Movie Review – Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)
– Summary –
Director : Jonathan Liebesman
Year Of Release : 2014
Principal Cast : Megan Fox, Will Arnett, Alan Ritchson, Noel Fisher, Johnny Knoxville, Jeremy Howard, Tony Shalhoub, William Fichtner, Tohoru Mashamune, Whoopi Goldberg, Minae Noji, K Todd Freeman, Pete Ploszek, Danny Woodburn.
Approx Running Time : 100 Minutes
Synopsis: Four mutated turtles team up with a human reporter to stop a poison gas from killing millions in New York, unleashed by the Foot Clan, led by The Shredder.
What we think : A dynamite lack of concern for logic bedazzles, shreds and blasts its way through the screen, as the most famous teenage mutant ninja turtles in the world do their thing for the umpteenth time in twenty or so years. Honestly, as much as I hated this franchise before, I thoroughly enjoyed myself here. Thoroughly.
I never liked the Turtles. There, I said it. So now you know, I’m going into this film with a fair bias against the franchise; as a teenager during the late 80’s and early 90’s, the popular toy of the era was, naturally, the humanoid turtles with ninja weapons and a very small rogues gallery. Because Transformers were so, like, 1986. Pizza-chugging Donatello, Leonardo, Raphael and Michelangelo, together with Splinter (a talking… rat), Shredder (a walking cheese grater), a mutated rhino and some kind of George Lucas-esque pig thing, all battling for a variety of New York’s crime control, the cartoon version of the Peter Laird comic book series managed to prove to be a commercial juggernaut for about half a decade – three live-action films were made in 1990, 91 and 93, before the franchise petered out as audiences grew up and moved on. A rebooted cartoon series lasted between 2003 and 2009. Another rebooted series came along in 2012, after a film reboot in 2007 with TMNT. Now, in 2014, we’re subjected to another New York-centric Turtle film, this time live action with CG blended turtles, and a return to the big screen for Megan Fox. People have grown up with the Turtles in one form or another, perhaps their children as well. Yet I still never “got” the franchise – really, giant mutated, ninja-fighting turtles? This film represents the first exposure to the Turtles I’ve had since 1990’s feature film, a film I endured at the hands of my brother and at the behest of my parents. I don’t hold much hope in enjoying it, but I’ll try and let you know if it’s a worthwhile film, bias aside.
Listen to Wiz Khalifa, Juicy J and Ty Dolla Sign, Kill the Noise and Madsonik: Shell Shocked.
Okay, so I’m not the intended audience for this movie, but I can still appreciate it objectively. If I try, really, really hard. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is reckless, juvenile, ridiculous, sublime, and exciting – I honestly had a great time. Nah, it’s not smart, and hell if there’s some stupid stuff going on in this movie, but for a film about four talking turtles it’s actually pretty decent. Superb CG effects on the turtles help the action-mode screenplay and discombobulating direction from Jonathan Liebesman (Battle LA, Wrath of The Titans) to bring a sense of modern action-heroics to the screen, a far cry from the 90’s puppets and roughshod television animation. And these Turtles kick ass! I found myself smiling more often than not, and never once checked my watch (a very good sign these days); the 2014 Turtle iteration is thoroughly designed for toy sales and mass market appeal, although in saying that there is a fairly dark layer of tone and violence here that younger children might not appreciate.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is pure Hollywood spectacle. It’s a film only money can buy, the kind of extravagant CG fest and explode-a-thon that serious franchise fans will lap up, and most other respected critics turn their noses at. Designed to maximize impact at the expense of character, Turtles delivers plenty of rapid-fire wit (some of which doesn’t work, but mostly does), some delightful action sequences (an exciting truck-down-a-snowy-mountain moment is probably the where most of the money went), and absurdly scenery-chewing performances by William Fichtner, Megan Fox (as April O’Neill, and who surprisingly doesn’t suck!) and Will Arnett (The Lego Movie’s Batman), who all appear to get that they’re in a film with talking turtles. If you agree that it’s a stupid premise, and just go with it, this film is a whole whack-a-doodle of fun.
Key to this fun is the personalities of the Turtles. Previous iterations of the Turtles on screen have left me cold, since they appeared to be identical in personality (differentiated only by their colored masks and different ninja weapons), yet here each of the four have distinct character traits that identify them. The Turtles face a threat from the heartless William Fichtner (as a former scientist ally of April O’Neill’s father) and The Shredder, as a deadly chemical weapon is to be detonated over New York City, with the Turtle’s mutagen-blood holding the key for a valuable cure – it’s a “populace held to ransom” scenario, although the film doesn’t focus too heavily on the real-world applications, instead spending most of its time on the chop-socky fight scenes and ninja-related action beats. Raphael, who could be considered “the angry one”, has leadership issues with Michelangelo (the blue one, and the real leader), while Leonardo (the yellow one, who jokes a lot) and Donatello (the “techie” one who would be more at home wielding an iPhone than anything else) bring the film’s humor to the fore. They’re led by Splinter (voiced by Tony Shalhoub), a mutated rat who teaches them to be ninjas, although I do think as a design, he’s probably the ugliest character in the film.
While the script makes the most of the insane premise, and glosses over the utter stupidity of it all with a sheen of inordinate suspension of disbelief, director Jonathan Liebesman should take most of the credit for how well this film works. The inclusion of Megan Fox and Will Arnett provide human context to the plot, yet the major fault of the movie is that it slows to a crawl whenever they’re on the screen. This isn’t the fault of Fox or Arnett mind you, it’s more than the Turtles are so much more developed and… er, interesting, seeing Fox stand up against Shredder just doesn’t have the same impact as Raphael’s kick to the head does. The action is large in scale – it’s set in New York City, so how could it not be? – and delivers plenty of destruction and stunts, gravity defying aspects of Turtle-powered shenanigans, and an adrenaline blast of fun as the teenage reptiles take to the streets to save the day.
Considering where I started with this franchise, I’m just amazed at how much I enjoyed this film. Whether it adheres to the established canon of the franchise’s creative elements, I’m not sure, but based purely on what I saw on the screen, it’s a damn fun film to while away an hour-and-a-bit. There’s some cool laughs, some terrific action sequences, and Megan Fox totally doesn’t ruin the film by being in it. Take from that what you will. This Turtles film is so totally… um, cowabunga dude?
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