Ninja Turtles fail to elevate classic franchise

Photo Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Despite commentary from critics, naysayers and skeptics, it is not terribly difficult to prepare yourself to watch four humanoid turtles fighting the loudest, most ferocious enemy that New Yorkers have yet to witness. Just expect, as a consequence, the most obnoxious, ear-splitting explosions you have ever seen in any Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (TMNT) movie adaptation—and lots of them.

TMNT began as a comic book series and soon evolved into multiple picture books, cartoon shows, films, toy figures, life-sized models and other playthings. Even though the brand names and advertisements may have become tiresome for some, the TMNT franchise is still quite brilliant, as it mocks the challenges and limitations the cartoon/action genre once had.

It was only a matter of time before a big name producer, in this case Michael Bay, and director, Jonathan Liebesman (Wrath of the Titans), snagged—and, frankly, ruined—the at-once exciting, harmless reputation TMNT presented.

The premise of the film is simple. Four human-like, wisecracking turtles must defeat a rising evil in New York City.

Our heroes, trained by the all-knowing Splinter (voiced by Tony Shalhoub, Monk) are named after four Renaissance artists. Leonardo (Johnny Knoxville, Jackass) is the courageous, natural leader of the group; Michelangelo (Noel Fisher, Shameless) spitfires jokes and humor; Donatello (Jeremy Howard, Galaxy Quest) is the technology geek; and Raphael (Alan Ritchson, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire) is the athletic, aggressive troublemaker.

With such an eclectic, diverse and fun group of talking, swashbuckling turtles, perhaps an origins story could have successfully illustrated the unique bonds and relationships Leo, Michelangelo, Donatello and Raphael have with each other. Perhaps, the best part of TMNT (watching the fun-loving reptiles bicker, argue and work together) could overshadow the more shallow aspects of the film.

Unfortunately, there is no time for that. More pressing issues arise when Shredder (Tohoru Masamune) and his posse, the Foot Clan, in their lust for power, decide to unleash their evil agenda.

News reporter April O’Neil (Megan Fox, Transformers) is the eyewitness to the existence of these vigilante turtles. With her comes Vernon (Will Arnett, Arrested Development) and Bernadette (Whoopi Goldberg, The View), who stand more as obstacles and hindrances than helpful co-workers.

Frustrated that no one believes her wacky story, O’Neil fearlessly begins to help Leo and his crew save New York from Shredder. As more explosions ensue, April composes most of the “origins” aspect of TMNT; her discovery of the ninja turtles also reveals a second villain and an even more destructive plan. (However, all audience members—children, preteens and adults—will likely predict the “plot twist” well before the first hour).

It is a surprise to watch Fox work with Bay again after hyperbolically comparing him to Hitler in the past, and TMNT clearly proves that she still doesn’t enjoy working on anything Bay-related. It is a tragedy when audiences choose watch a movie simply because Megan Fox is on the screen, rather than experience the film’s immersive action sequences.

Fortunately, TMNT does not try to be any more important than it should be, which is both understandable and relieving. The film is meant to act as trip down a memory lane for adults and as a gateway to a world of cartoons, comics and toys for younger moviegoers. Instead, TMNT makes us want to forget about the fast food tie-ins, Michelangelo’s jokes and the throng of popular merchandise the show inspired. Against all odds, we have a bland April O’Neil, an even blander group of talking reptiles and a string of lazily orchestrated action scenes.

Ironically, there is nothing truly terrible about the movie. Mediocrity defines TMNT, but if a live-action film depicting talking ninja reptiles turns out to be the most boring movie of 2014, there clearly exists a threat greater than the machinations of Shredder and his wrathful Foot Clan.

Our Take: 2/5