From the moment it was announced, there was much speculation surrounding Michael Bay’s big screen take on the turtles.
‘It’s going to be like Transformers, only worse!’, people cried. ‘They’ve got nostrils!’, fans wept. ‘Megan Fox!’, everyone pondered, scratching their heads in confusion. ‘Didn’t she compare to Michael Bay to Hitler?’
A year or so down the line and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is finally in cinemas. The verdict? Well, despite the fact that it was actually directed by Jonathan Liebesman (Wrath of the Titans), this shiny, CGI-stuffed caper feels a lot like a Bay vehicle – only even more dumbed-down and brightly-coloured. In fact, it’s kind of like Transformers. Only worse.
The unsuspecting human prop at the heart of this story is April O’Neill (Megan Fox), a wannabe investigative journalist who is constantly relegated to fluff pieces showcasing her eerily immaculate looks. Luckily for April, one night she happens to chance upon New York’s evil Foot Clan, hanging around long enough to witness a suspiciously non-human-shaped vigilante taking them out.
April soon stumbles on the truth: that New York’s mysterious saviours are a bunch of sewer-dwelling mutated turtles who love pizza, are trained in martial arts and, of course, are all named after Renaissance painters. It’s not long before April realizes the depth of her connection to the turtles and is helping them to take down the Foot Clan’s evil leader Shredder before he can take control of the city once and for all.
This is a children’s film, yes. We all know this. It would be unreasonable to walk into TMNT expecting anything resembling subtext. But, unlike so many other kids films of recent years, Liebesman’s makes no real attempts to pander to the adults in the audience – with the exception of a severely watered down sidekick turn by Will Arnett.
In fact, TMNT is a film so relentlessly simplistic, bloodless and full of easy resolutions that you might wonder how such a film was expected to appeal to a generation of youngsters fed and watered on vampires and werewolves.
In its worst moments, the script blunders into the most grating of clichés; at one point, the key villain – already wealthy enough to own his own sprawling mansion complex – explains his dubious reasons for involving himself in this criminal enterprise, claiming that he’ll be “like, stupid rich” (cool motivation bro).
When the dialogue isn’t giving you a headache from all the eye-rolling, it’s the chaotically disjointed action that’s making you wince. Characters such as April’s hard-ass newspaper editor (Whoopi Goldberg) – who, it seems, exists solely as a foil to April’s early attempts to learn the truth – drop entirely out of the film, never to be seen again.
In place of character development, or even plot development, are extended, incomprehensible action sequences constructed around making as many objects as possible fly directly at the screen, all while the four horrifying CGI turtle creatures make quips about pizza.
Maybe I’m being too harsh. Because when all is said and done, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is actually sort of enjoyable in a colourful, plasticky way. If you can get past the fact that it is simplistic to the point of condescending, you might just be able to accept it as a harmless, forgettable piece of brightly-coloured fluff.
TMNT is cinema’s equivalent of a ball pit, inviting us to jump in and clatter around until we get bored, tired and suspicious that a nearby child might urinate on us.
Released in UK cinemas on Friday 17 October 2014.