-Richard (Rikun) Jao
So here we are. The movie that has been both anticipated and dreaded by young and old fans of our favorite heroes in the half shell. Some were optimistic, others were repulsed, and nobody can deny it's been surrounded by controversy ever since we knew that Michael Bay was producing it. As a longtime Turtles fan I felt very conflicted about what could happen here: on the one hand it had potential to be good, but on the other hand the red flags were just too numerous to count. So after all this buildup, what's the final verdict in this writer's eyes?
In short, plenty of potential but ultimately generic.
This is not the worst Nickelodeon produced movie adaptation ever made (that would be Last Airbender), nor is it really the worst Ninja Turtles movie ever made (TMNT III is still much worse), but there's a lot about this movie that just feels so run-of-the-mill cookie cutter you can't help but think that those behind the scenes only had a passing acquaintance with the franchise. Yes the action scenes are cool and yes the CGI Turtles are going to wow the kids who are no doubt going to love it, but I seriously doubt anyone is going to remember this movie a couple years from now.
There are many critics out there who were waiting since day one to slaughter this film and deem it an utter abomination, but as I said before there is some good in this film. As ugly as their final designs look (and I'll get to that later), they are all at least in character and are entertaining to watch. The banter is likely going to win the audience, and there's an elevator scene with all the turtles that perfectly captures the spirit of the series. Mikey and Raph seem to be head to head in terms of stealing the show whether it be from Mikey's cheesy one-liners or Raph being the only turtle with an actual story arc. Plus if you're here for crazy overblown CGI action you'll be getting exactly what you paid for. Michael Bay didn't direct this, but given director Jonathan Liebesman's previous films (Battle LA and Wrath of the Titans) it's easy to see why audiences can get confused.
Unfortunately, it's everything else about the movie that manages to bring it down. The overly complex designs of the turtles have turned off many hardcore fans and scream of a design department that was trying way too hard to throw in unnecessary detail. Their scaled up size not only negates the idea of the turtles being stealthy, but also has the side effect of forcing the Shredder to use beefed up powered armor to even stand a chance against them. Granted in some scenes the whizzing detail is a sight to behold, but a lot of times it feels like there's way too much happening onscreen for viewers to keep track of. This isn't specifically a Michael Bay signature, but it's certainly prominent in any high CG action movie in this day and age. As for the Shredder himself it's a shame to see him reduced to what's essentially a one-note heavy, especially since in this version there's no personal vendetta between Splinter and Shredder that's been a trademark for every other incarnation of the series.
If there's anything that sets this adventure apart from most other adventures would be the way April O'Neil has suddenly become the center of the Turtles' existence. While she's still the plucky reporter that classic Turtle fans would recognize, this story manages to upgrade her to being indirectly responsible for saving their lives as a kid, which would allow them to mutate into the heroes they are today. To some it may feel wonky and forced, but it probably could have worked if April was portrayed as a likable, average young lady. Unfortunately this iteration comes off as more of a woman with a perpetually blank face that's reduced to a PG-13 sexual punchline. I know that Megan Fox is trying, but if only she learned how to emote more clearly.
As for the overall story, don't expect to remember much about it. Like others of its ilk, the story is less of a plot and more of a stitching of one action scene to another. Character development, if any, is either glossed over or rushed, any "deep" dialogue literally feels forced, and the climax is something that anyone who's seen the first Amazing Spider-man would recognize beat by beat. Heck, the soundtrack alone sounds like it came straight from the Transformers series when it comes to the "hero" shots of the movies. Considering how crazy and off-the-wall the premise of this series alone would offer, it's a shame to see it copy the tropes of other action movies to create a paint-by-number blockbuster designed to rake in the dough.
I write this review knowing that by the time this is published Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles has already hit the number 1 box office spot for its opening weekend, and as much of a Turtle fan as I am I can't help but feel disappointed in this development. I remember hearing the audience behind me clapping and cheering in the places I knew were designed to make them clap and cheer, and I could tell that the kids who saw this would later claim how awesome it is when it's mediocre at best. It's enough to pacify the kids and pre-teens, but they deserve so much more than this. The Turtles themselves deserve so much more than this as a major theatrical release. And to think that this kind of no-effort-required shilling is enough to warrant multiple sequels that will rake in money in favor of other projects that put more love and thought into its craft? Stings me harder than it should.
If you want an action-packed summer movie with cool special effects and crazy CG characters, go watch Guardians of the Galaxy. If you want a good Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie, go watch the 1990 version. If you want a good modern take on the Ninja Turtles, just flip to Nickelodeon and watch the current CG animated series. It's only a matter of time before this movie is going to fade into TV filler and something better rolls along.
Bottom line, this film is an okay movie that's going to get much more praise and money than it really deserves. It doesn't matter that critics panned it or that the fans are outraged: it's going to print money in ways that much better movies could only dream of. If anything is right in this world, then the sequels will either genuinely try, or they'll be exposed for the cash grabs they are and shrivel into bad movie beatdown bait.