If Michael Bay has taught us anything, it's that adapting popular kids' TV shows isn't easy. Despite the fact that, if we're truly honest with ourselves, Saturday morning cartoons in the late 80's and early 90's were nothing more than ploys to sell merchandise, Bay is crucified for “ruining” Transformers. While it seems no one remembers 2012's “miss”-hap Battleship, a vastly greater travesty than any of the Transformers films, Bay is now looked upon as being the destroyer of childhoods – an odd label since Transformers not only maintained a lot of its original fan base, but gained a new generation of fans as well.
So, it's truly no surprise that, when Bay announced he was producing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, arguably a more beloved TV series than Transformers, the fan outcry was great. Just minutes after the announcement, fans across the globe launched a thousand tirades against the film without even seeing the movie first. Well, after actually seeing the movie, being a fan of the TV show and comics for over 20 years, I can honestly say the film exceeded my expectations – and my expectations were extremely high!
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, despite what you may glean from internet fanboy chatter, not only maintains the joy, humor, action, and wonder from the old TV show, but takes things to the next level. With deeper character development than the show didn't dare go into, surprisingly awesome performances from the “human” actors, and a script that surpasses any movie that came before it, Turtles is every bit the movie the fans have been asking for.
New York City finds itself in a crime wave unlike anything before it, thanks to the new criminal presence known as The Foot Clan. Ranging from industrial theft to hostage situation, The Foot Clan seemingly cannot be stopped. Intrepid reporter April O'Neil (Megan Fox) seems to be the only one who wants to get to the bottom of how to stop them, but keeps finding dead ends along the way. That is, until she stumbles upon a vigilante group dedicated to stopping The Foot Clan at every turn now...a group of six-foot-tall adolescent talking turtles – who happen to also wield weapons and know martial arts – calling themselves Leonardo (voiced by Johnny Knoxville), Raphael (Alan Ritchson), Michelangelo (Noel Fisher), and Donatello (Jeremy Howard). As April, with her twitchy and over-confident cameraman Vern Fenwick (Will Arnett), begins to piece together the turtles' past, a mysterious link begins to emerge with billionaire industrialist Eric Sacks (William Fichtner) with her own – a link that unravels a plot that endangers the entire city of New York.
As Bay opted to only produce the film, the directing fell upon the shoulders of Jonathan Liebesman (Wrath of the Titans). If it still feels like a Bay movie, you're not wrong. Liebesman's directorial effort here seems to mimic Bay's style all the way to the minimal lens flares and occasional shaky cam. However, what makes the difference here is the script provided by Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol scribes Josh Applebaum and Andre Nemec, as well as contributions from Divergent screenwriter Evan Daugherty. Unlike the typical action script, which often has several names attached to it, the writers for Turtles, like the titular characters themselves, contribute something unique to the team effort. Applebaum and Nemec's experience with action couldn't be clearer in the detailed, gripping sequences here, while Daugherty allows the story to be far more character-driven than any previous film featuring the Heroes in a Half-Shell.
While any new fan to the series and films could easily become immersed here, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, in many ways, seems like a love letter to the long-time fans. Despite altering the origin of Leo, Don, Raph, Mikey and Splinter (voiced wonderfully by Tony Shalhoub) ever so slightly, every character is here in all their glory, and exactly how you would want them in a modern setting. Leo is the born leader and commander. Raph is the hotheaded, short-fused rebel. Mikey is the fun-loving goof-off. Don is the quick-thinking strategist and tech expert. Splinter is the loving father figure and disciplinarian, but also a trickster at heart. Each of these iconic five characters has their strengths and flaws lovingly displayed in full brilliance, allowing them each to have their moments of triumph and vulnerability – something that was truly missing, even from 2007's severely underrated TMNT.
So why only four stars then? Well, I don't have the option to give it four-and-a-half stars. The only thing that keeps this being a five-star film is a simple pacing issue. While the film is, for the most part, exactly what you would think it should be, it tries to jumble too many different emotions into one scene at times. When the mood goes from comedic to dramatic to tense, and then back to comedic in one sequence, it does become a little overwhelming at times. This could have simply been remedied by elongating the runtime by just a few minutes. If Guardians of the Galaxy can run for nearly two-and-half hours, Turtles certainly could have gone a little longer than 101 minutes.
FINAL VERDICT: Don't believe the negative hype, folks. Whether you're a long-time fan of the TV shows and comics, or if you're a newcomer to the Heroes in a Halfshell, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is the movie for you. Capturing all the humor and action of the source material, while delving deeper into the characters than ever seen before on screen (as well as giving a role to Megan Fox where she's not just sex appeal), Turtles is every bit the fun romp you were hoping it is. And yes, there is a joke in here somewhere about “Go, Ninja! Go, Ninja! Go!”, but I'll leave you to find it.