Now, I like all kinds of films. Some of them are unabashedly junk food, and such a film taken on its own terms can be quite enjoyable despite the empty calories. In fact, sometimes one finds a real gem that transcends its humble purpose in that sort of bunch. The TMNT film (that is its onscreen title, though the first "T" no longer stands for "Teenage" anymore, it seems) is one such find. It is well-plotted and the CGI is quite arresting. Moreover, the characterization is fantastic, centering on the relationships between Leo, Raph and Splinter (the latter voiced perfectly by Mako, in his last screen role). The movie opens with Laurence Fishburne giving us backstory and bringing us up to speed as to what's been going on with the turtles since the death of Shredder.
It turns out that CGI is the best medium for this property, allowing your protagonists to be inhuman but lithe at the same time. The turtles' fighting style is specific to having a shell, which is a nice touch, but most importantly, CGI has advanced to a point where completely animated characters can emote. The fact that the film works as well as it does it a testament to how context can make any concept worthy, regardless of how outlandish it may seem. This is vital as the film's primary themes of maturity, leadership and family ties require the audience to empathize with giant anthropomorphic turtles.
In this era of franchise reboots, it is gratifying to see a film that takes the history as read and picks up a few years later. Writer-director Kevin Munroe clearly has a lot of affection for Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird's creations, and the new movie straddles the history and depth of the graphic novel and the entertainment factor of the pop incarnations. The result is a fast-paced, enjoyable film that actually does have legitimate wisdom in the mix.
Leaving the film's virulent racism aside, most war films have homoerotic subtext, 300 has homoerotic supertext. This in and of itself wouldn't necessarily be completely disasterous, but there really is little to recommend the film other than its appearance, and I didn't really find that to be all that worthwhile, so all that there is really is a lot of overly graded images of sweaty men looking longingly at one another as they hack up their enemies. In fact, I thought it interesting that the completely CGI world seen in TMNT was more engrossing than the digital enhancement of live-action footage in 300. The video-game action sequences slow down and speed up so often it looks like the editor was just fiddling with the jog control on his VCR. Furthermore, the film is narrated by Dilios (David Wenham), so it has that annoying 'stoic inner voice' thing that Frank Miller mistakenly thinks is in any way cool.
The film opens by showing how years of systematic child abuse makes psychotic xenophobes out of Spartans. These wackos (who speak of Sparta so dreamily you'd think they were talking about heroin) are then pitted against people who are supposed to be even more stubborn and grotesque (here's where the racism enters into it). The film is so derivative and predictable that it feels like you've seen the it already... but done better. In fact, the film is such a mess that one major subplot - Queen Gorgo (Lena Headley) attempting to gain support for her husband Leonidas (Gerard Butler) despite the machinations of the treacherous Theron (Dominic West) - serves absolutely no purpose to the overall narrative whatsoever.*
This gripe extends to the abortion that is Tyler Bates' score, which shamelessly rips off Elliot Goldenthal's Titus when it isn't doing "moaning woman" from Hans Zimmer's Gladiator (and every film score that has come out since) or whining electric guitars. If there is one original note in this score, I haven't heard it. While it would be pointless to blame Bates entirely for this - much of the blame must go to Zach Snyder and temp-track love - it seriously marred appreciation I might have for any other aspect of the film. Of which there wasn't much.
* You may be hoodwinked into thinking it does because of how the scene in the council plays out, but she actually accomplishes nothing there except expose Theron. Only Dilios' return has any relevance to the finale. You could cut this entire sequence out of the film and it would have no effect whatsoever except for possibly making the film slightly less offensive (and, as melancthe points out, blissfully shorter).