I almost didn’t go see Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, for several reasons. Reasons such as my familiarity of the past work of the director and producer, the nasty looking redesigns for the Turtles, and bad reviews it got from just about everywhere. However, thanks to my little brother, I ended up seeing this on a slow Wednesday afternoon. My initial instincts were correct, I should have skipped it. There are a few bright spots, but Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is an ugly, stupid mess of a movie that is embarrassed by its own existence.
There are some bright spots. The biggest of which is the characterization of the turtles themselves. Leo, Donny, Mike and Raph’s personalities are all perfectly presented on the screen. Of course, even this bright spot isn’t perfect. It isn’t that their characterization is as deep as the line from the old cartoon. You know, “Leonardo leads, Donatello does machines, Raphael is cool but rude, Michaelangelo is a party dude.” It is that while the turtles are all just like they should be, but the story isn’t about them. In no way do any of them change, they are what they are. Raphael is mad because Leonardo was made the leader, until he is not. He simply stops being mad. That is closest any of the turtles gets to a character arc. Also, the avalanche chase scene is really good, despite not making any sense.
The rest is not so good. The film hinges on April O’Neil, played by Megan Fox. She is a stifled reporter, wanting to make her name but stuck doing fluff pieces. Of course, that is probably what she deserves, since when she has proof of her ridiculous claims about hulking vigilante turtles she crafts a conspiracy theory wall focusing on her old pet turtles and neglects to show her boss the picture she took of them. The picture that she shows the bad guys two scenes later to get him to believe her. Oh and yes, pet turtles because the Turtles are her former pets. The villain’s plan makes so little sense that I am going not even going to try to discuss it. It is just overly elaborate and dumb.
When I first saw these Ninja Turtles, I thought they looked awful. They are hideous, hulking monstrosities, more nightmare fuel than ninjas. I did like the little accents each turtle added to their costume, it really helped them stand out as individuals. And as bad as the Turtles looked, they were amazing compared to Splinter. I don’t know what happened there. Did somebody think that awful CG rat looked good? It is significantly less real looking than Splinter from the original Ninja Turtles movie. He looks unbelievably bad. Then there is Shredder, who appears more like a rejected Transformer than an evil ninja master.
None of this should be surprising to anyone who knows what else the people behind this movie. Director Jonathon Liebesman was previously responsible for turds like Battle: Los Angeles and Wrath of the Titans. Both of them were confusingly shot and poorly constructed. Then there is Producer Michael Bay, the name attached to this movie to sell it. Bay makes shit movies, The Rock somewhat excepted. The Transformers series is a series that always makes tons of money yet hasn’t provided a worthwhile second of entertainment.
The worst part of the movie, though, is how embarrassed it is by its very concept. It goes to great lengths to mock the very premise of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. It waffles between wanting to be a children’s movie, which it should be, and doing its best to earn that PG-13 rating. It is as if it tried to be a gritty reboot, only for everyone to realize how dumb that idea is, so it tries to get back to that cartoony romp. Unfortunately, it leaves a lot of the stupid gritty stuff in there. This is a movie with no confidence, no creative vision. This is not a movie made to tell a story, it is a movie made to make money.
I love the Ninja Turtles. Each incarnation of the cartoon has something to recommend about it, even the cheap, childish version that I grew up with. This is a movie made simply to cash in on the nostalgia and good will this franchise has. The charm of the Turtles manages to shine through at times, even in a mess like this, but it doesn’t stop this from being a bad movie.