By Mark Saldana
Rating: 2 (Out of 4 Stars)
I went into this latest cinematic version of TMNT expecting something silly, but hopefully fun. Though this update on the Mutant Turtle mythos has its fun moments and a handful of amusing one-liners, these positive traits are outnumbered by the multitude of unfunny attempts at comedy and nonsensical story elements and developments. This Michael Bay produced movie may have been directed by Jonathan Liebesman, but the shameless product endorsement, the mild lasciviousness, and the terrible script by Josh Appelbaum, Andre Nemec, and Evan Daugherty feel like they belong in another Bay Transformers movie and not in a cartoony movie about kung fu fighting turtles. In addition to these frustrating issues, the exasperatingly bad cinematography and composition of some of the key action scenes make this summer picture nearly unwatchable.
In this movie version of the fictional universe originally created in the 1980s by Peter Laird and Kevin Eastman, the rat Sensei Splitter (Tony Shalhoub) and his adopted turtle sons Raphael (Alan Richson), Michelangelo (Noel Fisher), Leonardo (Johnny Knoxville), and Donatello (Jeremy Howard) become the familiar characters we know and love due to laboratory experimentation. Their mutations cause them to grow in size, become intelligent and anthropomorphic. The heroes survive a tragic laboratory fire and remain in the underground sewers of New York City where they learn the art of ninjitsu. When the city falls under the threat of the Foot Clan lead by the evil Shredder (Tohoru Masamune), the wise-cracking, pizza loving turtles decide to intervene. Their crime fighting work draws the attention of ambitious reporter April O’Neil (Megan Fox), as well as other powerful and ambitious masterminds, who, in conjunction with the Foot Clan, have nefarious plans for the city.
With the exception for a few story tweaks and alterations, the writers remain fairly true to the origins of our beloved heroes. Had Bay hired better writers who could compose consistently funny comedy and writers who could have come up with a plot and story that isn’t so hackneyed, then this film probably would have earned at least one more star from me. The plans of the villains and their motivations are highly questionable to begin with, but the writers should have given them a plan that isn’t so overused in modern cinema. On top of a shaky screenplay, the direction, cinematography, and editing in the film looks rather sloppy.
The movie has a few thrilling action sequences. One, in particular, takes place on a hillside. The cinematography, CGI composition and editing in this scene is horrible. Liebesman may as well have pushed a camera down a snowy hill and used the footage. During most of this episode, I could not make sense of what exactly was happening. It didn’t help that the 3D appeared dark and often shadowy.
Speaking of dark and shadowy, the Shredder character spends most of his time in the shadows until he dons his metallic armor that basically acts a Swiss Army arsenal of blades and swords. Though the actor portraying him offers fine voice work, the writers do little to develop his character, and he plays out like a two dimensional villainous caricature. The writers do manage to keep the lovable personalities of Shredder and all of the turtles. The voice actors performing these characters, which include Johnny Knoxville and Tony Shalhoub offer great work, but again, the horrendous writing really takes away from their charm. As for the human actors, Megan Fox delivers a cringe-worthy performance as April O’Neil and Will Arnett does fine as her cameraman Vernon Fenwick, but he is another example where bad writing destroys the characters likability.
Any movie which makes Will Arnett unlikable is a failure in my book. To be fair, I think children will enjoy this latest update of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but grownups will either shrug or cringe in their seats. I cannot honestly recommend catching this movie in the theater as its technical and artistic shortcomings make it a waste of money. This is better left for a rental. Perhaps with the Blu-Ray’s sharp resolution, audiences will be able to make better sense of what’s happening in the action scenes. Good luck making sense of the screenplay.