Review: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Last Updated on August 2, 2021

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PLOT: With New York City in a panic due to the evil activities of The Foot Clan, reporter April O’Neil (Megan Fox) risks her career and her life to discover the identities of a masked foursome who may be the city’s only hope: the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles!

REVIEW: If you’re between the ages of 25 and 35, it’s pretty much a given that you grew up playing with Ninja Turtles. For awhile – in the late-eighties/early-nineties – they were everywhere. There were the toys, the cartoon show, the comics, the movies, heck, the even had they own rock tour (the “coming out of our shells” tour). Now, Turtle Power is back and mixed in with a healthy dose of Michael Bay-hem to bring the franchise to the kids of the generation who originally grew up with the toys. Cowabunga?

Yeah, not so much. Fact is, TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES is a tough movie to review. Sure, the original Jim Henson-assisted movies had their charm, but take away the nostalgia, and are any of them good movies? They were made to sell toys, and the same goes for this. People who like the TRANSFORMERS films will no doubt flock to see this, as it’s pretty much the same movie, only replace the robots with wisecracking Ninja Turtles. They’re pretty much interchangeable, although at least TMNT doesn’t clock in at nearly three hours (instead running a more manageable two).

While Bay didn’t direct this (with BATTLE: LOS ANGELES’ Jonathan Liebesman at the helm), it still has his fingerprints all over it. The franchise has been given a heavy dose of PG-13 level testosterone, with this being a way more violent take on the Turtles than you’d expect. Instead of being ninjas, the Foot Clan are now two-dimensional paramilitary types, packing heavy duty firepower (although luckily shells are bulletproof here). The Shredder himself is a blade-shooting behemoth, looking almost exactly like the Silver Samurai from last year’s THE WOLVERINE. But hey, that was a whole year ago. Who remembers that?

The Turtles themselves have survived the move into the 21st century relatively intact. No, they’re not aliens. Their origin is relatively close to what it was in the old movies/TV show, given a bit of a high-tech bio-research spin. Their personalities are like they were on the show, with Leonardo (voiced by a surprisingly low-key Johnny Knoxville) being the serious leader, Donatello the brainy one (here he’s a hacker, and wears hipster glasses that are taped up in the middle), Raphael the rebel (with a pair of wrap-around shades perched on his head just so you know he’s cool), and Michelangelo the funny one. Considering how awful some of the TRANSFORMERS sounded, the Turtles aren’t too annoying. Even the pop-culture referencing Michelangelo is fine, with him even having a funny line about the LOST finale.

Of course, the CGI is great, with them getting a nice 21st Century overhaul we never could have imagined watching the charmingly antiquated flicks from twenty-five years ago. As for Splinter, he looks remarkably close to how he did in the cartoons. Everything looks pretty real, although it feels like they made a huge mistake taking so long to introduce the Turtles, with us only really getting a good look at them after about a half-hour, and then only really figuring into the plot forty-five minutes in.

Until then, Megan Fox is in the lead, as Turtles ally April O’Neil. Wearing the classic yellow jacket, Fox is so-so, with her not being done any favours by having to handle so much dull exposition. Still, Fox looks great and is a bit more natural than she was back in her TRANSFORMERS days. Typical for a Bay production, there’s lots of goofy comic relief from respected character actors, with ARRESTED: DEVELOPMENT’s Will Arnett as April’s loyal, wisecracking cameraman, and Whoopi Goldberg (in a few brief bits) her newsroom boss. William Fichtner plays the typical Bay-businessman who shouldn’t be trusted.

Kids will probably like this new version of the TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES, but you can’t help but wonder where all the charm went. This feels so slick and overproduced, a feeling which is not soothed by another Bay trademark, which is copious product placement (including Bay’s favorite – Victoria’s Secret) with one really awful example being a scene where Splinter not only holds up a Pizza Hut pie to test his pupils, but even starts talking about how it’s an all-new recipe, and then lists off the ingredients! I know they love pizza, but come on!

Again, the TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES are probably critic proof, and the kids who flock to see TRANSFORMERS will almost certainly like this too. While it’s not quite as bad as TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION, it’s still a pretty soulless piece of eye candy.


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About the Author

Chris Bumbray began his career with JoBlo as the resident film critic (and James Bond expert) way back in 2007, and he has stuck around ever since, being named editor-in-chief in 2021. A voting member of the CCA and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic, you can also catch Chris discussing pop culture regularly on CTV News Channel.