Those Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are back. The little green turtles were fun in the Eighties and Nineties but their 21st Century reinvention, in so-so animation, is just plain dull.
It was a witty comic book parody of the X-Men (1984), a phenomenally successful animated TV series (1987) and then three box office hit movies in the early Nineties. It looked liked it could never go wrong but then along came this.
In case you don’t know, four little turtles mutate into Ninja superheroes and live in New York’s sewers to fight evil and defend the good. Things have gone wrong for them since their glory days however and now bossy Leonardo is hiding in a South American forest (lucky to find one these days), smartarse Donatello is an IT engineer (the tragic fate of all clever people), cool dude Michelangelo is a kids’ entertainer (no one deserves that) and grumpy Raphael is patrolling the streets as a vigilante (at least he gets to wear a cool helmet).
Things will not go right for them until they unite again as brothers. Can they do this? Will they defeat the evil monsters and heavy footed stone soldiers? What do you think?
Daily Mirror: “TMNT offers precisely FA in surprises and can’t settle on just who’s meant to be the turtles’ foe. And while the graphics might have been cutting edge 10 years ago, today they won’t be causing Pixar any sleepless nights.”
Toronto Star: “Worst of all is the lack of genuine laughs. Writer-Director Kevin Munroe has apparently forgotten that the Ninja Turtle phenomenon started as a rib-nudging parody.”
So here we go again with another uninspired twenty-fist century version of a brilliant twentieth century idea. The original turtles, as 80’s comic book or animated characters, were witty parodies of the superhero that retained their edginess with a mixture of humour and provocative ninja martial skills that shocked the British censors into forcing a name change from Ninja Turtles to Hero Turtles. They even banned Leonardo’s nunchaku (the two section staff), which was officially illegal at the time.
So much controversy and yet they became a marketing phenomenon. The turtles were not just characters from comic books, TV series and movies; they were best-selling toys, video games and kids’ puddings. Their faces were everywhere, even on packets of breakfast cereal. Those Ninja turtles really did become heroes.
So what could the new movie bring to the concept? A name change to trendy initials. That is about the newest thing about this film, which, with all the advantages of modern animation from a talented Hong Kong animation company, just doesn’t manage to get the excitement going.
It is pretty enough to look at and the animators have done a good job recreating the comic book look – especially in the cityscapes and the big fight scenes. The turtles themselves are given realistic skin textures, apart from being green of course, and their facial expressions are convincing enough without too much cutsiness.
April O’Neil and Casey Jones, the turtles’ human sidekicks work well too as Americanised Manga look-alikes with classy voice-over performances from Kevin Smith, a teen pin-up, and Sarah Michelle Gellar, everyone’s pin-up. The rest of the voice cast is impressive too with old stalwarts like Patrick Stewart and Laurence Fishburne delivering the goods and Ziyi Zhang adding some oriental authenticity.
But all this excellence just doesn’t add up.
The heavy hand of writer-director Kevin Munroe is the problem. Put simply, his script is just not good enough. The storyline goes nowhere and does not give itself enough scope for developing the four main characters or even for any proper ninja fight scenes.
The dialogue is unconvincing and dull. Too often the turtles’ wittiest response is “whatever” – even Neighbours has got beyond that one. Michelangelo doesn’t even say “cowabunga” and that just can’t be right. There are not enough jokes and there are no good ones.
The plot is on one level too complicated. It all begins 3000 years ago and involves otherworldly forces and vast armies being turned to stone. All this is dealt with in the first couple of minutes.
The rest of the movie is a muddle with our four heroes learning the bleedin’ obvious from the supposedly all-wise Splinter, a mutant rat with the ability to turn ancient Chinese wisdom into tiresome mid-American platitudes. He teaches them that they have to stick together if they are to defend the good and the true and that they should kneel down when he’s talking to them. When it comes to the forces of evil they are a boring lot who mostly wipe each other out without any help from our friends.
Munroe’s direction tries to use realistic real action techniques but by doing this, he shows a B-movie director’s imagination and thus fatally limits the scope of the animation.
He has taken one of the most successful franchises of the last twenty years and turned it to stone. He has made a film that is not ninja enough for the adults or fun enough for the kids. Lets hope he does better in that inevitable sequel.
Sarah Michelle Gellar