The Heroes in a Half-Shell are back on the big screen, courtesy of Michael Bay. Is this the return of epic nostalgia classic fans have been hoping for, or the absolute betrayal and disappointment they feared? The answer is surprisingly: neither.
New York is under assault at the hands of a criminal terrorist group known as the Foot Clan. Led by the mysterious Shredder, they take what they want, and the city cowers. April O’Neil (Megan Fox), a fluff reporter for Channel 6, wants to investigate it as a serious reporter, despite the opposition from her cameraman Vernon (Will Arnett) and boss Mrs. Thompson (Whoopi Goldberg). When April discovers that someone is fighting back against the Foot Clan, she follows the lead to discover four mutant turtles who use ninjutsu: stoic leader Leonardo, surly rebel Raphael, dorky scientist Donatello, and goofball Michelangelo. When the Shredder strikes at them, the Turtles must come together with their new human friends to save the city.
I’ve been a TMNT fan since I was a child, and not just of the classic cartoon, but all aspects of the franchise (as you may remember from my recent retrospective). Which is why I feel a sense of authority when I say that this is not the worst thing that the Turtles have been in, nor is it the best. The film suffers from a script that’s obviously been rewritten a lot, resulting in a very uneven pace. The first third of the movie goes so slow, and suddenly the rest of the film just accelerates so fast that the plot develops holes, as if the writers were so eager to get their next plot point or set piece they didn’t think about making a logical transition between each.
It’s rather poetic that the movie is saved from being bad by the Turtles themselves. Even though they don’t get a lot of development, they still are the Turtles we all remember from the past: Leo tries to keep the others safe and in line; Raph bickers with all of them but is willing to go the distance for them; Donnie may not be the slickest, but his brains allow him to pull off some great moments; and Mikey is so goofy that even when he flirts with April it comes off more funny than disturbing. And the brotherly bond they have is still intact during the film.
There are a lot of issues with this movie. The Shredder, Karai, and William Fichtner’s Eric Sacks don’t get any real explanation as to why they want to conquer the city besides EVIL and GREED. In trying to tie April to the Turtles and Splinter’s origins, they make her more important than she should be, and at no point will I ever accept this film’s version of how they learned ninjutsu. Also, I’ve only been to New York once, but I don’t think there’s a giant snowy mountain within driving distance, nor a sewer line that leads straight to Time Square.
That said, the humor is fun (mainly because the writers let the jokes flow from the Turtles’ personalities), and while the computer animated characters may seem odd to classic fans, they lend themselves to some amazing action scenes. We get Splinter finally unleashing an epic beatdown of Foot Clan before having a major fight with Shredder. The aforementioned unlikely New York mountain? We get a great action-filled chase scene down it with the Turtles pulling off stunts that no human in a suit could ever attempt. And the last battle between the Turtles and Shredder is really well-done.
Traditionally, when I rank the Turtles movies, I put the original 1990 film at the top, followed by the 2007 computer-animated film, then Part 2, and finally the awful third film at the bottom. This new one is much better than Part 3, and has better action than part 2, even though it doesn’t have as good a plot. In other words, this occupies the middle spot alongside Part 2 for me.
On a special side-note, this is the only film I’ve seen this summer that really felt like it was meant for kids, and even if older fans like me don’t think this is as good as the older films, I just saw a theater filled with children light up at seeing the Turtles come to life on the big screen for the first time, the same way I did back in 1990. And honestly, the kids are going to be the ones who make this movie succeed despite what anyone thinks. And why not? No matter the generation, everyone loves Ninja Turtles.