Even before this version of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was made, a lot of hate was lobbed at the film project. Fans were outraged when an earlier script altered the Turtles origins and made them aliens, and the attachment of producer Michael Bay was reason enough for many to give up on this new movie in the early stage of its creation. When it was announced that Megan Fox was cast as savvy reporter April O’Neil, the Turtles’ new designs were revealed to the public, and a first trailer seemed to change the background of series’ villain the Shredder, the anguished outcries of fans began again and wouldn’t stop until the movie’s release. Now it seems that all the anger that was flung in the general direction of this year’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was entirely misplaced, as were many fans’ fears: the Jonathan Liebesman-directed Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a definite good time at the movies and, additionally, it’s a film that’s lovingly true to the 1987 animated series and the current cartoon.
The movie’s premise is simple. New York City is under attack from the violent Foot Clan, but sassy reporter April O’Neil is determined to find out more about the motivation and acts of these armed forces. This search leads her to find out about four vigilantes who battle the Foot at every turn, and also leads her to discover more about her own past. It’s a lean and functional narrative that doesn’t win any accolades for originality, but keeps things moving at all times. The personalities of all the film’s characters are established early on and never change throughout the movie, which gives it a clear-cut Saturday-morning cartoon feel. This simplicity is also the reason why Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is never dull, never self-serious and why it moves swiftly from one set piece to the next without being bogged down by unnecessary plot lines, characters developments or farfetched twists. With Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles what you see is what you get: a straightforward romp that has no other goals than simply to entertain.
It’s also clear that the movie’s creators have a love for all things Turtles: there are nods to their various incarnations throughout the film and all the series’ mainstays are present here. What’s most important though, is that Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles absolutely nails its four main characters. If you know anything about these characters, you’ll immediately feel at home with the movie’s representations of Leonardo, Raphael, Michelangelo and Donatello. Leo is the stoic leader, Ralph the hothead, Mikey the enthusiastic jokester and Donnie the nerdy tech genius. There’s very little to the Turtles other than these characteristics, but it’s always been that way and, as goes for most of the movie, this simplicity actually enriches the experience. Johnny Knoxville, Alan Ritchson, Noel Fischer and Jeremy Howard really nail the personalities of their respective Turtles and their banter and dynamic is an absolute joy to watch. The CGI is also very successful at selling you on these creatures and their master Splinter, which is obviously crucial to the success of the movie. The effects couple with the acting make sure you’re immersed in the film, and because of that the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ action scenes are also captivating. While these scenes rely heavily on special effects and computer animation, they’re gorgeously choreographed, brutal and thrilling.
Megan Fox meanwhile does make the character of April O’Neil her own and she’s a likeable conduit into the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle world. Fox brings the character’s determination, her wit and also lends a necessary bit of cheesiness to her performance, which works well for a film about four talking and fighting turtles. Unfortunately her work in the more emotional scenes, of which there are few, isn’t quite as convincing, but otherwise she does absolutely fine with the role. Will Arnett is also fun to watch as her bumbling and vain sidekick/cameraman Vern Fenwick, but William Fichtner delivers the best live-action performance as Eric Sachs. While we’ve certainly seen many similar characters and performances from him, Fichtner draws you in whenever he’s on screen and oozes equal parts charisma and coldbloodedness. He simply is a joy to watch and even though his Sachs only paves the way for the intimidating Shredder, the real villain of the piece, Fichtner finds a way to make his character interesting through his acting.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is unadulterated entertainment. It’s a cartoonish and fast-moving adventure with solid action, funny banter and four immensely likeable reptiles at its center. 8/10