[pullquote cite=”” type=”left, right”][amazon text=Amazon&template=carousel&chan=That Film Guy&asin=B00MI1X58S][/pullquote] It’s like candy, people love candy, says Vernon Fenwick (Will Arnett) to April O’Neil (Megan Fox) when talking about her disgruntled attitude to reporting on less-than-serious news. But like many pseudo-meta comments in this limp Michael Bay-produced Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles reboot, it is more accurate than they probably imagined.
When it was announced that work was going ahead on a franchise-starting first instalment fans of TMNT were appalled to hear that Bay was working on changing the origin story for mutated turtles to aliens. This overblown reaction gets a nod in the dialogue too. It seems that had director Jonathan Liebesman and his scriptwriting team spent more time using dialogue to progress the story and less time making these snide comments and advertising pizza restaurants the film may have been something other than dreadful.
While trying to find a serious story, reporter April O’Neil (Fox) stumbles across an attack by the dreaded Foot Clan, which is stopped by a mysterious group of vigilanties. Further investigation reveals that the group are actually giant mutated ninja turtles called Leonardo (Johnny Knoxville), Donatello (Jeremy Howard), Michaelangelo (Noel Fisher) and Raphael (Alan Ritchson). They live in the sewers with their mutated giant rat mentor Splinter (Tony Shalhoub), eating pizza and training in martial arts. However they are forced into action when a legendary Japanese warrior called Shredder (Tohoru Masamune) discovers their existence and plans to use the mutagen that created them to attack the city.
Everything starts pretty well, with an intro sweep of the city in a comic book style similar to the originals penned by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird. From this point, 3 minutes in, everything starts to go wrong. Anyone familiar with the TMNT series or comics, TV show or previous film will recognise this as their basic origin story. It has been tweaked though as this time as it turns out that it was April that saved them in the first place. It is a good thing too, because without that ridiculously convenient plot device her role would be nothing more than standing around looking shocked and occasionally accepting praise for her beauty. I’m surprised Liebseman and company aren’t embarrassed by their reduction of an actor to such a pointless position, especially for the lead.
At a lithe 93 minutes Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles avoids the excesses of Bay’s worst films, but with a good third passing with almost no turtles in, it becomes a bit of a mess in terms of pacing. What’s left is a mad dash to shoehorn some dramatic tension through a completely nonsensical villainous plot, but don’t worry about that ˜it’s candy’ and ˜people love candy.’
In terms of positives, Will Arnett does a decent job, while the ever-reliable William Fichtner does his Machievellian monster with scenery-chewing gusto. But both are quickly and depressingly side-lined. After all it’s important that we get our fix of April looking on in shock and the turtles cracking wise. The sort of lowest common denominator humour and action on show here is reminiscent of the Transformers series of films.
In fact, the look, style and sound of it makes you quite sure that it takes place in the same universe. Shredder, who is in fairness a rather vanilla villain, gets an upgrade to the point that he looks like a transformers version of Wolverine. It does look cool and his fight with splinter is beautiful from a choreographed point of view. What a shame that there is no drama between them, other than a rushed ˜we know each other from old’ vibe that makes even less sense than pizza-munching turtles. But don’t worry about that ˜it’s candy’ and ˜people love candy.’
So we return full circle to that opening phrase. The attempt by the film-maker to pre-excuse the shambolic mess of a blockbuster that is about to partially unfold before your very eyes. In some ways he’s right too, people do love candy. But you have to remember that it’s bad for you and contains no nourishment whatsoever.