Anyone who was a kid around the time the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles first became popular has to be excited about TMNT. The Turtles represent everything that’s good about the inner child most men have lurking deep down inside them (kept right next to our secret desire to possess our very own robot pal), and having them back on screen is a good thing. Or at least it should be. Here’s the thing: You’ve grown up. The Turtles haven’t. Sure the rubber suits are gone and they’ve been redone with fancy new computer generated technology, but that hasn’t stopped them from becoming, well, dull.
First, let’s talk about what director Kevin Monroe has done right in bringing the ninja turtles back. The film kicks off right where all the previous, rubber-suit versions left off. There’s no lame attempt at a reboot and this isn’t another pathetic prequel. Thank god for that. The lives of the Ninja Turtles have continued onward in a straight line, and now that they’ve defeated all their arch-enemies they’ve sort of gone under ground. Well, more under ground than usual. Leonardo is off in South America training to be a leader at the behest of Master Splinter. In his absence, his brothers have fallen apart. Donatello has flushed his brains down the toilet and taken a job as a tech support phone operator. Michelangelo, in an effort to get out in the world, runs a kids entertainment company and spends his days pretending to be a guy in a turtle costume at children’s birthday parties. Raphael has gone all Batman, and has taken up a career as a masked vigilante who stalks the streets of New York using fear and terror to fight crime rather than the more passive ninja techniques taught by Master Splinter. And Splinter, well he hates to miss his stories.
The film is only 87 minutes long, so it’s kind of surprising the amount of time Munroe spends setting up all of this. Actually, it gets to be a bit excessive. At least half of the movie is exposition, it takes forever to get to the point of the film, which is saving the world from a pretty hokey plot device in which an immortal supervillain is opening a dimensional portal that lets nasty creatures loose on the planet at an alarming rate. This is of course, illustrated by the obligatory red fog spreading over the world map always used whenever there’s a vague threat to planet earth. Once the movie does get to the point, the script ends up being nothing but a series of dead ends.
For instance, the primary subplot of TMNT revolves around Leonardo’s quest to become a better leader in order to reunite the Turtles family. The entire movie is wasted pursuing Leonardo’s eventual rise as an uber-leader, and in the end it never happens. At some point the team stops bickering and starts beating things up together, but there’s never that moment where Leonardo takes charge and shows off his snazzy new leadership skills. Even the final fight is disappointing. After an entire movie building towards a penultimate battle when the Ninja Turtles come together to kick amazing amounts of ass, you’d expect the finale to be something pretty cool. Well nope. There is a fight, but only some of it happens on camera and what does happen is pretty pedestrian. It’s mostly the Turtles biding their time against enemies that can’t be defeated, while they wait around for someone else to come up with some hocus pocus plot device to magically solve their problems.
The failure of the film to really wow me with a big fight scene is particularly disappointing. Honestly, anyone who has seen anything involving the Turtles before should know what they’re getting into with the script. The Ninja Turtles aren’t supposed to be smart cinema. But you’d hope, that finally freed from the bonds of bad foam costumes they’d use the limitless world of CGI to blow the audience away with some really incredible ninja fighting stuff. Sorry, not so much. The fight scenes built into the script just don’t do much to take advantage of the freedom afforded TMNT by its new medium, and besides the film is mixed bag visually. The Turtles themselves look pretty good, but the movie’s attempts at animating human characters are disastrous. The animation there is awkward and flat out crappy, especially in contrast with how cool some of the monsters and gritty, dark cityscapes look.
In the end, the thing that saved the other Ninja Turtles movies was being funny. Perhaps your kids will find this new one just as hilarious as we did when we were their age watching the originals in our feetie pajamas, but you won’t. The gags are few and far between and without even that to inject some life into this limp script, TMNT is a bland, plain cheese when it should be a supreme with extra anchovies. I’m ready and willing to admit however, that I may simply have passed the Turtles by. I’ve outgrown them. We’ve outgrown them. There was an opportunity here to either resurrect the nostalgia that once made them great or re-introduce the Turtles to a new generation of kids. TMNT fails to do the former and you'll have to ask your kids whether or not it does the latter. Somehow I doubt it. There are one or two fun moments scattered throughout the film, but for the most part it’s a random, impersonal, half-hearted attempt.