Raphael (left) and Michelangelo in a scene from "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles."
PARAMOUNT PICTURES Enlarge
To steal a tagline from another film, You will believe a turtle can fly.
And jump, talk, perform martial arts, and wield nunchucks.
Nearly 25 years after the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles landed in theaters, this $125 million reboot sets a new standard for the franchise in terms of production values.
The turtles look great, move gracefully on screen, and exhibit character and reptilian charm.
And with director Jonathan Liebesman at the helm, it’s all surprisingly fun. Mindless and silly, but contagiously fun, with the major components of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles present.
Directed by Jonathan Liebesman. Screenplay by Josh Appelbaum, André Nemec, and Evan Daugherty. A Paramount/Nickelodeon release, playing at Franklin Park, Fallen Timbers, and Levis Commons.
Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence.
Running time: 100 minutes.
Critic’s rating: ★★★
Cast: Megan Fox, Will Arnett, William Fichtner, Whoopi Goldberg, the voices of Tony Shalhoub, Johnny Knoxville, Danny Woodburn
April O’Neil (Megan Fox as the eye candy) is a frustrated TV reporter who wants to cover New York City’s hard news stories. She hopes that her independent research into the notorious Foot Clan — a name derived because these evildoers step on everyone good in the city — will be the boost her career needs.
Vernon Fenwick (Will Arnett as the comic relief) is her cameraman, whose empathy for her plight is driven mainly by lust.
Eventually April gets too close to the story and … well, it’s the turtles to the rescue. Lest you have forgotten your turtles mythos: Leonardo (Pete Ploszek and voice of Johnny Knoxville) wears the blue mask and is the calm and collected leader of the four turtle brothers. Raphael (Alan Ritchson) wears the red mask, is the strongest of the group and also the fussiest, and often clashes with Leonardo. Donatello (Jeremy Howard) wears the purple mask and is the smartest of the bunch, with an arsenal of technology to help them fight crime. Michelangelo (Noel Fisher) wears the orange mask and is the funniest, crudest, and most laid-back of the turtles, who has a serious crush on April.
These human-like turtles all stand at least 6-feet tall, possess incredible ninja fighting and acrobatic skills as well as super strength, and are protected by shells strong enough to repel bullets.
They like to crack jokes, eat pizza, and fight crime.
They also live in the sewers, where they’re mentored by their adopted father, Splinter (Danny Woodbury and voice of Tony Shalhoub), a rat whose mutation, like the turtles, comes from a unique laboratory chemical created by a wealthy scientist and corporate head named Eric Sachs (William Fichtner). None other than the turtles’ nemesis Shredder (Tohoru Masamune), leader of the Foot Clan, wants this goo for his own nefarious plan.
Megan Fox in a scene from "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles."
PARAMOUNT PICTURES Enlarge
None of it makes sense, really, but does it matter in a film about talking mutant ninja turtles?
Liebesman was a director on the rise based on the trailers for 2011’s Battle Los Angeles, but the film tanked, and 2012’s Wrath of the Titans — a minor improvement over 2010’s Clash of the Titans — didn’t do his career any favors.
So Liebesman finds himself launching a potential franchise, now built on nostalgia for the once insanely popular Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, in August, usually a dead zone for studio films.
And that’s why the film works. Liebesman doesn’t have much to lose with this, so he gives it everything, holding almost nothing back. A dizzying down-the-snowy-mountain chase sequence involving the four turtles, a semi-engine truck, and bad guys in SUVs, for example, is relentlessly paced and pure nonsense. But you dare not blink for fear of missing something. There’s also a more than passing resemblance to Tim Burton’s Batman (1989) in the film’s quirky camera shots, dark tone, and even several plot elements.
The 37-year-old director is an obvious protege of Michael Bay. And since Bay produced Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the pairing makes all the more sense.
But there are significant differences between the filmmakers.
Liebesman’s action sequences are far more contained and with much less noisy chaos around them than in much of Bay’s work. And unlike The Transformers films, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ cartoonish combat serves its story rather than attempting to replace it.
While not a great movie, it’s not a bad one, either.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is meant for fans of the turtles empire: the original comic books, the myriad animated series, the video games, and even the other films.
But a film this stupid fun is sure to make believers out of others as well.
Contact Kirk Baird at firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6734.
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