Quite how the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles has come to be the product that it is today is positively mind bogglingly. Created in 1984 as a sort of joke between themselves, Peter Laird and Kevin Eastman’s creation grew to become a cult comic-book hit, morphing into a clean product of corporate capitalism with a cartoon series and corresponding toy-line. This all, of course, eventually led to a series of movies in the early 90’s, live-action mixed with Jim Henson creations. Those movies, at the best of times were, charmingly cheap, with the first one being the only one that can be strenuously labelled as a good movie. The Heroes in a Half Shell do seem to have sporadic moments of popularity. While the cartoon series rejuvenates continually, the film franchise has struggled to get off the ground, with a cheap-CGI feature failing to generate even much fan adoration in 2007. Who could the Turtles call upon to re-capture some silver screen glory, and come close to the phenomenon they once were back in the 80’s? Well, apparently, that man is Michael Bay.
April O’Neil (Megan Fox) is a young reporter in New York City striving to find a story that will allow her to be taken seriously as a journalist. With the City in the height of a crime-wave led by the Foot Clan, O’Neil throws herself into dangerous situations in order to gain an exclusive on the gang’s activities. However, she soon discovers something that she never expected to find. She stumbles across the existence of a group of vigilantes who are taking on the Clan at every chance they can get. They are teenagers. They are mutants. They are Turtles. And, they are Ninjas.
With Michael Bay producing, there is a certain aesthetic that one would expect; that of a toy commercial, albeit one of a gratuitous nature. Considering the Turtles’ history, it seems strangely appropriate for Bay, the man who dragged Transfromers into the 21st Century (ultimately for the worst), to bring the Turtles back to the big screen. While directing duties fall to Jonathan ‘Battle: Los Angeles; Liebesman (which is hardly promising), there is no denying that much of what we see is based and guided by the practice Bay-hem. While this does lead to overtly-CG driven action sequences and frustratingly pointless (yet thankfully brief) moments of misogyny, there is enough nostalgia and light-hearted spirit to keep this Turtles outing on the right side of stupid.
Much of the action is focused on the Turtles as a team, over-coming their personality differences to ensure victory. Taking on Shredder once again, the film is essentially a remake of the first live action feature; focussing on the Foot Clan activities and dealing with a threat from Shredder, following an attempt on the life of their mentor, the mutant rat Splinter. There’s an attempt to link the back stories of O’Neil and the Turtles, which just results in making the film more convoluted than it needs to be. However, in regard to keeping up pace and a certain level of engagement, Liebesman directs with much more control than we have seen from him. Sure, there is so much CGI that it is headache inducing, but he keeps events at such a clip that it’s hard not to get wrapped in the purposeful pacing.
The most refreshing aspect of this reboot is that it never feels the need to aim for a post-Nolan Dark Knight aesthetic. While a lot of the promotional material did seem to suggest such a turn, what remains is a colourful, Nickelodeon friendly affair that feels welcome and rather fitting for the teenaged vigilantes. The central four characters (Leader Leonardo, hot-headed Raphael, tech-whiz Donatello, and wise-cracking Michelangelo) remain true to their former incarnations, albeit with a rather grotesque re-design. The Turtles are much larger and pumped up then we have seen before. It is initially off-putting, but once you realise that very little has been done to change the brother’s personalities, they become much better company. Not all the jokes and wise-cracks land quite as confidently as the film-makers think, but it’s fun to be back with these characters on a new canvas.
Your opinion of this film will largely depend on what your relationship with the Turtles has been in the past. Personally, the original cartoon and live-action feature and TV efforts were certainly present and correct in my childhood, meaning that while they weren’t necessarily my favourite heroes at any point, they did form a part of my childhood that I remember fondly. This means that I am perhaps a bit more susceptible to the charms of the mutant Testudines. The title is Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. There is something bizarrely genius about the whole concept; a concept which should have died in the 80’s and yet continues to live to this day. I do not doubt that my affection for the property has clouded my better judgement; this is undoubtedly a stupid movie which throws everything at the wall in the hope that most of it sticks. Just enough does to mark this new outing for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles as breezy entertainment which demands little from you, and expects the same courtesy in return.