Get uncomfortable with the new Ninja Turtles

A muddy, grim reboot of the ’80s kids franchise about giant reptilian teenagers obsessed with pizza and kicking butts.

Teenage-Mutant-Ninja-Turtles-Trailer-Michaelangelo-700x333 (540x333)

As a little kid, I was completely obsessed with the Ninja Turtles. There exist audio recordings of me re-enacting the trailer of the second film to the amusement / bemusement of my grandparents; there is an enormous box of action figures sitting somewhere in my parents’ house, ostensibly so that my children can enjoy a thing that will be resolutely uncool by the time they come into being. I loved it deeply, and yet I remember almost nothing of it. I have no loyalty to the Ninja Turtles in the way that people still feel compelled to watch Star Wars movies and repetitive reboots of the Spider-man origin story out of a misplaced sense of nostalgia. My only nostalgia comes from my action figures, disconnected as they are from an overall narrative or sense of character. I like the stories I made up better than the stories they made up, and I definitely made up better ones than this most recent Michael Bay-bred reboot.

April O’Neill (Megan Fox) is a reporter assigned to generic fluff pieces about trampolines and the like alongside a cameraman (Will Arnett, mostly looking uncomfortable) who harbours a more-than-obvious crush on her; she dreams of being a real investigative journalist but her boss (Whoopi Goldberg, for whatever reason) doesn’t believe that she has what it takes. That’s poised to change when O’Neill stumbles upon a mysterious vigilante dispatching members of the fearsome Foot Clan; she tracks down said vigilante only to find that there’s actually four of them, and they’re giant mutated turtles who have been trained in the art of ninja. With their help, she tracks the origins of the Foot Clan to billionaire industrialist Eric Sacks (William Fichtner, doing a commendable but unnecessary Christopher Walken impression throughout), who has nefarious plans for New York City, and a seven-foot, robot-suit-wearing henchman to help him lay them out.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is yet another muddy, vaguely grim attempt at bringing silly comic-book premises into the real world — this time, however, it’s aimed squarely at the pre-pubescent bracket. In a sense, it’s like a primer to prepare your children to eventually watch the Nolan Batman movies by easing them in through fart jokes, references to jedis and beatboxing. It’s not that surprising that this new film is pitched at a young audience; after all, they’re the ones buying the action figures. What’s dispiriting is how it manages to be both incredibly boring and tonitruous, a whirlwind of eye-searing chaos that’s not likely to be enjoyed by anyone not currently hovering from the rapid intake of a 72 oz bucket of Coke.

The original Turtles movie, 1990
The original Turtles movie, 1990

Director Jonathan Liebsman is probably best known for his chaotic hand-held action films Battle: Los Angeles and Wrath of the Titans, and he brings that same disorienting, barely followable style to the Turtles, resulting in action scenes that verge on abstract nonsense punctuated with one-liners. For all of his thrashing and flailing about, Liebsman’s approach to the material is very workmanlike and barebones. It’s as if he never quite grasps the inherent stupidity in a feature-length movie about giant reptilian teenagers obsessed with pizza and kicking butts.

The original TMNT films weren’t great by any stretch of the imagination, but at least you had the sense that everyone knew what they were in for. The main concern here is to make sure that the film pauses every 15 minutes or so and that a giant CGI thing fights another CGI thing for a while.

Thinly plotted, visually aggressive and chaotically directed, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is only really a disappointment because of the aforementioned dubious nostalgia that seems to cling to it. The truth is that the Ninja Turtles are a dumb concept that can only be fully realized by adhering to the stupidity of said concept, but admitting that something is silly doesn’t sell toys. We have only ourselves to blame for this one. ■

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is in theatres now