Under the direction of Michael Bay’s production company Platinum Dunes, New York’s greatest sewer heroes receive an unenthusiastic reboot in the latest “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.” By forbidding the use of “cowabunga,” deciding to omit “turtle power” and by having a severe lack of pizza consumption, the Jonathan Liebesman film proves to be a wasteful use of the series’s name.
Returning to its origins, “TMNT” is another origin story, for which Liebesman feels the necessity to cover how the turtles gained their mutation. The story begins with the protagonist April O’Neil (Megan Fox), an entry-level reporter attempting to break into the crime news industry. A paramilitary group known as the Foot Clan is causing havoc throughout the city, but a vigilante has begun to foil its recent plans.
In hopes of discovering her breakthrough story, O’Neil researches the recent crimes of the Foot Clan, and, through a series of coincidental confrontations, she comes face to face with the vigilante(s), only to find out they were her father’s lab pets when she was younger. She immediately tells her father’s old partner Eric Sachs (William Fichtner), a partner of Foot Clan leader Shredder, putting the turtles and their master Splinter in danger. The turtles are then forced to fight for their lives while anonymously protecting New York City.
Liebesman chooses to include an unusual plot concept with this entry by having the protagonist be O’Neil, rather than the turtles. By focusing on the maturation of O’Neil, the film forces the turtles to be largely reduced in profound dialogue. They rarely speak to one another with the immature teenager banter that made their cartoon series and the 1990 entry so popular. The turtles are dehumanized — ironic, yes, because they aren’t in fact human — leaving little opportunity for the audience to connect with them. Holding subservient roles in their own film, they are given prominent screen time only when they are engaged in action sequences. This devalues their characters and ignores the entertainment value in their personalities.
With that being said, the turtles are not completely void of personality. Memorable conversations include a few erotic comments from Michelangelo, inflated nerd talk by Donatello, mature leadership traits from Leonardo and hostile aggression from Raphael. These qualities, however, are much more obvious to those with knowledge about the series’s history.
Liebesman’s focus on the origin story adds nothing to the storyline and actually takes away time that could have been used for character development, something the entire film lacked. Heavy action — including attacks by the Foot Clan and breaking news stories — occurs too often, with limited time for story dialogue.
As far as animation goes, the video effects are superb and nothing short of the visual genius Platinum Dunes is capable of creating under Bay’s production. The turtles revamp, while more grotesque looking, is significantly more impressive than its ‘90s ancestor’s plastic suits. The final rooftop fight and the slide down the icy mountain are breathtaking.
This is not a childhood fantasy movie, as the animation and fighting sequences easily render a PG-13 rating, and storywise, it is not a commendable introduction to the series. As for the true fans, the film takes away all the memorable quotes and replaces them with misogynistic catcalls and slapstick fighting. Overall, “TMNT” is nostalgically worthless for those planning on using it to take a trip back to their childhood. Unless this series engages a new story concept with better character development and smarter antagonists, it will follow the “Transformers” effect: outshined by its childhood television show ancestor.