Just when I thought it had been a refreshingly long time since Hollywood went delving in to the buckets of the past to bring us a new shiny reboot, director Jonathan Liebesman breaks the ceasefire with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The turtles were a phenomenon that somewhat passed me by as a child, I certainly watched the cartoon and had a favourite like everybody else (Donatello, if you were wondering), but the strange controversy in the United Kingdom of changing them from Ninja Turtles to Hero Turtles meant that they never caught my imagination as much as the Power Rangers and others. Fast forward to 2014 and it seems as though the powers at be have decided to introduce the four teenage fighters to an entirely new generation of entertainments fans, and against my better judgement, I ventured to the cinema to see if my love for nostalgia could help me to enjoy this modern incarnation.
Everything that is wrong with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles can be surmised from one single line in the credits, “produced by Michael Bay”. The film is not so much a story as it is a prolonged series of action set pieces that are so involved they become barely intelligible. Megan Fox stars as April O’Neil, a budding journalist and reporter who becomes determined to find the turtles after witnessing them in vigilante action against the dangerous New York gang the Foot Clan. In a narrative filled with painful exposition and clunky reveals, the audience learn that April and the mysterious turtles are more historically linked than she thought, and the crux of the plot centres around the four Renaissance namesakes having to use their mutant strength and martial arts expertise to defeat an enemy so cliche that phrases like “the city will be ours” are commonplace in the script. The film’s shining moments, if you can call them that, are those moments of relative calm that allow the audience to see the interaction between the turtles and witness the elements of their different personalities coming through. There is an enjoyable air of the old humour of the cartoon, but this is completely overwhelmed by the insistence of the filmmakers to make everything as loud and explosive as possible, and the details of the plot are so suspect and stereotypical that one simply starts to lose attention. Talk of toxic chemicals and killing thousands and becoming billionaires is territory so overdone that a film needs to counteract the generic tropes with refreshing humour or innovative action. Unfortunately this film does neither.
Amongst a series of complaints about Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, my biggest criticism is reserved for the film’s leading actress. Whomever chose to cast Megan Fox as April almost certainly will have been considering her aesthetic appeal only, as she offers absolutely nothing in terms of acting ability or engaging screen presence. In a film just under two hours in length I can remember only a single facial expression, a cross between fake interest and inability to react to enormous amounts of CGI swirling around her. Scrolling through my memory bank it appears that this is my very first experience of Megan Fox in a non-tabloid magazine capacity, and I will not be rushing to see any more of her work in the future. Will Arnett as camera man Vern Fenwick, though a perfectly fine actor in everything else I have seen him in, gets bogged down by the ridiculous nature of his character and does nothing to elevate the film above pure loud nonsense. The voice performances and motion capture performances given for the turtles are arguably the best element of the picture, with Noel Fisher as Michelangelo and Alan Ritchson as Raphael providing the handful of lines that are genuinely funny and memorable. William Fichtner as villain Eric Sacks tries desperately to channel the likes of Christopher Walken in Batman Returns, but the material with which he has to work is so poor that he fails in his attempt to become an iconic antagonist.
Overall, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a film that seems completely unnecessary. Perhaps I am jaded by age, but it feels as though any child wanting to get to know the mutant fighters can delve in to the old cartoon that is not yet old enough to put them off and a hell of a lot more satisfying that this modern recreation. Hell, even the 1990 film version would be a more enjoyable experience. Admittedly, I am almost always going to be immediately negative towards anything Michael Bay related that isn’t Bad Boys, but Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles truly possesses almost nothing of merit, and bar a few comic offerings from the actors playing the eponymous reptiles, is a CGI, headache inducing fuzzy screened action film that ranks in the top five most forgettable pictures I have seen this year.