REVIEW WRITTEN BY NATHAN LERNER
For 21st Century Media
In the pantheon of comic book characters, who are the most unlikely superheroes? It would be tough to top entities, who were born as turtles, then genetically modified to become crime-fighters.
Despite their strange pedigree, “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” have been wildly successful in their various permutations. After commencing in comic book form in 1984, the characters spawned several iterations of television shows. Collectively, these lasted over the course of a decade.
In 1990, the first of three live-action films with the adolescent turtles was released. They featured live action actors, adorned with animatronic heads. The latter were created by Jim Henson’s Creature Shop. After Nicklelodeon purchased the rights to the property, a fourth film, titled, “TMNT” was released in 2007. It was a fully CGI affair.
After a hiatus of seven years, the characters are the subject of a new 3D reboot. For those unfamiliar with the whole phenomenon, the new “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” has a prologue. It provides viewers with a somewhat revised origin story.
Four turtles and a rat are subjects in a genetics lab in New York. They have been injected with an experimental serum, developed by a scientist/venture capitalist, Dr. Eric Sachs (William Fichtner). One day, a suspicious fire breaks out in the facility. A young girl, April O’Neil (Malina Weisman), intervenes and shepherds the lab specimens to safety.
Here is where the willful suspension of disbelief is required. As a result of the serum, the rat and turtles grow into upright, anthropomorphized characters, who are over six feet tall. The rat, Splinter (voiced by Tony Shalhoub), is somehow transformed into a martial arts sensei. He becomes the adoptive father of the turtles and instructs them in the art of Japanese ninjitsu.
Each of the four turtles is named after a Renaissance artist and has a somewhat distinct persona. However, if you want to keep them straight, you better memorize the color of their respective masks. Leonardo (voiced by Johnny Knoxville) is the most dominant of the quartet and often barks orders at his siblings. He wears a blue mask and wields a pair of elongated, razor-sharp swords. Michelangelo (voiced by Noel Fisher) is the pizza-loving jokester of the group and is a font of quips. He sports an orange mask and has a pair of nunchakus as his weapon of choice. Raphael (voiced by Alan Ritchson) is the most aggressive of the group. He wears a dark red mask and uses a pair of sai, pointed, prong-shaped metal batons, which have two curved prongs, emanating from the handle. Donatello (voiced by Jeremy Howard) is the brainiac of the crew. Adorned with a purple mask, he prefers to use his knowledge of computers and other technical skills to resolve problems.
What are superheroes without an arch-villain?
Splinter and the boys battle Shredder (voiced by Tohoru Masamune) and his nefarious Foot Clan. The crime cartel leader wears a ninth-century Japanese samurai armor, which has been customized with high-tech, mechanized features. Splinter aspires to bring the residents of New York to their knees and subordinate them to his will.
In the film’s version of the story, April O’Neil (Megan Fox) has grown up and become a curvaceous reporter for a local television station. She harbors ambitions of investigating serious news stories. Alas, assignments editor, Bernadette Thompson (Whoopi Goldberg), has relegated April and her cameraman, Vernon Fenwick (Will Arnett) to covering the fluffiest of assignments.
The story line provides April with an opportunity to reunite with the creatures she once saved. It also gives her a behind the scenes perspective on the goings on.
Along the way, there are some disconcerting moments as the turtles flirt with April. Particularly wince-worthy is the moment, when Michelangelo calls possessory dibs on April. Dude — she’s a human being and, despite the fact that you can talk smack, you are still a turtle. Deal with it!
The casting of Megan Fox as the principal human character is noteworthy. Once upon a time, Fox was the female lead, opposite Shia LeBeouf, in the “Transformers” franchise. However, in a highly publicized interview, Fox made an intemperate remark. She criticized Michael Bay, the franchise’s director/producer, for his supposedly dictatorial on-set manner. Fox compared Bay, who is Jewish, to Hitler. This resulted in her prompt firing. Despite their contentious history, Bay, in his capacity as producer of the film, approved the casting of Fox in “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.”
Jonathan Liebesman is a logical choice to direct, “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.” He previously helmed genre fare, “Battle Los Angeles” and “Clash of the Titans” Liebesman does an effective job of merging the VFX technology with conventional live action. Through the bulk of “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” the story line displays some modicum of restraint. However, the last 20 minutes of the film devolves into hyperfrenetic overdrive, dominated by non-stop cartoon violence.
“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” doesn’t break any new ground narratively. However, the reboot provides a new generation of kids with their very own version of this long-lasting cultural meme.
“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”
** ½ PG-13 (for sci-fi action violence) 101 minutes
Nathan Lerner welcomes feedback at email@example.com