At the risk of overly romanticizing the original film -- a movie I saw 20 times when I was 11 and haven't dared watch since -- 1990's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles had grime and a sliver of soul. Its New York was wet and dirty, the streets lined with manholes shooting up geysers of gross steam and bad guys who committed crimes kids understood: stealing purses, attacking innocents, and ominous loitering. In fact, the bad guys were kids themselves drawn to the Foot Clan's Pleasure Island-like hideout to smoke, shoot pool, and play poker--a child's fantasy of thug life--and the scariest thing was that we could see ourselves stumbling after them into the world of crime.
Director Jonathan Liebesman's generic TMNT is bigger and emptier, a wasteland of pixels. Instead of the visceral chills of alleyway crooks, the evil master scheme is, er, pharmaceutical fraud--terrifying to anyone with an HMO, none of whom will buy a ticket to the movie. It doesn't help that producer Michael Bay has shoe-horned in his sexual tics: Victoria's Secret billboards, Megan Fox, and rampant product placement, including a soliloquy from Splinter on the glory of Pizza Hut's mythical 99-cheese pizza. Bay and company have even amped-up lead villain Shredder, a karate expert who wears a pagoda made of knives, into, well, a Transformer. It begs the question: Why introduce Shredder sans-suit as a brawler who can literally knock a man unconscious while on his knees with his hands tied behind his back, and then make him rely on magnets and gizmos?