Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Think back to the first time you heard those four words uttered in sequence. If you can't remember what went through your head, the P.O.G. is here to remind you. It was something you had never thought of or imagined before. It was wacky and hard to take seriously. The last thing you thought before you watched that first episode or finished that first page, was you were in for a ride unlike any you had experienced before. And for better or worse, it was going to be a ridiculous adventure...
Putting nostalgia aside and sticking to the premise and execution of the property, director Johnathan Liebesman (Wrath of the Titans, Battle: Los Angeles) is successful in modernizing the classic elements of the turtles and bringing them to the big screen. Did he and Platinum Dunes make a great movie? No they didn't. Did they make an entertaining Ninja Turtles movie that is sure to entertain kids and make adults eat gobs of popcorn? Yes they did...
Liebesman and the writers pull from all forms of the Ninja Turtles history, from past to present, ranging from the comics, videogames and TV shows. He does take the opportunity to add a little bit to the mythology. For example making the Turtle's shells bulletproof which at first seems silly, but evens the odds in sword to gun combat. However, almost all the changes made are more cosmetic than substantial.
The film begins with young TV reporter April O'Neil, played by Megan Fox (Transformers), investigating an occurrence at the city's docks. We find that she is doing that on the side and her true role as a reporter is doing fluff pieces. She yearns to be a true investigative reporter and that ambition leads her directly into the Turtles, who have been secretly conducting vigilante strikes against an underground terrorist organization known as, The Foot. Once their paths cross, they quickly learn that they have a shared path and destiny in helping to save the city from The Foot, lead by the Shredder.
Fox does an adequate job in her role. Neither disgracing the semi-iconic part of O'Neil, nor bringing much more to the character or mythology. Her boss and station manager is played by Whoopi Goldberg which is a distracting piece of casting. William Fichtner (The Dark Knight) plays Eric Sacks, an evil tycoon with mysterious, yet predictable, ties to the Shredder and the Ninja Turtles. The reworking of the mythology is very clumsy and actually creates more questions and leaps of logic than most other incarnations. But hey, we knew this was a Michael Bay production coming in...
The computer generated imagery is top-notch in the case of the Ninja Turtles themselves. Despite the fan uprising over the modernization of the design, it does make sense within the story. They indeed look like mutated turtles, not an expressionistic cartoon version of a turtle. They have weight and are present in almost all the shots. In some moments, particularly the snow chase sequence, the action is kinetic and pops off the screen in the best of ways.
However, it does become apparent why their father and sensei, Splinter, was largely held out of the marketing campaign. It almost feels as if they ran out of time and didn't fully render the character. He does get to showcase himself in an excellent action scene, but in the smaller scenes, such as when he first meets O'Neil it feels artificial. Heck, the two characters may not even be looking into each others eyes when they are talking.
Yes, April and Splinter are supposed to be talking to each other...
What works? The characterizations of all the turtles and their individual personalities. Yes they decided to dress Michelangelo in puka shells and Donatello wears a Ghostbusters-style proton pack. But it works. They seem like young adults coming into their own personalities.
However, there is no back-story or motivations given to any of the Turtles. It's never explained why they are doing these heroic deeds or why they have developed into these specific archetypes, which keeps the viewer at arm's length. By the end of Guardians of the Galaxy you not only had a good time with each individual character, but you were also pulling for them to complete an emotional journey. This should have been the film's biggest strength and it ends up one of movie's largest problems. Michelangelo never takes things seriously, which is his personality. However, it would have been more rewarding for him to learn why his other brothers do always take things so seriously. Even if that's not ultimately his path. Typically if you go through an entire film with a group of characters, you want to see them grow and change, or you will leave the theater having an empty experience. That can certainly be said in this case.
Loud. Brash. In your face. Those are all elements of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. However they fail to emphasis that they are also observant, cunning and invisible. They are ninjas... The way that Splinter and the Turtles learn ninjutsu is lazy on the part of the writers and really works against some of the hyper-realistic plausibility. Overlooking how they learn martial arts does all the heroes a disservice. That lack of attention to detail is apparent in many areas of the film. Ultimately that is what prevents it from being nothing more than a slightly above average experience.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a flawed, yet sure to be crowd pleasing film. A head-scratcher? Sure. But so are humanoid turtles who practice martial arts. There are opportunities for the creators to improve on what they have started. The producers have claimed they will be adding Rocksteady, Beebop and Casey Jones to the sequel, which is certainly exciting. However before they build onto their movie universe, hopefully they take the time to make us care about the four Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles at the core of the story.
6 out of 10 P.O.G.'s. A crowd pleasing, yet severely flawed experience.
Source: Point of Geeks