Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Review
HEROES IN AN EMPTY SHELL RATHER
THAN A HALF SHELL
The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise is well-versed in adaptation and in its own popularity. Based on the comics that debuted back in 1984, this fictional group of mutant turtles (Named after four great renaissance artists and trained in the art of ninjutsu) have survived on multiple platforms. From toys, to video games, to clothing, to a handful of cartoon shows, and a couple of motion pictures, the Ninja Turtles franchise has endured (While other lucrative childhood franchise have faded away) and have amassed a great following through the years, mostly from the Y and Z generations. Now, Paramount Pictures and Nickelodeon Movies revamp the TMNT franchise back to the big screen with the film appropriately named Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. With a seven year gap between this movie and its last one (2007’s animated feature titled TMNT), are the ninja foursome still great or something of a bygone age?
A terrorist syndicate group named the Foot Clan is prepping to takeover New York City, led by their elusive leader Shedder (Tohoru Masamune). Trying to find out the mystery of the Foot Clan, April O’Neil (Megan Fox), an amateur journalist for Channel 6 News, trails the enemy one night (Getting caught along the way) and is rescued by mutated turtles Leonardo (Johnny Knoxville), Raphael (Alan Ritchson), Michelangelo (Noel Fisher), and Donatello (Jeremy Howard). The group brings April to their leader and sensei Splinter (Tony Shalhoub) as all come to the realization that their pasts (April’s and the Turtles) are connected. With a threat looming by Shedder and his Foot Clan, April and her new companions begin to unravel the mystery behind the Turtles’ mutagen study, seeking out help from Eric Sacks (William Fichtner), who funded the experimental test long ago.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
Like many of my generation, I grew up watching the Ninja Turtles, catching episodes of the original cartoon series after school and watching the 1990 live-action movie at my friend’s house. Over the years, I’ve seeing bits and pieces of the resurrected Turtles franchise through various TV shows and movie and only liking 2007’s animated TMNT out of those ones. So, of course, when a new live-action Turtles film was announced, my nostalgia for the Turtles swelled and my curiosity was interested to see the movie when it came out. After viewing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, I walked away a little bit entertained, but mostly deflated (Disappointed).
Helming this remake is Jonathan Liebesman, director of such films as Battle: Los Angles and Wrath of the Titans, while Michael Bay’s company (Platinum Dunes) developed the movie. Liebesman seems to embrace Bay’s importance of cinematic action that’s more “In Your Face” noise than drama. A snow-base action sequence is the film’s highlight with intense and frantic action taking place that’s interjected with humor and visual effects. However, the bloated final act becomes droll with repetitive fighting and coming off as silly and cartoonish at some points. The movie’s overall plot is vague familiar, taking the primary characters from Turtles franchise and mashing in a story that’s part Mission Impossible 2 and Amazing Spider-Man. There’s also a lot of exposition in the film with characters standing around talking about what happened, what’s happening, and what’s going to happen. It’s a lazy effort on Liebesman and his team, producing considerable pacing problems along the way. The end result is a movie that’s predictable at best with a partially focused story that’s devotes more time to heavy-hand action frivolities rather than cultivating a well-crafted tale.
Each of the Ninja Turtles still retains their weapon of choice (Swords, Sais, Nunchuks, and Bo Staff) as well as their trademark bravados. Leonardo is the leader, Raphael is the rebel, Michelangelo is goofy, and Donatello is the brains. It would’ve been interesting to see something more come out of their personas, but what the film provides suffices. Their banter and rapport with each other is one of the best parts of the movie. It’s what makes the turtles “them” and Liebesman and his team captures that nostalgia feeling. Their physical appearance, however, is a departure from other iterations of TMNT as, while they look much more incredibly detailed, they look like walking muscle-bound behemoths that could go toe-to toe with other muscular comic book characters like The Thing, The Hulk, or Drax the Destroyer. To me, it looks a little stupid and silly, feeling as if the whole “Ninja” aspects of the team have gone out the window as these Turtles (filled with either too much steroids or testosterone enhancements) are strong as hell; punching through cars and throwing bad guys across rooms with effortless ease. The movie’s main villain Shedder is another weak part of the film. Of course, Shedder’s mechanical suit of armor looks cool, offering some interesting fighting style of flying knives. Unfortunately, with very little back-story of him, viewers don’t get a sense of who the man “Behind the mask” is or the machinations behind his villainy.
The human cast in the movie is a mixture of good and okay performances. Megan Fox is, of course, very beautiful, but does an adequate job as April O’Neil. I don’t have a problem with her as an actress like some people do, but Fox doesn’t bring anything memorable to the character (who could’ve been replaced by someone else and a probably get a better result out of it). Will Arnett plays April’s cameraman Vern Fenwick, who I personally think, does the best job of the human cast with his dependable comedic timed laughs and jokes. William Fichtner plays the ominous Eric Sacks, a character that fits him comfortable with his ever present cool and charismatic performance (although Sack is a little predictable). Lastly, Whoopi Goldberg has a small part in the movie as April’s boss at News Channel 6. Why she’s in a TMNT movie is beyond me.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles isn’t a complete and utter disaster of a movie, but neither is it super great. This revamped reboot has its merits into a couple of stand-out action sequences and brotherly camaraderie and rapport amongst the turtles themselves. The rest, however, has a sort of “Been there, done that” feel as the movie doesn’t quite distinguish itself enough from other TMNT incarnations of the past or any typical summer action oriented films. Personally, it was somewhat entertaining, but only justly so, still favoring the 1990 live-action film or the first animated cartoon series than this one. Younger fans might be attracted to this movie, but, for older fans (Myself included), nostalgia for the Ninja Turtles might wane and crumble with a film that ultimately delivers a mediocre effort and misses a golden opportunity.