I, like many of you, was skeptical about the new Ninja Turtles movie. From the somewhat awkward CGI models of the turtles to Megan Fox starring in a leading role to the fact that Micahel Bay was producing it, the project was arguably dead on arrival.
However, after having seen the whole thing, I was finally able to form an unbiased opinion on the movie. In my opinion, it wasn't a great movie, but it was nowhere bad enough to deserve all of the scathing reviews it has gotten.
Let's give the critics the benefit of a doubt and look at the negatives about this film. First of all, Megan Fox, the lead actress of the film, gives a below-average performance as April O'Neil. Her line delivery was not only monotonous throughout (with the exception of occasionally screaming a character's name), but her facial expressions never really synced up with the emotion of the scene. Whenever her character is in life-or-death peril, Fox looks about as fearful as someone who dropped a glass bottle on the floor. It was definitely one of the weakest lead performances I've seen on film.
The film also changes the backstory of the Turtles a bit from how it's usually told. In this film, the turtles and Splinter are April's childhood pets from when her dad experimented on them in his laboratory. This didn't really bother me, but I can definitely see why fans would be upset by this.
Moreover, the script also feels rushed in some ways. In one scene, April is trying to prove to her boss that the Ninja Turtles are real. In the previous scenes, she was able to take a picture of the turtles on her phone, as well as find video evidence of the turtles demonstrating their powers when they were test subjects in her father's laboratory. However, she does not show her boss the picture and does not play the part of the video where one of the turtles shattered the glass tank as a baby. Instead, she rambles on about how the turtles are ninjas and gets herself fired.
Something else that bugged me was the underdeveloped storylines. The most prominent example being the storyline of Raphael wanting to leave his brothers and fight crime on his own. Not only is this a repetitive angle (it was also covered in the original 1990 film as well as the 2007 film: TMNT), but it is barely elaborated on. We never see Raphael trying to fight crime on his own, or even see him abandon his brothers. He just says: "I'm leaving the first chance I get," a couple of times and yells at Leonardo once and that is supposed to qualify as a story arc.
On the other hand, despite all of these issues I had with the film, I still enjoyed it enough to call it a pretty decent experience. Now, many critics have already slammed the character designs of the turtles and their master, Splinter. In many ways, I see where they are coming from. The occasionally silly antics of the film have trouble blending with the hyper-realistic CGI. However, the turtles' characters were extremely likable, so their look grew on me by the end.
Despite the change in backstory, all four turtles and Splinter are exactly the same characters as in the cartoon series. Splinter is still a strict-but-loving sensei, Leonardo is the fearless leader, Raphael is the disgruntled tough guy, Donatello (my personal favorite) is the inquisitive techno-genius, and Michelangelo is the comic relief surfer dude fans have come to know and love over the years. They still eat pizza, they are NOT aliens, they still use their trademarked weapons, and they still kick butt.
Moreover, while the human characters' dialogue is merely tolerable, the turtles and Splinter are given some honestly funny and gripping dialogue. The scene where Donatello squealed "they have guns" like a four-year-old honestly cracked me up, and the scene where Raphael apologizes for his behavior was pretty sincere.
I loved the decision to build up the turtles' first appearance as well. In the original 1990 Ninja Turtles film, the turtles are shown fighting crime in the shadows before making their first appearance on screen. This builds up hype, and gets the audience excited to see them. In this film, the turtles are also shown fighting in the shadows, but it is a bit more gradual. First we see their silhouettes fighting at a dock, then we see flashes of them fighting under a subway station's flickering lights, and finally we see them in their glory when April follows them to a rooftop. This way of revealing the turtles worked very well, and taking a page from the 1990 film was a very wise decision.
Many critics have slammed the movie's humor for being "full of fart jokes," and immature. Well, there is one fart joke and a rather crude innuendo about one of the turtles feeling his "shell tightening" at the sight of April. On the contrary, I'm not going to make a big deal out a mere 0.1% of the film's screen time.
The story as a whole was actually quite fluid and played out nicely on screen. There are no convoluted plot elements, no ludicrous plot twists, and no character derailment. It was all a nice, clean ride from start to finish that still managed to keep my attention throughout.
I do have to say though that the plot element of Michelangelo's crush on April was a bit awkward to watch. However, it wasn't really prominent to the story and never lead to anything blatantly offensive (besides the brief "shell tightening" joke).
The setpieces are where this movie really shines. There are plenty of bright, lively fight sequences to please the kids (and perhaps even the adults). We have battles in the sewers, on the rooftops, and even on top of a truck sliding down a steep, snowy mountain. Every scene was full of enough "POW" "WHAM" and overall energy to keep my interest, and having likable characters involved in them made them engaging to watch. Even "good action scenes" could be ruined by shallow characters, but the turtles are funny and interesting enough to root for.
In some ways, I feel that the critics (and even some fans) were too harsh on this movie. I could certainly see why it isn't everyone's cup of tea, and why some die-hard fans are upset. Honestly though, I don't see enough of a problem to jump on the "MICHAEL BAY RUINED THE TURTLES" bandwagon. It is a mostly harmless film that kids will eat up like pizza. Even with the change in backstory, the characters are all the same as the original series. The film as a whole isn't really that great, but it had enough positives to keep me from labeling it as a "bad" movie.
Final Grade: B-
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