MOVIE REVIEW: ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’

Film: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Starring: Megan Fox, William Fichtner
Directed by: Jonathan Liebesman

I walked into Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles with expectations of regretting every minute that passed while seated in the cinema. When the credits finally rolled, I was surprised to find myself nowhere near the verge of suicide, but I also was not bouncing off the walls with joy. On the contrary, I felt almost nothing because TMNT is one of the most lukewarm films to be released all year. Not all that good, but not all that bad either; it simply is. And that will likely not be enough to win audiences over.

Almost twenty-five minutes pass before Donatello, Leonardo, Michaelangelo, and Ralphael appear on screen, and in that time audiences are treated to a lengthy story about April O’Neil’s ongoing struggle to make a name for herself in the world of journalism. To do this, April has been following a fast-rising gang of criminals known as the foot clan, who have been spotted causing chaos across the city for months. On the night after we first meet her, April discovers member of the clan robbing a ship yard, but before she can call for help mysterious figures appear and battle the clan. It’s loud and chaotic, but due to it being nighttime there is almost nothing to see.

When the sun rises, April takes her experience to her editor and asks for a chance at exposing the vigilante(s) who has chosen to take on the clan. She’s rejected, but April presses on, and before too long she finds herself taken prisoner by the clan while the evil-doers attempt to draw the cloaked vigilante(s) out of the dark. It works, at least to an extent, and April – as well as audiences – are finally given a chance to meet the new, super-sized turtles in a half-shell. Their size has been well documented in trailers and press before release, but aside from their hulk-like physique very little has changed about the group. Mikey is still silly, Leonardo is still a leader, Donatello is too nerdy for his own good, and Ralph always feels like he has to be tough. Splinter, their father, is as old and wise as ever.

This is where the similarities to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles people in their 20s and beyond remember come to a close.

Remember Shredder? Well, he’s kind of a robot now. William Fichtner plays Eric Sacks, a wealthy business tycoon with a sordid past that involves receiving samurai training from a mysterious sensei who prefers to remain in the shadows. He and Sacks are partners, though Sacks is the only one most people know exist, and together they are planning on bringing New York City to its knees. To do this, however, they must first defeat the turtles, which is where the modern Shredder costume comes into play. It’s a big, shiny design featuring many sharp blades and likeness to legendary samurais that almost borders unintentional comedy. Sacks’ sensei wears the suit in battle, making Fichtner’s role more likened to a puppet master than actual threat.

Without giving too much away, at some point in the second act it becomes clear the Turtles have a connection to both April and Eric Sacks, but only one of those people has any desire to help our heroes keep the city streets safe. The other, as you can probably guess, wants to see the world burn. Our heroes recognize this, and without being asked to do anything from mankind take it upon themselves to save the city of New York from what would be a terrible fate (that will not be spoiled in this review). Everything that follows that decision is a chaotic mess of action, CG, and empty dialogue that adds up to a film which finds itself running on fumes long before the credits begin to roll.

I loved the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles films of the 1990s, but never to the extent that I felt the franchise was ‘too good’ to be remade. In fact, I always assumed a day would come when fully-realized CG Turtles sprung to life on the silver screen. I did not know they would resemble weight lifters battling roid rage, of course, but when the character designs were revealed at the beginning of the year I did not cry foul either. This is a new breed of TMNT for a new generation of movie goers, and try as I might I cannot begin to pretend that I understand what younger audiences want from their films. Maybe oversized crime fighters are considered cool amongst the under 16 set. It doesn’t work for me, but I’m about to be 27, so I’m not sure my opinion matters as much in these matters as that of someone in the film’s target market.

The flaws I feel I am able discuss all involve the script and filmmaking, but to list them in full would take far too long. There is no rising tension, or really any tension at all to be found during the film’s nearly 100-minute runtime. There’s also very little humor aside from a few quick one-liners delivered by Mikey, and even those moments largely appear late in the third act. For the most part, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles hopes its short-yet-frenzied action sequences will hold you over while the film basically bottoms out during moments filled with exposition. For children, that trick might work, but adults will immediately see through the computer-generated tricky and feel shorted as a result. There are no morals or lessons to be found, nor any well orchestrated moments of destruction worth remembering. The entire film comes and goes without once making an effort to stick with viewers after they leave the theater. Considering the quality of the production, that might not be a bad thing.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is not a complete disaster, but it is also far from being anything close to what you might consider a good film. The acting is stiff, the writing lacks any sense of conviction, and the action sequences, while flashy, offer almost nothing audiences have not seen before. I’m not sure whether or not kids will want to see Donatello, Leonardo, Michaelangelo, and Ralphael return, but I can guarantee you those over twenty-five will leave the theater wishing they could live in the memories of their youth and pretend the film they just watched did not exist.

Score: D+

Review Written by: James Shotwell

James Shotwell
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