INFINITE IMPROBABILITY: Bay plans to shred Turtles’ legacy

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First Posted: 7/8/2013

Despite making hit movie after hit movie, Michael Bay has become an easy punching bag for critics and Internet commenters alike due to the fact that everything he does reeks of “typical Hollywood.” His upcoming live-action adaptation of “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” is no different, and it’s not even done filming yet.

Last year, Nickelodeon obtained the rights to the popular and iconic ‘80s characters and created a widely praised cartoon that updated the Heroes in a Half Shell for a new generation. It makes a lot of changes, but some are for the better, and I say that as a fan who grew up with the original TV series and the comic books. For one, April O’Neil is now a teenager interested in learning martial arts along with her green friends, which transforms her character from dumb damsel to relatable rebel, so a movie produced by the same company has to be progressive too, right?

Nope. Like a robotic vessel without a Krang, Bay marched right in and put an end to such feminist nonsense, casting Megan Fox as the airhead our computer-generated reptiles will be saving. You could ask how I already know what type of character she’ll be playing, but if you did, I’d have to refer you to the rest of her career, and we really don’t want to relive any of that.

The latest bit of news that has fans oozing disgust is the casting of William Fichtner as Shredder, the evil leader of the Foot Clan and main antagonist for the Turtles. Fichtner, who you may remember as the bank manager in “The Dark Knight” whose pathos ultimately leads to nothing, is a great character actor in the “I know that guy!” roles he plays, but I doubt he has the ability to change his ethnicity.

Shredder’s real name is Oroku Saki, and throughout his many different incarnations over the years, he has always been portrayed as a Japanese man (except when he was an alien brain in that weird 2003 cartoon), but now, like the entire main cast of this new film, he’s just another white guy. And speaking of white guys, Danny Woodburn of “Seinfeld” fame will play Master Splinter, the Turtles’ sensei, another character typically portrayed as Japanese, particularly in his accent. Why did Bay go out of his way to whitewash this cast?

I’m sure he’ll argue that these gentlemen were just so right for the roles that he wasn’t going to be bound by race, attempting to turn the “racist” card back on his accusers, but the issue here lies in the fact that their race is actually quite important to their origins in this case. These are martial artists from Japan in a story where ninjas play a significant role – making them Caucasian (and likely American) forces the script “writers” (and I use the term loosely) to either explain how they learned ninjutsu or to change their stories completely.

On the other end of the spectrum, Marvel Studios shot extra (and superfluous) scenes for “Iron Man 3” specifically to court Chinese audiences, though it was met with mixed results. It seems that Hollywood can’t decide if it wants the attention of foreign audiences or not, though at the end of the day, fans care much more about staying true to what they already love and appreciate over any blatant pandering. I know plenty of black people who identify just fine with a white Spider-Man, and I know plenty of white guys who think Blade is one of the best supernatural heroes ever created because they’re just awesome characters, black or white. I have yet to hear of any Japanese fans being offended by Shredder or Splinter, so why the dramatic shift?

Jonathan Liebesman, the director of lame sequels (“Wrath of the Titans”) and prequels (“The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning”) nobody asked for, has mostly avoided criticism despite sitting in the director’s chair, but we all know that Bay is the one pulling the strings here. It would have made sense for Nickelodeon Movies to produce a film closer to its source material that respects and builds upon the franchise like the cartoon does, even if it were just for tie-in purposes, yet they let Bay run this movie right into the sewer from the get-go. This is the same guy who almost made the Turtles aliens until Internet riots ensued – why build another “Transformers” when you can pull in Marvel-type money by taking the material seriously?

Because sexism is safe. Because white characters are safe. Because the title is safe, in the sense that people will see it, no matter how bad they expect it to be, just because they like the old cartoons and comics. If you are one of those people, I suggest you stay home on June 6 next year and enjoy what you love, because you won’t find it in theaters. Hollywood is still busy pleasing a demographic that doesn’t exist.

-Rich Howells is a lifelong Marvel Comics collector, wannabe Jedi master, and cult film fan. E-mail him at [email protected]