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?