Megan Fox as April O’Neil
William Fichtner as Eric Sacks
Will Arnett as Vernon Fenwick
Pete Ploszek as Leonardo
Johnny Knoxville as the voice of Leonardo
Alan Ritchson as Raphael
Noel Fisher as Michelangelo
Jeremy Howard as Donatello
Danny Woodburn as Splinter
Tony Shalhoub as the voice of Splinter
Tohoru Masamune as Shredder
Whoopi Goldberg as Bernadette Thompson
Minae Noji as Karai
A franchise called “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” was never going to be what you’d call realistic. That was part of the fun of it; the idea of turtle ninjas, wearing masks (so they couldn’t be recognized), fighting guys in suits made of knives and robots with brains in their stomachs. It was so outré you had no choice but to go along with it, particularly once it went mainstream with the popular TV show and started replacing the original’s stark violence with ever increasing amounts of childish fantasy.
[For the record, my favorite iteration has always been the Archie Comics version. template='galleryview']–>
It was so outrageous you could never go too over the top with it. Or so we thought.
Producer Michael Bay and director Jonathan Liebesman (“Wrath of the Titans”) have taken their shot at rebooting the franchise for a modern audience weaned now on the avalanche of superhero comic-based films the Turtles were originally created to mock. If you are a turtles fan from way back, the basics are generally what you remember. Intrepid reporter April O’Neil (Megan Fox), looking into a crime wave courtesy of the lawless Foot Clan, discovers a group of ‘mutant ninja turtle teenagers’ taking the fight to the Foot and their master, the dreaded Shredder, in order to stop his plan to unleash a plague on New York City so that he can make money curing it.
It is about as action-heavy as you can get with the filmmakers taking advantage of the Turtles now being animated instead of suits with puppet heads to pump up the volume on what they and their adversaries are capable of. As you’d expect, this quickly gets out of the filmmakers’ control with the set pieces becoming more and more absurd while simultaneously leaving most of the characters behind while racing through a plot which feels like the writers took from a script in their back pocket and sculpted a Turtles movie around.
[To be fair that actually happens a lot and sometimes you get "Aliens" out of it. And sometimes you get "Terminator 3." template='galleryview']–>
Actually, it take that back; it doesn’t feel like that at all. It feels like someone took the plot of “Mission: Impossible 2″ and “Amazing Spider-Man” and jammed them together, and then stuck Turtles on top of it. To call the script by Josh Appelbaum, André Nemec and Evan Daugherty lazy would be a compliment to laziness.
The resulting film is incredibly unfocused, never able to decide who it should be paying attention to. Is it a story about April and her quest to be taken seriously as a reporter (and make her dead father proud in the process)? It seems like it wants to be a lot of the time as the film follows the classic Hollywood rule that in a story where the main characters aren’t twenty-something Americans, make a twenty-something American the main character. To help, April’s been given a backstory which ties into both all of the Turtles and all of the villains to a degree that rapidly eclipses believability.
On the other hand, the movie isn’t called Hot Twenty-Something Reporter, and she doesn’t have the superpowers the Turtles do (they can jump through van walls, kick over cargo containers, or catch bullets in their leather skin then flex their muscles to send said bullets ricocheting back) so she’s not going to be the one in the middle of all the fight scenes, is she?
The filmmakers have decided to split the difference by splitting the villains. The Turtles of course get the blade-covered Shredder, their classic nemesis, here removed of any backstory or characterization, existing merely as a man in a suit for the heroes to combat. April (and her intrepid cameraman Will Arnett) get Eric Sacks (William Fichtner, the only person in the film actually able to carry most of the script’s dialogue), the billionaire scientist who wants to destroy the world so that he can become more billionairey. The same way Liebesman and the writers have split up the POV and primary characters among the heroes, they have done so with the villains, leaving Sacks as the person who drives the plot while Shredder just shows up for the action scenes and then disappears, avoid of personality or interest.
Nor is he alone in that. Liebesman and his crew have chosen look over personality–or maybe I should say look AS personality–for almost everyone in the film.
The result is a preposterous and preposterously ugly film. Anything that can be overdone has been, creating the kind of design aesthetic that comes from looking at costume literally made out of knives and going You know what this needs? More knives.’ And that extends to everything fantastic in the film without thought or logic. The action sequences go on and on and on with letup or thought particularly one grueling downhill chase in the snow in a semi which starts out thrilling and rapidly becomes dull, partly because the characters don’t seem to be in danger no matter how many Humvees are flying past them. The ante has been raised so high, eventually you stop believing in it. The Turtles fair no better, having been augmented with an ever-increasing amount of ridiculousness, from hulking Raphael’s red do-rag to Donatello’s holographic wrist computer to Michelangelo’s rocket-powered skateboard. The final versions are overly busy and ugly and none of the fantastic animation from Industrial Light & Magic makes them any less so.
They bounce and jump and whoop and holler and never do we have any idea why they do what they do, or that anything which happens affects them in any way. Raphael has anger issues and resents Leonardo being in charge. Donatello is a braniac, Michelangelo is a joker. That’s not just their personalities in a nutshell, that’s their personalities in total. No one has bothered to think of them (or anyone else besides April) as people, only as hastily sketched out clichés. They only exist to take part in the fight scenes and because their name is in the title. And as with producer Bay’s “Transformer” films, they mainly only talk to each other (but normally saying nothing), interacting with other people as little as possible, instead existing in a permanent bubble which separates them from the rest of the film.
A movie like this doesn’t have to be serious to be good (or even just fun), but the people who make it have to take it seriously. We’ve seen what happens when they don’t, we get mediocre material like “Fantastic Four” or “Green Lantern” and this is just more of the same, but designed badly. Silliness in and of itself is not a bar to enjoyment. Not carrying about the characters being silly is. And I have no reason to care about any of these people.