While producer Michael Bay and director Jonathan Liebesman have been dodging the slings and arrows of fanboys since their reboot of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise was first announced, perhaps the true barometer of chilliness toward the project could be found closer to home. If Paramount is releasing this the weekend after every kid in America starts the new school year, has even the studio responsible for this film given up on a new generation embracing this version of the heroes in a half-shell?
The film opens with New York lifestyle reporter April O’Neil (an apparently back-on-Bay’s-good-side Megan Fox) and her loyal cameraman sidekick Vern (Will Arnett, because divorce lawyers don’t pay for themselves), in an attempt to break away from the “fluff” stories they usually cover, beginning to delve deeper into a mysterious gang that has began terrorizing New York City. While doing some late-night investigating, April witnesses a couple of these Foot Clan gang members beaten by a masked vigilante. Following the mysterious crusader, she stumbles upon the four titular characters, in all of their CGI glory.
Our teenaged heroes aren’t really physically or mentally ready for a big showdown with their new foes, but they find themselves the target of the gang’s leader, Shredder. Meanwhile, April runs to old family friend and shady businessman Eric Sachs (the ever menacing William Fichtner) for advice on what to do. The Turtles soon make April an unofficial member of their team, and attempt to foil the Clan’s plan to subjugate the city.
The first sign of trouble is that April’s story takes up a substantial portion of the movie. It’s not unusual for an effects-heavy film to pad the running time with "the human element" to prevent the budget from ballooning. But who in their right mind thought the kids showing up for this flick would be more invested in a journalist than — I don’t know, giant crime-fighting talking turtles?
The actors, by and large, fail to rise above the material. The always game Fichtner, who is consistently the best thing about any film he appears in, is serviceable as the generic baddie. Arnett is there for the paycheck and nothing more, while Fox squanders any goodwill she accrued from her winning performance in 2012’s This Is 40, evidently confusing looking bewildered with serious acting.
If there is any bright spot, it's the improvement in the realism (if that's the right word) of the reptilian warriors. While no one would confuse the animatronics used in the original TMNT films for the special effects available at a filmmaker’s fingertips today, this film just looks better, with battle scenes that are actually exciting and 3D that is (dare I say?) actually worth the surcharge.