LEONARDO, Raphael, Donatello and Michelangelo. You know those names, of course you do. And I don’t mean the Renaissance painters.
The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (TMNT) are a property as old as the Transformers themselves (yes, they are 30 years old this year, hardly teenagers anymore). After the comic made its debut in 1984 as a rather violent and dark parody of popular superhero comics by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird, it became more kid-friendly with the release of the original 1987 cartoon.
Since then, there have been two other animated series, one attempt at a live-action one, and four feature films (three live-action, one animated).
Which brings us to this latest attempt at bringing the Turtles to the big screen.
Not content with ruining our childhood with his last few Transformers movies, Michael Bay turned producer for TMNT, which pretty much guarantees a movie that is high on great action, explosions and lingering shots of Megan Fox; but low on plot, dialogue, logic and common sense.
This being pretty much a reboot, this movie deals with the origins of the Turtles and their sensei, Splinter; and their battle against the evil leader of the Foot Clan, Shredder (Tohoru Masamune). When reporter April O’Neil (Fox) and her colleague Vernon (the criminally underused Will Arnett) decide to pursue a story about the mysterious vigilantes who have been fighting back against the Foot Clan, she gets caught between the two sides faster than you can say “Cowabunga!”
While I would love to say that this latest TMNT movie goes back to the dark, violent adventures of the Turtles back in the Eastman/Laird comic days, this IS a Nickelodeon production after all, so there was probably no chance of that ever happening.
What we do get is a movie that can’t seem to decide whether it’s meant for kids or the adult TMNT fans. Director Jonathan Liebesman made his name with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning and Battle Los Angeles; here, he falters when it comes to finding the balance between the gritty real world and the more cartoonish aspects of the Turtles.
The Turtles themselves are brilliantly realised though, with the voice actors – Johnny Knoxville as Leonardo, Alan Ritchson as Raphael, Jeremy Howard as Donatello, and Noel Fisher as Michelangelo – doing a great job at giving each Turtle his own distinct personality. In fact, the camaraderie between the Turtles is so much fun to watch that the movie just slows down to a non-ninja turtle’s pace whenever they are not on screen (and we have to put up with Fox attempting to act again).
When the first trailer for the movie came out, I was struck by just how ... UGLY the turtles looked. Still, I’m happy to say that the Turtles look MUCH better in the actual movie. Oh, they still look kind of ugly, but more of a cuddly sort of ugly, and the new look really grows on you once you get to know them better.
The action sequences are also great fun (a car chase atop a snowy mountain stands out in particular), but the movie is ultimately let down by Fox’s wooden acting, a one-dimensional villain, some really silly dialogue, and a downright lazy plot.
But hey, it’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles produced by Michael Bay and Nickelodeon. What else did you expect?