Latest Mutant Ninja Turtles Undeniably Silly Kiddie Stuff
The Foot Clan has begun their assault on New York. Intrepid television news reporter April O’Neil (Megan Fox) believes there’s a bigger story lurking beneath the surface, one involving nameless, almost invisible vigilantes doing their best to keep the citizens of the city safe. No one believes her, not even trusted cameraman Vernon Fenwick (Will Arnett), only scientific entrepreneur and former friend of her late father Eric Sacks (William Fichtner) willing to listen to the young woman’s crazy ideas about reptilian-like heroes protecting the Big Apple.
April’s right, of course. There are heroes out there fighting against Shredder (Tohoru Masamune), the Foot Clan’s blood-thirsty leader, they’re just not what anyone thinks. They’re heroes in the half-shell. They are, to put it plainly, teenage mutant ninja turtles, and between slices of pizza and bouts of adolescent silliness they’re here to save the day.
One of the first professional reviews I ever wrote was for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze in 1991. I was a teenager writing for the Spokesman Review as part of their youth section, and as far as negative reactions go the one I had for that particular sequel was pretty much through the roof. My article actually spawned my first bit of hate mail, a kindergarten classmate of my brother’s giving him a note to hand to me that, to put it kindly, wasn’t nice yet was still amusing considering it came from the crayon of a particularly angry six-year-old.
Over two decades later I can’t say my fondness for any of those initial cinematic adventures of sentient turtles Raphael, Michelangelo, Leonardo and Donatello with fists of fury and wills of steel has improved, thus my excitement at watching a new movie featuring them wasn’t high. All the same, as silly as it is, as dumb as the majority of the film might be, this new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, directed by Jonathan Liebesman (Battle: Los Angeles), produced by Michael Bay (Transformers), is hardly a total waste of time. Heck, for fans of creators Peter Laird and Kevin Eastman’s well-known characters it might be even more than that; it could very well be essential.
This does not mean I think the movie is any good. The script written by Josh Appelbaum, André Nemec (Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol) and Evan Daugherty (Divergent) isn’t exactly earthshattering, and other than the fact Shredder’s ultimate designs are exceedingly lethal in nature the majority is as kid-centric as these things get. Nowhere near as dark or as ominous as Laird and Eastman’s source material, the basic thrust would fit right at home in any of the animated versions that have been the staple of Saturday mornings and Cable television for eons.
There have also been significant changes to the characters’ overall mythology, April O’Neil playing a bigger hand in how the foursome and their rat martial arts master Splinter survived and evolved in the sewers underneath New York City than ever before. While not the aliens from outer space some had feared Bay, Liebesman and company were going to make them, the turtles have still been significantly altered, and purists who obsess about these sorts of things will likely be upset even though I can personally think of far more important things to get angry about.
On the plus side, the motion capture effects utilized to bring the turtles and Splinter to life is fantastic (if admittedly not up to the obscenely high bar set by Dawn of the Planet of the Apes), while Liebesman’s staging of a central set piece involving an out of control truck careening down a snow-covered mountain is downright eye-popping. Fox’s comedic chops are in fine form (although the less said about her attempts at emotional melodrama the better), and as far as costar Arnett is concerned he’s nowhere near as badly cast as I anticipated before the screening began.
Still, I am not the audience for this film, and while my reaction is far more positive than I could ever have dreamt it would be (making the likelihood angry six-year-olds are going to send me hate mail close to nonexistent) that doesn’t mean I’d urge just about anyone anywhere, fan or no, to buy a ticket. Shredder’s plans for New York are like a cross between what Ra’s Al Ghul wanted to do to Gotham in Batman Begins and Dr. Conners had in store for the city in The Amazing Spider-Man. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is really, really dumb, make no mistake on that front, and the chances I’ll ever be crying, “Cowabunga!” in regards to any of this are pretty much nil.
Film Rating: 2 out of 4