When Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles opened with a bad animation sequence followed by a laughable scene involving April O’Neil (Megan Fox) interviewing someone at the docks, I knew I was in for a long ride. Not because the movie was going to be bad – maybe a little because the director’s (Johnathan Leibesman) last film was 2012’s Wrath of the Titans – it was because it was clear this wasn’t going to be the Ninja Turtles story I grew up loving.
The plot for TMNT feels like something I would’ve read at 12 years old – the Foot Clan is terrorizing New York and has a grip on the city. April witnesses a vigilante thwarting the Foot’s robbery attempt. She sets out to find the vigilante and tell a story about people fighting back to save the city. When she finally catches up to the vigilante, she learns it’s not one man, but four giant mutated turtles that are determined to protect the city. With help from April, the Turtles face their biggest challenge as they attempt to stop the evil Foot Clan leader, Shredder, from poisoning the city.
Even though the plot sounds familiar, a few things have changed with TMNT since we last saw them on the big screen.
What’s the same: The Foot Clan terrorizing New York City, Shredder, Splinter, mutated turtles (Michelangelo, Donatello, Leonardo, Raphael) living in the shadows, April O’Neil, and lots of pizza.
What’s changed: The Foot Clan never really use their feet, they all shoot guns like a team of mercenaries. I guess a ninjutsu clan of soldiers using martial arts is a thing of the past. Shredder wears a mechanized armored suit equipped with flying blades. Splinter didn’t learn his martial arts from his master, he learned them from a book he found in the sewer when the turtles were kids. April’s dad worked in the lab that created the turtles so she has history with the turtles and Master Splinter. Also April is joined by her cameraman Vernon (Will Arnett) who spends a large chunk of his time hitting on April.
I’m all for taking liberties to tell an updated TMNT story, but the film is inconsistent throughout. For example, we’re to believe Eric Stacks (William Fichtner) trained under Shredder, but we never seem him kick or throw a punch once. He even shoots a gun like he’s never picked up a weapon in his life. Did Shredder teach him how to look like he’s shooting a gun for the first time? Are the Turtles aliens? Was the ooze of alien origin? Why are there big buttons on machines that tell people exactly what to do? Did April’s dad start a fire or was he shot?
Fichtner is underused as the movies #2 villain. He’s a phenomenal actor who’s relegated to just looking evil and given just ½ of a monologue to deliver. It would’ve been nice to see him let out some villainous speeches like we saw in Elysium, Drive Angry, The Dark Knight. Instead we get a guy in suit shooting a gun like he’s holding a super soaker one-handed. The movie could’ve used less of Splinter stroking his rat beard and more of Fichtner being evil.
Despite the film not being faithful to its origin story, there are chunks of the film that are very entertaining. To my surprise, Megan Fox isn’t bad as April O’Neil. I went in thinking she would be Mikaela from Transformers but with a microphone this time, to enjoying her performance as April. For someone acting around a bunch of CGI characters in motion capture suits, she did a pretty decent job.
The action sequences are enjoyable but possibly headache inducing if you watch the film in 3D – way too many quick camera cuts. Even without martial arts in the fight scenes, it was cool watching the Turtles flip around and kick people in the face. The final fight scene is actually surprisingly good and looks really impressive during the wide shots of the action.
Speaking of Turtles, Michelangelo (voiced by Twilight’s Noel Fisher) steals the show. He’s the wise cracking turtle in love with April O’Neil. Along with Arnett, Michelangelo is responsible for most of the film’s laugh out loud moments. Even in the tense scene he finds a moment to tell April just how much he loves her.
The strength of the film is the comedy, not the action. When the film hits on all cylinders when it nails the one-liners and cheese teenage jokes back-to-back.
One thing that is consistent is all the Turtles behave like overeager, immature, overconfident teenagers. There’s a joyfulness to the Turtles that makes them fun to watch and cheer for. The story is missing the really obvious teachable moments that appear on the Nickelodeon show, but it replaces that by focusing on family values by highlighting Splinter’s relationship as the Turtles and the strong bond between the brothers.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles isn’t what it used to be. It’s a lot more campy and silly than I remember. Maybe I’m romanticizing how complex the first movie was. Maybe I’m still blocking out Vanilla Ice’s Ninja Rap. As rough as I thought the movie was, the kids at my screening enjoyed the heck out of it. My nephews will love the new brand of “Turtle Power”, but it’s something that’ll have to grow on me.