I don’t remember a world when the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles didn’t exist. I had just turned one year old when the original cartoon debuted in 1987 and it was, to my recollection, the first thing outside of friends and family that I fell in love with. I’ve watched every show and movie, played every video game, read many of the comics and even owned much of the merchandise; boxes of various Ninja Turtles paraphernalia are still resting underneath my bed, in my closet and in my attic. While I’ve abandoned much of my childhood loves, the Ninja Turtles are the one thing I still enjoy to this day.
Couple my admiration with pre-release reports of a troubled production and various other controversies and I became sure the newest movie, succinctly titled “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” was going to be a disaster. After all, if they could change the design of the heroes in a half-shell to something so atrocious, surely the rest of the filmmaking decisions would follow suit. I didn’t want to, but I was ready to trash this film if the final product called for it. However, nothing pleases me more than to say that such negativity is unwarranted. Although the design of the Turtles have changed, their personalities remain intact. This is an impressive, action packed film with some terrific humor and an expectedly hokey plot that is both to its benefit and detriment. This new movie won’t convert non-fans, but if they can look past the visual changes, longtime devotees will find much to love.
April O’Neil (Megan Fox) is a television reporter in New York City who has been relegated to fluff stories. Much like any young reporter, she longs to make her big break with an independent investigation on the local criminal organization, the Foot Clan. She gets too close to the story, however, and finds herself stuck in a bad situation, only to be rescued by vigilante heroes that nobody has seen before. Her focus quickly turns to them and she ends up discovering that those vigilantes are actually mutated, walking, talking turtles. Pleasantries will have to wait, though, because a threat is looming over the city. The Shredder (Tohoru Masamune), the leader of the Foot Clan, is in cahoots with business mogul, Eric Sachs (William Fichtner), and together they intend on taking over the city.
As far as story goes, “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” isn’t the most creative, nor does it deviate much from the tried and true formula set forth all those years ago in the original show: the Shredder hatches a ridiculous plan while the Turtles fight his goons and crack some jokes along the way, leading to a “close call” finale—when our heroes may or may not foil his plan at the very last second. This is all to be expected.
But as the old adage goes, it’s not the destination that matters, but the journey, and TMNT is filled with enough clever jokes (“That’s stupid” April says at one point after someone mistakes the Turtles as aliens, a clear reference to the pre-release controversy that suggested our heroes’ acronym may need to be modified to TANT, an unfortunate acronym depending on how one pronounces it) and surprisingly impressive action scenes to make that journey worthwhile. In modern cinema, ill-advised attempts to enhance the action through shaky camerawork and rapid editing have put a damper on what would otherwise serve up some serviceable excitement. “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” for the most part at least, avoids this perplexing tactic. Things get hectic, sure, but the camerawork remains fluid; not once does it lose its way. A standout scene takes place on a snowy mountainside (though one must wonder where such a place exists in New York City), as the Turtles and their enemies slide downhill with all manner of chaos revolving around them. This sequence is well choreographed and extremely exciting, marking itself as one of the standout action scenes of the summer.
More interesting is that April’s connection to the Turtles extends beyond the “damsel in distress” role she has been relegated to in previous Turtles iterations. While I hesitate to explain what that connection is out of fear of spoilers, it nevertheless makes her inclusion in the narrative more integral than she has been in the past. In this movie, April O’Neal is a strong female character, a fearless reporter that has dreams of becoming more and not settling for mediocrity. She’s more than just a pretty face, despite what Megan Fox’s casting may suggest, even if the actress isn’t entirely believable in the role.
For fans of the franchise, the largest deficiency will undoubtedly be the design of the characters. Only Splinter (mostly) retains his expected look while Shredder looks like a metallic Edward Scissorhands and the Turtles could rightfully be classified as the Teenage Mutant Hipster Turtles, their design obviously updated to appeal to the young kids out there as they wear sunglasses on their heads and puka shell necklaces around their necks while Donatello’s tech equipment is akin to those obnoxious Bluetooth devices many folks wear even when not actually using them. More than anything else, the character designs leave much to be desired.
Other minor nagging issues rear their ugly heads from time to time, like the voice casting of Johnny Knoxville as Leonardo, whose voice is far too recognizable and clearly stands out from the rest of the gang, and some childish humor that, even though it fits within the context of teenage immaturity, is worthy of little more than an eye roll and disgruntled sigh. Luckily, this type of humor is few and far between, serving only as a minor detour from the spot on self-deprecating and pop culture jokes.
There is much to like in this new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Don’t let the pre-release controversy or lackluster trailers sway you; it is more than the sum of its parts. It may or may not work for the uninitiated, but Turtles fans are sure to have a good time.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles receives 4/5