These “Turtles” Should Have Stayed in the Shadows

2 out of 5 stars (has some good moments, but is overall bad)

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Image from https://www.imdb.com/title/tt1291150/mediaviewer/rm243581696

Childhood is an interesting time. We are young, inexperienced, and easily entertained.  When we are children, all we need is a talking animal and we like what is right in front of us.  That was the case for me at least.  I remember seeing Shrek in the movie theater when I was six years old, being entertained by a fast-talking donkey and an ogre with anger issues.  I also loved anything having to do with Scooby-Doo because there was a talking dog who solved mysteries.  My other childhood memory is of the “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”, four butt-kicking amphibians trained as ninjas by an old, wise rat.  I could identify with all of them on one level or another, and thus my love of them was born.  I was first exposed to them when I was nine or ten with the 1990 film.  It was dark, funny, and action-packed (to a kid-friendly level), and I loved the way the turtles looked.  Though I never saw the TV series the movie was based on, I still enjoy that film to this day (on certain occasions).  The following two sequels were entertaining as well, but then the CGI reboot came in 2007.  It was boring, unfunny, and a poor attempt to start a franchise.  After that film, it seemed that the turtles were cinematically dead.  I heard there was a CGI series on Nickelodeon, but at that point, I had lost hope in the turtles.

So imagine my feelings of glee and worry when I found out that a new “Ninja Turtles” movie was in the works. Who would be in it?  What would the story be?  Most importantly, would it be any good?  These questions and more flooded my mind when I heard that my favorite “heroes in a half-shell” were getting another big-screen treatment.  Eventually, the cast was announced, trailers were released, and they looked decent, as if someone were going to give the “Batman treatment” of taking something stupid and making it great to the turtles.  Unfortunately, my hopes were too high for this film: while old turtle fans will enjoy it, others might find it too preposterous to be entertaining.  I’m in the latter category.  It’s just not good.

The story follows April O’Neal (Megan Fox giving her best performance since “Jennifer’s Body“); a news reporter stuck doing fluff pieces. April would rather be reporting big stories on the Foot Clan, a militaristic group terrorizing New York City, but her boss (Whoopi Goldberg) won’t throw her a bone.  Luckily, April has the support of her cameraman Verne (Will Arnett getting the most laughs in the movie), who has a not-so-subtle crush on her.

April’s luck changes when she happens upon a robbery thwarted by a mysterious figure. She snaps a picture of a symbol left by the figure to show to her boss, who (realistically) rejects that there’s a story lurking in this mystery.  Ever determined, April investigates the symbol and her search leads her to four genetically-altered turtles, Leonardo, Raphael, Michelangelo, and Donatello, trained in the art of ninjitsu by a rat, Splinter (voiced by Tony Shalhoub, “Pain & Gain”).  Meeting them puts April on a path with an evil businessman, Eric Sacks (William Fichtner doing a decent job as a villain), a man connected to all of their pasts.

This film has one or two positive aspects. The “human scenes” are interesting enough, but the film is surprisingly boring whenever the turtles are alone on screen.  Also, the turtles and Splinter look a bit creepy, as if they all used steroids that turned them into grown “men” instead of teenagers.  That could just be me, because the kids in my theater never seemed scared.  The technology used to bring the turtles and Splinter to life is the same used to bring the apes to life in “Rise” and “Dawn”, but I personally liked the ‘90’s “men in turtle suits” better.  Also, the original movies were about the turtles, not April.  This film takes what I like to call the “Transformers Approach” and focuses more on the human characters than on the turtles, something I was very grateful for in the long run.  The cast has decent chemistry, and the acting is surprisingly passable (especially from Fox, who wasn’t exactly Meryl Streep-like in the “Transformers” movies).  I feel that her acting talents have improved over time, something that I didn’t expect from her.  That being said, I would have preferred the writers giving the title characters half as much screen time and development as her character.  The filmmakers could have called this film “O’Neal” and it wouldn’t have made much a difference.

The action sequences are below average (excluding the fantastic climax battles.) It felt like choreographer Nuo Sun put little effort into the mid-movie battles, but then gave it all he had for the climax.  The humor in the movie is extremely childish, barely resembling the way teenagers would talk, something the 90s movies nailed.  I laughed and smiled a few times, but those jokes will be tragically dated in a few years (Raphael uses his “Batman” voice to intimidate April).  Other jokes are extremely sophomoric (At one point the turtles are skateboarding down the sewers, they all get stuck in a big hole, and one farts, ha-ha).  There are one or two jokes geared at the older crowd (One of them sings “Happy Together” at one point.)  The film also has a generic story that borrows from much better superhero movies of the past several years (including not showing the title characters for a significant amount of the movie a la “Batman Begins”).  This movie literally combines the climaxes of “The Wolverine” and “The Amazing Spider-Man”, both much better movies.

“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” is not good. With an overemphasis on the human characters, the turtles get extremely underused and underdeveloped, making it impossible for a non-turtle fan to care about any of them.  Also, the decision to have Michelangelo (the one with orange bandana) constantly hit on April is a little creepy given the audience the film is designed for.  I would suggest seeing “Guardians of the Galaxy” if you haven’t seen it yet.  That film contains large amounts of action and humor that outdo this film by leaps and bounds.  To put the final nail in the coffin, a sequel for “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” will be released on June 3, 2016.  I’m hoping it’s better than this.  It can’t be worse.

Rated PG-13 for Sci-Fi Action Violence

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