Director: Jonathan Liebesman
Cast: Johnny Knoxville, Alan Ritchson, Noel Fisher, Jeremy Howard, Tony Shalboub, Tohuru Masamune, Will Arnett with William Fichter and Megan Fox
Plot: April O’Neil (Fox) is a determined reporter chasing after the nefarious Foot gang, when she stumbles across four unusual vigilantes.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is always going to struggle to be a coherent movie because the source material is just so damn ridiculous. It takes the typical superhero origin story, where a hero, or in this case heroes, are infected with a mutagen and transformed into extraordinary, crime-fighting beings. However, in this case, our heroes are animals, four turtles and a rat, used as a lab experiment gone wrong. Descending to the sewers, they learn ninjitsu for their own protection and when they hit their adolescent years, take to above ground to secretly fight crime, namely the dreaded Foot clan, led by the malevolent Shredder. Despite knowing deep down that any live action would be poor, we want it to be good. This show and these characters are ingrained into our childhood, fast-talking turtles, who were refreshingly new to their vigilante lifestyle. There is no confident X-Men battles here, the turtles guessing how to be a hero as the story unfolds. However, as we are treated to the latest live action version of the TMNTs, we question whether the original show was as good as we remember. Maybe this franchise is constantly trapped in a bitter battle to stay relevant.
Here, the movie struggles with the fact that its four lead turtles are almost supporting stars. Megan Fox is our eyes and ears in the narrative, a plucky young reporter who dreams of more, but in chasing up a story about ninja turtles, finds herself the ridicule of the office. Fox is better in the role that you might imagine, charismatic enough to guide the younger viewers through the material, even if her character does suffer being helpless for most of the movie’s running time. It’s a smart move, helping the audience slip into this wacky story comfortably, rather than being thrown head-first into a world where a rat can be a wise sensei and pizza is a valid form of currency. However, the down side is that we are always on the back foot when handling the real heroes of the story. A part of this is the fact they are animated characters. If it wasn’t for a handy color-coding system, they would be all but interchangeable. There is an attempt at characterisation, but the fast pacing of the story doesn’t allow anything to breathe. Raphael is the middle brother, seemingly the strongest, but also the most prone to anger. He doesn’t quite fit with the team network, abrasive with his brothers, but the handiest when you are in a fight. Donatello is the nerdy one, complete with every stereotype you would expect. Michaelangelo has always been the fan favourite, simply because he is the silly one, stealing all the best lines to the point where he is almost unbearable for anyone over the age of 10. Worst of all is Leonardo, who should be our lead star. It is almost as though the writers pinned him with the title of ‘Head Turtle’ and called it a day. He has no arc to work through in the story, so, if you will pardon the pun, ends up becoming an empty shell in the movie. He drifts through the story without personality or characterisation, merely slashing at things with his katana. CGI robs the characters of portraying too much subtle emotion, so everything they do has to be larger than life to register. It is a shame, because the four main reasons we came to see this movie end up being noisy animated half-characters.
It’s not all bad though. A large part of this is the fact that TMNT is a remarkably hard story to get right, so we end up being more forgiving than most. The other factor we need to bear in mind is that this movie is clearly aimed for children. There is a severe lack of sub-plots, the entire movie dedicated to either gags or progressing the main action. With Michael Bay in the producer seat, we get some great CGI set-pieces to entertain the kids. Sure, the reliance on animated characters means that the long-awaited duel between Splinter and Shredder doesn’t quite leave as big as impression as you want it to, but for the children in the audience, it is bound to thrill. A chase down a snowy mountainside is everything the movie aims to be, fun and loud. There is also a surprisingly touching beat where Splinter and April O’Neil meet, realising their connection to each other’s pasts. There is some merit to this adaptation of a childhood show, but you just have to look past the clear issues that need ironing out.
Final Verdict: Adults seem unhappy with the end result, but it is aimed for the kids. Shame the lead heroes need more work.