I suppose Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles could have been a whole heck of a lot worse than it wound up being. I say this while acknowledging that it isn’t a good movie. It feels long at 100 minutes. It has some incredibly dumb moments — points so dumb that you have to laugh at how dumb it is. The final action scene is lackluster and repetitive. The new back story to the characters … didn’t actually bother me that much, but I’m sure hardcore fans of the franchise will hate it. And the plot is formulaic and way, way too convenient.
But — and this is a big but — I didn’t hate it. It was stupid enough to be funny. Much of the action is genuinely good, especially any scenes involving hand-to-hand combat. The CGI is competent, even if it’s initially really off-putting. It looks weird, but not bad, I guess. And, yes, the film was produced — but not directed by, as some people have erroneously claimed — by Michael Bay, and its lead is Megan Fox. It will get irrational hate for both of these, even though neither of them is the problem.
The film’s lead is April O’Neil (Fox), a reporter for one of the big networks in New York City, but stuck doing silly stories instead of the hard-hitting stories she wants to be reporting. One early scene has her explaining this, directly after doing a silly exercise story, and it’s hard not to think Fox was talking directly about her own career, not just her character’s. Maybe that’s reading into it too much. She explains this to her cameraman, Vern (Will Arnett), who very much would like a romantic relationship with her. That becomes a running gag.
One night, April sees an evil faction, the Foot Clan, trying to perform a robbery. They’re stopped by a shadowy figure. After a couple of similar incidents, she finally finds out who the vigilantes are: they’re the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. You know, the ones you loved to watch on TV when you were a kid. Or, if you didn’t … why are you going to see this movie? What drew you to the concept of 6-foot tall, talking, ninja, mutant, teenage, turtles? Wait, is that how commas work?
Of course, the Foot Clan is led by Shredder (Tohoru Masamune), a giant man in a samurai robot suit. He has partnered with a businessman (William Fichtner) in a plot so derivative I have to think that it was probably used in an episode on one of the numerous TV shows at one point. They’re going to poison all of New York, and then sell the cure to the government to become all-powerful and exceptionally wealthy. It’s up to April and her turtle buddies to save the day.
I kind of wish I was joking, but that’s about all there is to this movie. You’ve seen this plot before, unless you’re 10 years old, in which case this might be your new favorite movie. I won’t reveal the turtles’ origin story, but it’s incredibly convenient. It uses characters we know, it ties everything together just too well, and I can only imagine the filmmakers giggling with glee when they put that puzzle together. If you wind up reading the plot summary outside of the film, you’ll probably laugh at it. If you watch the film, you’ll probably be laughing, too.
There are some points that are intentionally funny. Some of the turtle banter is good fun, there are a couple of references that’ll make you chuckle, and some one-liners that work pretty well. You’ll laugh more — assuming you’re this type of person — at all of the unintentional comedy. There’s a lot of it. Someone will make a RiffTrax of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles after it hits home video and it will be a riot. You can watch this movie with friends and point out inconsistencies and dumb moments for its entire running time and have a blast.
You will also, however, get to appreciate some of the entertaining action scenes. Some of the battles between the turtles — and their mentor, Splinter (Danny Woodburn, voice of Tony Shalhoub) — are great fun, and the filmmakers actually let you see them. We don’t have frequent cuts to hide the action, and that’s something you can’t always say these days.
You won’t know most of the actors playing the turtles. You still won’t after the movie. Most of the performances given by them comes from the voice work. They’re all fine. They give each turtle a unique personality — one’s nerdy, one’s comic relief, one’s a leader, and one’s just … there — and they offer a good flow of funny lines. Megan Fox is fine in the lead, reminding us that outside of the first Transformers and Jonah Hex (which was just all-around awful) she’s perfectly competent on-screen.
Will I ever see Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles again? Probably not. Was it a decent enough way to spend an hour and a half? I guess. I laughed a lot. I liked the action. The turtles were funny. The plot was a mess. The ending was a letdown. Fans of the franchise will probably be mad at some of the changes. The action was fine. The two biggest names that people love to hate didn’t ruin anything. All in all, it was a timekiller movie. If it’s on cable some night and I’m not doing anything, I might just flick it on, even if just for background noise.