If you seriously go into Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles expecting high art, you really should adjust your expectations. This reboot of the cult franchise is about as generic as summer blockbusters get, but it gets by thanks to the great chemistry among the lead turtles and some very impressive set pieces later on.
Sadly, director Jonathan Liebesman has had problems showing off a distinct or even appealing visual eye in any of his previous films, and this one is no different. The first half of the movie is very ugly, especially the action sequences early on. Sometimes when handheld cameras are used, the framing is very awkward and the fights also become quite difficult to make out. It doesn’t help that Liebesman tries every so often to mimic his mentor Michael Bay (who serves as a producer here) with swooping pans and crane shots to balance out the “shaky cam” look. This reminded me of when Peter Berg tried to do the same thing with his big budget action flick Battleship a few years back. In other words, it doesn’t work.
However, the second half is significantly better than the first half, mostly because of a very impressive set piece that takes place on a snowy mountain later on. Not only is this scene pretty massive in scope (it might even be bigger than the climatic fight), but this scene is also visually striking, something that really threw me off after the pretty muddled visuals that are presented to the audience beforehand.
Staying on the topic of visuals, the character designs for the turtles might seem weird at first, but they actually work and give each turtle their own distinct looks and traits. Also, one of the films villains, Shredder, looks pretty badass with his robotic samurai suit. So, in my opinion, the filmmakers got those set of characters right. However, Splinter looks absolutely disgusting here. I mean, he looks realistic, but that’s mainly why Splinter looks vile. He actually looks like a wet rat, and if I were Megan Fox, I wouldn’t let that thing anywhere near me.
Speaking of Megan Fox, she actually holds her own as the lead here, which is one of the aspects of the movie early on that is was hesitant about. She is presented as a strong, confident woman here (which has become something of a trend nowadays) and is completely different from her character in the Transformers movies. Despite doing a fine job leading the movie, though, her character herself isn’t given much to do, as is the rest of the cast. So, I wouldn’t go in expecting much when it comes to character development. Whoppi Goldberg‘s character and Shredder have it the worst, though.
Thankfully, the chemistry among the four turtles is quite strong and help carry the film to the finish line, so to speak, once they’re involved in the story. Michelangelo has always been my favorite of the bunch, and he’s easily the most enjoyable here as well. But, all the other turtles leave impressions as well. All of the actors seem to be having fun with their roles, which always leads to better performances. But to no surprise, Leonardo, whose motion capture work was done by Pete Ploszek, is the least memorable of the bunch, which is probably because of the lazy voiceover work done by Johnny Knoxville late in the game.
Now, while the film might have some impressive set pieces later on and some strong and entertaining chemistry among the titular characters, the story is nothing original. In fact, it’s probably one of the more cliched plots that I’ve seen in a summer blockbuster in quite some time. Granted, most people probably don’t go into a movie like this expecting a complex and intelligent script, but they couldn’t have put just a little more effort into the writing? Also, the “race against time” plot device that this film utilizes towards the end always pisses me off whenever it’s used in a movie, so I didn’t like that the movie ended with this.
When it’s all said and done, this modern-day re-imagining of the Ninja Turtles isn’t the atrocity that many of you assumed it would be. Yes, it’s a very messy film when you look it from all different angles, but it’s also a lot of fun. It’s not only funny and entertaining, but it also delivers a strong female lead performance when many assumed it’d be quite the opposite. As long as Liebesman (assuming he returns for the next one) works on improving his own visual style instead of trying to replicate others and there’s a better script at hand, this updated Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle franchise might become a guilty pleasure for me. It just might.