'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles' review: Reboot could have used more Michael Bay

Rating

2.5 Stars2.5/5

Steve Tilley, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:32 AM ET

I never thought I’d say these words, but here they are: I wish there was more Michael Bay in this movie.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, a cinematic reboot of the long-running comic book/TV/movie/toy franchise, could have been a pop culture travesty, stomping on fans’ love for these tenacious terrapins. Instead, it commits a lesser but equally unforgiveable sin: it’s really kind of boring.

Directed by Jonathan Liebesman (Battle: Los Angeles) and produced by Bay (the auteur of the Transformers franchise), Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles aims to reintroduce us to Leonardo, Michelangelo, Donatello and Raphael, the heroes in a half shell who were born in an indie comic book and went on to dominate movies, merchandise and Saturday morning cartoons in the ’90s.

In this origin story bumped into the current day, TV news reporter April O’Neil (Megan Fox) is tired of doing fluff pieces (the irony, it burns!) for her station. Dragging her smitten cameraman (Will Arnett) along for the ride, she takes it upon herself to investigate a mysterious group of vigilantes fighting back against the Foot Clan, a criminal ring terrorizing New York City.

Lo and behold, the vigilantes turn out to be a group of, well, teenage mutant ninja turtles. But when an evil tycoon (William Fichtner) teams up with the turtles’ nemesis Shredder (Tohoru Masamune) to unleash a toxic cloud over Manhattan, the heroes need to grow up quickly and work together to save the day.

Unlike the animatronic costumes of the ’90s films, these rebooted turtles are entirely computer-generated, yet surprisingly convincing. And a lot of what made the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles such a hit in their heyday survives intact: Leonardo (voiced by Johnny Knoxville) is the gruff leader, Michelangelo (Noel Fisher) is the horny jokester, Donatello (Jeremy Howard) is the tech nerd and Raphael (Alan Ritchson) is the misunderstood muscle. They eat pizza, they crack wise, they’re skilled in battle and they drive their sensei, the six-foot-tall rat Splinter (voiced by Tony Shalhoub), crazy. That alone might enough to satisfy many fans.

The handful of set piece action scenes, including a vehicle chase down the side of what must be a newly formed Mount Everest in upstate New York, are well choreographed and a lot of fun. And while April as a character could have been so much better written, this is not the worst work that Megan Fox has done, even if it’s tough sometimes to stop staring at her surgically stretched-out face.

Still, every minute the turtles aren’t on screen seems to drag on forever. There’s not a lot about the movie that’s overtly horrible, but the jokes fall flat, the plot is mind-numbingly generic (with a climax that feels borrowed from The Amazing Spider-Man) and the talents of Arnett and Fichtner are wasted. Similar barbs could be aimed at the Transformers movies, but Bay blasts so much unrelenting action at the screen in those films that people seem to overlook everything else.

The quality bar for comic book hero movies is way too high for something like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to coast by on nostalgia alone, even if the turtles themselves do kick a considerable amount of butt. I look forward to the inevitable home video fan edit that removes all the human actors and leaves only the much more relatable computer-generated critters. Or maybe a sequel directed by – gasp – Bay himself.

Twitter: @stevetilley

steve.tilley@sunmedia.ca

 


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