08 August 2014

The Road to a Blockbuster: Into the Ninja Storm

The sun has risen on another Summer Friday so it's time again to determine how the big flicks hitting the screen are going to contribute to our dear old cultural landscape. I am always interested in cultural reverberations, especially because these days it seems as if Marvel has a choke hold on the national movie conversation any time one of their Golden Eggs drops. I'm betting heavily that everyone is still going to only care about Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) this week, but just for kicks, let's talk about two movies that no one wants: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014) and Into the Storm (2014).

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is going to be awful in every sense of the word. It's really never been in the good graces of any prognosticator Internet-wide. We can easily contrast this with Marvel - it's really the studio reputation that's at fault. Marvel Studios has built up an uncanny prestige for delivering pretty decent blockbuster material - there are legitimate gripes about whitewashing, overuse of MacGuffins, bland villains, and over-reliance on shared world-building for sure, but generally, audiences respond well to the product and there is a good amount of positivity involved with any viewing.

Ninja Turtles on the other hand is coming straight out of the Michael Bay-led Platinum Dunes studio, responsible for such adored hits as well, just about every trashy horror re-make of the past ten years, from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003) to A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010). Rather than really adding anything substantial to canon these films more often appear like they're cashing in on a quick name-recognition buck. Now, it's not to say the studio isn't really financially successful, nor is incapable of successful original films - last year and this year's entries into the Purge franchise proves that.

In general, though, these have just never seemed like the right dudes to take on the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The property is fairly well adored by most 80s and 90s kids, although with an even marginally slightly closer examination this is kind of faulty. I mean, keep in mind that Secret of the Ooze featured a scene where people in giant rubber suits fought the turtles by burping, and then a Vanilla Ice Dance Off. That happened! Why does anyone care about the integrity of this franchise?

The Turtles have been pretty doomed since the start of their expansion out of the world of gritty, independent black and white comic books. Lest we not forget that they share an inconspicuous origin with Daredevil, which is pretty awesome. The comic, originally created by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird had a fervent set of cult fans but little of the typical Turtles tropes we recognize today, from Pizza-loving to even the distinct colors and names of our quartet. According to cartoon writer David Wise, that was all him. That cartoon was crazily well-regarded by five-year olds such as myself at the time (and younger), and naturally led to an incredible amount of marketing opportunities, which literally made toys out of just about everything. I'm not hating, I played with those toys damn near every day and as a little kid, I got a lot of inspiration out of them. Shut up.

In some way or another, the Turtles have never really gone away. Turtles in Time (wait...that wasn't the title of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III [1993]?) seemed to be the nadir of their heyday, but there were also animated series revivals in 1997, 2003, and 2012, as well as the full-length theatrically released animated film, TMNT (2007) that was somehow seven years ago. This franchise has been through just about everything, and its 90's Surfer & Pizza attitude has somehow persisted like four Turtle-shaped Bart Simpsons.

So I think that the ubiquitous groans that have gone along with this picture has more to do with Mike Bay's producer involvement than anyone dreading the bastardification or shelling out (hey oh!) of the franchise itself. Or maybe nostalgia is just that powerful. From about ages two to six the only thing I wanted to be was a Ninja Turtle, and I have no interest in this film at all, though. To be fair, even after removing my heavy, heavy Turtles love from the equation this flick still looks incredibly dumb. The visual design of the Turtles themselves isn't winning anyone over (jeez some animator needs to be fired. How is anyone supposed to market this?) and the trailers have demonstrated more of a typical explosions and loud dumbness than any character we're supposed to invest ourselves in. And Megan Fox - miscasting of the year? I just don't think you can release this in a post-Guardians world. Big dumb blockbusters need to be self-aware of their big dumbness, especially in a case like this where the original comic was largely a parody and the original show was also pretty cognizant of its silliness. The new movie may contain that sort of edge, but it hasn't been demonstrated in the build up the way something like Guardians did. Not to belabour the point - but it's just that this really weird, really risky film JUST came out and did everything that Turtles should be doing with getting people over to its side so much better. I think this will tank commercially, critically, and culturally. No one will remember or care about Turtles by Labour Day.
Fire! Tornado!

Ugh, and that's not even the most forgettable movie we have coming out this weekend. Did we need a new tornado disaster film? Well, I suppose we haven't had one since Twister (2006). So, no. We didn't need one. Into the Storm has a mild $50 million and may bring in a bit of that thriller crowd who likes these kinds of films in August. We haven't really had many flicks like this lately, but there this movie also just seems to have come out of no where without a lot of hype riding with it.

There are some pretty cool moments in the trailers and commercials - that fire tornado does look badass and that money shot of the enormous funnel is pretty crunk. I'm not sure that badass and crunk can save this film, though. It's enough counter-programming to maybe make a decent buck, but I can't imagine that it survives even the most liberal critic's drubbing. As for cultural influence - if we see it on TV in 2017 or hear it's name we may be like "Oh yeah, that was that old tornado movie, right? Was that any good? Should I Netflix it?" I love the idea of spending $50 million on what is probably some amateur storm chaser's baby to basically just become a late night drunk at a part and not-really paying attention flick to have on in the background. Hollywood is awesome.

I haven't been kind to this week's new releases at all. What do you think? Will Ninja Turtles or Into the Storm have more merit than I'm giving them? Or do they deserve to be shitted on like all normal August movies? Leave a comment, folks!

Both Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Into the Storm may be seen in theaters today, on another bizarre Summer Friday.

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