It is not exactly the case that TMNT (to give the new film story of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles its proper, if clunky, title) destroys the fond memories of my childhood. If anything, I have a horrible feeling that it is perfectly respectful to the original comic, TV series and films in all their modes of expression and narrativity, i.e. I'm guessing that the dialogue and plots were always this shitty, and I was too young and undiscerning to notice.
Before I get to that, I just have to say, you know what's not shitty at all? The visuals. This is a sleek film, as flat-out gorgeous as any CGI cartoon I've ever watched, as dark and gothic as Tim Burton's Batman or any number of 1940s films noirs. The film's highly-stylized idea of New York City is a marvel of edges and lines, splashes of light in huge pools of darkness. Of course, it's just part of the new wave of comic films (7 years on, do we still get to call it the "new wave"?), in which being dark and dour are positive virtues in and of themselves, but damned if it isn't a particularly severe example of the style. This, I suppose, is the charm of CGI over live-action: the totality of mise en scène. We all know how I feel about movies that have incredibly stylized, self-contained worlds. Swoon.
More good news: the character design and animation are both impeccable. The turtles look like they always have, obviously - nobody's particularly interested in a fanboy revolt - but there's a certain je ne sais quois to their faces in this go round. Perhaps it is their shockingly well-rendered eyes, and perhaps it is just that, unlike the Henson Creature Shop animatronics of the earlier films, they are actually capable of expression, but somebody somewhere figured out how to communicate a great deal of emotion in these cartoon reptilian faces. As to the human characters, the film punts the same way that Pixar's The Incredibles did: they've been stylized to a degree where the incidental problems with animation are fairly easy to ignore. This is the first feature out of Imagi Animation Studios, and I must say that I'm impressed. They aren't Pixar-level, not quite, but they're quite amazing compared to just about every other CGI studio I can think of. Particularly in one fight scene, on a neon-lit roof, in the rain, literally one of the best-looking animated sequences in the last decade. There's a zest for darkness and experimentation that would be unimaginable at any US animation house, and some of that can of course be attributed to the source material, or to director Kevin Munroe, but still: goddamn fine-looking movie. I love stylized animation so much. I love it more than people.
The reason I top-loaded all of that was because I've noticed that most of the film's reception has not involved much discussion of the look of the thing, and I don't really think that's fair: it's an animated film. The rules are different. I mean, the whole point of animation is that it looks different than reality, so the visuals get extra bonus points. The script, you can ignore that. At least this is what I tell myself, especially when confronted with such an awful, awful screenplay as Munroe inflicted upon TMNT. It's never, ever a good thing when the first trouble sign of a bad story comes in the opening scene, but here it does, as the stentorian Laurence Fishburne narrates a brief recap of who the Turtles are and what they have achieved (and actually, I approve of this refusal to pander to people who might, somehow, not know the Turtles' origin story), and then backtracks to talk about their new foe who 3000 years ago blah.
It's such a simple, tiny note, but is there any conceivable way that it makes more sense to start with a 40 second intro to the Turtles when there's a five minute scene set in the far distant past that sets up the rest of the plot? It feels like a DVD menu or the title screen of a video game (which, okay, fits pretty damn well). It does not feel like a good way to open a plot. In fact, it does something completely new to me: it kills the momentum of the story before the story has even begun. That's an extraordinary form of meta-badness that I for one find rather unique and exciting.
And from there, the story...yeah. I don't actually know that the story exists. Something about ancient evil, obviously, and monsters and action setpieces, most of which are much too short (the movie really needed to be PG-13), and then it's over. There's no dramatic arc, unless it be the horribly contrived domestic squabble between the Turtles that lasts for over an hour of the not-terribly long film. It's just a lot of things happening, sometimes in relation to each other, and more often, not. And the way it sets up a sequel is obnoxious.
I will not deign to mention the dialogue.
In my heart of hearts, I know this is exactly what I should have expected because this is exactly what the old show and the old movies and the old comic used to be: squirrelly, pointless stories about teenage mutant ninja turtles. I liked high concept back in those days. I know better now. Which means, horribly, that I'm not the target audience for a cartoon movie anymore. Goddammit, don't they know that I have nostalgia that needs catering to? Plus a heightened sense of what makes a good comic book movie in the post-Singer, post-Raimi, post-Nolan world? This is really just insultingly badly written. I don't want to get into it, because it's not fun-bad. It's "they're kids, what do they care?" -bad. I want very much to hate this film.
But. I. Can't.