It’s entirely possible to create a great Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie. It’s been done at least twice, and is the kind of property that can be made to appeal to both kids and adults. With their origin as a Frank Miller parody in indie comics, but rising to popularity as a 1980s children’s cartoon, the Turtles are fairly malleable. Sadly, the credited writers and director Jonathan Liebesman have no idea what kind of movie they are making.
As a reboot of the Turtles franchise, this film manages to cover their origins at three separate points by my count. The film dumps information on an audience it assumes won’t get simple ideas the first time, but hurries along at such a pace that none of the information really matters. The brisk pace works in the film’s favor, as anything that doesn’t work is quickly shuffled away for the next moment. The film’s biggest issue is that it just feels bland and generic, and does not make good use of what makes this a unique set of characters.
Like The Amazing Spider-Man, this film is guilty of making everything around the heroes somehow connected, and accordingly, alters the Turtles’ origin to be the childhood pets of April O’Neil (Megan Fox) and her scientist father responsible for creating them. It’s an unnecessary change, and one that wouldn’t bother me if the film held any thematic resonance whatsoever, but it only serves to add a layer of pointless ‘destiny’ and reinforce the generic feel of the film, rather than reinforce the uniqueness of a pet rat imitating its master’s martial arts routine. Family is one of the simplest themes to get across, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles barely bothers to connect the dots. Even the Turtles’ characterizations (Leonardo is the leader, Raphael is the loner, Donatello is the geek, and Michelangelo is the bro) are reduced to their barest forms, becoming even closer to archetypes than any of the other feature films.
Another hindrance to the appeal of the film is the character designs. Calling them ugly is too easy, when they really are just aesthetically unpleasing to the eye. It’s hard to get attached to the characters, and when the action here is as blurry, dark, and unclear as any of Bay’s weaker Transformers films, it only reinforces that. The Shredder also suffers from this. While his armor is even more ridiculous, the biggest problem is that when he moves, there is no weight to it, making it look more cartoonish than the rest of the surrounding film.
There are some bright spots, like an impromptu weapons/beatboxing session among our shelled heroes. But the bright moments are too few and far between, and the plot to generic to make this an outlet worthy of the robust pedigree of this surprisingly esteemed franchise.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a failure of a film, not fun enough for kids, nor does it offer anything for adults. It’s a cheap cash-in masquerading as a blockbuster. Bring on the next reboot.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles opens in Philly theaters today.