Not too long ago, Mass Effect 3 came out and pretty much everyone bought it. And then immediately afterward they finished it and hated the ending. Right around this same time, Michael Bay came out and said some things about the new Ninja Turtles movie that’s in the works and infuriated fans there as well. Since then I’ve had a handful of people ask me for an opinion on Michael Bay’s TMNT, but friend and colleague Bob Chipman beat me to it by a single day. Will that stop me from complaining? No, not at all, because today I want to think deep about Fanboy Entitlement. So, Let’s Think Deep.
As of this writing, I have barely scratched the surface of Mass Effect 3. I’ve been regularly playing through the multiplayer whenever possible as I’m really enjoying it, but I know what everyone seemed to have a problem with: The ending. I don’t know what happens at the very end, but I do know that everyone is really sad and Bioware has acknowledged that they should have given players more time to say goodbye, so my assumption is that…there is a huge space battle the end.
The issue hasn’t exactly been the ending though. The real issue, the one that’s doing a lot of harm to the overall credibility of fans, is that outraged Mass Effectees are so furious with the ending that they’re demanding Bioware change it, going so far as starting Child’s Play charity drives, signing petitions, and even reporting Bioware to the BBB on the grounds that they delivered “false advertising.” Why? Because the entire Mass Effect series was based on the notion of choice and the ending after three games came down to essentially the same one no matter what.
Again, I haven’t played to the end. I may very well hate it and wish it were different. That doesn’t give me the right to have it changed though. There are also a handful of people who did like the ending and felt it was perfectly fine. Are their opinions not also valid? The nasty thing that no one’s really saying here is that the “fans” are deciding who is and is not a real fan of the series to the point that if you’re not actively supporting the cause and hate the ending to the point of arson threats, then you are a moron and need to burn with the heretics. You know who deals with ultimatums? Siths, and those guys are jerks.
As a writer, I was intrigued- nay- fascinated with the idea of making choices that two games later would carry real weight. Thus far there isn’t anything that feels Earth-shatteringly different on the surface, but underneath, yes, my gameplay experiences have been radically different. Let’s go back to the first game so I can explain myself yet again.
In Mass Effect 1 I started playing as a male paragon soldier and made really safe choices whenever possible. Things were alright but there wasn’t a lot at stake. I used all the characters randomly and just sort of played to find out what new Achievements I could unlock. The same somewhat carried into Mass Effect 2 with my male solider remaining the nicest guy in the world, sounding like a boy scout at every turn. He was predictable and somewhat dull. He romanced Liara in the first game as she was the clear “exciting” choice, then romanced Miranda in the second game as she was the safe and expected option.
I enjoyed the games well enough but it wasn’t until I played through again with a female renegade vanguard that everything popped. The subtlety of the narrative I began creating changed smaller instances and suddenly everything carried far more weight. I was invested in the choices I made, and this female Shepard turned out to be a lot more interesting as she was impulsive, unfriendly, and overall chaotic. Currently playing ME3 I find myself feeling her soften around longtime friends and making the more paragon decisions, almost as if she is a fully realized and dynamic character. To me, the game already branched out so far that my two playthroughs aren’t anywhere near the same game in terms of tone and emotion, aspects far more important to me.
Thing is, the idea that Mass Effect 3 could have a sprawlingly different outcomes depending on the choices that you make throughout the story is absurd, especially if you want it within 10 years. Every radical choice would demand things be changed later on, compounding upon itself to the point that what fans were demanding- and for some reason expected- was for the third installment to be two or more entirely different games. As a result they didn’t like the ending and now feel entitled to one of their choosing because they had a hand in creating their Shepard. Do they deserve this new ending? No, because they already got to play the game differently. I’ll pull a reverse-snob move on these fans and say that if they didn’t feel the game played different based on very simple choices they made, they were playing the game wrong.
So now we’re up to Michael Bay and his recent announcement that Turtle fans will be excited with the new direction they’re going with the movie, specifically mentioning that the four Turtles are aliens. Naturally, this turned a few heads as everyone asked, “Aliens? Did I hear that right? He does know that the word “mutant” is in the title of the movie, right?” Ultimately there’s been some back and forth about what he really meant by that, implying that he could have just misspoken and meant that they’re following the source material a lot closer where the Utroms are responsible for the ooze that mutates the Turtles, but there’s still a lot that’s frustrating fans here.
When I heard what Bay had said, I was bothered but not surprised. The more I heard, specifically Bay and his company clarifying things here and there, the angrier I became, as did a fair many other Turtle fans. So in this case, are we justified in our outrage?
What’s the difference between this and Mass Effect 3’s ending? ME3 was made by a team of developers who honestly cared about the project they were working on, spent a lot of time trying to get it just right, and truly wanted to please the fans. Michael Bay’s TMNT is overtly a cash-in on a big money property that’s being made by people who don’t care about the fans, the material, or anyone in between. ME3 was about telling a story to the best of their ability. Bay’s TMNT is about replicating Transformers.
To begin, we already know that the TMNT that Bay’s company is producing has a very slim chance of being good due to past experiences, specifically in terms of Transformers. A lot of fans of the original cartoon hated the live action movies, partly because the general tone wasn’t about making a movie for fans but rather just making a movie that would gross as much money as possible. That’s what will happen to TMNT. The only decisions will reflect the desire to appease the lowest common denominator, as that’s the demographic that typically goes to movies anymore (not the only one mind you, just the biggest).
One of the things that’s come out of the “they’re aliens” business is the mention that one of the original creators of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles will be on the project. I can almost guarantee that this is Peter Laird as Kevin Eastman sold off his stake in the franchise a long, long time ago. So assuming it’s Laird that’s on the project, does that put fan’s minds at ease? It shouldn’t as Laird has worked on Turtles and only Turtles his entire career, and to be frank, that’s not an accomplishment. The 1987 cartoon is fantastic, but he didn’t write that. The first movie is fantastic, but he didn’t write that (it was, however, based fairly closely to the original comics). One thing he did write is the story for TMNT Smash-Up, the game celebrating the Turtles’ 25th anniversary by making a cheap Smash Bros knock-off.
What Bay’s studio is implying by saying that they have one of the original creators on hand is that because of this show of good faith, you should just trust them on anything that happens, even though Laird will pretty much just nod and agree to whatever the money says. The entire thing reminds me of one of my favorite sayings when it comes to script writing: “When you get the small lies right, the audience will believe the bigger ones.” This means that if you can get the small details correct then you can get away with changing or screwing up something much bigger. For example, in the new Spider-Man movie that’s coming out this year, Spider-Man once again has mechanical web-shooters. Because they’re doing this to placate the fans, they’re able to invent a convoluted backstory that ties Parker to Osborn like it was destiny, and honestly I’m pretty okay with that.
In the instance of Bay’s TMNT, the small lie is that Laird, an original creator, will be on the project. The end result will be something probably unrecognizable from the franchise as fans know it. This is confirmed further with Bay’s statement that the Turtles are alien in origin. Even if they really are going to be created as a result of the Utroms and that’s a big aspect of this specific script, saying that they’re aliens to a group of Turtle fans is about as ignorant as saying that Batman is raised by bats in a cave. His story involves bats, sure, but the time he spends with them is minimal. The Turtles were mutated as a result of the Utroms, but they encounter them very briefly, and their origin story doesn’t involve the aliens at all until that knowledge is revealed later. The entire origin of the Turtles is right there in their name: They are teen-aged turtles, mutated from normal and trained to be ninjas. You want fans to be happy? You start by saying that April will be back in a yellow jumpsuit and that the live action Turtles will once again be in Jim Henson’s suits, only this time with CG faces similar to Where The Wild Things Are. If only that were actually the case.
To conclude the differences, one is an overreaction by fans while the other is perfectly justified. I’m excited to play through to the end of Mass Effect 3. I’m not excited to see what Michael Bay does to my beloved Turtles. As a fan, we can get invested, but that’s as far as we should take it. Create an emotional attachment, but don’t assume that means you own anything. Every story is just a place you get to visit. When you assume you’re a citizen and can demand changes, that’s when problems arise. If you see someone else lighting buildings on fire, absolutely call the fire department. See the difference?