Let’s make one thing clear right from the get-go: this is a bad movie. We were all expecting it to be bad. This is Michael Bay’s production company, Platinum Dunes, behind the wheel here, which specializes in making cash cows out of nostalgia properties for the cheapest amount possible and the most minimal amount of effort put in. Normally, this comes in the form of horror reboots, but here Bay’s crack team is going after yet another late-80s toy franchise, and the Ninja Turtles are near and dear to as many Gen-Xers hearts as the Transformers once were. So is this new TMNT just as bad as the infamously horrible Transformers quadrilogy? Well, not really, but it’s still horrible.
But before we can talk about the only thing about this film that
kinda, sorta works, we have to delve into the horrible, horrible plot. April O’neil (Megan Fox) is a reporter who speaks entirely in exposition, seeking to prove herself as more than just eye-candy to be objectified, which is somewhat ironic considering that Fox’s entire career path has relied on just that sort of superficial, chauvinist attraction. She stumbles across the turtles during a strike against a vaguely evil paramilitary group called the Foot Clan, and very conveniently remembers that her scientist father worked on mutating turtles. She then connects this to a businessman, Eric Sacks, who wants to use the turtles’ blood to act as a cure of a pathogen that he wants to release into the atmosphere, so that he can sell the cure and become very rich. Now April and the turtles must stop Sacks and his henchman, Shredder, from releasing the pathogen over New York. If ever there were a lazier screenplay that relied on convenience, coincidence, destiny, and plot holes, this is it. The film jumps from scene to scene with only the slightest connective tissue between them, and while it never gets to the point of being incoherent, it does reek of plagiarism, as many key plot points are ripped directly from another horrible-yet-somehow-successful script, The Amazing Spider-Man. Convenient box in the main character’s closet that explains all the backstory? Check. Evil baddie wants to pollute the air with a toxic gas? Check. Climactic fight atop a tower where the gas will be dispersed? I could go on, but you get the point.
The performances are really the only thing that could have carried this poor of a script, but unfortunately the so-called “acting” is simply horrible. Megan Fox is as wooden and vapid as ever, with an emotional range of mildly amused to sorta shocked. The turtles don’t fare much better, as each of their iconic personalities have been reduced beyond the cartoonish simplicity implicit in their television origins, and filtered through the most hypermasculine dude-bro sensibilities one could conceive of. This results in them barely having any personalities at all, so even if all the voice-actors’ deliveries weren’t inappropriately inflected and oddly similar, there isn’t much beyond the superficial differences to tell their “characters” apart. The only exception is possibly Michelangelo, who spends most of his screentime very creepily trying to flirt with April, going so far as to call dibs on her like a piece of property. Gross.
And that brings me to the only thing I did appreciate about this film. You may notice that my description of the plot paints April as the main protagonist, and that’s mostly correct, as her actions are the ones that ultimately resolve the primary conflict. That isn’t to say that the turtles are completely sidelined though, as they are the main focus of the action scenes, which are much better than I could have hoped from a Michael Bay production. While nothing mind-blowingly spectacular, they do have a sense of organic flow to them that never feels disorienting, and there is a neat sense of roller-coaster excitement to an extended slide down a mountainside avoiding semis and electrified grappling hooks.
But that point only demonstrates that I understand how this film could have done so well at the box office, even ignoring the fact that this was a film marketed at kids. However, setting that mindless action aside, this film has a multitude of problems at every level of production. Even those exciting action scenes are marred by the turtles’ cheap-looking CG animation and incredibly ugly character models. This obviously isn’t a film that appeals to the sensibilities of long-time TMNT fans, but I don’t see this as something good for the current generation of fans either. I haven’t seen much of the new cartoon, but I know it relies on cartoon antics and sly pop-culture nods while relying on rich character dynamics to tell compelling stories. Kids expecting to see that in this live-action adaptation will be sorely disappointed.
And yet somehow this is getting a sequel. Leave your thoughts in the comments below.