When adapting source material that is primarily aimed at children, you have to be careful that you don’t make it too “silly.” It still has to appeal to a wider audience, especially a source material that people of the ages between 25 and 30 may have grown-up with as well.
When your source material is about four, mutated, teenage turtles that know martial arts well enough to be ninjas, there will always be an element of silly but there is a fine line to walk. Unfortunately for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, their latest movie has been released at a time when audiences are used to their silly being taken quite seriously.
People may argue the point but the Turtles are superheroes, or at least, their latest movie is essentially a superhero film. It has a big bad guy, a damsel in distress, an evil plan with an awful outcome and heroes with “powers” (in this case, the skills of ninjas and bullet-proof shells). Audiences are used to their superhero movies being taken more seriously. The heroes need to have some flaws, their villains need to be three-dimensional, proper characters and the stakes need to be much cleverer than what we get in this movie.
The Turtles themselves are not the issue. They are realised very well and although some have criticised their less than cartoony and cuddly new look, I think it fits really well. They are also the four distinct characters they should be; Leonardo is the righteous leader, though under-used here, Raphael is the headstrong rebel, Donatello the geeky scientist and Michelangelo is the funny, comic relief. In fact, it is Michelangelo, most people’s favourite, that gets adapted best in the movie.
The CGI is very good too and the action sequences are when this is demonstrated best. A whole sequence involving a chase down a snow-mountain is done brilliantly, with stunts and moments that keep you on the edge of your seat. The same for the martial arts battles, especially the one involving Splinter and Shredder.
Shredder is part of the issue though. He is an iconic villain, integral to the Turtles’ story. In this movie, he is a poor Darth Vader, speaking gruffly, barking orders and looking cool in a large suit. His villainous plan, devised by another under-used character, William Fichtner’s Eric Sachs is shallow and poorly written. Deadly virus, wonder cures and the turtles blood is not new and could have been lifted straight from a standard Turtles cartoon episode.
The poor writing is realised best when the Turtles are in peril and need April’s helps. They ask her for a specific medicine and April finds it – because there is a huge button for it on the nearest computer screen. It’s story-telling straight from a cartoon – a bad one.
There is potential here for a solid franchise. Story elements aside, the action is great and the characters of the Turtles are portrayed well on-screen. Megan Fox does a standard job as April O’Neal and is supported well enough by Will Arnett. What this movie needs is a decent villain with a decent motivation.
Overall, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a lazy, rushed version of the brilliant characters that most people will remember. The story is badly written, with lots of lazy elements and easy resolutions. Shredder looks cool but is never the character you properly remember from the original stories. The success is the Turtles themselves, who each feel, sound and (somewhat) look like the heroes from the cartoon.
Rating – 2.5
(1 – Awful, 2 – Average, 3 – Good, 4 – Great, 5! – Must See)