There wasn’t much of a chance that I’d enjoy this film, and until I signed on to do review blogs for this website, I had fully intended to skip it. That being said, I did have some expectations going in based on past experiences with Michael Bay and my own childhood love of the series. Somehow the movie managed to disappoint me on both fronts.
I’ll say from the outset that they didn’t do everything wrong with this film; there are genuine moments of humor to be had. The problem is that for every minute of entertainment or every glimpse at an interesting idea, thereare ten minutes of boredom and an idea so stupid that it negates any cleverness they’ve achieved (with the exception of one scene that I will explain at the end). The net result is something that’s somehow more disappointing than a full on train wreck that has convinced me to never watch a movie associated with Michael Bay again.
Enough stalling, on to the review. Chances are you know what you’re getting into at this point. I doubt there’s a movie-goer out there that hasn’t heard of the Turtles, it was a cornerstones of my childhood built on a single stupid song. Four pet turtles get infected by magical science goop and become nighttime vigilantes battling against the evil Shredder and his Foot Clan. It’s a silly premise that’s pretty tough to take seriously and to the film’s credit, it doesn’t spend much time focusing on drama and moping.
The film fails in much the same ways that Bay’s Transformers franchise fails: not enough focus on the title characters. It’s nearly 20 minutes before we actually get to see our four pizza addicts, and they fade into the background for even more time after that. No, this is a story about April O’Neil, the frequent Damsel in Distress of the show. It’s a good choice in direction to make her an actual capable character who doesn’t need much saving throughout, but any points gained there are lost by the fact that she’s boring as heck and gets like no funny lines. Her sidekick is even worse. Played by actually amusing actor Will Arnett, it’s painful to watch him fail at every step to get a laugh. These two basically bumble around the movie checking off boxes in Generic Action Flick Bingo while failing to draw out more than a small chuckle or smirk at a particularly awful bit of dialogue.
The Turtles themselves do fare slightly better and often feel like actual characters, albeit hideous monstrosities that are in no way fun to look like. Many, though definitely not all, of their interactions are fun and the one scene that I’m gonna put at the end for spoilers is honestly rather brilliant. Michelangelo is obviously the one that got most the attention here, getting most of the funny lines and if you’re laughing hard during this film it’s probably because of him. He also gets the creepiest lines and frequently says things to and about April that go way past the realms of good taste and into restraining order territory.
Then there’s the villains and we get the one thing in the movie that actually takes me from bored to angry. Shredder was the single most memorable villain from my childhood and they turned him into the most generic of mechanical foes with a penchant for posing like Wolverine. Except for the one scene where you see him without the armor you never really feel like he’s a threat or even like a character. He just struts around the film growling and shooting swords that never hit anything important.
The only real saving grace in the movie for me was William Fichtner. He plays billionaire genius playboy philanthropist Erick Sacks, financier/lackey to Shredder. Fichtner hams it up in every scene, having fun with an obviously stupid plot and coming across as a man with a plan. Unfortunately, most of the fun to be had with Sacks falls apart when his motivations are revealed. This man is rich enough to build an unstoppable suit of power armor that launches magnetically controlled swords that instantly inflict slow-mo on the audience and never hit, has a skyscraper in the middle of New York City capable of supporting a generic final confrontation battle, has deep ties to the NYPD and no doubt plenty of congressmen in his pocket already and ya wanna know what his great motivation in all this is? He’s going to make money off of selling a cure to the horrible chemical weapon he’s going to release on the city that will be initiated at his own building. Nope, no way that plan could go awry.
Here are my final thoughts:
The movie bounces from boring scene A to boring scene B, with occasional clever references or painfully obvious comments about turtle soup that feel less like homages and more like weak fanbaiting. The characters are ugly, boring, or both and the only thing I have to say about Splinter is that he’s possibly the ugliest creature in the whole film. It’s nice to see them make April something other than a Damsel, but they forgot to include personality into the new character design. It suffers from a severe lack of actual ninja action and stealth, but that’s somewhat understandable since the only tool the team seemed to have to go off of was the teachings in a random self help book on ninjutsu that washed up in the sewers one day. Bottom line, avoid this movie in theaters and at most pick it up as a rental.
Now for the one thing I really did enjoy in the movie that I feel worthy of the spoiler warning, don’t read this bit if you want to have something to hold on to during the doldrums of much of the movie.
All right, so late in the movie, shortly before the final boring battle atop the skyscraper, we are treated to the surreal scene of a still shot with the titular characters all crammed into an elevator. There’s no dialogue, just the frequent ding of the elevator passing each floor. For no obvious reason Mikey starts smacking his nunchucks together in a beat, slightly awkward but a bit amusing. Instead of berating him into silence as has been the case for most of the film, Raph actually joins in, clanging his sai together in a counterpoint. Don and Leo join in and we’ve got a tiny little band playing in this cramped elevator and for one moment it’s entirely my turtles, the door reaches the top, opens up, and the boys charge out to meet their foe.
Then we’re back to the schlock that made up the rest of the movie and I’m back to wishing I was watching Guardians of the Galaxy again.