Do you want to know just how much people still care about the Teenage Mutant Nina Turtles? When it was announced that Michael Bay would merely be producing a new film featuring everyone's favorite pizza-eating turtles it sent fans spiraling into Crazy Town. They couldn't believe how Bay, again only in a producer role, was going to ruin their childhood favorites. To be fair, we've seen what Bay did to Transformers and purists hate those movies with the heat of a thousand suns. But the worst thing that can happen is to have nobody really give a darn, and obviously that was not the case here. But Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, which is a co-production between Bay's Platinum Dunes and Nickelodeon, isn't quite the disaster many expected it to be.
So that might not be the most ringing endorsement and probably won't get plastered in TV ads ("It's not so bad"--Travis Hopson, Punch Drunk Critics), but really that is the only criteria that matters when it comes to a movie like this. We already know it will be geared towards kids and the storyline will be ridiculous. Plus, let's be really honest here, the TMNT have undergone so many changes over the years that picking one version as definitive is sorta silly. After toying with the far-out notion of turning them into extraterrestrials, Bay and Liebesman have stuck to a fairly traditional take on the Turtles, one that longtime fans can appreciate if they don't mind the kiddie tone.
New York is under attack by an evil organization known as the Foot Clan, led by a metal-clad ninja called Shredder. Of course, this having Bay's stamp of approval Shredder looks like the spawn of Optimus Prime and a cheese grater. On the tail of the secretive Foot is lowly TV reporter April O'Neil, played by former Bay frenemy Megan Fox. O'Neil can't get anyone at her network to believe her about the Foot, but she has a more difficult time convincing them she saw four giant vigilante turtles fighting back. Fortunately, she finds a willing ear in scientist Eric Sachs (William Fichtner), a friend and colleague of her late father. What she doesn't know is that Sachs is holding on to a dark secret, one that threatens her and Turtles' future.
Chances are you'll figure out where this plot, cobbled together from dozens of other blockbusters, is headed in the first ten minutes. But getting there does prove to be more fun than expected, largely due to a script that understands the relationship between the turtle siblings and Splinter (voiced by Tony Shalhoub), their overgrown rat sensei. Raphael is a hot-headed jerk, Donatello is a dork with a bo staff, Michelangelo is a laid back beach bum, while Leonardo (voiced by Johnny Knoxville) is the born leader. Conflicts arise amongst the group, particularly between Raph and Leo, while Mikey acts like a clown. What doesn't work so well is in the physical design of the Turtles. They are freaking massive, huge bulked-up creatures and it takes away from their supposed ninja abilities. Are we truly expected to believe they were able to be stealthy all these years fighting in the shadows? They're the size of Monster Trucks! It's absurd, and it clashes against the idea of them as teenagers. Granted, watching them zip through the sewers on skateboards, along with a healthy dose of childish fart humor, does a pretty good job of establishing their immaturity. Kids will eat that stuff up. Adults? Eh, maybe. They may also find Mikey's crush on April a little too mature (and weird) for kids to handle.
Through the alien war flick Battle: Los Angeles and Wrath of the Titans, Liebesman has established himself as a director whose style resembles that of Bay in just about every way. So it's no shock that visually this looks exactly like Transformers; big chaotic action that defies the laws of physics but looks amazing. The highlight is a 10-minute chase down a snowy slope with exploding trucks, Turtles on the half-shell, and Fox hanging for dear life. It looks amazing, although it doesn't make a lot of sense logistically. Why is there so much snow there but nowhere else in the city? We're probably not supposed to notice. Other plot holes will rear their ugly head, too, as the villains' main scheme makes absolutely no sense when revealed. This was a case of the writers' going too far in wanting a huge world-threatening finale when nothing we've seen up to that point suggests it should be the case. What you won't find is much in the way of emotion except in the brotherly camaraderie between the Turtles, and that is displayed mostly in broad strokes.
Despite their hulking size, the CGI Turtles look pretty good although the effects get a little sloppy during the faster fight sequences. Fox is back to her old bag of tricks as little more than a pretty face. She gets a lot of reaction shots and not much else to do, but at least she wears O'Neil's classic yellow jacket! Will Arnett gets a few laughs as her cameraman and potential suitor, Vernon Fenwick. Fichtner is so good at playing quirky, mannered bad guys that it's disappointing he's so boring here. Sachs just isn't written to be a funny character and it's a waste of what Fichtner does best. Somebody should have shown these guys Fichtner's Drive Angry highlight reel.
So you may not be shouting "Cowabunga" but at least it's not 'The Secret of the Ooze'. There aren't any Vanilla Ice cameos to speak of and that's automatically a good thing. As an introduction to younger audiences and an action-packed slice of nostalgia, you could do worse than Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.