Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a strange movie. This isn’t because it features four turtles transformed into giant, anthropomorphic do-gooders wielding swords, sais and the like. We as a people have come to accept these decades-old characters as part of the popular culture that is regurgitated and rearranged for a fresh batch of children every few years.
No, what makes Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles a strange movie is its tone, lost somewhere between too adult and too childish. Produced by Michael Bay, it comes from director Jonathan Liebesman, the man behind gritty films like Battle Los Angeles and War of the Titans. The movie once more gives us the core four characters, which are as simple as the title describes. New York City is corrupted and attacked by a mysterious organization called The Foot. Into this world of criminal activity our heroes tentatively step, beating up bad guys, devouring pizza and making wisecracks along the way.
If you’ve spent even ten minutes watching a previous take on this franchise/product/series, you will know the basics of Leonardo, Raphael, Donatello and Michaelangelo. The movie actually nails the dynamic of the Turtles well. None of them have particularly dynamic personalities, yet have enough to them to be engaging. Leonardo is the leader. Raphael is the one with a chip on his shoulder. Donatello is the nerd. Michelangelo is the goofball. Along with their father-figure/sensei/giant-talking-rat Splinter and the investigative reporter April O’Neill (Megan Fox), these boys get into and try to prevent trouble.
When Turtles focuses on the titular crew, it’s enjoyable. Not immensely so, but the relationships are fine and the banter is amusing enough to garner interest.
That is it for positive things.
For a film called Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, surprisingly little of it is actually spent with them. The majority of it centers on Megan Fox’s April, as she struggles to make it in the cutthroat news business and the odd, tedious conspiracy that ties her family’s life to the movie’s bad guys, as well as the dudes with the shells. These scenes have a cynical nature, standard for anything touched by the hand of Bay. It all suffers from the idea that more plus darkness equals cool. The movie’s main antagonist is Shredder (Tohoru Masamune), a Japanese ninja/warrior/bald-man who wants to use a toxin and a plethora of pointy objects to take control of the city and the world. Of course, Shredder doesn’t have a few pointy objects on his ridiculously large, clunky armor. No, each blade has several others that spread out from it; they’re magnetic too! When cars go crashing down a snowy mountainside, it's not a truck, it's a semi. This more equals more enjoyment is tiring.
The nature of this character and the plot, which also features skyscrapers collapsing in NYC, clashes drastically with the goofy natures of the Turtles. While they fart and fret about girls and looking cool, the surrounding story has minions die horrific deaths Liebseman’s camera stares on like it was a horror picture; perhaps his own The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning. Again, an edgier take on the characters could be done, and is in fact closer to the parody they were originally conceived of as by Peter Laird and Kevin Eastman back in the early 80s. The whole must be adjusted though.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles opens wide all across Seattle tomorrow.