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September 10, 2015

On the Ninja Turtles and High Voltage

You know what?  I’ve never talked about Twilight at length on this blog, have I?

Okay, then.  Let’s go ahead and start with that.

At this stage, there’s not really much more that needs to be said.  I mean, I’m sure Stephenie Meyer is a decent person -- as are the movie-makers who helped the franchise soar to the forefront of the public consciousness.  But I cannot believe that Twilight is a thing that happened.  Like…if you’re reading this, you know how bad it can get, right?  The characters are heinous, the plot is nonexistent,  the themes are toxic, and I have a hard time believing that anyone could allow a story that pushed the idea of “imprinting” any farther than a first draft.

So no, I don’t like Twilight.  But you know what really gets to me about it?  You know what made me pretty much refuse to give it a chance?  I actually saw the first movie on TV a while back to see what the noise was all about.  And somehow, that movie made me angry.  Seriously angry -- as in I physically felt hot and tensed up, to the point where I had a rage-induced headache.  Not a lot of things can do that, save for a modern-day Final Fantasy game (and even then…).

It was one scene in particular that got to me.  Like I said, the characters are heinous -- save for one, debatably.  Bella’s dad Charlie is one of the only guys who comes out clean throughout the whole thing; setting aside the fact that he’s not wasting his life and causing major societal issues because of loooooooooooooove, he seems like a decent enough guy who’s only out to do the right thing.  He wants Bella to be safe and happy, even if she keeps him out of paranormal matters.

In the first Twilight movie, Charlie did nothing to prove that he was a bad guy.  But in one scene -- a scene in which he’s trying to get close to Bella, and show compassion and concern, as any good dad would -- Bella decides to tell him off as viciously as possible.  That’s all on top of her general distaste for Charlie shown throughout the movie up to that point, but it hits a fever pitch at that moment.  And for no reason, arguably.  Sure, you could argue that she tried to protect him from vampires and such (a problem she’s almost single-handedly responsible for, mind you), but that scene was the clincher.  That scene made me think “You’re a terrible person” far more than anything involving Edward, Jacob, or…well, Bella in general.

That scene pressed a berserk button I didn’t even know I had.  It made me want to shout “Whoa.  Hold on.  Stop.  You don’t talk to your father like that.  He’s done nothing but try to help you, and that’s how you treat him?  That’s your way of showing how much you care?  No.  You’re wrong.  Show some goddamn respect to the man who birthed you.”  And even though I was barely conscious thanks to the movie’s unrelenting onslaught of suck, that scene was the point when I tuned out.  I couldn’t take Twilight seriously, or even jokingly.  It’s absolutely, unrepentantly terrible.

For the record?  I had that reaction years ago -- long before this point, wherein I’m still sore from my own dad’s passing.  I’d probably be spewing fire over it now, but taking recent events into account -- and remembering that scene, for whatever reason -- I understand things a little better.  I know that I lashed out at Bella because I couldn’t even begin to imagine treating my dad that way.  He was away on business a lot, and we didn’t exactly get to talk as often as most father-son duos, but that didn’t stop him from being a good guy every chance he got.  He supported me, encouraged me, and showed me one glowing path toward being a good guy in turn.  So I’m convinced that fathers (and mothers) deserve respect. 

And Twilight stomped all over that belief for now good reason.  Well, except for one: because it’s awful.

And it’s not the only awful thing out there.

To make a short and mostly-stupid story even shorter, I got forced to watch the 2014 rendition of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  And yes, it’s bad.  Very bad.  I don’t know if it’s as bad as -- or worse than -- the Michael Bay Transformers movies; it could go either way, depending on one’s mood.  But really, does it matter?  I’m starting to think that, no, it doesn’t matter.  Not even a little bit.  A terrible movie is a terrible movie, and when you’re using other terrible movies as a measuring stick, the whole system falls apart faster than a house of cards set on fire.

Everything you’ve heard from reviews and videos is true (because God forbid you had to see it for yourself).  There’s not really a point in doing a beat-by-beat post on it, because that’s already been done elsewhere.  For the record, though?  Despite its furious attempts at comedy, I didn’t crack a smile once.  The movie couldn’t even get the turtles’ basic archetypes right without dialing up their annoyance factors by a factor of eight; I can’t imagine how many people died inside when they heard Michelangelo talk about how he “can feel his shell tightening” at the sight of April O’Neal. 

The exposition level is out of control, but it somehow manages to both over-explain things and not explain enough.  So obviously, the plot makes no sense, and the crew behind the movie took what should have been simple as all hell and made it needlessly complex.  More to the point, it does what no reboot should do: make the audience question the sanctity and quality of the original product.  The 2014 movie does no favors for the canon, but when it makes people wonder if the older stuff was actually a load of hot garbage, that’s a problem.

I’d say that the best part of the movie is the action, but that’s a stretch.  It’s easier to keep up with than a Transformers movie, sure, but I don’t feel anything from it -- least of all excitement.  Part of that has to do with the shoddy writing that can’t be arsed to give me a reason to care.  But even beyond that, it all feels weightless; it’s as if everything and everyone is a CG balloon, greased up and sliding around onscreen at twice their normal speed.  It doesn’t feel natural, and it certainly doesn’t feel real.  And on top of that, the only fights that really matter are the ones with Shredder -- because the Foot Clan can’t do anything to harm the turtles.  Because tension is for yellowbellies.

Despite being an inherent CG fest via the turtles -- and who knows how many millions of dollars got wasted on their uniformly-ugly selves -- the movie has nothing even remotely resembling charm, cartoonish or otherwise.  It’s actually kind of mean-spirited; the turtles and Splinter score some nasty kills on people, so the fun comes to an abrupt end when you see human bodies getting treated so harshly.  Their world is full of jerks with varying levels of apathy, smugness, perversion, and idiocy -- and before you ask?  Yes, I’m including the turtles in that group, even though they’re ostensibly the heroes.  Meanwhile, I don’t even want to talk about the villains, because they’re embarrassing.  They pretty much had the movie (or at least their immediate goals) won, but decided to be stupid and evil because reasons.  Poorly-explained reasons, natch.

But the real deal-breaker for this movie is April O’Neal.  She’s emblematic of the real problem with the movie -- which I’ll get to in a minute -- but she’s the source of dozens of other micro-problems that pile up fast.  I want to give Megan Fox the benefit of the doubt, but even I have a hard time overlooking the cringe-inducing acting on display.  I can’t think of a single line delivery that had a strong effect (besides disdain, maybe), and my biggest takeaway from her performance is that she’s from the Mouth-Breather’s School of Acting in Oxford. 

I guess I can’t blame her, because the role gives her nothing.  The movie is so dead-set on proving that April is this strong, independent, smart, brave woman -- and it’s completely botched.  There’s no subtlety on display, no nuance, and nothing even close to an arc; she just blathers on about being someone great, and doing something great, and all this chaff about the truth and the big scoop and whatever else will show how strong she is.  But really, nothing she does helps her case -- least of all because she’s consistently perved on by the movie itself.  (Speaking of which, Mikey creeps on April throughout, even though she’s effectively his mother.  Ewwww.)

April’s still got a character flaw, though.  Boy does she have a character flaw: she’s an idiot.  Like, I don’t know if it’s because of the writing, or her performance, or a mix of the two (spoilers: it’s probably the mix), but April only makes it as far as she does because of the plot.  Very few, if any decisions she makes are the right ones; every attempt she makes to be proactive show that she has the foresight of a dying cow.  She gets fired from the newspaper after trying repeatedly to run a story with no evidence.  She actively empowers the villains so that they can get what they want.  Despite trying to make her way in the world on her own merits, she only succeeds -- or even gets started -- because of what might as well be destiny.  And plot contrivances, of course.  But in this day and age, the two are pretty much interchangeable.

Like I said, April’s emblematic of the movie’s real problem with the movie -- if not every problem.  See, the thing about TMNT ’14 is that, despite the stigma of Michael Bay (even though it’s not 100% his movie in any way), despite the nostalgia-bait nature, and despite the design-by-committee ripeness, the movie tries to be more than just going through the motions.  It tries to have comedy, drama, characters, ideas, and of course heart.  But it missed the mark.

Don’t get me wrong, though.  I’m not saying that the movie put in effort and came up short; I’m saying that this is a movie that tried to win favor by going through a different set of motions rather than the expected ones.  There’s no passion or conviction behind any of its scenes, which could have carried the characters and audience alike through the dark era that is its run time.  It’s only got this scene and that scene, and this plot point and that plot point, because it’s under the assumption that having those elements = good movie = fan loyalty = respect.  But it doesn’t work.

TMNT ’14 isn’t a movie.  It’s a Cylon in film form.

It’s as fake as the CG used to bring the turtles to “life”.  Words are spewed and motions are made, but none of it feels honest -- only the efforts of a thing trying to curry favor.  Trying to prove its worth -- and by extension, its humanity.  It wants to be “one of us”, but either doesn’t understand what that means, or would rather substitute that for some slapdash clone.  I don’t believe April is a strong independent woman, I don’t believe the turtles are a family, I don’t believe Shredder, the Foot Clan, or Evil Businessman #8592B are credible threats, and I don’t believe I watched anything worth an eighth of a damn.

TMNT ’14 is a movie that can’t (or won’t) be sincere.  And as a result, it presents a distorted view of reality -- which would be fine if that was intentional, or if it tried to make a point.  But when it’s arguable that sheer incompetence created a movie where it’s impossible to buy a single heartwarming moment between what’s ostensibly a family, something has gone wrong.  Or right.  Maybe they just assumed no one would care.  Maybe they figured that kids would buy into the sights, and anyone over a certain age would get swept up by the promise of “cool” CG fights.  Or turtles.  Or nostalgia.

In a lot of ways, they’re kind of right.  And for the record: I’m using “they” to refer to everyone with any sort of major control over the movie.  Michael Bay might be a big player, but he didn’t make it alone…so I’m going to do the polite thing and call for a plague on all the moviemakers’ houses.

In all fairness, TMNT ’14 isn’t the only movie to be so -- for lack of a better term -- wrongTwilight is wrong in general, whether it’s the movies or the books.  They’re not the only guilty ones, either; movies, and games, and TV shows, and books, and more have all had their issues.  Instead of doing the simple, earnest, respectable thing and trying to make a good story, they resort to all sorts of shortcuts and pandering.  All of the passion and potential inherent in these products ends up getting wasted because…why, exactly?  Hard to say conclusively, or give an all-encompassing answer. 

But I guess that’s just the world we live in.  This is an era where apparently, it doesn’t take effort to succeed.  And that’s probably been true of plenty of other eras in the past, but this is the present; we should be past this already, and moving toward better things.  In some cases, we are.  But in others, we have stuff like TMNT ’14 and Twilight that have done their best to chain us to the ground.  Distorted ideas, distorted worlds, distorted people, distorted everything; the only thing they have that’s clear and straight is their sheer lack of quality…and yet they succeed anyway, because “hey, hot vampires!” or “hey, action scenes!”  And even those are debatable, because the latter’s got nothing to its name but bland battles, and I have a hard time understanding how a freakishly-paled, thick-browed rendition of Robert Pattinson could ever become an object of desire.  Guess I have a lot to learn about women.

I can’t help but think back to what Mikasa once said in Attack on Titan: this world is cruel.  It’s a place full of injustices and inequalities.  Those with power decide who and what succeeds -- and right now, those with power have chosen, in great numbers, that success belongs to those who can appeal the most.  It’s a constant struggle between meritorious content and indulgent design -- the appeal of big names and base-level entertainment. 

Too often that struggle swings in the wrong direction.  Art, our solace from the world -- yet paradoxically, our great exemplar of it -- is compromised all too often for the sake of safety.  Of money.  Of stability.  And yes, even for the sake of cowardice.  Too many are willing to refuse the raw potential of art, because it’s been proven that there’s no need to explore that potential.  Some creators don’t care about the possibilities -- because plenty of audiences don’t care, either.

It’s an endless cycle of apathy.  The worst art doesn’t give people a reason to care.  So people stop caring, yet help that art succeed anyway -- which sends the general message that caring and effort and the will to explore are all worthless.  And that, in turn, tells other creators that caring is worthless; if they want to succeed -- and they do -- then there’s no reason to deviate.  No reason to try. 

Just have the proper mix of elements in the proper order with the proper intended effects, and audiences will eat it up.  They won’t care what words are spoken, or what’s shown on screen, or what’s subtly woven into the story.  Art, in the eyes of the unjust creator, is only a tool.  It’s a method of conditioning -- tricking people to give them money, and have them line up for the next big payout opportunity.     

This world is cruel.  But it’s also beautiful.

It’s true.  A lot of things in the world aren’t the way we want them to be.  Unfairness and wrongdoings happen by the minute, well beyond the bounds of the art world.  The powerful can’t always (if ever) be counted on to do the right thing, and the powerless -- despite their will and burning desires -- can’t even begin to enact change.  But that’s no reason to accept things as they are.  That’s no reason to give up, and let the injustices continue.  If the world isn’t the way you want it to be, then you have to try to make it the world you want.  Do your part to make it better. 

In all fairness, I’m projecting here.  I can’t force anyone to follow some righteous “path of justice”, now can I?  But I can at least follow that path myself -- try and practice what I preach.  The way I see it, it’s the one thing I can do to honor my father’s legacy…because I can prove his faith wasn’t misplaced by making every last one of my dreams and ambitions come true.  I can become a true writing hero; at this stage, it’s not a question of “am I good enough?” or “what can I do?” or “what should I write?”  It’s about pushing forward, no matter what.

Too many creators have trampled on the world’s faith with their art.  That’s been true of the past, true of the present, and it’ll likely be true of the future.  I want to fight alongside others who have done their best to prove them wrong; big names, small names, masters, greenhorns, everyone who’s ever believed in the power of art -- and with it, the faith in the future.  I want to be a part of that; I want to take my stories in hand like a gleaming sword and shield, and strike against anything that aims to smother the human spirit.

My father once told me to keep the faith.  And I have.  And I will.  And now, I want to show others that they should have faith as well.  The words I write, and the stories I weave, will all be for that purpose from here on out.  I’ll give the world the tales, adventures, and heroes it deserves -- and I’ll do all I can to inspire others not only to join me, but to surpass me. 

That’s what it means to be a true writing hero.  And someday -- maybe one day soon -- I’ll make that happen.  That’s the promise I’ll make to myself.  And all of you reading this?  Anyone reading this? 

You can fight as well.  Show the world that it has the right to believe.  Because I believe in you.

…You know, this post makes me sound like I’m going Knight Templar.  Eh, it’s fine, though.  If I ever did become a villain, that’d be the archetype I want. 

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