Full disclosure, I was as seduced by the Ninja Turtles as a child, same as anyone. I had the toys, the bike helmet, the video games, VHS copies of the movies, and I watched every damn episode of the cartoon. Hell, I even went to the Coming Out Of Their Shells rock tour that was possibly the lowest moment in the history of pop culture. I didn’t just love the Ninja Turtles, I lived and breathed the Ninja Turtles for years. I’m also someone more than willing to find ways to appreciate my childhood obsessions as an adult (don’t get me started on Batman unless you have a few free days). However, I have to admit that nothing about the Ninja Turtles holds up beyond nostalgia.
Peter Laird and Kevin Eastman created the original Ninja Turtles comics as a parody of how 80s comics somehow made the most ridiculous characters feel real, violent, and gritty. They invented the most ludicrous characters imaginable just to give them the Frank Miller treatment for chuckles. Then toy companies got a hold of the comics and played the silliness straight. The heroes in a half shell were a manufactured kiddie phenomenon just like He-Man, Transformers, and I drank the Kool-Aid along with everyone else. Looking back, the comics are fun as a product of their time and the original movie has its moments. Everything else is crap and the new Michael Bay produced movie recreates that crap without a shred of irony. If you’re someone who can’t separate your childhood Turtles infatuation from the reality of the cynical produced product it was, you might fall for the movie. Otherwise, you just can’t go home again.
The film unfolds pretty much how you’d expect. We follow ace reporter April O’Neil (Megan Fox giving porn star looks to children’s entertainment once more) who is obsessed with cracking the case of the evil ninja foot clan plaguing the city to make her career. One night, she spots a few warriors fighting back against the foot clan. Turns out they’re the Ninja Turtles, with all that implies. Then, in a move pulled directly from Marc Webb’s crappy Amazing Spider-man playbook, the screenwriters toss in needless backstory that ties Megan Fox’s scientist parents to the turtles’ origin. Why? No particular reason other than trying to expand a backstory that didn’t need expanding. Will Arnett pops up as O’Neil’s cameraman in an attempt to add humor (he doesn’t). William Fichter appears as an evil businessman to add an extra villain (it’s pointless). Shredder shows up to fight the turtles with big blades (he grunts a lot). Leonardo leads (and is Johnny Knoxville). Donatello does machines (and computers). Raphael is cool but crude (gimmie a break). Michelangelo is a party dude (party!). You get the drift.
This blockbuster reboot movie is exactly what you’d expect. It’s the usual Ninja Turtles origin story with a few needless twists, plenty of bad one-liners, a little pizza hut cross promotion, a pile of CGI action, etc. It’s a boilerplate summer blockbuster with little originality or excitement. I suppose it’s competently made, but that’s the nicest thing you can say. The performances are bland, yet that’s as much a fault of the script as the actors. The action scenes are expensive and almost incomprehensibly directed by Jonathan Liebesman who proved in Battle: Los Angeles that he has no sense of screen direction, pacing, atmosphere or suspense. It’s a movie that fulfills only the bare minimum of blockbuster expectations. However, was there any reason to expect anything more? The Ninja Turtles are not a franchise that suit an intellectual reboot from a Chris Nolan type who would pull the complex subtext of the franchise up to the surface. Nope, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have always been empty bubblegum pop with a catchy name and eye-catching design. No content, just surface. It sells toys and little else.
This new Ninja Turtles movie is merely a contemporary version of what the Ninja Turtles always were. Liebesman, Bay and co. merely gave it a CGI facelift and the semi-serious tone of the contemporary comic book movie. They added nothing, yet they subtracted nothing. If you’re a longtime Ninja Turtle fan, there’s nothing offensive about the new movie aside from a few meaningless twists in the mythology. If you love all things Turtles, you might like this. If you’re a child, I could see you liking this even more. After all, I loved the previous TMNT movie, The Secret Of The Ooze at age seven, and it is a much, much worse movie than this. I can get a certain nostalgic joy out of Secret Of The Ooze (plus a mountain of campy laughs, mostly Vanilla Ice related) because it played such a big role in my childhood. I get absolutely nothing out of the new movie beyond a vague sense of shame that I was ever seduced by this tripe in the first place. I can’t brutally pan the movie because I recognize there’s something in this concept that appeals to the target audience and might do so again. However, I can’t give it a pass because through my current eyes this movie does little more than crystallize everything that was always wrong with the Turtles as well as what’s wrong with lazy contemporary blockbusters. Approach the film at your own risk. You might like it. Anything’s possible. Just don’t say I didn’t warn you. Some things are best left behind in childhood. Cowabunga, I guess.