Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a franchise I've always been particularly passionate about. I grew up with the animated show, bugged my parents to buy me the toys and, just like many others, dressed up as the characters for Halloween (my mom was kind enough to make me a costume one year). Needless to say, I get pretty thrilled when a new TMNT movie heads to the big screen. I was in college when the 2007 movie came out and I made sure to see it twice in theaters. Even though my love for the franchise wasn't all that strong at the time, the rooftop fight between Raphael and Leonardo blew me away and the rest of the film was legitimately enjoyable. Now, Peter Laird and Kevin Eastman's creations are getting another shot on the big screen. I'll be completely honest with you, kind readers: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles isn't a good movie, but it is a fun movie. I know that may sound silly, but stick around and I'll do my absolute best to explain!
First and foremost, the writers get the popular heroes right. Yes, these mutants may look and sound different, but none of them feel out of character and they definitely manage to entertain in the scenes that revolve around them. The character dynamics you'd expect from them are front and center and there were several bits of banter that made me laugh out loud. As usual, Raphael is the only one to walk away with some development, but the others still amuse and the proper personalities are present. It just rings true. Mikey is sure to make you chuckle at least once, Donatello's "geek factor" is played up but he serves a critical role and still shines, Raphael's temper is always on display, and Leonardo's just trying to make sure everyone gets along. And thankfully, they live in a universe that allows them to make plenty of references to other superheroes and franchises and those lines are certain to at least make you, my fellow comic book fans, smirk. So, when the heroes in a half shell are around, it's consistently lighthearted and most of the humor can appeal to moviegoers of any age.
When it comes to action scenes, Shredder's a boss and most of the battles are a good dose of amusement. Even though his armor appears to be over-the-top and clunky, he's still able to move fluidly and shows a great amount of skill. Thankfully, there tends to be an extended wide shot for the better melee fights and this allows us to really appreciate all of the movements and brutal connections. Odds are you've seen plenty of the snow chase sequence in trailers and it's without question the highlight of the movie. There's some fairly creative shots thrown in there and it's consistently thrilling. The rooftop battle with Shredder is a blast -- even if it is loaded with tropes -- and the villain's encounter with Master Splinter is also pretty exciting. However, when it comes to Shredder as a character, he's seriously lacking. The villain's agenda is totally cliche and it has quite a few plot holes along the way. To top it off, he also has some pretty silly dialogue. There's an older and memorable line that's brought back but it really doesn't work with this new tone. In a cheesy video game or cartoon? Certainly. As a legitimate threat? Not really. Sadly, there really isn't any depth to the fiends in this one and their mission is very generic and, as said above, quite flawed. There's also a noticeable amount of blatant exposition on this side of the story. I didn't mind it with the turtles (especially with the illustrated opening sequence), but it began to add up with the bad guys. Lastly, Karai is apparently just there for fans to say, "look, there's Karai!" Her role really is limited to shouting orders and failing miserably.
Aside from Splinter -- a character who looks very fake compared to everything else -- the visual effects were solid. I can't say the designs have won me over, but I've come to accept it's a totally different incarnation and, a creepy expression or two aside, I didn't mind how the turtles appeared. Their size means there's an extra emphasis on their strength and durability, but this comes at a cost: their stealth is lacking. Yes, they're still fast and skilled, but I definitely wouldn't call them sneaky (yet somehow they manage to vanish from a crazy scene in Times Square during the day without being spotted?). There's only a moment or two where the visuals faltered a bit, but the motion capture does a fine job often making it feel like these large mutants are flipping across the rooftops or interacting with the humans. Speaking of the humans, Vernon Fenwick (Will Arnett) brings a good dose of levity and charisma to the movie. I mean, did you really expect otherwise from the Arrested Development actor? Meanwhile, the movie tries too hard to tell us April O'Neil (Megan Fox) is this determined and fearless reporter instead of actually showing us. She has a moment or two of bravery, but some of her scenes with other human characters tend to drag or feel dull compared to the rest of the movie, and having her talk about how passionate she is about reporting and her career becomes repetitive and just uninteresting. So when Arnett's in her scenes, it definitely keeps things more engaging. That said, Fox does get a few moments to land the laughs. Considering she's chasing an absolutely ridiculous story, they use her serious delivery of really silly lines to drop a few laughs. There's a few lines in the film that are a bit cringeworthy, but April has a few intentionally ridiculous lines and having her say them in a completely earnest manner pays off.
As stated above, the villain's plan isn't compelling or original, and it turns out that the changes to the Ninja Turtles' origin comes off as pretty unnecessary. They take steps to establish a stronger connection between some of the leads, but it'll instead likely have you asking a few questions about the logic behind a couple of decisions and doesn't really expand the mythos all that much. In fact, the twist isn't even needed to establish a strong bond between certain characters. Still, I'd be a total liar if I said I didn't think the look at the mutants' earlier years wasn't absolutely adorable.
Is this the best Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie? No, I'd say the 1990 and 2007 ones have way more depth and much better stories. But is it a fun movie? Yes, and ultimately, isn't that what many of us want when we buy a ticket to see Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles? The plot may be all kinds of generic and filled with some noticeable holes, but they do have a good grip on the team's personality and there's plenty of entertaining action and legitimately enjoyable banter along the way. It likely won't pull at your heartstrings, but they do manage to work in the message about the importance of family, too.
Very young TMNT fans will likely have a blast as they're able overlook the plot's numerous issues and just appreciate the visuals, laughs, and fighting. As for everyone else, if you're a TMNT fan that's been enjoying the recent trailers and clips, odds are you'll have a decent time. It likely won't blow you away or have you reflecting on it for very long, but it's an okay way to spend a couple of hours. But if the trailers and clips have left a bad taste in your mouth or have you feeling mostly uninterested, I seriously doubt the final product will change your mind. Honestly, that crowd would be better off seeing Guardians of the Galaxy or Dawn of the Planet of the Apes again (both are awesome, by the way).
If director Jonathan Liebesman's reboot does well enough at the global box office to warrant a sequel, I'm really hoping the next project will have a far more compelling narrative and take more steps to expand the mythos. All in all, this is a fun albeit mostly forgettable experience. The visuals, action, and humor are solid, but everything else comes off feeling pretty cliche. Oh, and if you do wind up strongly disliking the movie but still love the franchise, please remember the animated show on Nick and the IDW series are both consistently excellent!