Did the world need another Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles spin-off? Most people who lived through the glory days of the late-'80s cartoon version and early-'90s live-action films, with their ubiquitous catchphrases and inescapable product lines, probably don't think so, but hardcore fans are still waiting for a version that does justice to the grim tone of the original Kevin Eastman/Peter Laird comics. First-time writer-director Kevin Munroe comes closer than most with the dark, sleek CGI feature TMNT, but while the visuals are terrific, the plot is a distracting clunker that feels like it was written one line at a time by a bunch of overexcited fan-board commentators playing a round-robin storytelling game.
From the beginning, TMNT is clearly a fans-only project: It skips the tedious backstory and launches straight into the action, which begins 3,000 years ago with a warrior-king (Patrick Stewart) who used a rare astrological conjunction to gain immortality. Unfortunately, the process also turned his favorite generals to stone and loosed 13 hideous monsters on the world. Now, with the conjunction again imminent, he's brought his stone buddies to a semblance of life and has them rounding up the monsters for a ritual to break the curse on them and himself.
The film's biggest problem? Until a full hour in, it isn't clear why any of this is even remotely bad. Fewer monsters and fewer magical curses seem like a great idea, and the tension runs pretty low as a result. Anyway, the turtles have their own problems, mainly the usual clash between designated leader Leonardo and perennial rebel Raphael, who's been off playing masked vigilante in Leo's absence. Their furious, beautifully animated rainy-rooftop clash is the film's high point, but these character dynamics have been expressed at length before, and they take up so much time that many of the other plot threads get short shrift. Catering to his hardcore fan base, Munroe crams in scenes and side-plots featuring the other two turtles, their allies April O'Neil and Casey Jones, their mentor Splinter (voiced by the late, great Mako, in his last film role), and the evil Foot ninja, but there isn't room for any storyline to breathe, and inconsistencies, plot holes, and massive illogic abound. Celebrity voices (Sarah Michelle Gellar, Laurence Fishburne, Zhang Ziyi, Kevin Smith) and fan-candy moments abound as well, but only those already predisposed to love a TMNT movie that at least looks edgy are likely to care.