Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Jonathan Liebesman
Stars: Megan Fox, Will Arnett, William Fichtner, Jeremy Howard, Pete Ploszek, Noel Fisher, Alan Rotchon, Tohoru Masamune, Whoopi Goldberg, Minae Noji, voices of Johnny Knoxville, Tony Shalhoub.
Michael Bay returns to the toy box again, but this time he has put aside his Transformer action figures and dug out his long discarded Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle toys. Named after four prominent Renaissance painters, the turtles are vigilante mutants who live in the sewers of New York City, and were trained in the martial arts by a mutant rat known as Splinter, and who regularly emerge to fight crime in the city.
Based on the cartoon characters originally created in 1984 by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird, the turtles have spawned an animated tv series, which ran for ten seasons, numerous movie versions, and the usual action figurines. While there have been three live action Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle movies, each one worse than the other, and one animated TMNT movie in 3D before, none have been given the big budget Michael Bay treatment. In those films, the turtles were usually played by a variety of little known actors with animatronic heads. Here some spectacular state of the art CGI generated special effects combine motion capture turtles with effects and live action, and bring these 80s cartoon characters into the 21st century. But using the motion capture process here somehow makes the turtles look larger and more menacing.
Having been absent from the past two Transformer movies, Megan Fox returns to the fold as April O’Neil, here recast as an intrepid television news reporter who shares a past with the four turtles. And the camera often focuses on her lovingly and longingly, another trademark Bay fetish. Usually assigned light weight puff pieces, April is determined to make her mark as an investigative reporter when she stumbles upon the activities of the notorious criminal gang known as the Foot Clan who are stealing chemicals from warehouses and the docks.
She witnesses at first hand the Turtles in action when they thwart an attempted hijacking at the piers and again later when they rescue hostages being held in the subway. But her skeptical and disbelieving hardnosed editor (a small appearance from Whoopi Goldberg) refuses to entertain her notions of vigilante turtles. April presses on with her investigation though, reluctantly accompanied by her cameraman Vern (Will Arnett). And April also discovers that she has a personal connection to the turtles.
The Foot Clan are led by the turtle’s arch nemesis Shredder (played by Japanese American actor Tohoru Masamune, from iCarly, Heroes, etc), who is in league with millionaire scientist and industrialist Eric Sacks (William Fichtner). Sacks projects a public image as a major benefactor and protector of the city. But the pair have concocted a scheme to unleash a deadly virus on the city, which will allow Sacks to come to the rescue with an antidote he has developed from the mutagen coarsing through the turtles’ blood streams.
But audiences wanting to see the titular turtles kick some butt will have to wait for a while as they are sidelined for large chunks of the movie while it establishes the plot. It is only during the rousing over the top last half hour or so that they come into their own with a couple of exciting set pieces, filmed with lots of rapid editing and very mobile camerawork.
Each of the pizza-loving reptilian ninjas has their own clearly defined personality, and, as usual, they are largely played by a bunch of unknowns. Raphael is the brooding, angsty one, and here he is played by Alan Ritchon, who hails from a background in television. Michelangelo (played here by Noel Fisher, from the US version of Shameless, etc) is the more carefree and wise cracking of the four and he obviously lusts after April. Donatello (played by Jeremy Howard), is the tech savvy turtle and computer genius. Leonardo (played by Pete Ploszek in his first feature film role, but voiced by Jackass star Johnny Knoxville) is the more serious of the four and is their self-styled leader. Their repartee and constant squabbling provide some humour.
Fichtner is so often cast as a villain that casting him as Eric Sacks is a lazy move, as anyone knows he will turn out to be a villain despite early appearances to the contrary. Arnett provides some comic relief with his role as the vain and narcissistic Vern. Tony Shalhoub (Monk, etc) provides the voice of Splinter, the turtles’ venerable mentor. Goldberg, who apparently approached the producers asking for a role, contributes a brief appearance as April’s cynical editor, who initially disbelieves her farfetched stories of vigilante turtles running amok in the city.
While the film bears many of the usual Michael Bay trademark touches, he is merely credited as one of the executive producers, although he was probably pretty hands on. Instead he has passed the directorial reins to Jonathan Liebesman, who directed films like the underwhelming Wrath Of The Titans, Battle Los Angeles, etc. With his lack of subtlety, his love of pyrotechnics, loud explosions, frenetic editing and over the top kinetically paced action scenes, Liebesman’s visual style is a perfect complement for Bay’s cinematic approach anyway. And like his mentor, Liebesman loves destruction on a large scale and the film certainly tries to emulate the epic scope of most of today’s big budget action movies. Liebesman ramps up the action here, which is a bit more violent and over the top than the younger fry and those who grew up watching the turtles on television would expect.
The screenplay from Josh Applebaum and Andre Nemec (Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, Alias, etc), and Divergent script writer Evan Daugherty is hardly original, but it captures the essence of the characters and the source material. But as with most big budget action movies today Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles leaves the way open for a sequel, and given its box office figures we will be getting one sooner rather than later. Cowabunga indeed!