Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a perfectly competent action movie, and one that won’t ruin childhood memories of the heroes in a half-shell. That said, it doesn’t quite get everything right and misses a number of opportunities to take the series to the next level.
What the film does get right however is the relationship between the four turtles-turned-ninjas. Named after Renaissance artists, Leonardo, Raphael, Donatello and Michelangelo are brought to life through special effects and convincing motion capture. They are visually distinct and, more importantly, their personalities and keen sense of family shine through – Leo is the leader, Raphael is rebellious, Donatello is the techno-wizard and Mikey loves pizza. In short, these are the turtles you remember, and the film’s best moments are those when they’re on screen together.
It’s such a shame then that the film spends a lot of time following around Megan Fox, who brings very little to the character of April O’Neil aside from looks. April is a reporter who learns of the existence of the Turtles and discovers that they’re engaged in an underground war with a murderous gang called The Foot. Together with her cameraman Vern Fenwick (Will Arnett at his smarmy, hilarious and slightly creepy best), April is pulled into the Turtles’ world and realises that she has a deep, personal connection to them and their ‘father’, a mutant rat called Master Splinter.
The Foot is led by The Shredder, a ninja master in a mechanised suit. Shredder is a dangerous foe and has a number of electrifying encounters with the Turtles, but the character is seriously underwritten. Shredder has a rich history and deep backstory worthy of the best villains in the business, but here he’s given few lines and only serves to look flashy in fight scenes with the Turtles while William Fichtner’s Eric Sacks faces down April. I’m still firmly of the belief that there’s a live-action adaption of The Shredder on par with the likes of Darth Vader and The Joker, but we haven’t seen it yet.
The saving grace of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is that it nails its key component – The Turtles are brimming with character and chemistry. The humour mostly works, the pace is lightning-quick and the action, particularly an escape amidst a snowy avalanche, is fun and exciting. It’s not quite a ‘Cowabunga!’ but it’s a decent start that doesn’t ruin the Turtles’ legacy, with plenty of scope for the confirmed sequel to build on.