This pumped up reinvention of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – a franchise beloved to many of recent generations – at least tries to conjure up the spirit of the comics and cartoons upon which it is based. That it largely fails to do so shouldn’t be held against it too harshly, for while Jonathan Liebesman’s film is messy and flimsy, it isn’t altogether lacking in quality.
We begin in the company of April O’Neil (Megan Fox), a plucky young journalist who just isn’t getting the breaks she needs to move away from the fluffy stories she’s being given. This could be because her primary method of investigative journalism is to point her phone camera at things – her boss, Whoopi Goldberg, isn’t impressed. April is driven around by cameraman Vern Fenwick (played by funny actor Will Arnett, who gets almost nothing funny to do or say) and stumbles upon the titular reptilians while chasing down the deadly Foot Clan, which is terrorising New York. It becomes clear that April’s background and that of the turtles are intertwined – as is that of philanthropic businessman Eric Sacks (William Fichtner).
I would outline for you the bad guys’ dastardly plot, but the one short sentence it would take to sum it up would ruin almost the entire film. Let’s focus instead on the stars of the show – the turtles. Buff, CGI, mo-capped badassess they may be, but the scriptwriters have at least attempted to invest them with personality and heart. Their brotherly bonds and the relationship to their rodent sensei Splinter (voiced by Tony Shalhoub) generate some genuine, if fleeting, moments of investment. The film is always concerned with moving onto the next set piece, however; it rarely slows down to lets its few characters breathe.
In truth, the turtles are only partially successful. Leonardo, the leader, oddly gets the least screentime, while Michaelangelo, the funny one, is only intermittently funny. They just about convince as reckless but talented teenage brothers, which I suppose is a feat given they’re turtles, but the film doesn’t give them, or any of its characters, enough to do. It would be unfair to be overly critical of Megan Fox, since her role is so criminally underwritten, and once the turtles are introduced she slips out of the focus of Liebesman’s lens. Big baddie Shredder, introduced in his full armour as a clunking behemoth, is at least sprightly when it comes to the action sequences, but his character motivation extends to ‘bad man’, which makes him about as blandly uninteresting as can be. There’s an extended action sequence during which a number of the main characters tumble down a snowy hillside, much of which is ‘captured’ in a single take – I use the inverted commas because 95 percent of the scene is computer generated. A helpful hint to directors: just because it is now possible to depict four anthropomorphised turtles sliding down a hill pulling off any number of ‘cool’ martial arts moves and bantering away at the same time while cars and trucks crash around them, doesn’t mean that one should necessarily do it. Just shoot the scene so it makes sense, and we can see what’s going on.
When it comes down to it, this is a film in which one of the chief villains says the following line in relation to his plan to take over New York: “It’s time to take a bite out of the Big Apple.” That tells you a lot. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, for all its many faults, isn’t a complete f ailure. It has hints of heart, and one or two good sequences, but rent-a-baddie villainy, a poor storyline and paper thin characters leave it floundering in generic action territory.