'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles' Review: Disposable Action That Lacks Character And Emotion

The biggest problem with Jonathan Liebesman's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is how disposable it is. If the movie was silly and goofy, but entertaining and engaging even on the lowest level, it might be something worth talking about. But this movie is a cinematic flatline that shows rare blips of life only to crash back down again into nothing.

It's not a total disaster. The Turtles themselves, now fully realized with performance-capture CG, look impressive. Their demeanors often harken back to the happy-go-lucky characters from various hit TV incarnations. Unfortunately, those personalities rarely get to shine because the film is hell-bent on setting up an overly complicated, way-too coincidental plot that never gives the Turtles a chance to breathe. The rare times we're with them, they're always preoccupied with saving one person or beating up a bunch of others. And because the Turtles never get to be true characters, there's no emotional core and the movie fades away.

This movie should've been called "April O'Neil and Her Turtles." After a brief, almost-encouraging prologue, the film screeches to a halt with 20 minutes of O'Neil (Megan Fox, who is actually engaging in the role) hunting down a story about the Foot Clan. In this story, the Foot and Shredder are already established characters in the world. When the Foot runs into a team of mysterious vigilantes, things go bad for the Foot but good for April. She discovers the story she's been looking for: the Turtles. However, the point of view mostly stays with April as she tries to convince someone — anyone — that the Turtles are real.

That becomes easier when April realizes – minor spoiler alert coming – her father created the Turtles, and she even named them! Talk about a small world! This, of course, gives her an in with them and their master Splinter and it sets up the the film's most engaging scene – an origin montage. There's some very interesting stuff in this scene. It's territory that the Turtle world has rarely explored, including the Turtles as pre-teens, but like everything else it's rushed.

Things are quickly interrupted by the Foot and, from here in the middle of act two through the end, Liebesman has the pedal to the metal. There's one really impressive action scene set in snow (which defies all logic, but we'll let that go) and a few attempts at emotion and character. Mostly, it all kind of happens in a blur of basic story beats, one-liners and action.

During this time, there's one fantastic scene of the four Turtles. Together in an elevator, they start beat-boxing. It's dumb, but also funny and charming. That's what this movie is missing. The story is so laser-focused on reaching its climax, we never learn why these characters are who they are. Why is Leonardo the leader? How did Donatello get so smart? When did Michaelangelo get so horny? (And he is, wow.) What made Raphael so angry? (OK, this one is answered, to some extent.)

In this movie, all the characters have their classic traits because those characters have had those traits since the 1980s. The simple fact that the film doesn't find it necessary to re-establish those characters is representative of the film as a whole. It just throws stuff on screen and hopes it sticks.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles succeeds in providing beautiful effects and passable action populated with characters we all know and love. But the plot around them is riddled with holes, there's not a round character in the entire film, and the result is like watching a fireworks display. It's an okay way to pass an hour or so, but you'll forget about it minutes later.

/Film rating: 3.5 out of 10