Megan Fox stars as a television reporter who, with the aid of mutated turtles, tries to expose a plan to poison the city in the action-filled comedy 'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.' (Industrial Light & Paramount Pictures)
The trailers for “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” the latest reboot of the film series based on the popular children’s cartoon (based on the popular comic book series), didn’t do it any favors. Glimpses of the now-hulking turtles, pumped up for our fitness-obsessed times of muscle mass and chiseled physiques, made them look like dour CGI freaks. And the movie looked like another one of producer Michael Bay’s brainless attempts to shamelessly cash in on late ’80s and early ’90s nostalgia.
In a way, however, “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” benefits from those lowered expectations. Yes, it is another one of Michael Bay’s brainless attempts to shamelessly cash in on the late ’80s and early ’90s nostalgia. But if you accept that, and don’t mind what amounts to several commercials for a well known national pizza chain baked into the movie, “Ninja Turtles” is not without its charms.
The movie opens with a lyrical tribute to the turtles’ origins, in the style of Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird’s original “Ninja Turtles” comics, as we learn how the masked reptiles Leonardo, Donatello, Michelangelo and Raphael came to be. From there, we enter modern New York, where bad guys are stealing toxic materials out of shipping containers late at night, all part of a grand scheme to poison the city and make a bunch of money off of selling the antidote (a classic, works every time). The baddies are members of the Foot Clan, evildoers under the reign of the evil Shredder (Tohoru Masamune), who walks around in a suit of armor and knives that looks like it came from Ginsu’s bodywear collection.
April O‘Neil (Megan Fox) is a TV news reporter who’s onto the Foot, but is stuck doing fluff stories with her cameraman Vernon (Will Arnett). One night she sees a Foot robbery get thwarted by a shadowy figure, but she doesn’t get a clear view of the vigilante.
Neither do we. It’s not until about 26 minutes into the movie that we first get a good shot of the turtles, who are no longer the rubber-suited pranksters who starred in three films in the 1990s. These CGI turtles are big, bulky and grotesque, putting the “mutant” back in their monicker. If the idea was to make them grittier and less kid-friendly, the filmmakers succeeded; Raphael, in particular, is a snarling, brooding warrior rather than a high-fiving party bro.
Which is not to say these turtles don’t have fun; they are teenagers, after all. And “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” wisely takes time outs amid the excessive computer-generated action sequences to let them quip and show some personality. There’s one scene in particular that acts as a literal break in the action, where the four turtles, one by one, begin to tap out a hip-hop beat while riding in an elevator to the final showdown. You don’t come to “TMNT” expecting character moments, but this one provides a welcome breather and is the best bit in the movie.
Elsewhere, “TMNT” leans heavily on loud, busy action set pieces, including one geographically confusing sequence that unfolds on a snow-covered mountain despite the movie being set in non-wintertime New York. Director Jonathan Liebesman (“Wrath of the Titans”) employs many of producer Bay’s tricks, utilizing low-angle camera shots and tilted frames to give the film the slick look of a music video.
But it’s the turtles’ show, and there’s enough turtle power to please kids and fans of the original series. If it’s teenage mutant ninja turtles you want, it’s teenage mutant ninja turtles you get. “King Lear” it’s not. Cowabunga, dudes.
‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’
'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles'
Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence
Running time: 120 minutes