There’s nothing quite as fun as being taken by surprise. When the first footage of the Michael Bay-produced (words that should always instil fear) reboot of the beloved ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ franchise was released, fans reacted in horror at the freakish-looking turtles and Bay-style pompous action. Well as it turns out, things weren’t exactly what they seem. I’m not about to say that Jonathan Liebesman’s film is a great one, but contrary to expectations, I’ll be damned if it isn’t pretty good and plenty of fun.
All the essential elements are there - the mutant turtle brothers Leonardo (Johnny Knoxville), Raphael (Alan Ritchson), Donatello (Jeremy Howard) and Michelangelo (Noel Fisher), their adopted mutant rat father-figure Splinter (Tony Shalhoub), the Foot Clan and their iron-clad leader Shredder (Tohoru Masamune) and plucky reporter April O’Neill (Megan Fox). The Turtles find themselves pitted against Shredder and scientist Eric Sacks (William Fitchner) as they plan to attack New York with a deadly virus and then use the mutagen in the brothers’ blood to create a cure and take over the city.
It’s all very by-the-numbers in terms of narrative, but where this version of TMNT really excels in in the freshness of its execution. Unlike... well, anything Michael Bay has directed himself, Liebesman infuses the film with a terrific energy and pace, moving swiftly between action set pieces with all the necessary character moments littered throughout. The action is shot with great flair and attention to detail, not dissimilar from a Michael Bay film in terms of its audacity, but with a significantly lighter tone. A truck chase through the snow is a particular highlight. At no point does the film overstay its welcome. The screenplay isn’t anything special, but it has a nice wit to it and clearly has a lot of love for these characters.
Of course, none of that would matter if the Turtles were a failure, but they turn out to be the best thing about the film. The team behind the film have wisely chosen to use motion capture and actors performances rather than making the Turtles from scratch, and this gives them a tremendous immediacy and stops them from over-acting like an autobot from the Transformers films. They have a basis in reality, and also give the human actors something to work with. The casting of the Turtles is also integral to the film’s success, all four performers full of wit and charm and energy. You can’t be invested in TMNT if you don’t fall in love with them, and this turns out to be a wonderfully easy task. They might be mutant ninja turtles, but they haven’t forgotten that they’re also teenagers, and they’re as dorky and loveable a set of teenagers as you’ll ever find.
Make no mistake, ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ is still a silly and predictable action film, but sometimes that isn’t a bad thing. The film is executed with so much energy and enthusiasm that it’s hard not to be caught up in it and enjoy the old-fashioned fun. As a kid who worshipped these characters as a kid, watching every TV show and every original film, I found myself falling in love with them all over again. Like I said, this isn’t a great film by any stretch, but with loads of great action and terrific characters, it’s an hour and a half of breezy mindless fun.
They might be mutant ninja turtles, but they haven’t forgotten that they’re also teenagers, and they’re as dorky and loveable a set of teenagers as you’ll ever find.
PICTURE & SOUND
TMNT still exists within the Michael Bay visual style, even if he isn’t directing it, so the audacious camera moves and steely textures are all there. The 1080p 2.40:1 transfer from Paramount maintains all this, finding an excellent balance between the grittiness and the sharp detail needed for high definition. It’s also demonstrates beautifully the great use of vibrant colour in the film. The disc also comes with a Dolby Atmos TrueHD 7.1 track. I don’t have the capability to listen to it at its full power, but even with my paltry system, the sound seems to have a much stronger sense of balance than the recent Transformers disc, which debuted this new format. I doubt any audio or visual nut will be disappointed with the results.
There’s a small but healthy set of extras here, mostly featureless around the technology required to bring the film to life. ‘Digital Reality’ is an in-depth discussion around how the Turtles were brought to life and what was required to do so. I actually found my appreciation for the film increase seeing how much of the performers informed the work from ILM. There’s also a featurette on the use of 3D in the film, an extended ending and a music video. It’s all interesting stuff, and much like the film, doesn’t overstay its welcome.