'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles' review: Right between 'cowabunga' & 'bummer'
For a franchise best known for its idiomatic expressions - ranging from "radical" to "bogus" - the one that best sums up the latest "Ninja Turtles" adaptation is "meh."
In short: Four mutated older-than-adolescent box turtles skilled in ninjutsu must defend New York City from a ninja warlord who plans to poison New York City. Meanwhile, reporter April O'Neil (Megan Fox) investigates a series of heists committed by the feared Foot Clan. (Watch the trailer)
This latest "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" brings nothing new to the franchise - except for some cartoony-looking CGI. The plot is tired, the half-hearted tone never fully commits - yet, "Ninja Turtles" has some enjoyable moments.
First the good news: this adaptation fleshes out each of the four turtles - whose differences, in past iterations, seemed only to be their choice of weapons. This time around, each turtle is realized with his own distinct personality - from the nerdy Donatello, free-wheeling Michelangelo to the grim Raphael and courageous Leonardo. The brooding and intense Raphael is by far the most interesting of the turtles but - unfortunately - he's the only one with a clear character arch. The other three are reduced to script devices: 'Mikey' is comic relief, Donatello is the exposition and Leonardo is the bland leader.
"Ninja Turtles" at it its best during its action sequences, which allow the turtles excel at what they do best: be mutant ninja turtles. This entry of the franchise solidly establishes the turtles as not merely skilled ninjas - they are borderline monstrous in their pure strength, ability and ferocity. The action is fast and fun - in many of the sequences, the turtles seem to be playing a game more than they are fighting murderous villains.
The antagonists - specifically Shredder and the Foot Clan - are thinly developed to a shocking degree. Shredder is reduced to a guy wearing in a scary metal suit and the Foot Clan soldiers are closer to a gang of poorly-trained goons than an elite ninja clan that could credibly take over a city. Every bad guy is apparently just a faceless evil guy taking part in an evil plan to spread more evil across New York City.
"Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" truly earns its PG-13 rating. This is not a movie for children under 13 years old, given this film features machine gun wielding Foot Clan, people being thrown into trees at 70 miles per hour and characters being thrown off buildings. This sort of violence is not uncommon, but it becomes a problem specifically for "Ninja Turtles" because much of the humor and dialogue is very childish.
"Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" is either a very childish action movie for teens or an excessively violent film with silly pizza-based humor. But by not committing to either tone fully, "Ninja Turtles" is an inappropriate action movie for children and immature action movie for fan of the '80s cartoon series.
Finally, for a film with the simplest plot ever - "bad guys want to attack city" - "Ninja Turtles" is not a streamlined story. This film has its share of odd, unnecessary supporting characters who are more distracting than they are fun or intriguing. April O'Neil is arguably the main character for the first half of the movie - but her character arch gets lost in the noise of turtle fight scenes. A number of comedians pop up in several scenes - including Whoopi Goldberg, Taran Killam and "SNL" alum Abby Elliott - yet, they surprisingly contribute almost nothing to the story. Will Arnett's character - a wise-cracking news cameraman - is arguably unnecessary given Michelangelo's penchant for silly jokes. And William Fichtner's influential business leader character is given a rich backstory - one that goes nowhere and adds very little to his character or actions.
Despite its many flaws, "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" is not an outright bad movie - it's just difficult to recommend given its lack of originality and meandering plot. This adaptation has its moments of pure fun - but it also has whole scenes and sequences that range from pointless to merely OK.
Final verdict: This is "happy violence" at its best, but without being memorable or creative in any way. Forgettable and unoriginal fun.
"Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" opens in theaters nationwide August 8 and is rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence.