Two-and-a-half out of five stars
"Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" -- or, as I like to call it, Stylish Schlock in a Half-Shell -- starts out strong, with the turtles’ backstory presented in Waltz with Bashir-style animation. As soon as the live action starts, however, you instantly lose hope of this being anything better than a typical late-summer, big-budget action release.
Megan Fox stars as April O’Neil, a local New York City TV reporter desperate for a big break. In a scene that apparently took three people to write (Josh Appelbaum, Andre Nemec and Evan Daugherty), April is forced to do a story on the latest exercise craze, which has her stepping on a trampoline and flapping her arms like a bird, after which she delivers a vapid, expository woe-is-me speech to her cameraman (Will Arnett) about having spent four years in journalism school and wanting something more. I believe her exact words were “four years of journalism school down the drain,” but I stopped taking notes after she started flapping her arms.
Enter Shredder and his dreaded Foot Clan, which has been wreaking havoc on New York City -- and guess who’s going to bring them down? No, not the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: April O’Neil! She smells the big break she’s been hoping for but instead of bringing down the Foot Clan, she discovers Raphael, Donatello, Leonardo and Michelangelo.
Spoiler alert: She also discovers the turtles were once her pets. I’m not kidding. You might well ask, “How could that happen?” Turns out April’s father was a scientist who worked for Eric Sacks (William Fichtner), a wealthy scientist and industrialist who happens to be the New York Police Department’s biggest benefactor. When April’s Dad died in a lab fire, the turtles, along with a rat named Splinter, were part of an experiment there. Only clearly, they didn’t die.
Let’s not kid ourselves. "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" isn’t in the same league as "Guardians of the Galaxy," or "The Dark Knight", or "The Avengers," or "The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie." (I’m kidding about SpongeBob.) Not really. It’s debatable whether or not that was director Jonathan Liebesman’s aspiration but if it was, he failed. Instead, he gives us something better than the 1990 original live-action "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" movie, but far below the quality to which we’ve become accustomed when it comes to movies based on comic book superheroes.
You could argue that "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" is an inherently silly concept meant to be somewhat campy. After all, like they say in the movie, they’re turtles, they’re ninjas and they’re teenagers. It’s hard to imagine a serious story resulting from those ingredients. Still, that’s no excuse for creating a poorly-written, clichéd, over-the-top action film that can’t get out of its own way. At the same time, Raphael, Donatello, Leonardo and Michelangelo look good enough and are entertaining enough to keep your kids happy.