Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Director: Jonathan Liebesman
Starring: Megan Fox, Will Arnett, William Fichtner
101mins; Class12;
KRS Releasing Ltd

Among the many pop culture phenomena born in the 1980s were the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, created by comic book artists Peter Laird and Kevin Eastman in 1983.

Barely able to fund an initial print run of 3,000 copies, the success of the comic book grew exponentially as the characters struck a chord. The comics, of course, spawned a popular animated series, which seemed to be all over the place whenever I changed channels on cable TV.

The hefty anthropomorphic turtles, with their coloured eye-masks, ancient Ninja weaponry and their unique names – Leonardo, Raphael, Donatello and Michelangelo, named of course after master Renaissance artists – are back, attempting to stake a place in 21st-century pop culture. I confess to never really understanding their appeal in the 1980s and this latest incarnation does nothing to change my mind.

Like any story that is rebooted, this version of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (TMNT) is an origin story.

Through flashbacks from the film’s human protagonist April (Megan Fox) we learn that the turtles, the result of a scientific experiment gone terribly wrong years before, are living underground in the sewers of New York.

In the meantime, the city is cowering under the evil machinations of a crime syndicate known as the Foot Clan, while billionaire scientist Eric Sacks (William Fichtner) promises to come to the city’s rescue – although he clearly has his own evil agenda – and it is up to the TMNTs to emerge from hiding and save everyone.

Characters are surprisingly bland and colourless

TMNT can’t seem to decide who its audience is. The idea of the characters themselves is rather ridiculous, yet instead of having fun with its premise, the story takes itself way too seriously, its attempts at injecting depth and pathos in the characters to appeal to the older Superhero audience simply not working.

It is one thing for a fictional hero like, say, Tony Stark/Iron Man to have internal conflicts that really shape his human self and alter ego. It is quite another when applying this approach to gigantic reptiles, and the introspective moments they share simply do not ring true.

On the other hand, if this is aimed at young children, it is surprisingly bland and colourless despite the many action scenes that pepper proceedings.

The characters are sketch-ily drawn, the humour conspicuous by its absence and the special effects that went into creating the creatures rather pedestrian.

There is little Fox can do in the role of junior reporter attempting to find the big story that will boost her career, bogged down by trite dialogue and faux emotion in the flashback scenes.

Fichtner manages to just about avoid the pitfalls usually associated with the evil scientist stereotype, while the comedic talents of Will Arnett and Whoopi Goldberg are completely squandered, the former stuck in a sidekick role that is thankless, the latter in a pointless blink-and-you’ll-miss-her cameo as April’s curmudgeonly boss.

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