When Kervyn handed me what he insisted was the highly-coveted yet impractical-length Straw of Reviewing and pushed me out the door, giggling, to review Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, all I could think about was the negative cloud floating over the internet regarding this movie – the Turtles look terrible, we hate Megan Fox for some reason, the casting of William Fichtner as the Asian villain Shredder was typical Hollywood whitewashing, and Michael Bay is involved?! Oh it’s going to be one gigantic cowabungle! How glad I am that I found something that evoked childlike glee instead.
A short animated opening gives the background to the story, with New York City under siege from a criminal organization known as the Foot Clan, and officials and citizens powerless against them. At which point we’re introduced to intrepid cub-reporter April O’Neil (Megan Fox, and the pivot around whom the story revolves), who is privately pursuing a story about the theft of chemicals used in genetic research from New York harbour. After witnessing another robbery foiled by an inhuman-seeming vigilante but rebuffed by her editor (a grumpy Whoopi Goldberg) for having no proof to back up her claims, April is determined to get the evidence she requires to be taken seriously and further her career.
This leads her to the subway where the Foot Clan has taken a number of hostages in order to trap the vigilantes. It’s here that the action kicks off as the plot is swiftly foiled by the quartet of half-shelled heroes, who, when making good their escape, are pursued by April. This is when we’re properly introduced to our titular heroes: Leonardo, the calm leader (blue), Raphael the angry muscle (red), Donatello the geeky tech (purple), Michelangelo the lovable jokester (yellow… all solidly voiced by Johnny Knoxville, Alan Richson, Jeremy Howard and Noel Fisher respectively).
Their attempt to intimidate April into keeping their existence a secret is endearing as they seem completely oblivious to their intimidating physical presence. These are not the smooth, cuddly Turtles you might remember or expect. These are big, green, ass-kicking machines that you would not want to meet walking around a dank sewer; Raphael in particular is a hulking mass of muscle. They’re brilliantly brought to life with mo-cap and impressively detailed CGI. Everything they do has weight to it and seeing a fist or foot hit a generic henchman in the face makes you sit back and go “Ohhhhhhh”. Facial animation is also well done and it’s easy to see their emotions and expressions flit across their faces.
Without spoiling too much of the plot, April turns to powerful and well-respected businessman Eric Sacks (William Fichtner) for help with the investigation, but in doing so unwittingly leads the Foot Clan and their leader Shredder (Tohoru Masamune, NOT William Fichtner) directly to the Turtles. When their secret hideout is stormed by Shredder and the Foot Clan, and most of the Turtles captured, April and Raphael manage to escape largely thanks to the efforts of Splinter, their giant mutated rat sensei, who delivers a vicious smack down to random masked henchmen (in the battle of CGI masters, this scene would leave a certain tiny green one quaking in his mud-filled sandals).
From there it’s an exhilarating rollercoaster ride. The action is fast and furious, moving swiftly from one CGI-laden set piece to the next as the mismatched duo of April and Raphael first rush to rescue their captured team mates and then foil Shredder’s plot against the city. The CGI is well executed, as you’d expect from something that Michael Bay has a hand in, and director Jonathan Liebesman has done a good job making it all flow seamlessly. It’s also a very short ride, which works to its advantage because overall the plot is very simple and filled with contrivances, logical gaps and shallow characterization (of the villains especially), but you’re able to overlook most of that because of the movie’s rapid pacing. Interspersed with the action are short moments to catch your breath that mostly involve flashbacks to April’s childhood and Splinter’s raising of the Turtles to fill in some much-needed backstory.
Where the movie really shines though, is with its humour. For something that’s targeted at young kids it’s not childish or cheesy – it’s fairly intelligent and doesn’t talk down to its intended audience, so there’s plenty to enjoy for older viewers as well. A sense of fun clearly pervades the movie and it never takes itself too seriously, which benefits it greatly because seriousness would focus attention on the plot. Tonal shifts between intense action and humour are well executed and their juxtaposition is often unexpected and very amusing. Never has a literal pin dropping or an elevator ride been so funny, and surprisingly, there’s only one fart joke.
The main characters are well presented. There’s an obvious brotherly bond among the quartet and they display an innocence of the world above them; their mentor Splinter clearly cares for them and you instantly warm to them all. Megan Fox delivers a competent performance as April O’Neil with palpable exasperation at constantly being disbelieved and Will Arnett garners a lot of laughs as her cameraman Vernon Fenwick, with his unrequited and generally unnoticed romantic pursuit of April. The villains however suffer terribly, they’re simply evil and want either money or power with little motivation behind them, and it detracts from the overall story.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a reboot of the much-loved characters for a new generation of young fans. It’s a light, fun and action-filled romp that’s clearly aimed at today’s kids with its simple plot and characterisation; and if the reaction of the kids at the screening was anything to go by, it definitely hit its mark. If you’re prepared to look past a paper-thin plot and let your inner child out to play, yesterday’s kids who grew up with the Turtles could be as pleasantly surprised as I was.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles releases locally on Friday, 17 October 2014.
Last Updated: October 13, 2014