Review: 'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles' gets the characters' relationships right at least
Kids will have a good time.
Ultimately, if you're an adult who is upset about the finer details of a movie in which turtles do kung-fu and eat pizza and ride skateboards, you may want to take a step back and ask yourself why. Nostalgia? Sure, I know there is an entire generation that stubbornly wraps itself in the things they enjoyed as kids and believe that is what defines them, but at some point, don't you feel ridiculous about watching the same ridiculous story over and over?
I find it sort of amazing we went seven years between any bigscreen incarnation of "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles." I thought the animated film "TMNT" was a fairly charming take on the characters, and it managed to do the same thing right that the new film does: it nicely establishes and then plays off of the relationships between the four brothers.
As a movie, "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" is about as predictable as movies get these days. Once again, a film ends with a bad guy's scheme involving a glowing doodad on a rooftop and people hanging off of things one-handed, and I couldn't care any less about any of that. The film plays fast and loose with established mythology, making April O'Neil far more important to the lives of the Turtles than ever before, and the main result is it makes the world feel much smaller. Everything is related. There is nothing coincidental about April and the Turtles ending up together, and if that drives you crazy, then this may not be the "Turtles" movie for you.
In this new film, April (Megan Fox) is trying to make her bones as a crime reporter even though she's stuck doing cutesy lifestyle pieces for the Channel 6 news. The only person who seems to believe in her is Vernon Fenwick, and when she starts trying to chase down a big story about The Foot Clan, Vernon helps her.
Her efforts to crack the story bring her into contact with the Turtles, and from the moment they're introduced, the film pretty much leans heavily on the family dynamics of the Turtles and their sensei, Master Splinter. They argue, they make jokes, and at the appropriate time, Raphael declares himself finished with everyone. Throw in a pumped up version of The Shredder, and that's pretty much the entire movie. There's a bad guy hiding in plain sight, and all secrets are revealed at just the right time, and it all seems to be very easy.
The greatest thing this film brings to the table is a kinetic fighting style that makes the Turtles seem like they are actual physical threats to the bad guys. There are three big action scenes where the film kicks into a higher degree of fun that, taken together, add up to just enough of a thrill for me to recommend the film. There's one in particular that is inventive and impressive, and if the whole movie had been able to demonstrate that same level of energy, then I might be more enthusiastic about it.
Technically, the film is solid across the board. The character work on the Turtles (design quibbles aside) is actually pretty well-done, and the same is true of Splinter. My kids had a great time with it, and since it feels to me like they are the exact target audience, I'll call that a success. I can honestly say I was there at the very beginning of this long weird phenomenon, thanks to my friend Bill Rosemann. He was the comic nerd in our neighborhood, just like I was the movie nerd, and he told me the week it came out that I should buy a copy of the very first black-and-white comic featuring the characters. I remember thinking how very silly it was, and how it felt like they were making fun of comics in general, trying to be more ridiculous than anything else. This film barely resembles the story and the characters in that first comic, which is why I can't get to worked up about "continuity." This property has been through so many incarnations at this point that there is no single version. It all depends on how you experienced it the first time, and as someone who's seen all of these various incarnations, this one seems to be respectful of the source material and the Turtles, and there's not much more you can ask.
Director Jonathan Liebesman couldn't have had it easy here with the Platinum Dunes/Michael Bay combination riding herd as producers. They can be incredibly demanding and specific, and they've driven other filmmakers crazy at times. Liebesman seems to have come to this ready to play, and at its best, "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turles" shares something very important with last weekend's "Guardians Of The Galaxy": it is fun. That fun is something that a lot of big summer movies lack these days, and while it doesn't totally add up as a movie, I think the audiences that are excited to see it will walk away satisfied.
There's a poster quote for you, eh?
"Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" opens on Friday in theaters everywhere.