Heroes in a Half-shell (TMNT movie review)

TMNTI went into the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie with cautious optimism and without the debilitating hatred of Michael Bay that some people seem to suffer from. I came out feeling okay about the movie. I was disappointed that it didn’t really exceed my expectations but at the same time I felt there were some good things about the film.

Generally speaking, the film at least filled up by bare minimum of elements of enjoyment. I felt the Turtles personalities were well represented. I felt there was more than enough action to keep me awake. I also felt that the back-story of the Turtles and April was handled surprisingly well. I also felt the movie had a good blend of comedy and even some nice in-jokes for Turtles fans to enjoy. However, there were a lot of nit-picks I had about the film.

April clearly got a lot of exposure up front and I liked the fact that the story of the film made her an incremental part of it. I did feel that April’s back-story over-shadowed the Turtles a little bit at the beginning, but it all came back around nicely. However, by the finale, she was pretty much useless and I felt this was the film’s biggest failure. I have nothing against Megan Fox, but I honestly wish they would have picked a more versatile actress to portray April, preferably one who could have held her own better against the very dominant personalities of the Turtles. Her relationship with Verne in the film was also a bit of a mixed bag. There were moments where Verne acts as a kind of wise-ass father-figure but then also unabashedly hits on April, making him seem unnecessarily pervy. I’m impressed Verne was in the film at all and I think Will Arnett’s performance was great. I just feel the character was a little mixed up.

As for the Turtles themselves, as already mentioned above, I liked that the film actually distinguished their personalities well. This is something I felt previous live-action TMNT movies didn’t always do so well. Having said that, I felt Leo and Don got sidelined in favour of Mikey and Raph. Michelangelo got more screen-time and way more dialogue than anyone. Understandably he’s the comic relief, but I felt Leo and Don would have deserved proper highlight moments. Conversely, I really loved the scenes of the Turtles in their youth and I almost feel these should have been seen in at the film’s opening, rather than half-way through the movie. Still, this and the new elements of the Turtles’ origin story was quite interesting.

The comedy was also much appreciated, although I felt that it drifted between genuinely hilarious, kinda funny, lukewarm and occasionally cringe-worthy. I felt the movie maybe tried to be funny in places where it didn’t need to. And again, any comical scene involving April kind of fell flat because of her lack of comedic timing. Still, I appreciate the effort and without the gags the movie would have turned out much less enjoyable.

Splinter was easily the film’s best conceived character, without question. Conversely, I felt the movie cheated us with Shredder. The actor playing him seemed extremely good, he even delivers large chunks of his dialogue in Japanese, which I felt was a bold choice. However, as soon as he dons his robotic Shredder suit, we lose the human element and Shredder becomes a wholly CG creation. This led to another problem I had with the film which I’ll cover as well, but I just wish we could have seen more of the real Shredder. It also felt a little odd how utterly useless the Turtles were against Shredder. Only, Splinter puts up a decent fight against him and I think this made the finale a little one-sided. Of course, it leads to a moment where the Turtles had to pull together, but a more focused confrontation would have pleased me more.

Like I said, there was a lot of action, although a lot of annoying camera-shaking as well. This movie sadly follows a lot of annoying modern action-movie tropes and they’re just something you’ll have to accept when watching the film. The biggest thing holding me back though, ironically was the fact that the movie was supposedly live action. There were several moments during the fights with Shredder where I got the sensation that the movie would have been better off being 100% animation. Why? Because even though Michael Bay didn’t direct the film, it clearly suffers from the “Transformers syndrome”, meaning that I never honestly felt that the humans and the Turtles were in the same space together. There was a distinct lack of physical interaction with the Turtles stomping frantically around the humans. I got used to the art-direction on the CG very quickly, but every time I saw a human face I got taken out of the experience. If physical humans and CG creatures barely ever interact in the film, one or the other is really not necessary.

In summation, I think TMNT had some really good ideas, including at least one plot-twist that wasn’t thankfully spoiled in the film’s trailer. It has comedy, action and I do think the Turtles play off each other well. Everything else though is a little bit of a hodge-podge of elements that don’t quite gel together. I hate to say that the film is just middle-of-the-road popcorn fair, but that’s about as accurate as I can get. If you like TMNT, you’ll either love it or hate it. As an average movie-goer, you may not get much out of it.

Rating: 2½ out of 5

  • +½ Mikey
  • +½ Will Arnett
  • +½ Splinter
  • +½ The back-story of the Turtles
  • +½ The Comedy
  • -½ The Comedy
  • -½ Camera Shake
  • -½ Megan Fox
  • -½ CG Shredder
  • -½ “Transformers syndrome”