If it looks like a Michael Bay film and it sounds like a Michael Bay film, then it probably is a Michael Bay film. Therefore, it was no real surprise to learn that Bay served as producer on this latest screen incarnation of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Although directed by Jonathan Liebesman – whose previous efforts were the very underwhelming Battle: Los Angeles and Wrath of the Titans – this adaptation of the popular comic book characters is chock full of typical Bay bombast; over-the-top moments that only serve to further reduce the credibility of a concept that requires a considerable suspension of disbelief before it even begins. Having said that, these characters have stood the test of time through four previous feature films and as many different television series’, numerous video games and myriad merchandise and toys, so there is an obvious affection for the “heroes in a half shell” and the other characters that populate their subterranean world. Given the credentials of those involved, it is no surprise that there is action aplenty as the four eponymous anthropomorphic reptiles set forth to save New York from being infected by a deadly virus.
The film opens with television reporter April O’Neill (Megan Fox) desperately seeking a story that will enable her to be taken more seriously by her colleagues, including her cameraman Vernon (Will Arnett) and boss Bernadette (Whoopi Goldberg). When she stumbles across a robbery in progress and encounters the four vigilante turtles – Donatello, Michelangelo, Raphael and Leonardo – O’Neill sees the story as her big chance; except nobody believes her:
Bernadette: There are four six foot talking turtles walking around New York City, and no one has seen them but you?
April: That’s what I’m telling you.
Bernadette: Okay, get out.
Having survived a laboratory fire, the four turtles have been raised by Splinter – a rat who was subjected to the same scientific experimentation and has developed similar human characteristics – who serves as both father figure and sensei. Of course, a connection between O’Neill and the turtles is soon established and they find themselves working together to foil the plot of a – you guessed it – genius scientist with evil intentions. In a role beneath his talents, William Fichtner plays the dastardly Eric Sacks who, of course, also has a connection with O’Neill and the turtles. There is very little character development and none of the performances are particularly noteworthy, with Arnett looking especially bored as a character whose motivation for everything he endures is seemingly to bed April. The Transformer-like samurai Shredder is in cahoots with Sacks to poison the atmosphere and much mayhem ensues in the race against time. A sequence aboard a semi-trailer descending a snowy mountain rates as particularly preposterous.
Despite my reservations, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles seemed to play well with the younger members of the audience, although the violent nature of some scenes – which earned the film an M classification – will make it inaccessible to many TMNT fans. There is certainly nothing subtle about anything that happens and whilst there are a few chuckles to be had as the turtles engage in posturing and one-upmanship in their efforts to impress April, ultimately the film becomes bogged down in extended action sequences that deliver impressive visual effects and little else. An attempt to muse on the importance of family is ham-fisted and half-hearted; playing as nothing more than an afterthought and a poor attempt to add some gravitas to proceedings. This isn’t the worst movie you’ll see; in fact it isn’t even the worst Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie you will see, but there is certainly nothing particularly new or interesting to be found.