Cinematic Releases: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

The Turtles return to theaters this week. What did we think of this latest version? Find out now.

"Hey! Look at me!
I'm doing something!"
Megan Fox with near consistency puts on her dumbest face possible. Anyone could have played Will Arnett's part. The story was boring, the Turtles were fun, and there was one action sequence that rocked. That's about all you need to know. 

I went into Ninja Turtles with very controlled expectations. Turns out I was pretty much spot on. If you got little ones, not only is this appropriate for them, but you won't be completely bored while joining them in the theater. Children will dig this big time. I was afraid that like most Michael Bay produced films that there would be too much lewd adult oriented humor that I would be ashamed to show a child. It's funny without the gross out toilet humor, and the action isn't overly violent. In fact, the whole thing feels like an adequate Saturday morning cartoon, minus the animation.

For those of us who care, the story is dull as it gets. A couple of times I found my brain drifting away from my theater experience. It didn't do a great job capturing my fascination. It didn't make me feel like a kid again. The pace was far too quick to allow for any of that to happen.

The origin plot felt too complex for complexity's sake, and crammed in too hastily. I'm not talking about a 
Matrix level of interwoven layers or anything. The origin story we're familiar with already is simple so that it can leave room for a story about family, brotherhood, and growing up faster than you should. That's what Turtles has always been to me. The original film does this so much better. Instead of going for heart, they went for unnecessary stacks of interwoven pasts, tying April directly to the Turtles' beginnings, along with her father's involvement with greedy scientists. Whaaateverrr. This pulls the rug out from the foundation of not only what makes the Ninja Turtles story great, but what makes any story of wondrous, strange discoveries great. It robbed the enchanting oddity of talking ninja reptiles of its fantasy.

It's not a complete misfire as the Turtles themselves interact fairly well, with Michelangelo, needless to say, being the star comic of the show. Sometimes his lines seemed like the writers were pushing it. We all know that he's the goofball, but every single situation doesn't call for his antics. He had numerous funny moments, one in particular had me belly laughing pretty hard in the theater.

Donatello threw me for a minute. Being my favorite turtle, I've always adored his geekiness, but it's turned up to 11 here. Some fans, I imagine, won't be able to tolerate it, but I appreciated the direction here. It only took me a few moments to readjust to it, and ended up really loving it.

"Prime!!! Why throw away
your life so recklessly---- Splinter?
Wait. This isn't Cybertron."
Raph and Leo butt heads, as you'd expect, but the concentration on the absurd plot, instead of character development left them little room to stand out like the others regardless of the respect for their core personalities. They just weren't given much in particular to hold on to and make their own.

Splinter and Shredder were perhaps the biggest letdowns. We'll start with the latter. Shredder is two-dimensional and loses half of what he potentially started with once he actually enters the gratuitous robot armor. What made Shredder such a threat before was the fact that he was a bad ass to begin with. He doesn't need six-thousand blades and shiny robot arms to get the job done. The dude is a master ninja. To top it off, his reliance on the oh-so-evil-scientist Sacks character, played by William Fichtner, further turned him into a literal tool. He's not the fearless, vengeful leader of the Foot clan. He's now reduced to being a walking, deployable weapon of Sacks. What? Who thought that was a good idea?

Splinter does kick some ass, though. Even though he does put up a solid fight, he's just kinda there. I never bought that he's the wise old father figure. I never really bought that the brothers cared for him either, even though it's clear you're supposed to. They tried, and it worked here and there, but both reasons the Turtles fight, being Shredder and Splinter, are tacked on. This resulted in a whole lot of me not caring whether or not the day was saved.

The action that is there ranges from passable to pretty darn awesome, however. The snowy mountain
sequence featured in the trailers, is a big dose of fun. It showcases each of the brothers' talents in a rather elaborately sequenced, extravagant battle. I'd watch this otherwise mediocre popcorn flick again just for this scene alone.

Like the action, the CG has an equal range of bad to great. Splinter, particularly, rarely fits into the environment, looking too much like a shiny toy instead of a furry rodent. Sometimes the turtles look wonderful, others not so much. Flashbacks to their much younger lives look like something that belonged in 2007's TMNT and not a live-action film. I will say this, however, that many of the facial expressions despite some cheapness in quality, were very convincing. One desperate moment had Raph wince in such a subtle way that you could only normally get from a live actor. These and several other moments had me believing their personalities even if the overall value of the CG didn't wow me.

The plot is an eye-rolling recycling of everything we've seen already. It's incredibly predictable, has zero suspense to compliment its entire lack of character development, but it has its moments. Though nearly every character in the film seems to be there just to fill space, the Turtles themselves aren't too bad at all. Their personalities are all respected. They're very funny, especially Mikey, even with much of their hijinks feeling overboard and there is at least one big action segment that should make it worth your time.

I'd rank this entry maybe fourth in the film series, with the first film at the top, TMNT following at a distance, and this one and Secret of the Ooze fighting for third depending on my mood. It's surely to be a blast for kids, and parents won't mind tolerating this one when you take them out for the week

-J.G. Barnes