*Warning. Mild spoilers ahead*
Fans of “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” will be pleased to hear that Michael Bay’s latest movie doesn’t butcher the origin story in the way they feared.
They may be disappointed to learn, however, that the movie isn’t about the turtles.
Instead, it’s all about Megan Fox.
See Fox fall. See Fox quiver. See Fox hide behind things.
“TMNT” marks the reunion between the 28-year-old bombshell actress and Bay, who had a falling out while working on the Transformers film franchise. Now, it appears Fox gets more screen time than Leonardo, Michaelangelo, Donatello, or Raphael in the Turtles’ first motion-capture film.
After a stunning, comic-book-stylised opening sequence in which we learn how the turtles came to be, we only get glimpses of the creatures. Their crusty exteriors spiral through the night air as they take on the film’s villains in an early fight sequence. The backs of their large, round heads peek above the sewer grate. Their can’t-possibly-be-human shadows slither through the subway tunnels.
Seventeen minutes go by before audiences get a good look at their beloved, half-shelled heroes. Seventeen minutes!
In the meantime, we get to know Fox’s character, April O’Neil, a gutsy reporter looking for a scoop. Tired of interviewing fitness gurus on camera, she’s desperate to lose the fluff beat and be taken seriously as an investigative journalist.
And in the flick’s major plot twist (made obvious pretty early, you’re not missing much by reading on…) it’s revealed that Fox is the daughter of the scientific researcher who mutated the Turtles in his lab, many years ago. They were, in fact, her pets before she set them free.
Her big break arrives when O’Neil stumbles upon some illegal activity by the loading docks one night. An organised crime group called The Foot Clan has been terrorizing the residents of New York City in recent weeks, and O’Neil runs into them randomly as they seem to be transporting goods. Out of nowhere, the Turtles appear — or should I say, they arrive on the edge of the camera frame and stay out of the audience’s sight — and engage in some serious whooping, from what I can gather.
Having been the sole witness to the vigilantes’ successful thwarting of Foot Clan activity, O’Neil returns to the newsroom with the exclusive of a lifetime. Except that she has no photos, no positive identifications, and a description of the six-foot-tall good guys that makes her sound like a lunatic.
With that, we launch into Bay’s “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” origin story. Will O’Neil reunite with the Turtles and earn their trust? Will her colleagues — played by Whoopi Goldberg and Will Arnett in total lackluster performances — ever believe her ludicrous but very real journalistic hunch? And will she learn the whole truth behind her father’s death, and how it all-too-coincidentally relates to the Turtles’ existence?
What’s most frustrating about Bay’s franchise instalment is not that it’s Fox-heavy; it’s that when the Turtles are on-screen, they’re fantastic. And you wish you could see a whole movie about them. (Oh, wait.)
The throwbacks to the comic books and TV animated series are spot-on but not overdone, from the sparing use of the “Cowabunga” catchphrase to the product-placement pizza. Michelangelo is still a cool dude with his puka shells and pick-up lines, a taped-up-glasses-clad Donatello remains hesitant but brilliant; and Leonardo and Raphael are still butting heads, though they’re intensely loyal to their brothers and sensei.
There are moments throughout the film where the audience sees their relationship light up, and we’re reminded of the goofy, adolescent fun that the Turtles represent. Most memorably, during the movie’s climax, they’re stalled in an elevator while in pursuit of the Foot Clan’s ringleader. Patiently waiting for the doors to open, they start beatboxing. Watch the clip here.
But those moments are just that — moments. Bursts of silliness that make the audience’s nostalgia bubble up. Then the camera pans to Fox, endlessly trying to get out from behind the rubble.
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