Dir. Jonathan Liebesman
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles holds a place in my heart. What that place is? I’m not so sure. I never read the comic books. I never paid any interest in the recent animation movie TMNT (2007), and I didn’t even know there was a recent television series. But the original movie series, made between 1990-1993, are strangely nostalgic to me. I remember having those movies on almost constant rental. Even the third one, where the turtles travel back to ancient Japan, I enjoyed. I was five and it was my first introduction to time travel. So I approached this re-make with a sense of apprehension. I’ve never seen a film by Liebesman before, but with Michael Bay producing, I knew that it would have great production values, and great effects. What I didn’t know was whether that was all this film would have.
The plot revolves around a reporter April O’Neil, played by Megan Fox, displaying more acting chops then she ever did on a transformers movie, investigating the recent crime wave by a gang called The Foot Clan. Fox stumbles upon the Turtles stopping the Foot Clan gang and tries to take the story to her boss, played by an underused Whoopi Goldberg. When no one believes her she takes it upon herself to investigate further. It isn’t until thirty minutes into the film that we are introduced to the Turtles, and their rat mentor, Splinter, who in an interesting twist have history with O’Neil. What unravels is a superhero movie plot about toxic gas being released in New York by the Foot Clan and their leader Shredder. Not dis-similar to the Lizards plot in The Amazing Spider-Man. The Turtles, assisted by April O’Neil and her camera man, an always funny Will Arnett, are called upon to save the day.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles isn’t a great movie. It isn’t even a good movie. The plot is generic, character moments are few and far between, and it takes a bit of time to figure out which Turtle is which. Even at the end I still wasn’t quite sure. Even with all of these problems, the film is strangely enjoyable. These aren’t the Turtles that I remember. They are huge, steroid boosted, monsters. The motion capture work is great, completely removing the memory of Jim Henson’s Turtles. They are each identifiable by the colour of their headbands. Red for Raphael, Orange for Michelangelo, Blue is for Leonardo, and Purple is for Donatello. Although with the shaky camera work, it is quite difficult sometimes to tell who is who. This isn’t helped by them talking over each other a lot. Although, where this film is concerned, it doesn’t really seem important who is who, as long as you know who’s a good guy and who is a bad guy.
What surprised me most about this film was how brutal the fight scenes are. You feel the hits. Before the film was shown there was an advert for merchandise for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, suggesting that the film was aimed at 8-10 year olds, but the violence on display here is a little harsh. Especially when Shredder is involved in the fights. The fight scenes are inventive, well edited, and make an impact. Although I would have preferred if the camera had stayed still for a second or two. The action scenes are brilliant, a high speed, mountain slope chase being the highlight. It’s just the connecting tissue which causes problems. Not all the jokes work, jokes about Lost and Batman’s voice seem dated, and the back story can seem tedious at times. When the film cuts loose, it’s great, but these moments don’t happen often enough. The film never really embraces its own bizarreness. Trying to be too much like Spider-Man, when Guardians of the Galaxy has shown that audiences are prepared to embrace something for being unique.
Overall, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is enjoyable, delivering on some great action sequences. It’s just not as fun as it could have been or needs to be.