I’m a huge Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle fan and have been since the black-and-white comic book days of Mirage Studios in the mid-’80s. My teenage years are marked by notebooks full of turtle sketches and crazy, mech-inspired renditions of Shredder. By the time the cartoon series hit afternoon TV and the first live-action film exploded box offices, TMNT was everywhere, and I couldn’t have been happier. And then, as these things often do, the market became saturated. The comic book ended. The cartoon was cancelled. And Vanilla Ice recorded a Ninja Rap. The Turtles were over.
Since then, there have been reboots. There were a couple of attempts at new cartoons. A live-action TV series with the fifth turtle, Venus (yes, a female) and assorted toy and video games hit here and there, but that magic that Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird captured in 1984 was seemingly lost. An animated CGI TMNT feature film hit theaters in 2007, but it too seemed only to remind fans of what used to be. And then Nickelodeon rolled out a new cartoon that completely captured the spirit of the early works. The humor is spot on, the character models are very well done, and the show has created new mythos that pay homage to the original source material with respect and it is, without a doubt, one of the best serialized cartoons on TV today.
I bring all of this up, because the success of the new cartoon — and toy line — has led to another attempt at a live action movie, and having seen the new film, all I can say is that Vanilla Ice is no longer the worst thing to ever happen to the franchise. This title now belongs to Michael Bay.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles stars Megan Fox as April O’Neil, a features reporter who covers yoga contests and cute cat videos with her trusty cameraman/producer, Vernon Fenwick, played by Will Arnett. April dreams of covering real news, and she attempts to uncover more about the mysterious foot clan, who are dragging New York City down into a wave of crime and violence. In her investigation she uncovers so much more, as she finds four teenaged mutants, who happen to be turtles and who also happen to know ninjutsu.
While this synopsis is fine for fans of the greater TMNT mythos, the new film–produced by Michael Bay and directed by Jonathan Liebesman–completely goes off rails in trying to tell the story in a new way. Not to get into spoiler detail here, just know that the origin is completely changed for no reason other than to include William Fichtner’s Eric Sacks, a millionaire businessman with a biochemistry company, into the plot, and then proceeds to insult the audience with illogical plot after illogical plot to the point that it started to make me angry. By the end, I had given up, sitting in my seat completely devoid of any further investment into this abomination.
But none of this is the problem here. The problem with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is that the turtles themselves are fantastic. The character designs, the voice performances, the camaraderie, the action; it’s all nailed so perfectly that to compare it to the film’s plot is mind-numbing in how the two sides are completely at odds with one another. If you could just turn off all of the human components of the film and just focus on the turtles themselves, you might enjoy this film. It would only be 23 minutes long, but you would have enjoyed those 23 minutes. The other 78 minutes you could send some emails, maybe do some laundry. Anything to avoid the level of illogical buffoonery on display here. The screenplay by writers Josh Appelbaum, Andre Nemec and Evan Daugherty makes zero sense. There are logic problems. Geographical problems. Characterization problems. And some of the worst dialogue I have ever heard. Ever.
And while I truly loved the turtles, Splinter on the other hand doesn’t work due to yet another major issue with the new origin. As in he makes zero sense here. Gone is the loving mentor/father to four wayward sons. Here, Splinter is simply a peer to the turtles, as they were all animals who were subjected to radical experiments, yet for some reason, he mutated older…and asian…and better at martial arts than his four green contemporaries (I know I said I would avoid spoilers, but I had to highlight one of the MANY plot holes at work here). And if Splinter doesn’t work, then by proxy, Shredder fails too. The great master ninja lord is relegated to bionics and gadgets, and his foot “army” (not even sure I can call them a clan) are no longer ninjas, but for some reason they are armed para-military types in funny masks who are just as bad at their jobs as Imperial Stormtroopers. Adding insult to injury, this Shredder is just as cool as the turtles in design, and in motion as his battles with the turtles are pure martial arts-driven eye-candy, but again, the character is painted in fecal matter by the terrible story and plot.
The last insult of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comes in the rampant, in-your-face, in-film marketing. It’s a Pizza Hut commercial, plain and simple. And Mikey lets the audience knows more times than should be legal that he loves Orange Crush and seemingly always has a can with the logo miraculously showing over his three fingers. Again, just more insult to an already intensely insulting film.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a big, stinking pile of failure, save for the turtles themselves. But no matter how well the four brothers are portrayed here, everything else misses so badly that it sinks the whole production. Kids may find something to enjoy here, especially in the turtle characters, but everything else is already below their level of understanding that even the most uninterested 8-year-old is smarter than this movie. And that may be the worst part of it all.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is rated PG-13 and opens nationwide on August 8th.
TheHDRoom may be paid a small commission for any services or products ordered through select links on this page.