TMNT – New York Gets Trashed… Again

I have a confession. Don’t judge me. In a childhood preoccupied with Captain Planet and Bananaman, I NEVER watched TMNT. I haven’t seen the show, or the movies, nor read the comics and I never owned my own little Donatello.

Beyond a vague understanding that there was a popular show in the 90’s revolving around fighting turtles, this is the very first exposure I ever had to our mutant friends. Having lost my TMNT virginity, here’s a fresh take on the saga.

April O’Neill (Megan Fox), struggling reporter for Channel Six News, investigates vigilante sightings around New York to discover that she’s after four green, shelly teenagers with assorted weaponry. Her endearing and exposition-filled cameraman (Will Arnett) is present throughout to help the dialogue along while Whoopi Goldberg (mercilessly underutilized) fills in as April’s news editor.

Our four heroes live in the sewer, share dual obsessions with pizza and pop culture and are lead by a mutated rat called Splinter. There’s a bad guy called Shredder who says things like “no one will stop us in our quest to claim victory.”

TMNT draws a lot from modern comic adaptations  – the scene where we first encounter the Turtles felt just like the docks scene where we first met the Dark Knight in ‘Batman Begins,’ with TMNT even referencing Batman. The TMNT finale on the roof of a skyscraper looked like a mix of ‘The Avengers’ finale and the recent Spiderman reboot, all three films involving the much repeated trashing and destruction of the NY City skyline.

You’d think other cities would want to have a go? Michael Bay’s ‘Transformers 3’ had it all out in Chicago, while the sequel travelled to Hong Kong. For TMNT, Bay as producer has set the action in more traditional territory, though the lingering shots of Victoria’s Secret billboards are still ever-present.

April’s actions are mostly predictable, though it’s refreshing to see a central female character (played by Megan Fox no less, in previous roles the subject of many rescue attempts) play her part alongside the other heroes. Corporate mogul Eric Sacks (William Fichtner) says a lot of very serious and dramatic stuff and doesn’t really contribute much else. The action scenes are well put-together, in particular the drive/fall down a mountain range.

The best thing about TMNT is the interaction between the Turtles, plus the constant renditions of pop classics (thank you for the elevator sequence) and friendly bickering. When left to their own devices they were fun to watch and more of the film could have just been the group arguing over a piece of pizza and it would have been fine.

3D didn’t add anything to the experience, the use of yet-to-be-perfected technology just meant the Turtles stood out a little closer than the faceless henchmen they defeated in droves.

Bay confirmed prior to release that the creators had agreed to keep the teenagers as ‘mutants,’ rather than hash an alien origin story. The decision to go with a formula which works, plus a notably explosion-light pic from Bay, meant that we could actually enjoy four genuinely fun, established characters and their repartee.

The depiction of Groot and Rocket in “Guardians of the Galaxy’s” succeeded where TMNT excelled by developing a human and heartening relationship between CGI characters who we came to care about more than their human co-stars. With improvements in CGI and new motion-capture tech it appears a growing investment will be made in computer-generated characters over their probably more expensive real-life counterparts.

An inevitable TMNT sequel will surely capitalize on this trend, and if the next one is more about the Turtles and less about characters who just gawk at them in confusion, then it will probably be just as exciting as the prospect of a 99 cheese pizza.