, or plays video games. I still do all of those things, too. I also still have a great affection for many of the properties I grew up with - but there's a fairly substantial difference between the stories and characters that I'm still passionate about and the ones I'm simply nostalgic for.

My love for Batman may have started with a few comic books, re-runs of the 60s TV show, and the Super Friends cartoon - but that property also grew up with its audience. There will always be Batman cartoons aimed at children because DC very wisely wants to create new fans. I didn't like The Batman or The Brave & The Bold and I think the upcoming Beware the Batman looks even worse - but I also understand that I'm not the target audience for those shows. Just like Super Friends probably didn't appeal to the older fans of those characters back when it was on the air.

What the kids watching these new Batman cartoons will discover is that, when they're ready, there are also other stories out there featuring The Dark Knight aimed at a more mature audience. Stories that twist the mythology inside out, re-invent the character, and keep him relevant and compelling. If my relationship with Batman began and ended with Super Friends and the campy TV show, I'd have very little investment in him now. Affection? Sure. But like I said, that's not the same thing.

In almost all of their incarnations, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have been targeted squarely at children. Yeah, I know - the original Mirage comic is dark and bloody. In my humble opinion, it's also not very good and it was also never remotely as popular as the kid-friendly version. Even when the 80s cartoon helped Turtle-mania reach a fever pitch, there was almost no change in the sales of those comics. There was very little crossover. In fact, most of the elements fans regard as being so essential to that mythos were created for the cartoon. So enough with the arguments about making it more like the comics. For the most part, the turtles that you and I remember owe almost everything to that original cartoon and the accompanying toy line. All of my friends loved the Ninja Turtles. None of them owned any of the comic books (other than the TMNT Adventures - a series published by Archie comics and not Mirage and which began as straight adaptations of the cartoon).

I've also seen comments about how the second cartoon series (which ran from 2003-2009) was darker in tone and closer in spirit to the comics. That may be the case, but it doesn't change the fact that it was still for kids. We all grew up. The Turtles didn't. And you know what? They can't. Not without losing some of their most endearing qualities. They're not really as flexible as other literary characters when it comes to interpretation and if Bay and co. try to make them older, cooler, and edgier I think that fact will be made abundantly clear.

There's a very moronic belief in Hollywood (and amongst some fanboys) that making something darker somehow legitimizes it, but I think anyone making that request is missing the point - NO ONE SHOULD BE TRYING TO LEGITIMIZE THE TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES. It's a stupid, goofy premise. They're immature characters. That's half the fun.

And please, please, please stop with the "So-and-so raped my childhood!" nonsense. No they didn't. Anyone my age has already had one good live-action Ninja Turtles movie that no one can destroy the memory of. You want a film that perfectly blends the 80s cartoon and the Mirage comic? A film that 100% commits to this incredibly absurd concept without taking itself too seriously? It already exists. It came out in 1990. Your parents probably took you opening weekend. So quit bitching. You had your Ninja Turtles movie and now it's someone else's turn.

Look, obviously the best case scenario would be a film that both children and adults could appreciate. I'm not saying that wouldn't be ideal. What I am saying is that even if it sucks, so what? Are you really that passionate about the Ninja Turtles - or are you just nostalgic for them?

If you want to complain about what a terrible filmmaker Michael Bay is that's one thing. I don't hate the Transformers movies because they didn't copy the cartoon. I hate them because they're badly written, acted, shot, and edited. I wasn't on Facebook crying about them adding flames to Optimus Prime's paint job because I didn't give a shit. I was a kid when I watched Transformers - and then I got older and moved on to something more interesting. Sure, my affection for the cartoon was the main reason I saw the movie and yeah, I think it's a shame it wasn't a better film - but I'd lost any real investment I may have had in that stuff a long, long time ago. If Transformers offended me, it was because it treated its audience like idiots - not because it altered the mythology.

I remember my mom taking me to see the first Ninja Turtles film. All of the weekend shows had sold out right away so we went on a Tuesday night. I know that after a long day of work it was probably the last thing she wanted to do, but I'd been bugging her about it endlessly. She warned me not to get my hopes up too high because it might still be sold out. Mercifully, it wasn't - and for the next two hours I stared in awe at a movie that was everything I'd hoped it would be and more.

No matter how this new film turns out, it will never take that night or those memories away from me. So if you want to argue about the Watchmen adaptation or The Dark Knight, then let's get into it - but if you're really that angry about Ninja Turtles then I can't help but think you kinda need to grow up.


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