Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a huge blast and pretty much everyone should make time to go see it.
The movie follows its human lead, mostly — April O’Neal (Megan Fox), a journalist pigeonholed into semi-sexist fluff stories who dreams of getting a big break. Early in the film, she discovers four gigantic, vigilante turtles protecting New York City against the Foot Clan, a bizarre gang of ninjas with no real back story.
The difference between a good CGI action adventure and a bad one is this — the good one focuses on the human lead character. This character is forced to find a way to impact events that are entirely beyond her control. She serves as an entry point for the audience. Most viewers have a lot of trouble getting invested in this sort of movie without some sort of human interest, and this is the character that provides that interest.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a perfect example of this. It’s campy and silly and about giant, mutant turtles whose life experience the audience couldn’t possibly understand, but it’s not asked to understand them. It’s asked to understand O’Neal. Like the target audience, O’Neal is young and idealistic and ambitions, and she’s rediscovering something incredible that she loved as a child. As she gets swept away, so do we.
Franchise fans will be thoroughly satisfied. The turtles are very true to their source material, and that rat is a boss.
The movie strikes a wonderful tone. In almost every major sequence, it gets just serious enough to qualify as intense, but a joke or gag from Michaelangelo (Noel Fisher) is never far away. It’s grave and dire without ever being serious.
The movie also benefits from an advertising campaign that betrayed almost nothing about the plot or action sequences.
It does get a bit worse as it goes along. The best action sequences are with splinter (Tony Shalhoub, with motion capture done by Danny Woodburn), who is incapacitated during the climax. O’Neal, whose spot as a focal point is the movie’s strength, is also minimized in these sequences.
The movie is coming out during an unfortunate pocket. After an entire summer of, just, nothing, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles came out on the first weekend since May in which they’ll have to contend with strong week-old competition from Guardians of the Galaxy and strong competition a week out from The Expendables 3. Surprisingly, despite suffering from undeservedly woeful reviews, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles opened in first place, beating Guardians of the Galaxy by almost $25 million. But next weekend, when neither is fresh, franchise fans have been satisfied and with Sylvester Stallone siphoning some of the audience with an insane third attempt at regaining popularity, the turtles probably aren’t going to stretch their legs as far as they could have. If this movie had come out in July, maybe to some slightly fairer reviews, this summer would have been vastly different for moviegoers.
As it is, viewers would probably be better served seeing Marvel’s vastly superior film for a second, third or fourth time.
Joshua Knopp is a formerly professional film critic, licensed massage therapist, journalism and film student at the University of North Texas and news editor for the NT Daily. The unadulterated theatrical version of the original Star Wars trilogy is still not available on DVD. For questions, rebuttals and further guidance about cinema, you can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. At this point, I’d like to remind you that you shouldn’t actually go to movies and form your own opinions. That’s what I’m here for.