New York is being terrorized by the Foot Clan, a secret criminal organization manipulating politics and corporations. But a mysterious band of crime-fighters are out there on the streets fighting evil. In the aftermath of a daring rescue plucky reporter April O'Neil (Megan Fox) snaps a photo only to discover the heroes in a half-shell are her long-lost pet turtles Leonardo (Pete Ploszek, voiced by Johnny Knoxville), Donatello (Jeremy Howard), Michelangelo (Noel Fisher) and Raphael (Alan Ritchson), mutated by a secret serum created by April's murdered father and schooled in Ninjitsu by rat sensei Splinter (voiced by Tony Shalhoub). Aided by April and her smitten cameraman Vernon Fenwick (Will Arnett), the Ninja Turtles try to save New York city from an evil plan orchestrated by the Foot Clan's maniacal leader, the Shredder (Masamune Tohoru).
Seven years after the computer animated TMNT (2007) the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles returned to live action for yet another reboot. This time via some undeniably impressive photo-realistic CGI. Certainly the new turtles are remarkably lifelike even if they look like they've imbibed a ton of steroids, at times resembling a child's over-inflated turtle balloons. Which oddly befits a Michael Bay production. Although directed by Jonathan Liebesman, the South African-born filmmaker behind guilty pleasures like Battle: Los Angeles (2011) and Wrath of the Titans (2012), Bay's stamp is all over this reboot from the glossy cinematography, swooping camera-work and grinding metal sound effects to those incongruous plugs for Victoria's Secret lingerie and Megan Fox butt shots. Having previously compared Bay to Adolf Hitler (in terms of tyrannical behaviour one assumes rather than filmmaking ability), a chastened Fox returned to the fold and was rewarded with her first hit in quite some time.
True to form this was yet another Michael Bay effort people complained about endlessly yet went to see multiple times, making it one of the more profitable films of 2014. It is no great work of cinema but neither is it any worse than any other Ninja turtle movie. Face facts turtle fans the pizza guzzling heroes in a half-shell were always one-dimensional merchandising machines rather than characters and one says this as someone who owned as many turtle action figures, comic books and pyjamas as the next nine year old. No matter which incarnation, from Saturday Morning cartoon to Jim Henson puppet, they never had much of an emotional core. This stems from the fact creators Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird conceived them as a parody, a one-joke idea that spiralled out of control. Unlike the mythos surrounding Batman or even Rocket Raccoon the world inhabited by the ninja turtles stubbornly resists any attempt to take it seriously. As such, far from harming any perceived structural integrity, Bay and Liebesman's cosmetic enhancements merely expand the ridiculousness of the original to gargantuan proportions. Turtles on steroids, indeed.
Certainly, it is absurd it took three screenwriters to concoct a plot this insubstantial. The twist tying April to the turtles on a more emotional level than before is a good idea yet the film does not exploit this at all. We never sense the turtles care all that much about the human characters. Their hormone-addled teenage antics prove as tiresome as they were in the old movies (the turtle cartoon was always more fun) what with Raphael's surliness and Michelangelo reacting much like any other teenager to the pulchritudinous presence of Megan Fox adding a weird note of bestiality that harks back to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III (1993). Megan Fox unfairly drew most of the flak for this film including a Razzie award. To be honest she is as good as anyone could be in the relatively thankless role of April O'Neil, a character scripted as a child's idea of a plucky girl sidekick. In fact Fox proves a tad more charismatic and deft at comedy than past live action Aprils. Following Sarah Michelle Gellar's kick-ass animated girl power reinterpretation of April in TMNT it is a shame the film constricts its lone female character to damsel-in-distress for much of the time although Fox gets one shot at gutsy heroism at the climax and shares a great dynamic with a very engaging Will Arnett. So there you go, that's my attempt at defending Megan Fox.
Writers Josh Applebaum, Andre Nemec and Evan Dougherty pull off the odd funny line and their script has a pleasing self-awareness of its own absurdity. Liebesman, a more than competent filmmaker, lends the shapeless story a certain sweep and pace crafting the sort of eye-popping action sequences likely to wow a ten year old. A breakneck car chase with the turtles on snowboards battling gun-toting Foot soldiers is the most impressively realized hi-octane set-piece. Still it is oddly structured film that takes forty-two minutes to set up a very simple plot and over-relies on exposition over action as a means of storytelling. It also steals an outrageous amount from Star Wars (1977) to the point where George Lucas could sue.