So the latest big budget remake of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (TMNT) has finally hit the big screen and what’s the verdict?
Well, at least they got the characters of the Turtles right. The overall design, however, is down to personal taste since it does breach the Uncanny Valley – CG designed characters whose realism just doesn’t sit right for one reason or another. We might have accepted the Turles as cartoons, even rubber suited characters in their previous incarnations, but striving for grounded realism in the latest movie has instead led to this sense of hyper-realism that can sometimes lead to some really scary looking close-ups.
Director Jonathan Liebesman, who brought us Battle Los Angeles and Wrath of The Titans, does a serviceable job in pulling the elements together. Well that all perhaps for one niggling bit that bugged me to no end* (check at the bottom for spoilers if you want to know what I mean). Anyway, given that the turtles are motion captured performances on location, the effects work gelled well enough to give us some thrills. As mentioned, Liebesman does get the characters of the Turtles right even if Leonardo (Jonny Knoxville) does seem a touch under-used. Aside from that, Donatello’s (Jeremy Howar) nerdy geek is out in full force and you still get Raphael’s (Alan Ritchson) cynical tough guy persona who’s often challenging for leadership. As for Michelangelo (Noel Fisher)? His party dude persona brings in the comic relief (do take note of the elevator scene). The movie’s April O’Neil is more sassy and independent which makes Megan Fox, surprisingly, the next best thing in the whole movie after the Turtles.
This version of April O’Neil is a TV fluff reporter, looking for a scoop to climb the career ladder, but her boss (a very under-utilised Whoopi Goldberg) is having none of it. Begrudgingly assisting her in her quest is her cameraman, Vernon Fenwick (Will Arnett) who has a crush on her. And yes, we know some of you were waiting for it but unfortunately there ain’t no Casey Jones, fanboys. Maybe in the next movie
How about plot? Well, it is serviceable and does give us some nice moments and action set-pieces. The ‘snow battle’ as handled by stunt master Dan Bradley (listed as Snow Unit Director) is a key highlight and just about the best thing in the whole movie; an amazing action set-piece worthy the price of admission. The final battle In comparison however, feels anti-climatic, and unless you’re a pure TMNT fan, it might not be to your liking. The villain’s plot however feels like a under-developed idea from The Amazing Spider-Man (or even TMNT, for that matter), but that’s beside the point here. The problem some fans might definitely have is the issue of the Turtles origins and how they and Splinter, tie to April O’Neil. Then there’s the Foot Clan, who now come across more as Yakuza thugs than the ninjas they were before.
The humour in the movie works although you’ll find that the bad guys in the movie do fall short. The design for Shredder is impressive (some may moan the Michael Bay-ishness of Shredder), but looking at it gave me flashbacks of the Silver Samurai design in The Wolverine. The speed at which these characters move suggest extensive CG work – or at the very least, motion captured performances – which brings us back to the Uncanny Valley and the feeling that, just perhaps, it should have been a cartoon after all. While Liebesman would bear the responsibility of the overall product, it would be more fair to look to the writers, or maybe the producers. The exposition is heavily laced throughout the movie as if there is this need to explain everything and tie elements together. Yes, you can obviously feel the influence of Bay-hem in the movie.
Like any of the Transformers movie, this is a ‘check-your-brains-at-the-door’ flick that would become a guilty pleasure for some in the long run. The action set-pieces and humour do make up for the lack of story, but just for a little while. As for Megan Fox? She surprisingly delivers a credible performance that shows how serious she took this project, which nicely made us forget about her involvement in those couple of movies with giant robots in them. Ultimately however, the movie does come across as fluff. It’s too lightweight to matter, save for that middle bit in the snow. Aside from Fox, who does try, the other live stars are phoning it in. William Fichtner has done better elsewhere and Goldberg has definitely been funnier. There is also this sense that quite a bit of material was cut out, and if it was done to serve the Turtles, more might have been cut from the beginning. Seriously, they do take a long time to turn up in their own movie.
[learn_more caption=”*Spoiler filled complaint”] In executing their nefarious plan, Sacks takes the helicopter from his private residence to New York city. Shredder stays to duke it out with the Turtles, and left later – but somehow manages to get to New York even as Sacks’ helicopter lands on his building. The Turtles, being in pursuit, took their sewer shortcuts, and still couldn’t beat either to the location. How the heck did Shredder move that fast? If it were a cartoon, it wouldn’t even be an issue. [/learn_more]
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles stars Megan Fox, Will Arnett, William Fichtner, Alan Ritchson, Noel Fisher, Pete Plaszek, Jeremy Howard, Minae Noji with Johnny Knoxville, Tony Shalhoub and Whoopi Goldberg
Directed by Jonathan Liebesman