I come to the “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” franchise as a bit of a stranger. I do remember when the live action movies came out in the 90’s, but I never got around to seeing them. I never even got around to watching the computer-animated “TMNT” which came out in 2007. The thing I remember the most from this franchise is the song “Turtle Power” by Partners in Kryme. I got a huge kick out of that song even though it never furthered my interest to see the movies. Maybe it was because I got spoiled at the time by the movie version of “The Hunt for Red October” that I suddenly became disinterested in seeing any movie that couldn’t equal it in quality. As I remember it, those live action movies were not exactly critical darlings.
So clearly I am in no position to tell you if Platinum Dunes’ reboot of “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” is the best film in the franchise, but I can tell you that it’s not that different from other Platinum Dunes releases. Keep in mind, Platinum Dunes is the production company run by the supposedly beloved director (that’s what Paramount Pictures calls him anyway) Michael Bay. Their reboots of popular franchises like “Friday the 13th” and “A Nightmare on Elm Street” have their good moments, but in the end they are mostly bland retreads that don’t leave much of an aftertaste. This reboot of “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” is no different from them, and the franchise only serves to become Platinum Dunes’ latest victims.
As is usually is the case, darkness has settled over New York City as Shredder (Tohoru Masamune) and his notoriously evil Foot Clan have long since gained the upper hand on everything and everyone in town. Politicians are easily bought out (when aren’t they?) and the police are well under their control, and it seems as though fearless reporter April O’Neil (Megan Fox) is the only one willing to expose their law breaking activities. But then out of nowhere come four outcast brothers known as Leonardo, Raphael, Michelangelo and Donatello who arrive to save the day and bring hope to the city that never sleeps. April ends up befriending them, and she soon discovers that she actually has a very close connection with these brothers from another sewer.
In all fairness, the special effects in “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” are very impressive. While the turtles do come across as creepy looking and have noses instead of snouts, looking at them never takes you out of the moment because they all blend into the scenery perfectly to where you feel like you’re not just watching a series of visual effects. Credit should also go to the actors (Pete Ploszek, Alan Ritchson, Noel Fisher and Jeremy Howard) for embodying the turtles so perfectly. Even if their dialogue ends up being cheesier than the pizza the turtles eat, they rise to the challenge with the help of motion capture technology.
I also have to say that I enjoyed Megan Fox’s performance as April O’Neil. I’ll leave it to the fans to figure out if hers is the best version of that character or not, but she is a lot more appealing and lively here than she ever was in those first two “Transformers” movies. Director Jonathan Liebesman never tries to sexualize April O’Neil here, and that’s largely because he doesn’t need to. You can see Fox’s excitement on her face at being part of this franchise, and her enthusiasm really carries over to the audience in a good way. While her career outside of “Transformers” hasn’t been all it’s cracked up to be, watching her here made me see her in a more pleasing light.
Having said that, very little else about “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” entertained me, and that’s probably because it’s no different from all those movies I grew up on. It’s the typical movie where the good guys battle the bad guys, the good guys defeat some of the bad guys, then the bad guys capture the good guys and torture them as much as they can in a PG-13 movie, and finally the good guys save the day. And during all that time, various characters like William Fichtner’s Erich Sachs and Will Arnett’s Vernon Fenwick appear, and you know how they fit into the story long before they reveal their true natures. Erich is a big time CEO with seemingly good intentions, but he’s going to turn bad and it doesn’t happen soon enough. As for Vernon, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know that the more he hits on April, the more she is going to reject him. It may sound disgusting, but it’s easy to see why a turtle has a better chance with her than anyone else.
Obviously it would have been asking the filmmakers too much to try and reinvent the wheel as fans are coming into this movie expecting certain things, but is this really the best they could come up with? There are explosions aplenty from start to finish, a number of fighting scenes throughout, and there’s a cool sequence where we see the turtles sliding all over the place down a snowy hill, but I came out of this movie feeling empty. There wasn’t much in the way of excitement, and the movie is really the equivalent of a McDonald’s Happy Meal; you may remember eating it, but it doesn’t leave much of an aftertaste.
You’d think after all this time that the folks over at Platinum Dunes would try to tweak their formula to make things a little more exciting, but their various reboots have proven to be box office successes for the most part. But also, none of their reboots have produced any sequels, so there’s something to be said about that as well. I understand why movie studios like to play it safe, but what the filmmakers do here is give us something very uninspired. Kids will get a kick out of it, but everyone else will just be reminded of how their favorite movies from childhood are better than this one.
If nothing else, “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” makes me want to check out the live action movies that I never bothered seeing back in 90’s. Maybe watching them will give me an idea of why people got so excited about these characters in the first place. Oh and by the way, they were originally a parody of superheroes, so does it make sense to make this movie darker than the previous ones? No, not really.