DISCLAIMER: HERE THERE BE SPOILERS!
I love the Teenage Mutant NInja Turtles. The first cartoon was my favorite thing ever as a kid. I have watched the original live action films more times than I can count. I have been reading and loving the current run of IDW comics, and I enjoyed what I saw of the new Nickelodeon series. I have been a fan of almost every adaption of the Turtles I have ever seen. So, when heard that there was a new Live action film in the works I got super excited…. until the next sentence of the press release said that it was being produced by Michael Bay. So, when I got the opportunity to go see the new film, provided by my generous friend Charles, I went in with trepidation. My expectations were low, but I had hope that it would be fun and maybe not, you know…the worst. As it turns out, it was a pretty terrible film. However, it was simultaneously not a completely terrible TMNT adaption.
As a film it suffered on all the fundamental levels. The pacing was bad, it seemed like forever before the first decent action sequence. After that first short action sequence there was even more dull exposition as April does her reporter bit. If I wore a watch, I would have been checking it constantly as I waited for the incredibly predictable story to unfold for me.
In addition to having a completely generic plot, there were numerous elements that ranged from silly to stupid. The Shredder had these blades that he could launch and recall. While kind of cool, they were unexplained and kind of ridiculous. There was a moment, when The Evil Plan required the blood of the mutants, in which Shredder has Splinter in his hands, but after using him to make the Turtles surrender he just drops him to the ground. Apparently, they don’t need it that badly… except that right afterwards one villain expends several minutes of standard villain exposition explaining how important having ALL of their blood is. The inevitable breakout/rescue scene that follows is one of the mostly painfully stupid things I’ve seen on the big screen in a while. It was a clear sign of sloppy, uncaring writing.
The dialogue and acting were mediocre all around. The poster child for this was April O’Neil. The intersection of generic dialogue and poor acting left April as hands down the most boring part of this film. Every scene focused on her suffered for it, and the film pays the price because she was pretty much the most central character of the film. This poor performance is something of a tragedy for reasons I will go into later. On the positive side, I enjoyed Will Arnett’s performance, but am a little appalled that he ended up delivering my favorite performance in the movie. I mean since when am I supposed to like Vernon?
The action sequences suffered from too much Michael Bay. This left them feeling incredibly generic, some scenes leaving me with a strong sense of deja vu with flashbacks to Transformers. There was way too much slow motion accompanied by that deep bass sound used to punch up the tension in so many films these days. This slo-mo also detracted from most of the fight scenes, too much emphasis on the cool effects and not enough on good fight choreography.
The character designs for all the CGI characters, the turtles, Splinter, and the Shredder, were pretty fugly. While the turtles grew on me as the movie progressed, Splinter just creeped me out the whole time. The worst of the bunch was the Shredder. His design was eye bleedingly bad. While the Shredder has always been defined by his excessive bits of spiked and bladed armor, this new design takes it way too far. He looks the way Iron Man would if Tony Stark had a blade fetish.
As I said in the beginning I’m a big fan of most versions of TMNT. It’s one of the few fandoms in which I enjoy seeing new versions and different takes on the concept. Despite the many, glaring failures of this film, it is not without some redeeming qualities. It is actually an interesting adaptation of the Turtles.
One of the biggest themes of TMNT is one of family and brotherhood. Individually, the characterization of the turtles in the film was a mixed bag. Michelangelo and Donatello were well done, although Mikey was kind of super creepy hitting on April all the time. Raphael was unexceptional this go around and Leonardo was terrible. However, as brothers, they worked really well. It’s clear that they have lived an isolated life with nothing but themselves and a steady stream of internet and television. This means lots of dumb pop culture jokes and sibling banter. Normally I would be annoyed with a film that was so heavy handed with such humor. However,. references to a hip hop album, the celebration after their first victory against the Foot Clan, and a beatboxing session during a long elevator all felt endearingly appropriate for the Turtles. I also enjoyed the updated media references and use. One must remember that ever since the 80’s cartoon wacky, self-referential, and pop humor dominated Turtles media. If you want gritty Turtles, I suggest reading the various comic runs.
There were a couple of large deviations from traditional TMNT lore, i.e. the original comics and the 80’s cartoon, in this movie. One is that the “Foot Clan” never feels remotely like a ninja clan. It just a generic group of gun toting thugs that happens to be lead by a couple of Asians, only one of whom ever displays any kind of ninja prowess.
Another major change is that April O’Neil was much stronger character than she was in the early iterations of TMNT. She is the lynchpin of the turtles origin, the catalyst for their rise to the surface, she rescues three out of four of them at the end, and that not all the important things she does. This is by no means the only time April has been badass in the various re-imaginings of the Turtles, but it’s still good thing to see. The only concession this film makes to the damsel in distress version of April O’Neil is that she still faints after first seeing the turtles, but that’s a very classic part of the TMNT lore and it’s once and done.
The final big change from standard TMNT lore is that the mutagen gives the turtles super strength. I was actually pretty interested in that take because it’s different, but it makes a certain amount of strength. However, I then realized that their super strength is why the Shredder had to be in a damn power suit. That suit hurt the film and hurt the adaption of the characters. The super strength also sets up the reasoning behind the ultra-stupid climax of the film. In the end, I have to say that while I don’t mind the idea of super strong turtles, it was poorly used in the film.
So, in summation… this a pretty awful movie, yet it still somehow appeals to the Turtles fan within me. I would recommend seeing it in an affordable manner like a local discount theater, Red Box, or Netflix, but only if you are the kind of Turtle fan that enjoys seeing the mythos worked different ways. This is not the worst adaption of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, not by a long shot. However, that’s mostly because Saban’s Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation was such a crime against the franchise.