There’s actually a perfectly serviceable, quite charming Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon airing on Nickelodeon at the moment, and presumably its popularity is the reason why the amphibian heroes are getting another cinematic outing (their fifth, if you’re counting) . However, it is painfully clear that the key motivation behind this latest film is entirely financial, rather than creative.
Director Jonathan Liebesman (the war criminal who gave us Battle: Los Angeles and Wrath Of The Titans) and his team of screenwriters (three are credited) keep the broad strokes of the familiar TMNT origin while jettisoning anything that anyone who isn’t under 10 could enjoy. The film makes the bizarre decision to tell its story largely from the point of view of April O’Neill (Megan Fox, not actually too bad), the ambitious reporter who thinks that exposing the mysterious vigilantes fighting the evil Foot Clan (who have inexplicably been changed from ninja to fairly generic terrorists) will be her ticket to the big time. Of course, it’s the Ninja Turtles, and April and her cameraman, Vernon (a slumming Will Arnett) are drawn into…
Oh, who really cares? It’s a painful slog through the most obvious rote points of Origin Stories 101, complete with all the “small universe” crap that characterises current screenwriting trends. The revelation that the Turtles’ origins are tied up with the disappearance of April’s scientist father years ago will elicit more groans than gasps, and the surprise that William Fichtner’s business mogul is a bad egg is simply no surprise at all – he’s William Fichtner, for crying out loud.
It’s also a relentlessly ugly movie: badly designed, shoddily shot and littered with poor action sequences – it’s a good bet that the Foot have guns this time out because shootouts are easier to choreograph than martial arts fights. The Turtles themselves are just hideous – hulking, ugly, six-foot-plus monsters that look like guys in suits even though they’re mocap CGI creations. There are a couple of interesting design choices made to differentiate the four mutants, but they’re lost in a sea of blergh.
There are a few decent character beats in the mix – Michelangelo and Raphael fare the best out of the four Turtles, although the latter veers into obnoxiousness more than once – and the occasional moment that’s actually funny or edges right up to the point of almost being cool, but it’s not enough to overcome the sheer, lazy inertia of the proceedings. It is abundantly clear that no one involved really gave half a damn about the property they were working on and seeing talented performers – Arnett, Fichtner and three scene wonder Whoopi Goldberg – yawn their way to a paycheque is just disheartening. Kids might dig it, but adults – and adult fans of the franchise in particular – are going to be somewhere on the spectrum between bored and mortified.
Oh, and the 3D is terrible.