Starring: Megan Fox (Transformers), Will Arnett (The LEGO Movie), William Fichtner (Drive Angry), Pete Ploszek, Noel Fisher (The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part Two), Jeremy Howard (Galaxy Quest), Alan Ritchson (The Hunger Games: Catching Fire)
Director: Jonathan Liebesman (Wrath of the Titans)
Writers: Josh Appelbaum & André Nemec (Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol) and Evan Daugherty (Divergent)
Runtime: 1 hour 41 minutes
Release Date: 8 August (US), 17 October (UK)
It took them long enough, but this day was inevitable. Our favourite heroes in a half-shell have been rebooted by Michael Bay for a modern audience complete with all the trappings you’d expect. Then again, TMNT is a property that has been reimagined several times over the years in even more outlandish ways for a concept that’s already pretty ridiculous, so in context this one shouldn’t seem so bizarre. The film has received bad press from its inception, and from what I’d heard from its US release I was expecting a Transformers 4 level stink bomb. What I got instead isn’t exactly good either, but certainly not awful.
OK, going back on that last statement for a sec, I will say that the story is pretty damn awful. The origins of the turtles have been meddled with in the past before, but this new version feels so hackneyed and ridiculous that it makes the original concept seem far more plausible in comparison. So many of the tropes of gritty reboots and modern blockbusters are pulled here that it often feels like a parody video off YouTube lampooning these clichés but without any sense of irony. Off all its stolen pieces, the most prominent is The Amazing Spider-Man of all things; not only is the new origin very similar, but the Shredder’s plan and the final action sequence are near identical to that film. The story is full of contrivances and plot holes, with rushed character development and the weakest villains I’ve seen in a major motion picture in a long time. On the plus side, the film is decently paced and is thankfully kept to under two hours, avoiding the fatigue that plagues most Bay productions, and the third act does pay off with two engaging and well done action sequences despite some of the obvious derivativeness. The film is at its best when it doesn’t take itself too seriously and has some fun. Whilst some of the humour is sophomoric and typically Bay, there are some chuckle worthy moments such as a scene where Splinter tempts the Turtles with a pizza or a humorous musical moment in an elevator. There are even a few Easter eggs for TMNT fans to watch out for. If the film had tried a bit harder in this area, maybe this review would be a little more positive.
Another positive TMNT has going for it is that the Turtles themselves do feel more like active participants in the film compared to Bay’s Transformers films. They can be grating at times and their personalities have been amplified a bit much, but they are still recognisably the characters many of us grew up with and they all get at least one cool action moment or amusing line each. It’s not exactly what I would have wanted, but it is a step in the right direction. Then again, maybe the Turtles don’t seem so bad is because the human characters are so uninteresting. Megan Fox couldn’t feel more miscast as April O’Neill, her feign attempts at being more than the manufactured eye candy she is failing with every attempt; considering her character’s main motivation is trying to prove herself as a serious journalist and be more than just a pretty face, her poor and uninvolved performance seems to go against everything she says. The brilliant William Fichtner has absolutely nothing to work with as Eric Sacks, a villain whose own motivations makes no sense and lacks any sort of threat. Even worse is the Shredder himself, who is given no characterisation at all and is just a hulking brute for the Turtles to fight. I mean c’mon, the original Shredder was hardly that great a villain but he had more to him than being a lifeless wodge of metal and testosterone. Will Arnett is the film’s only human salvation; despite being given some truly horrendous dialogue at points, he manages to skate by mainly thanks to his own natural charm.
Though it does have some of the veneer of the typical Bay production, the film is thankfully nowhere near as explosion-happy. The action sequences, especially the mountain escape and the final confrontation, do have some inventive choreography and fun camera tricks whilst also never becoming as incomprehensible as most Hollywood action sequences. Whilst I do prefer the original designs, I wasn’t too put off by the look of the new Turtles: they are a little busy and I question how some of their accessories stay on during the hectic fight scenes, but at least I can tell them apart. However, I hate the design of the new Shredder, which is exactly everything I loathe about Bay-ification. It’s clunky and excessive, trying way too hard to make it ‘cool’ and missing the point of the original. The CGI work is decent if a little dated, as I was never as convinced these characters were there as I was even in the Transformers films, and I found Brian Tyler’s score to be too bombastic and overly heroic. Also, give me “Ninja Rap” any day over that processed junk “Shell Shocked”.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is fundamentally flawed on so many levels, but I’d be lying if I said it was completely without merit. The film’s plot is derivative nonsense that needlessly messes with the mythology, Megan Fox’s performance is so oxymoronic that it’s almost hilarious, and the villains are criminally insipid. However, the Turtles themselves shine through and the film does have its inspired moments of humour and action spread unevenly throughout. I can safely say I was never bored at any point nor did anything really piss me off, but there were a fair few groans of disappointment. As a casual fan of the franchise, it wasn’t the cowa-blunder I was fearing nor is it even the worst thing the Turtles have been in (The Next Mutation, anyone?). If nothing else, there’s plenty for them to improve on in the already confirmed sequel. Then again, we all know how the second Transformers film turned out…
FINAL VERDICT: 5/10