Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles review

“Eyes focused. Elbows locked. Stance low.”

These are the Coach Taylor-ian words of wisdom from Master Splinter, as he instructs his four young sons in the art of the ninja. Viewers would be wise to heed Splinter’s advice, too, albeit with one small modification: keep your stance exactly where it is — at home.

From director Jonathan Liebesman and producer Michael Bay’s Platinum Dunes comes Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, a movie that, much like Bay’s Transformers: Age of Extinction, exists. It’s big, it’s loud, and it’s full of farts. No, really! In one of their first full scenes on film, all four Turtles get stuck inside the same narrow sewer tunnel, and Michelangelo rips a big one. He laughs, shrugs, and explains the stench to his suffering siblings with a single word: “Pepperoni.”

And so it goes.

It’s big, it’s loud, and it’s full of farts.

As much as the new Ninja Turtles has in common with the potty humor tone and substance of Bay’s Transformers series, it has just as much in common with another misguided movie in the modern reboot era: The Amazing Spider-Man. Like Sony’s Spider-Man restart, Paramount’s new live-action Turtles twists the origin story of the mutant ninja bros with an extra degree of importance for one of its central players: intrepid Channel 6 news reporter April O’Neil, played here by Transformers veteran Megan Fox.

In Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Fox’s April is a frustrated on-air talent, sick of the froth and foam fluff-pieces that see her bouncing on trampolines in the West Village. Instead, she wants to track the mysterious vigilantes working to defeat the dreaded Foot Clan, a group of masked ninja-gunmen under the leadership of Shredder, a big, bad dude who wants to conquer New York City for his own mysterious, mustache-twirling needs. As it turns out, the vigilantes that April pursues are the Turtles, and they owe their very lives to April in the first place — because (SPOILER ALERT) once upon a time, the Turtles were April’s pets, lab experiments she rescued from a fire and set free in the sewers of Manhattan.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

It’s a weird twist that adds little value to the overall picture. Instead of working to establish her trustworthiness and earning her spot with the Turtles as an outsider, April is immediately part of the family, with no chance to prove anything to the audience. She plays an active role in the Turtles’ existence, but beyond that, she’s a damsel-in-distress who contributes nothing to the story. A better actress could elevate April beyond her story woes, but Fox is not that actress. It does not help that she’s completely objectified by the camera, at one point nearly killed because Will Arnett’s smarmy Vern Fenwick is too busy staring at her rear end when he should be driving a car.

Origin twists aside, Ninja Turtles shares an Amazing Spider-Man link in its MacGuffin. There’s secret power oozing through the brothers’ blood, and Shredder wants it bad. It’s what Dane DeHaan’s Harry Osborn desired from Andrew Garfield’s Peter Parker in ASM2. Heck, it’s the same reason Zachary Quinto’s Spock chased Benedict Cumberbatch’s Khan all over San Francisco at the end of Star Trek Into Darkness. And it’s what Shredder wants, too: Turtle blood, mixed in with his Turtle soup. How original.

Turtles twists the origin story of the mutant ninja bros with an extra degree of importance for April O’Neill.

But originality isn’t what the people demand from Ninja Turtles, is it? No, they want the pizza-pounding, party-monster mutants they know from their childhood. At least in that regard, Ninja Turtles gets it right. Design issues aside (but yeah, wow, those faces are creepy), the Turtles are exactly as expected: Leonardo leads, Donatello does machines, Raphael is cool but rude, and Michelangelo is a party dude. (He also doesn’t understand the ending of Lost, apparently; for the last time, dude, they were not dead the entire time.) So there’s one positive comparison to Amazing Spider-Man, at least; just as that reboot got Spidey right with Andrew Garfield, this reboot serves up a solid take on the Turtles. If Liebesman’s movie succeeds at nothing else, it at least gets the siblings’ individual characteristics and group dynamics exactly right.

Unfortunately, it really is the only area where Ninja Turtles succeeds. Fox’s April is a flat-lined lead with an unnecessarily convoluted backstory and an underwhelming role in the main story. The brothers are faithfully rendered, but their ninja antics are too big and loud and claustrophobic to appreciate. The story lacks any semblance of originality. Perhaps it’ll win over a pre-teen crowd, but with Guardians of the Galaxy in theaters at the same time vying for the same audience, it’s impossible to recommend Ninja Turtles as an alternative. It’s a shame; Ninja Turtles is a very fun franchise when it’s in the right hands. Here, it’s just a giant fart joke.

But, you know. Pepperoni.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is in theaters now.

(Media © Paramount Pictures)

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