Directed by Jonathan Liebesman (Battle Los Angeles, Wrath of the Titans) and produced by Michael Bay, it’s not really a surprise that Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles isn’t a good movie. What is surprising is the fact it isn’t mind-numbingly awful, and at times it even borders on even being dumb fun and mildly entertaining.
Taking more than a few liberties with the comic, television, and toy franchise, the script by Josh Appelbaum, André Nemec, and Evan Daugherty offers an origin story for our four amphibious heroes (who are mistakenly referred to as reptiles), their first meeting with Channel 6 reporter April O’Neil (Megan Fox), and the start of their battle against the Shredder (Tohoru Masamune).
Highlighting the fact that Leonardo (Johnny Knoxville), Raphael (Alan Ritchson), Michelangelo (Noel Fisher), and Donatello (Jeremy Howard) are mutant teenagers, and downplaying he fact that they’re actually ninjas, the film makes some bizarre casting and script decisions that remove much of the oriental influence of the franchise.
With Masamune’s face barely ever seen and Minae Noji getting a token cameo as Karai (whose inclusion is completely pointless) it is telling that American actors are called upon to carry nearly every important role in the film. This means more of Megan Fox, who is asked to be more of an actress than blatant sex appeal (which is obviously far outside her comfort zone), and Will Arnett as her comic-relief cameraman along with William Fichtner as billionaire Eric Sacks whose true motivations might as well have been written across his forehead in permanent marker.
Ignoring both the original comic origin and the one made popular by the cartoon, Splinter (Tony Shalhoub) is completely unconnected with Hamato Yoshi (a name never uttered in the movie). Instead the rat sensei and father to the Turtles is simply another lab animal mutated into something more. On the surface the change isn’t a big one, but when the movie has to explain how Splinter is a master martial artist (or how he taught the Turtles ninjitsu) the awkward writing begins to fall apart rather quickly. The choice to distance Splinter’s connection to the Shredder’s past also takes any drama out of the fight between the pair who now have no shared history or bad blood to fuel their conflict.
Further Americanizing the story, the Foot Clan are transformed from ninjas into a private mercenary army like Blackwater which makes the Shredder’s over-the-top giant samurai robot appearance all the more bizarre in contrast. The Turtles themselves have gotten the CGI steroid treatment coming off more as lumbering teenage hulks than stealthy warriors throughout most of the film (except when the script needs them to be, you know, ninjas).
The master plan of Shredder concerning the mutagen which transformed the Turtles (in a mishmash of various origins used over the years) is central to the movie’s second-half. Sadly, it’s ludicrous and inconsistent as we’re told that the mutants’ blood is important but watch as the Foot continue to ignore injured members of the team filled with the stuff (who they could easily capture with minimal effort) to the point where it’s almost preferable when the story devolves into a far, far too long mindless never-ending action finale. And although the 3D works to enhance the fight scenes, there’s far too much shaky cam over the course of the movie for my tastes.
Mediocre is the best word to describe the newest Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie. It may offer some nice visuals and some deserved laughs, but both the casting and acting leaves much to be desired and the numerous plot holes and mindless final act (although action-packed) left me far more tired than entertained (and relieved when the movie was finally over). It may be worth a look for fans of the characters, and may even become a guilty pleasure for some, but I’ll take the current and classic comic and television versions of the characters and the far superior 2007 CGI film over this version any day.