Reviews and entertainment articles by Dave Simpson
Finally, the newest big screen incarnation of the heroes in a half shell has arrived in cinemas on this side of the Atlantic. I’ve been anticipating this live-action reboot for a long time and while it probably won’t win any major awards, it is a whole lot of fun. Fast paced and action packed from start to finish, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is heavy on the thrills and consistently entertaining throughout.
The plot is fairly simplistic. New York City is being terrorised by the Foot Clan, led by the mysterious Shredder. Ambitious reporter April O’Neil is anxious to get the scoop on the Foot story and unwittingly crosses paths with four mutant vigilantes in the process. Together they must uncover the Shredder’s diabolical scheme and save the citizens of New York from annihilation.
Exciting action set pieces are in no short supply here. Highlights include the much promoted mountain chase sequence and some adrenaline fueled face offs with Shredder, one of which pays a nice homage to both the original comic and movie by taking place on a roof top.
The only criticism I would make about the action is that it can be a little bit too CGI heavy at times. For the most part, the special effects are impressive and the mutant characters do appear largely photo realistic when interacting with flesh and blood actors. However, during sequences that don’t involve a lot of human interaction, things can appear more like a cartoon than live-action. It’s not a huge issue though, the action manages to be exhilarating enough to get past it.
There are a few twists and turns along the way as we get a reimagining of the origins of the Turtles and Splinter. It’s something that’s bound to prove divisive among long time fans, but what matters most is that the essence of the titular characters is still very much intact.
The filmmakers seemed to work under the assumption that the viewers will already know who each of the Turtles are as individuals rather than explore what makes them who they are. The movie doesn’t give a whole lot of development to the four main characters as a result, but that doesn’t mean they’re devoid of personality.
What sells this movie more than anything else is the fact that the Turtles themselves feel familiar. The spirits of the four characters that we know and love are unmistakably alive and well in these new incarnations. Leonardo still leads, Donatello still does machines, Raphael is still cool but rude and Michelangelo is still a party dude.
Each Turtle gets their moment to shine, but some steal the spotlight more than others. Raph seems to get the most focus of the four throughout, which unfortunately draws attention away from Leo being the leader at times. Mikey, of course, gets most of the comedic one liners and more often than not his quips and antics are genuinely funny. Donny probably gets the least amount of focus out of the four, which I found disappointing because he’s always been my personal favourite. That being said, he does still have his moments too, one fun example being when he tells Raph to “allow [him] to be the badass for once.”
Thanks to the magic of CGI, Splinter is able to get in on the action a lot more, showing off his Ninja prowess and asserting his dominance over his four adoptive sons despite being only half their size. His physical appearance is a little creepy and his voice regrettably lacks the characteristic Japanese inflection, but the essence of his character is also still very much there.
Naturally, April O’Neil is the human character who is most involved in the plot and the one who receives the most amount of development. While there was a lot of backlash when Megan Fox was cast in the role, I really can’t fault her performance here. Fox plays the part well and April comes across as quite likable.
Will Arnett is charming as ever as Channel 6 cameraman and sidekick to April, Vern Fenwick. Despite serving as something of a comic relief, Arnett manages to endow Vern with a sense of experience and realism, differentiating him from his bumbling cartoon counterpart.
William Fichtner gives a fine performance as Eric Sacks but it’s a role that seems to run its course very quickly. This is probably owed to the fact that Sacks is rumoured to originally have been a more familiar character before script changes. Whether those rumours are true or not, the version of Sacks that exists in the film seems like it would have been better served retooled as an established character such as Baxter Stockman.
Shredder’s first onscreen appearance is a suitably formidable introduction, setting him up as someone not to be messed with, armour or no armour. However, he is not met with a whole lot of development. While he is menacing as the big bad of the piece, being involved in some of the movie’s best sequences, as a character he would have benefited from a lot more fleshing out.
Karai, another villainous individual with whom those well versed in TMNT lore will be familiar, makes her live-action debut here. Unfortunately she too is very underdeveloped and is left feeling more like a nod to fans than an actual character.
Despite the lack of character development in certain areas, all of the ingredients of a good Turtles movie are present here. One thing that this reboot certainly does is create an enormous amount of potential for a great movie franchise. Some elements of the mythology may have been reimagined and there might not be a whole lot of depth to the plot, but it definitely has that familiar TMNT spirit.
As a whole, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is packed full of thrills and laughs. It showcases some solid action and maintains momentum from beginning to end. The lead actors – human, voice and motion capture alike – give admirable and engaging performances. Overall, this lighthearted and winsome live-action reboot makes for a very fun and enjoyable movie going experience.
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