Written by: Josh Appelbaum, Andre Nemec & Evan Daugherty
Directed by: Jonathan Liebesman
Starring: Megan Fox, Will Arnett, Johnny Knoxville, Tony Shaloub, William Fichtner & Whoopi Goldberg
I went into the theater ready to absolutely hate Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to its core. And trust me, there’s a lot to despise. With that said though, I couldn’t help but feel like I was watching a comic-book adventure unfold right in front of my eyes. The whole scope (once the turtles were fully introduced) felt like a Mirage comic from the 80’s in tone, and also at times felt like one of their old Archie comics run with the overly beefed-up turtles. Here’s the thing, if you cherish the old turtles from the 80’s and 90’s, you will probably hate everything about this movie. And believe me, this reviewer grew up watching the turtles religiously. But, as the movie progressed, I found myself thinking that this is an actually interesting, yet flawed, spin on the titular turtles. So, let’s dig deeper. (Spoiler free of course)
- Homages to the original cartoon and original film adaptation – As a fan of everything Ninja Turtles, I certainly appreciated these little nods. They allowed me to want to keep watching, to see what else was in there. And honestly, I felt that they honored where the turtles came from quite well (for the most part). For me personally, the opening credits were my favorite. They really harkened back to the initial Mirage comics art style and it worked quite well.
- Slight changes to the story and character relationships – I didn’t really have a problem with many of these changes. I actually enjoyed April O’ Neil’s role within this story. Honestly, you can only have her be a damsel in distress or an antique store owner so many times. Yes, the story largely revolves around April, but because of how they weaved it together within the overall story, I bought it.
- The fight scenes were serviceable – They were nothing earth-shattering, but I could follow along with them. I think my favorite fight sequence in the film is the climactic final battle with Shredder. I won’t spoil it for you here, but I couldn’t help but think of a video game, which I liked. After all, this film is called Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
- The CGI on the Ninja Turtles – Like many other people, I hated the design of the turtles when they were first unveiled. I just didn’t get what the production team was going for. But after seeing them on screen for a while, I got used to them. Again, it reminded me of the Ninja Turtle drawings in later issues of their Archie Comics run through the 1990’s.
What Doesn’t Work:
- Splinter’s Voice, Part of his Backstory and Overall Look – Tony Shalhoub is horribly miscast as Splinter. It really takes away from the gravitas that Splinter’s presence should bring. While most of his backstory I was okay with, since it did something different, there is one part to it when I nearly cried out, “Are you serious?!” I won’t spoil it for you here, but for fans of the older shows and movies, this moment will jump out at you without me saying a thing. It really is a slap in the face to the original material created by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird. As for his look, on long shots he actually looks really cool, but on close-ups I couldn’t help but be a little grossed out. I mean, you’re creating four six-foot, teenage, talking turtles, so we’re already getting away from reality. Would it really have hurt to put more fur on the guy? Honestly?
- It takes itself a bit too serious – This is something that fans always talk about: “Make it dark!” Make it serious!” Well, they went serious, on a film called Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I love a dark, serious movie just as much, if not more, than the next person, but come on. An orchestral score accompanied by a choir playing over a fight scene featuring Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, a rat, and a human cheese grater? Platinum Dunes really tried their hardest to make this an epic film. They really did, and I truly give them all of the credit in the world for that, but it’s just not needed. We just want to see turtles kick ass and deliver bad puns. To be fair, the original live-action film is also on the heavy-handed side, but it was still very playful. It knew what it was. This film, on the other hand, tries way too hard, and it’s a shame because it almost wrecks the moments that are actually fun.
- No one changes – Now, when I say, “This is Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”, I mean it. The problem is though that if you are going to go the serious route, then you need your characters to change or evolve. In this film, the human characters don’t change at all. April, aside from discovering new elements to her past, essentially feels like the same character from beginning to end. Not better or worse, just…meh. (For which I blame the writers, not Megan Fox, who I thought was alright as April.) Verne (Will Arnett) is the same. He starts out with the hots for April and ends with the hots for April. No change either way. Sacks (William Fintcher) is useless as a comic-book villain. There is no energy to him at all. When he describes his plan for world domination, he may as well be ordering a latte. If you’re going to go serious, then you’d better be prepared to have your characters change and to make those changes count. For the turtles there is actual change, but of course, it’s muddled and rushed.
- The Foot Clan – The foot clan are ninjas (you can also argue robots). They are not random masked goons shooting machine guns. Either tell us why they’re no longer ninjas or, I don’t know, MAKE THEM NINJAS!!!!! (Sorry, couldn’t help myself).
- The Elevator Scene right before the final fight sequence – Someone must have been watching the “TMNT: Coming Out of Our Shells Tour” and really liked it because in this scene they give the turtles a pointless and unneeded character tic. Just because it’s referenced earlier in the film, doesn’t mean that we have to see it. In fact, this particular reference should have been taken out all together.
To conclude, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles wasn’t a great movie. Actually, it wasn’t even a good movie. But, it wasn’t entirely bad either. This is more watchable than the Transformers movies, in my opinion, but that’s about it. At least there are attempts at an interesting story that does click at times and attempts (albeit futile) to give us something in terms of character. Do I recommend it? Perhaps for one viewing, but for anything more than that? Meh.