Film Review: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

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Plot: Crime is at an all time high, as the ancient Foot Clan, lead by their mysterious leader, the Shredder (Tohoru Masamune), begins to take hold on New York City.  The only force that can stop them are the Ninja Turtles, born and mutated in a lab fifteen years ago, and lead by their sensei, Master Splinter (Tony Shalhoub).

It’s not a complete disaster, but I’m devastated. I’m devastated because I know what potential the Ninja Turtles have. Yes, I understand the concept centers around four baby turtles who get exposed to green ooze, and are trained in ninjutsu by a giant rat. Is that really all that ridiculous from a raccoon who shoots guns, and a tree that only says three words? No! So don’t give me this crap that Ninja Turtles can never work, and it’s always going to be silly and stupid. Aside from being silly and stupid, what frustrates me most is how lazy and generic this film is. Everyone was so focused on Michael Bay producing, but my biggest problem are with the screenwriters (Josh Appelbaum, Andre Nemec, Evan Daugherty). This script is absolutely and utterly pathetic, and I actually give a lot of credit to the Turtle visual effects team, as well as the voice acting for making this watchable.  But we’ll get there, because we have a lot to talk about.  Grab a pizza, and strap in.

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My first point of contention is the excuse of “It’s just a kid’s movie.”  I know a lot of people will tell me it’s not made for me, it’s just a kid’s movie. I’m not buying that at all. This is the same kind of crap that the Star Wars Prequel defenders try and use. “It’s for kids. Get over yourself, you jaded adult asshole.” The best kid’s movies are when they appeal to both kids and adults. That’s what makes them timeless! The Lego MovieFrozen. Up. Toy Story 3The Lion King. The original 1990 Ninja Turtles movie! I loved that movie as a kid, but now as an adult, I can appreciate it even more. And it’s not because I’m a nostalgic dingbat, it’s because the film is legitimately great. Even the animated TMNT movie from 2007, which is very recent, is solid for adults and kids. So let’s just get that part of the way right now.  I’m not buying the “It wasn’t made for you” argument. If anything, a Turtles movie should appeal to adults just as much as kids, because many Turtle fans are adults.

Let’s get into the actual movie, and we have to start with the Turtles themselves.  Visually, they look good. I have no problems there. I even enjoyed three of the turtles very much.  Leonardo was pretty cool, albeit underutilized. Johnny Knoxville actually does a good job with the voice. The two turtles who got their due were Raphael (Alan Ritchson) and Donatello (Jeremy Howard). Raphael is harsh and brutal as he should be, and the script actually gave him some decent character development, which is basically non existent otherwise in the film. Surprisingly, I thought Donatello was actually the funniest character. He had the best lines, and Howard as the voice added a unique touch. The turtle who almost ruined the entire film though was Michelangelo (Noel Fisher).

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Michelangelo is probably the fan favorite turtle, because he always straddles the line of being funny and annoying. In this film, he skateboards right over the annoying line. Wow. Aside from being a comedy cliché from the nineties, almost all his lines are about how hot April is. I’m not even kidding. I would say 88% of his dialogue revolves around April. Aside from one hilarious line that knocks off Harry Potter, not only is this shtick never funny, it’s unbearable. And proof that the writers did not give a shit at all about this movie is when Michelangelo thinks Leonardo and April are dead, and he basically makes a joke about it.  What!? This is the worst interpretation of Michelangelo I’ve ever seen.

Aside from the turtles, the other characters are nothing to write home about. Shredder sucked.  I honestly have nothing else to say. For the most part, Splinter was okay, and Tony Shalhoub did a great job with the voice, but he was completely underdeveloped. The pacing of the film moves way too fast. We barely get to know Splinter before big stuff starts happening. I’m not spoiling anything because this is in the trailer, but when Splinter and Shredder have their big fight, it should be the most epic thing ever, but I didn’t even care.

William Fichtner plays a key scientist in the film, and he looked embarrassed to be there.  He completely mails it in.  Will Arnett was a breath of fresh air as Vernon Fenwick, April’s camera man.  The script gave him nothing to work with, but he was a good soldier.  Then we have Megan Fox as the main human protagonist, April O’Neil.  Fox is trying.  She really is.  Granted the script was awful, but I’m sorry, she can’t act.  This is probably the best I’ve seen her, but it’s still only passable.  If you had someone like Anna Kendrick in this role, it could have done wonders for the film.

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I’ve been talking about how lazy the script is, and it’s mostly because of the dialogue. It’s atrocious. It’s something a twelve-year-old would write, completely on the nose and pathetic. The humor in particular has no punch. At one point, April goes to the news room and starts blabbering about the vigilantes she saw, and someone makes a sort of “Oh, you saw Superman,” type joke. Haha. Yeah. That’s the quality of humor we are talking about.  Aside from one unfortunate fart joke (ugh), I appreciated the humor never dipping into Michael Bay/Transformers territory, but it was still generic and forgettable. There’s also forced fan service dialogue that made my ears bleed. Shredder at one point says something that made my jaw drop. It didn’t fit at all, and just sucked.

There’s a couple nice action sequences, but I was never blown away by anything. Also, the turtles are supposed to be ninjas, but a lot of their fighting style is just crashing into things. That pissed me off. I’ve been pretty harsh on this movie, mostly because I am a huge Turtles fan. The last fifteen minutes brought me around a little bit I suppose. When the turtles are in peril, I genuinely cared. But I think that’s because I already have a built in connection to them that has nothing to do with this movie. To their credit though, the turtles do have a couple endearing scenes, especially one in the elevator that was very charming. As a movie, this is passable, but as a turtles fan, I would probably rank it lower. If this film gets a sequel, I hope they correct a lot of the problems, but that’s asking a lot considering the people involved.  It will probably be worse.

Rating: 5.5 out of 10 (Passable Entertainment)

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Daniel Cohen is the Film Editor for Pop-Break. Aside from reviews, Daniel does a weekly box office predictions column, and also contributes monthly Top Tens and Op-Ed’s on all things film. Daniel is a graduate of Bates College with a degree in English, and also studied Screenwriting at UCLA. He can also be read on www.movieshenanigans.com. His movie crush is Jessica Rabbit. Follow him on Twitter @dcohenwriter.

Daniel Cohen is the hard-boiled Film Editor for the Pop Break. Besides reviews, Daniel writes box office predictions, Gotham reviews and Oscar coverage. He can also be found on the Breakcast. If Daniel was sprayed by Scarecrow's fear toxin, it would be watching Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen on a non-stop loop.