Thirty years ago this year, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were unleashed on the world by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird in the pages of their Mirage Studios comic book. Now, producer Michael Bay and Director Jonathan Liebesman are trying to jumpstart the Turtle franchise machine with a new live-action movie. Will this be the start of another wave of the Turtle phenomenon or another false start?
Unfortunately, the answer is the latter. This movie gets so much wrong, but about the only thing it gets right is the Turtles themselves. The Turtles’ new look was disconcerting at first, but it eventually grew on me. I enjoyed their individual personalities, which have been amplified from past incarnations. Leonardo (Pete Ploszek / Johnny Knoxville) is the stern leader who always does the right thing; Raphael (Alan Ritchson) is the impulsive hothead of the team; Donatello (Jeremy Howard) is the tech nerd; and Michelangelo (Noel Fisher) is the jokester who is actually pretty funny in parts of this. As in previous versions, the Turtles were raised and trained by the mutated rat, Master Splinter (Danny Woodburn / Tony Shalhoub), but unlike previous interpretations, their meeting was not as random and that’s a bad thing.
Despite the title, the star of this film is April O’Neil (Megan Fox). Why do I say that? Because the filmmakers try to tie April to everything from the Turtles themselves, to the villain, to how the Turtles became mutated. Apparently, April’s father (Paul Fitzgerald) was working with another scientist, Eric Sacks (William Fichtner), to create a mutagen that could promote healing in humans. Of course, Splinter and the Turtles are the test subjects. As a little girl, April films them, making little newscasts/movies and then saves them from a lab fire by releasing them into the sewer. Wait, you ask, how does the Shredder (Tohoru Masamune) fit into all this? Good question. According to Sacks, the Shredder became Sacks’ master while he was living in Japan as a boy. Now the two of them plan to poison the city, using the mutagen in the Turtles’ blood as the only cure. Not sure what the Shredder gets out of it—notoriety?—but Sacks plans to get “stupid rich.” It’s at this point in the review that I’ll mention that Sacks already lives in a castle-like mansion complete with a helipad. What the hell does he need money for? He’s already this movie’s Norman Osborn. Wait, wait, if Shredder is completely unconnected to Splinter, why does he teach the Turtles ninjitsu? To protect themselves from a world that will fear them, of course. Okay, but if Master Yoshi—Splinter’s owner from the comics—isn’t in the picture, how did Splinter learn ninjitsu? From a book he found in the sewer, of course. (Collective forehead slap).
Look, I’m not going to sit here and argue that the original origin of the Turtles isn’t dopey, but it’s a helluva lot better than “our rat father self-taught himself to be a master ninja with Ninjitsu for Dummies.” No. That’s beyond stupid. Also, the randomness of Splinter and the Turtles getting exposed to the mutagen in the comics lent an air of destiny to the proceedings. This movie just tries to tie April O’Neil to the Turtles in every possible way imaginable, but I’m not sure to what end. By the end of the thing, she’s so intimately connected to them it makes Mikey’s little crush on her creepy—like a Luke/Leia thing.
The script is a complete mess with plot hole on top of plot hole. There’s way too much shaky cam in this thing and the action scenes get very confusing at times—typical of Bay’s Transformers movies. The 3D is definitely not worth the extra money and I couldn’t really tell where the movie might have benefitted from it. Finally, the Shredder’s robot-like suit is beyond ridiculous and just overdone. He looks like the producers hired the equally dumb robot samurai from last summer’s The Wolverine—hey, robot samurai’s gotta eat too.
Amazingly, Megan Fox is actually pretty good in this. It’s just that the shoddy script does her zero favors here. Will Arnett provides a few chuckles as April’s cameraman, but it feels like the days of Gob Bluth have faded into memory. Again, the Turtles are good, while Fichtner is sleepwalking for a paycheck. Also, it looks like Whoopi Goldberg lost a bet to someone as she gives her scenes as April’s boss the lowest level of effort.
This movie should have been called “April O’Neil.” The only thing that makes Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles slightly bearable is the Turtles themselves. Everything else could have been chucked and re-done to craft a decent film, but that would have been asking too much from Michael Bay and company. The Turtles were good, I just wish they were in a better film.