Here, you want giant bipedal reptiles kicking butt all over New York City, you got it. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, directed by Jonathan Liebesman, doesn’t strive to be anything more or anything less. It is a goofy movie with goofy characters, playing out a goofy plot. It is an efficient soldier of complacency. Just as well; how far can one really push a movie that has turtles for heroes?
The movie is based on the comics that were popular during the mid-’80s but has its spirit more in tune with the cartoon series that spread itself wide over the 1990s. The characters are familiar: Splinter (Tony Shalhoub), the wise and patient sewer rat; Leonardo (Johnny Knoxville), the leader in blue who wields two katanas; Raphael (Alan Ritchson), the muscular red one with daggers; Donatello (Jeremy Howard), the tech whizz in purple; and Michelangelo (Noel Fisher), the skateboard-riding, pizza-eating, nunchuk-swinging free spirit. There’s also the human heroine April O’Neil, played obliviously by Megan Fox, and the heroes’ nemesis Shredder (Tohoru Masamune), a modern day samurai clutching desperately onto the past.
Shredder is in cahoots with a biomedical millionaire named Eric Sacks (William Fichtner), who intends to rehash the plot of Mission: Impossible II (2000) and a number of similarly written action movies. Sacks, who also finds himself inhabiting a portion of the Spider-Man stories, used to work with April’s dad. They wanted to create an antidote together. An antidote to what? I’m not too sure. But it’s something huge; Sacks will make millions from it. Where Shredder comes in to all of this I’m not too sure either.
The turtles and the rat were the test subjects (they were just turtles and rats at the time), then bing-bada-boom, they were released into the sewer by a prepubescent April and grew into the 6ft tall heroes we see on the posters. So April is kinda like their saviour, if superheroes need saviours. The rest of the movie is placid — the turtles and April must find a way to stop the bad guys.
This shoestring plot is essentially a platform for a lot of stunts and high-adrenaline action sequences, the best of which involves an 18-wheeler skidding and swooshing down the steep slope of a snowy mountain with a sheer drop “just 30 seconds away!”, while all the heroes, who invariably find themselves huddled together in the same predicaments, scramble about the big truck trying to rescue one another.
The turtles are played by actors, who had to dress up in ridiculous turtle-shaped motion capture suits throughout the length of filming. The computer animation that has transformed them into anthropomorphic crime-fighting reptiles has to be commended; they look real enough. The blotchy texture of their skin glimmers and stretches under the light. I like how they are each built differently to suit their needs and purpose (Raphael, being the most hot tempered, is built like a tank with a shell). I also like how their faces are visually distinctive. Michelangelo’s eyes are slightly broader, his temperament more jovial. If I had any problems trying to distinguish the turtles in the cartoons, TMNT expunges them all by providing four very different creatures.
Alas, this movie still falls short of decency. The turtles are satisfying enough (the dialogue they share is not as dumb as what the trailers suggested), but the plot that holds them together is loose and uninterested. It is clear that Liebesman’s goal was to ride on Michael Bay’s success with Transformers 4 (2014) — Bay produces this one, though the cinematography and lighting insinuate that his role was more invasive — and it packs the same kind of haphazard energy. If I stood at a crossroads and had to choose between the two, however, I’d walk down the TMNT path. At least it doesn’t sound like a bunch of pots and pans coming together in a library.
Best Moment | Any scene with the turtles, I suppose.
Worst Moment | The opening narration, which basically spells out the gist of the entire movie in a span of a few minutes.