THE STORY ·
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)
Studio: Paramount Pictures, Nickelodeon Studios
Release Date: August 8, 2014
Synopsis: The city needs heroes. Darkness has settled over New York City as Shredder and his evil Foot Clan have an iron grip on everything from the police to the politicians. The future is grim until four unlikely outcast brothers rise from the sewers and discover their destiny as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The Turtles must work with fearless reporter April O'Neil (Megan Fox) and her wise-cracking cameraman Vern Fenwick (Will Arnett) to save the city and unravel Shredder's diabolical plan.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
By James Harvey
Slightly over 30 years ago, Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird created a cynical satire of the popular comics at the time which they gave the laughably absurd title of: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Comic readers ate it up and its immediate success as an indie comic brought forth opportunities to merchandise and bring the turtles to television and theaters. The franchise is no stranger to being milked for every dime it can shell-out so I am not the least bit surprised Paramount and Nickelodeon thought they could make lightning strike again. However, this movie somehow manages to be even more soulless than every other attempt before it, despite including a moral about the importance of family. Probably above all other criticism, I feel I must address that while this movie didnít brush the real heroes aside as badly as Transformers, it was still very much a film focused on the turtleís human companions.
The turtles themselves are actually handled decently. Their trademark personalities are all present and their comradery can be felt when theyíre together. The problem is the film does not give you the time to get to know them and largely assumes you already know Raphael is the brooding loner who picks on the others to hide his insecurities but never actually shows a scene that definitively displays that aspect of his character, so the moment where he comes clean to his brothers lacks the emotional punch it could have had. Leonardo does not get to do much leading of the group, so if not for a brief argument between himself and Raphael early in the film or any prior knowledge of their relationship, the moment when Raphael approves of Leonardoís leadership would also fall flat. Donatello gets to demonstrate his tech knowhow and Mikey is the goofball you expect him to be but this is instantly soured by his fixation on April. All four turtle voices were adequately acted so no qualms there. Master Splinter is handled as well or better than the turtles. He gets to do some serious fighting and I have to say the creative use of his tail was fun to watch. Thereís one scene where you get to see him discipline his disobedient sons and the fatherly aspects shine through. All five of these characters could have turned out far worse. Tony Shalhoub may not be the best choice for the old rat sensei but heís sufficient.
The majority of the movie has April OíNeil trying to break out of her unsatisfying career as a fluff piece news reporter. She goes looking for trouble and sure enough she finds it and that leads to a lot of plot conveniences. April is the star of this movie and I think I would not have minded that quite as much if anyone else was playing the role besides Megan Fox. Fox is not particularly convincing as April but maybe if this was her first movie I would not have minded so much. Sheís not awful in the role but she definitely does not bring anything to the role either. While I feel casting Will Arnett as Vernon was genius, he is not given good enough material to make his presence worthwhile and Whoopi Goldberg was barely even there. William Fichtner was not given anything to allow his character Eric Sacks to be the least bit compelling. He was a rather bland antagonist. TMNT fans may recognize Karai and Baxter Stockmanís names come up in the credits but thereís nothing to say about either of them other than that Karai was the field operations leader of the Foot Clan who barked some orders and did little else. Shredder is also in this and his contribution is limited to a few snazzy fight scenes. Shredderís plan is generic and feels like it was stolen from any number of recent action movies.
The origin story of the Ninja Turtles has had numerous variations and the most popular one was from the 1980s cartoon, which is dramatically different from the origin in the Eastman and Laird comic. I am not personally hung up on tweaks to the origin story here but there is one change that I think most long time TMNT fans will hate and it puts many of the plot conveniences in question. This origin trades one binding connection for another in attempts to simplify the story which greatly hollows-out the motivations of Splinter, the turtles and Shredder in favor of making April more important. As I said before, April is the star of this movie. She is the driving force and she even gets to attack Shredder on two occasions. Maybe that will be empowering to young women? I guess that is some good that comes out of shifting the focus away from the turtles.
The character animation and action sequences were the highlights of the film. The first few encounters with the Foot Clan are when the turtles are trying their best to not be seen which is quite convenient for the filmmakers. In the scenes where you do get to see the turtles show off their skills, the animation is smooth and the choreography is well done. Iíd have to say they put the majority of their effort into the action sequences and the animation of the turtles and Splinter. I suppose thatís to be expected. If the writing was better those scenes might have popped but for some reason these moments that should have been thrilling greatly lacked excitement. The cinematography also left a lot to be desired. I feel like these action sequences should be easier to follow. They are easier to watch than the poorly framed fights in the Transformers movies but thatís not saying much. There does not seem to be a particularly good reason why the turtles are so much larger in this film and that makes getting them all in the frame all the more difficult to accomplish. The designs are too busy and the faces of the turtles are too distracting due to the emphasis on their lips but for the most part the animation is more than adequate. The sound track is also fitting if not actually one of the better aspects of the film.
I do not know what Nickelodeon was thinking slapping their name on this film because it is not a movie I would recommend for children. Besides the occasional crude humor and vulgar language it is also brutally violent and the turtles do not take care to avoid killing their enemies. I question if the children watching the Nickelodeon cartoon will find much to enjoy here besides the overall spectacle. This film has next to nothing in common with the story of that series and is clearly aimed at nostalgic older teenagers and adults who fondly remember the 1980s cartoon and the 1990s movies. The nods to the 1980s cartoon do appease my personal nostalgia tank, though some of them feel more than a little forced. In a sense Iím glad to see a TMNT movie that pushes PG-13 and is not intended for children but pushing this movie to PG-13 is just a pale attempt to give it artificial edge rather than making a film with a gripping and mature story.
Overall this feels like the shell of a decent action movie. Many of the necessary elements are in there but the writing is so uninspired that it is incapable of binding those elements together effectively. The Ninja Turtles can command their own movie with ease. Audiences have loved them and related to them for three decades. Someone should have told these filmmakers that they should not try to fix what is not broken. While there are attempts at conveying some messages none of them resonate because they feel so hollow. It is reasonable to say the decision makers simply did not care how this turned out because they knew it was going to sell by name alone. There are hints that they made some adjustments mid-production to avoid completely ticking off the majority of TMNT fanatics and that likely negatively affected whatever narrative they were crafting, leaving the film feeling more than a little incomplete.
Perhaps the most admirable thing about this movie is it avoids offending the audience to a significant degree so it is watchable and only occasionally causes anguish. However, the end result is bland and lacks depth while not making up for it in overall entertainment value. It simply is not a genuinely fun experience and even the best action sequences cannot make up for that tremendous flaw. Despite that, the things it does well keep it from being the worst Ninja Turtles film to date and it likely will appeal to a wide audience, though the audience I saw it with rarely laughed at the questionable attempts at humor.
Personally I do not recommend spending your hard earned green on seeing this in theaters but if you really want to watch the touted snow chase scene and the showdown with Shredder on the big screen, catch a matinee or get discounted tickets. This movie does not deserve your money. Itís lukewarm drivel saved by the few aspects about the beloved franchise they did not kick to the curb. Youíre only proving their point that the name is all they need to sell the movie if you go see it in theaters.
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