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Review: The Death of Coincidence in ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’

Review: The Death of Coincidence in 'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles'

I can’t think of a recent blockbuster that’s been raked across the coals as much

as “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” before its official release date. First, they

were going to be aliens, then they were turtles again, then came the supposed

whitewashing of the normally Asian Shredder character (long story short, he’s still

Asian). And that’s not even considering the automatic scorn earned for being a

product of Michael Bay, or rather his production company Platinum Dunes. Now

that all the dust has settled, is this third reboot of the heroes in a half-shell, counting

the 2007 animated film and the recent Nickelodeon show, good enough to silence

the haters and breathe some new life into the franchise? No. No it’s not.

If last

week’s “Guardians of the Galaxy” was a richly textured yet still sinful tasting bacon

egg and cheese croissant, Jonathan Liebsmann’s “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” is

an Egg McMuffin; a disposable, but filling blockbuster whose sporadic moments of fun

are bogged down by an insistence on connecting all the pieces. And no ketchup.

Reporter April O’Neil stumbles across the story of a lifetime when she realized

that the terrorist organization known as The Foot is attempting a biological takeover

of New York City, until four vigilantes make themselves known. Four genetically

enhanced turtles, leader Leonardo, renegade Raphael, tech kid Donatello, and

teenage character pastiche Michelangelo, are trained in the martial arts by their

surrogate father Splinter, and after coming across them during a successful attack on

The Foot, O’Neil decides to help them take down scientist Eric Sacks (what a name!),

a colleague of her dead father’s who is spearheading the operation.

Here’s how they manage to mess that up; the screenplay, penned by Josh

Applebaum, André Nemac, and Evan Daugherty, is copying straight out of the play

book of “The Amazing Spider-Man,” in the fact that the everything in the story is

connected yet none of it makes any sense. No I won’t tell you how, but know that they

manage to tie every facet of the turtles’ and Splinter’s personality to April and Sacks.

Literally every last detail known of the Turtles as characters is tied to them. Are story

elements not allowed to be coincidental anymore? You’re going to tell me that every

thread in the story about genetically modified super turtles and their rat master fighting

a feudal Japanese cyborg with the New York reporter is just going to happen to be

connected? This sort of destiny narrative has always been common in film before but

has been making a huge comeback as of late, becoming the go-to crutch for every

screenwriter to stamp confusing of unnecessary portions of a story with “because I

said so.”

It also completely undermines the general origin of the turtles. Aside from

Michelangelo’s creepy fascination with April and their trademark pizza craving, there’s

very little here convincing me these guys are teenagers. The fact that they’re kids

who are partially saddled with the responsibilities of their father Splinter and trying to

cope with their adolescence and kick ass at the same time we all remember from the

cartoon? That’s the first part of the puzzle, the Teenage in the Mutant Ninja Turtles.

That’s not really present here and the story and the functionality of the characters

suffers for it.

Beyond the densely packed yet still paper thin story, the cast leaves a lot to be

desired. Megan Fox’s over-sincere yet completely hollow performance as April O’Neil

serves to remind why we haven’t seen much of her since “Jennifer’s Body.” William

Fictner phones in a generic evil scientist performance as Sacks that’s nowhere near

as interesting as the real Shredder on the sidelines whose face we never EVER see.

And poor Whoopi Goldberg is a glorified cameo waiting for her check and her next

substantive project.

What saves “Turtles” from being a waste of time, then? Well, the Turtles

themselves. Even if it’s hard to tell that they’re teenagers, they’ve got distinctive looks

and personality to spare, particularly Donatello and Mikey. Though for most kids in the

audience, fan favorite may wind up being the red one Raphael, the brooding renegade

bruiser of the bunch. He gets the most screen time and action set pieces, and Alan

Ritchson gets some mileage out of the Batman shtick for a while. The action is also

well choreographed and shot, utilizing some great mo-cap work on both Splinter and

the Turtles. An a cappella music elevator scene near the end of the film is a highlight,

a pure piece of popcorn fun and personality, and I wish the film had more of that.

Other than that, “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” is as disposable an August

release as it looked in its trailer, a lazy kid-oriented action flick that confuses

complicated with deep. You’ve seen a million movies like it in the past, and you’ll still

have air conditioning in your house once it’s doomed to rotation on HBO sometime

next year.

The film opens tomorrow, August 8, nationwide.

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