Ah, another chance for Michael Bay to ruin a part of my childhood. Bay has taken my beloved Transformers and reduced them to the point where I would much rather have someone melt them all down and create some really cool things. Wait, you’re telling me that was the plot of the most recent Transformers movie? If it wasn’t already apparent, let me spell something out here: in no way was I looking forward to seeing the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie… at all.
With that said, when you’re the father of three boys who love the current show on Nickelodeon, you end up at the theater. For those who have read my other film reviews, you know that I generally review movies through the lens of what my expectations are going into it. Clearly, my expectations for this movie were extremely low. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find that I actually enjoyed a good portion of the movie.
The plot was simple and very easy to follow; how could it not be? I will say that the writers did a nice job of weaving together the various characters, and while it was extremely predictable, there wasn’t the chasm of plot holes that I expected. The story centered on April O’Neil (Megan Fox) and her apparent low-level job at Channel 6 news. She was investigating recent crimes committed by the Foot Clan with her cameraman Vern (Will Arnett) despite the disapproval of her boss, Bernadette (Whoopi Goldberg). Wow, the movie just got a lot worse in my mind having typed that, but stay with me.
Eventually, April crossed paths with our four favorite ninja turtles: Leonardo (voiced by Johnny Knoxville), Raphael (Alan Ritchson), Donatello (Jeremy Howard), and Michelangelo (Noel Fisher). While their origin differs from both the comics and the various cartoons, the turtles were trained in the ways of ninjutsu under the tutelage of their master and father, Splinter (voiced by Tony Shalhoub). Of course, the turtles were nearly finished honing their skills right as Shredder (Tohoru Masamune) and Karai (Minae Noji) began to attempt to take over the world. There was nothing really earth-shattering about the plot, but that was really for the best.
About the cast, I am first going to step out here and defend Megan Fox’s performance. In my opinion, she wasn’t any worse than the two actresses that played April O’Neil in the previous three live-action films. I remember April best from the cartoon in the late 80’s, and Fox fully embodied a somewhat oblivious reporter who constantly finds herself as the damsel in distress. That isn’t a shot at Fox, but to me, April was never a dominant personality nor a credible reporter. Fox was exactly who she needed to be in the two Transformers movies, and I don’t consider that a bad thing.
The presence of Will Arnett added a comedic element outside of the turtles; it wasn’t overdone and he got about as much screen time as needed. William Fichtner (as Eric Sacks) generally brings gravitas to any role he is cast, and that was no exception in the movie. He actually gave life to a role that isn’t often occupied in any adaptation of our favorite heroes in a half shell, so that was nice. The voice acting of the turtles and Splinter was solid. They were portrayed exactly how they should be: Leo was serious, Raph was gruff, Donatello was brainy, and Mikey cracked the most jokes. The writing and dialogue did a good job of capturing their personalities very quickly and it compares favorably to the original movie from 1990.
The visuals and action sequences were easily the best of any of the four live-action Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movies, but there’s not a whole lot of competition. That is one thing that Michael Bay does perhaps better than anyone else in the business. The CGI was top-notch, especially during a sequence in which they slid down a snowy mountain (as seen in the trailers). The audio was exceptional in the moments that you hoped it was going to be, and obviously paired nicely with the visuals. I never doubted Bay’s ability to dazzle me with his over-the-top visuals and loud explosions.
As a parent, it’s a little dicey taking children who have seen the cartoon on Nickelodeon to a PG-13 movie. For those on the fence, the profanity was very minimal; I only counted two instances. Most of the crude humor was of the adult variety that none of my kids understood or laughed at. There was obviously violence, but no blood or gore. Put it this way: it was one of the milder PG-13 movies I’ve seen lately.
Overall, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was an enjoyable experience, but one that I’d probably only want to see once. It was a little funnier than I thought it would be, the visuals and audio were on par with every recent Bay film, and for a brief moment I was 8-years-old again using a broom stick as a bo staff. The worst part of the movie was easily how forgettable the Shredder was, although he definitely didn’t need to look for a can opener (see what I did there), and Karai was relatively useless as well. Still, the movie compensated in other ways, and as long as you’re ready to just enjoy the ride, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles delivers a rather enjoyable one.
+ Spectacular CGI effects and visuals
+ Solid voice acting
+ Cast stayed within comfort zone
- Whoopi Goldberg
- Shredder was forgettable