Some twenty-four years after the first live-action treatment of Eastman and Laird’s “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” Nickelodeon Movies and Paramount have rebooted the franchise.
Originally conceived as parody, “TMNT” has become a marketing giant, though in a different way than other comic book fare like Marvel or DC heroes.
A lot has changed between this incarnation of the shelled sewer-dwellers and the 1990 live-action film. Their origin is different. Their relationship with journalist April O’Neil (Megan Fox) is deeper. And they’re bigger and stronger.
This film is also a bit darker than the earlier film. Along side the darker feel, the action is faster and more violent.
April is desperate to break a real story. She is usually relegated to fluff pieces and feels that despite her skills and education she is failing to have the impact she’d hoped. Her partner and camera operator Vernon Fenwick (Will Arnett) tries to make her see value in what she’s doing, but fails.
At the docks, hoping to follow up on a lead regarding some chemicals stolen earlier, April witnesses a Foot Clan operation. Trying to document the theft, she sneaks into the docks. Before she can get any evidence the Foot are attacked from the shadows. One by one the Foot are taken out and April realizes there is a vigilante operating in New York City.
Elsewhere, the leader of the foiled operation Karai (Minae Noji) watches as her tied up boss defeats one of her men. Her boss is The Shredder and he is disappointed in the skill of her Soldiers. Karai reports that the vigilantes aren’t human.
Given the rise in Foot Clan crime, the NYPD signs a contract with William Sacks (William Fichtner) and his company for help turning the tide. Telling a story about how his own laboratory was attacked, Sacks promises to help the city against the Foot Clan.
Watching the speech, April is inspired and approaches Sacks as he is leaving. Her father worked for Sacks when he was killed and Sacks remembers her, praising her TV appearances.
The turtles are still hiding under the orders of their rat sensei Splinter (played by Danny Woodburn and voiced by Tony Salhoub) to stay out of sight. Tempted by the criminal activities of the Foot Clan, the turtles disobey this rule regularly until they are finally caught on camera by April.
The turtles capture April and wipe the photos from her phone but fail to disappear before she captures other pictures and she learns their names. Leonardo (Pete Plozek and voiced by Johnny Knoxville), Raphael (Alan Ritchson), Donatello (Jeremy Howard) and Michelangelo (Noel Fisher). The names spark a memory and April rushes back to her apartment to go through some old papers and movies.
Convinced that these are the turtles from her father’s experiments, she brings the story to her boss Bernadette Thompson (Whoopi Goldberg) who fires April on the spot. The turtles return to the sewers and their exploits are discovered by Splinter. Knowing that the knowledge of their existence puts April in danger, the turtles are sent to collect her and keep her safe.
With nowhere else to turn, April goes to the mansion of William Sacks with her evidence that the turtles survived the fire that destroyed her father’s work. Sacks details the important work that the turtles represent, saying the mutagen they carry could make everyone immune to poison gases, as an example.
April leaves and is found by the turtles. Taken to their lair, she meets splinter and realizes that she’s forgotten much of what happened the night her father died, but the Foot Clan are closing in and their plot will put the entire city at risk.
“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” feels formulaic and predictable. For all the action and graphics, the story falls short of being all that interesting. The evil plot feels like it was pulled straight from an old Batman movie with some extra greed thrown in to give it a spin. Otherwise there really isn’t anything creative there.
The film is an exhibition. It shows just how slick these characters can appear now with new graphics capabilities. Of course the end effect is similar to “Annoying Orange” with a bit of polish, so I don’t know how slick the results really are.
Still, my seven-year-old son was impressed. Without previous exposure to TMNT, the turtles are now high on his list of the coolest things ever, so I guess the marketing engine will continue to roll.