They’re teenagers, they’re mutants, they’re ninjas, and they’re turtles.
Up from the sewers by way of some handy toxic waste, those Renaissance-named, three-fingered, ninja-fighting, pizza-eating turtle siblings are back in their first all-CGI adventure. They say funny-tough things like, “I’m gonna drop-kick you to hurty-town.” They squabble with each other, but when it matters, they fight together. This time, their challenge is zillionaire Max Winters (voice of Captain Picard/Professor Xavier Patrick Stewart), a huge man in a huge office at the top of a huge skyscraper. Helping out the Turtles are their sensei (teacher), Master Splinter (voice of Mako) and their ninja-tastic pals April (voice of “Buffy’s” Sarah Michele Geller) and Casey (voice of Fantastic Four‘s Johnny Storm, Chris Evans).
Once again, the fate of the world is at stake. Thousands of years ago, the stars aligned to “open a portal of unknown power.” It also released 13 monsters and turned an army into stone. Now, that portal is poised to re-open. Unless all of the monsters are returned, well, a lot of bad stuff is going to happpen.
But before that can happen, the estranged turtles have to find a way to become a team again. Leonardo has been sent off by Master Splinter to learn some lessons of leadership. The others have gone off on their own, one entertaining at kids’ birthday parties, one doing computer tech support, and one, well, the TMNTs may be great fighters, but they aren’t too swift if they can’t figure out that when Raphael sleeps all day and there’s a mysterious Nightwatcher vigilante fighting crime every night, there just might be a connection.
The real power in the TMNT stories is the transformation, but in this movie that’s all in the past, and it is difficult to get much satisfaction from the comeback premise or the attempts to create some sibling rivalry. And there is no way the intended audience could be interested in the generic commitment-phobic romance between April and Casey (“I don’t know if I can be the grown-up she needs me to be”) or the references to the Gilmore Girls and “those kind of” phone lines. The movie has the challenge of creating a sense of danger and combat without exceeding the limits of the G rating. The bad guys have red glowy eyes and there’s some fancy footwork and weapons-wielding peril but, even with a nifty skateboarding scene, it’s more video game than story.
Parents should know that there is a lot of cartoon-style violence in this film, mostly martial arts, with kicking and weapons, including knives. We do not see any injuries but some characters are evaporated and a tranquilizer gun is used. There is brief crude humor and there are some rude comments and epithets (“Dirtbag”). April has the wasp waist and bare midriff of a Barbie doll, raising body image and expectation issues for both boys and girls.
Families who see this film should talk about the sibling rivalry among the turtle brothers. Why was it hard for them to be nice to each other? How were they different? How were they alike? Where do you see the importance of compassion and humility in your own lives?