I know the credit said this was directed by Jonathan Liebesman, but are we 100% sure that isn’t just a pseudonym of Michael Bay?
“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” brings back the quartet of renaissance reptiles that many of us grew up watching in cartoon form in the late 80s. This time the turtles are cg creations in a live action movie that brings their ninja heroics to a whole new generation, albeit with a little more attitude and angst than I remember from the original. Which I guess is to be expected when Michael Bay is involved. Yes, I know he is only listed as a producer, but it’s hard not to see his fingerprints all over these shiny shells.
Speaking of which, and I may be in the minority on this, I actually did like the 3d CG design of the turtles. It’s quite a task to pull off talking turtles in a real world environment and I felt like they did about as good as they could. In fact, the overall design of this world was probably my favorite thing about the flick if not the only thing I really liked. OK, that’s a little unfair, there were a few moments of the humor and action that landed alright, but seriously overall I just never felt connected to what was going on.
So why is that? I think primarily it has to do that we aren’t given much time to really care about anyone in this story in a meaningful way, so the story has difficulty resonating. Don’t get me wrong, we get plenty of backstory on these turtles and their creation, but the movie never does the story work to connect to why it matters or how it affects them. Instead our heroes exist as caricatures of personality types. I mean we get more explanation of why they like pizza than we do why they want to fight crime. Of course that may just be because of the blatant Pizza Hut product placement that peppers the movie. I swear I heard Leonardo at one point quoting the price of a delicious Pizza Hut three cheese pizza, but maybe I imagined it. Plus the usual Bayisms of juvenile humor and confusing action overload don’t help the story issue much either. But the worst thing has to be the way the story relies on eye rolling plot convenience to move itself along. There is a moment where our turtles need out of a tough situation and the thing they need is literally a giant button on a nearby computer screen. Seriously, that’s almost as bad as when The Lizard left a power point presentation for Peter Parker of how he was going to take over the world in The Amazing Spider Man. Which, by the way, the final evil plot in TMNT is pretty much EXACTLY the same as The Lizards, which itself was a takeoff on the end of the original X-Men movie 14 years ago! I mean I’m all for recycling, but come on, enough is enough. All of that together simply makes it difficult to engage in this movie with any depth.
Overall, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a shallow adaptation that works in looks but not in any meaningful way. If you loved the cartoon you might enjoy some of the inside jokes, but will likely be disappointed in the overall product. Some of us like a little meat on our pizza, but this “cheese only” offering gets a C-