Few movies this summer hit home as hard, for many nerds, as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Many of us remember watching the original animated series (1987) or live action film (1990) with loving nostalgia. Over the years there have been several cartoon series and as recent as 2007 there was an animated film with a theatrical release. That said, fan interest among adults was re-established when Nickelodeon announced there would be a reboot produced with Paramount and Platinum Dunes, Michael Bay’s production company. There have been several scripts and several missteps made along the way since the original announcement in 2009.
Famously, when Bay revealed that the new Turtles would be aliens, there was a major script leak that drew uproar from the fans and original creator Peter Laird, and the casting of the formerly Bay banished Megan Fox as April O’Neil caused many to write off the film. Bay kept harping on the idea that fans need to relax and give the film time to come out before making judgements. Did the movie live up to the original series? Did Bay destroy your childhood? Are they aliens? Hell, are they even still teenagers?
Unlike 2007’s TMNT which was actually the fourth film in the original series, this new film is a complete reboot. The film features a completely new version of the origin story for the Turtles and April O’Neil as well as their nemesis. The movie opens in New York City; crime has spiked due to the presence of a heavily trained, heavily armed paramilitary organization called The Foot Clan. They are responsible for several high profile thefts of cutting edge chemical technology. April O’Neil (Megan Fox), a reporter for Channel 6 news, is utilizing her free time to question dock workers in Brooklyn regarding the latest theft. Her cameraman, Vernon Fenwick (Will Arnett), tells her they need to get to their live shot across town and we learn that April isn’t a crime reporter but instead the pretty face Channel 6 uses to cover fluff pieces. Unable to shake her feeling that there is more to learn at the dock April returns to find a second Foot Clan theft in progress. This time they are stopped by a massive, incredibly strong and unseen vigilante. April is unable to capture the hero on camera but she is excited that she is the only reporter in town that knows someone is fighting The Foot. She can’t convince her editor, Bernadette Thompson (Whoopi Goldberg), to give her the story but on the same day the mayor of New York City signs a new deal with the corporation of millionaire Eric Sachs (William Fichtner) to help supplement the NYPD in their fight against The Foot.
April attends an event held by Sachs and in his speech he tells the attendees that many years previous he worked as a scientist in a lab when he and his colleagues were victims of The Foot. They burned down his lab and killed many of his best co-workers. April approaches him after the speech and we learn that her father was one of Sachs’ fellow scientists that died that day. He assures her that he is still following her career and her father would be proud of her as long as she is doing the work she thinks is important. On her way back to Channel 6 The Foot attack the Broad Street Subway station and take prisoners. She tries to sneak in and film the kidnapping but is taken hostage herself. Finally, The Turtles reveal themselves and under the cover of darkness save the subway riders. April follows them and finds out her saviors are anthropomorphic talking turtles. Leonardo, Michelangelo, Donatello and Raphael talk to her and tell her that she has to keep their secret. Then they erase her camera phone and disappear. All she’s left with is an extremely blurry photo, an insane story no one will believe and the drive to crack the case.
The rest of the story contains elements that older fans will know but there are some major changes. To answer many of the larger questions, The Turtles are not aliens. They are still the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in the way many of us remember. Raphael is still brooding and quick to get angry. Leonardo is still the leader. Donatello is still the inventor and Michelangelo is still the fun-loving one. Splinter is still their master. Shredder is still the leader of The Foot Clan. That said they’ve changed April’s origin, they changed the method in which Splinter learned ninjitsu and the origins of The Foot as well.
It’s difficult to gauge this film because in many ways it feels like its stuck trying to do two things. It’s obvious from the story, the humor level and the changes that the filmmakers are trying to make this film for new fans. There is plenty of fan service for older fans though, including making jokes at the alien version of the script and a special soup The Shredder plans to dine on. That said there’s a lot of issues. A pre-teen/teenager is not likely to wonder why this film features exactly zero origin story for The Shredder. It gives a story for the origin of The Foot Clan in Feudal Japan but we aren’t even given the real name of its current master. That being one of the more egregious issues with the film there are others. Unfunny and dated jokes permeate the film. There are continuity issues, i.e. April’s dress magically disappears and becomes her trademark yellow jacket and pants at one point. There are leaps in logic in the script that make no sense.
While there are issues, this film is entertaining and not the typical Bay-hem. The action makes sense and you can follow what’s happening in fights, unlike Transformers for example. It feels like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles but not the ones we knew, instead it is for the next generation of TMNT fans. The ones that don’t remember anything about Oroku Saki, Bebop & Rocksteady or Dimension X. The ones that don’t remember that The Foot were ninjas and not a spec-ops group. The ones that think it’s cool that there’s a new back story that integrates the O’Neil’s, The Foot and The Turtles.
If you have a child/teen in your life that wants to see this flick go take them. It is highly likely that they will love it. You might be able to find a way to engage your inner child and take a stroll down memory lane that you will enjoy. That said if you’re not a TMNT completionist then save your money and skip it.