Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, 2014.
Directed by Jonathan Liebesman.
Starring Megan Fox, Will Arnet, William Fichtner, Alan Ritchson, Noel Fisher, Pete Ploszek, Jeremy Howard, Danny Woodburn, Tohoru Masamune, Whoopi Goldberg, Minae Noji and the voice talents of Johnny Knoxville, and Tony Shalhoub.
A group of mutated warriors face off against an evil kingpin who wants to take over New York.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles has had an uphill struggle since it was first announced a few years back. Whether it was the fact that Michael Bay was in the producer’s seat, a change to the Turtle’s origin or simply the overall re-design of the heroes in a half shell, this latest iteration of the classic 80s comic book has been the Internet’s punching bag and with many denouncing the movie before it was even released. Well, now that it has been unleashed (for several months in the US no less), was all the pre-release hate warranted?
Kind of. Well, not exactly.
Set in New York City, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles opens April O’Neil investigating crimes in the area that are linked to a gang known as The Foot Clan. But as she gets closer to discovering the truth, four vigilantes show up and start their own mission to take down The Foot – the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
As you can tell from the above couple of sentences, that’s quite a simple plot for what should be a simple movie. And while there are a few other beats between the notes, they are all pretty much filler to the overall story. The problem with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles however is that its crams in so much story and backstories into such a short amount of time. At just 101 minutes, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles should feel like a breath of fresh air compared to overlong and bloated blockbusters like The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and Transformers: Age of Extinction, but its brief runtime is actually one of the film’s issues as it stuffs two and a half hours worth of movie into an hour and forty. Each scene zips into the next at such a fearsome pace that nothing has any impact or point. The Turtles are captured in one scene and then rescued in the next, Megan Fox thinks William Fichtner is a good guy and then learns that he isn’t just moments later, The Foot discover the Turtles exist and also where they live in the exact same one-minute scene. There is no time to breathe. So much so that if you were to ask someone coming out of the theatre what The Foot Clan’s masterplan was, they’d probably struggle to tell you. It’s not complex or difficult to understand, it’s just explained quickly and then put into action thirty seconds later and foiled shortly thereafter.
Which is a shame because the three main action sequences in the movie are actually really great. The first attack on the sewer is well-directed and the downhill mountain chase is thrilling and genuinely exciting. It features an obnoxious soundtrack, but it doesn’t deter from the fun. Considering that the movie is directed by an utter hack in the form of Jonathan Liebesman, a man who is yet to show any signs of why he keeps getting hired to direct movies, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles features some of the best action sequences seen in this year’s blockbuster movies. Indeed the final showdown between the Turtles and Shredder is filmed with style and finesse, only held back by the fact you don’t care about the outcome of the fight because you’re given no reason to.
The other issue with the movie is that the main protagonists are not nice to look at. This sounds like an incredibly vein comment, as if this reviewer is suggesting that all lead characters should be good looking, but in this case it’s true: the Turtles are ugly. They’re horrible to look at. And when they’re this badly designed, it’s hard to warm and empathise with them. And while the Turtles share more in common with monsters from Universal horror movies than loveable teens, it’s Splinter who suffers the worst with the filmmakers thinking that basing him on an actual rat would add some realism to the proceedings. But it’s hard to get emotionally invested in his speeches when they’re being delivered from cold, black, soulless eyes.
Much has been said about the change to the Turtle’s origin story and it is something that could bother lifelong fans of the franchise, but it’s not just the fanboys and girls who will find issues with it. For whatever reason, the various writers on the movie felt that everyone needed to be connected and everything needed to be wrapped up nicely with a bow in order for it to make sense. Why April needed to have named the Turtles or why Splinter was her pet is a real head-scratcher of a choice, considering they then have to come up with a hackneyed and lame reason for why he then knows jiu jitsu. It’s changing the origin for the sake of changing it rather than having a legit reason to do so.
Speaking of April O’Neil, Megan Fox gives an all-time classic lazy performance and the very talented and funny Will Arnet is given such awful material to work with that he just comes off as annoying. William Fichtner, like Fox, is phoning in every line and his character is so poorly defined that you’ll forget he was even in the film. Much like The Shredder, the most iconic of the Turtle’s villains, who is reduced to a few scenes and zero character development. According to the credits, the film also contains an appearance from Baxter Stockman, but I’m buggered if I remember him doing anything. Conversely, they actually get the character traits of the Turtles rather well with Michelangelo being the best written character with the funniest lines. Raphael goes on his traditional story arc, but like everything else in the movie, it’s just rushed and uneventful. Donatello is given little to do, but Leonardo has some pretty decent moments – even if the voicework by Johnny Knoxville is a little more than off-putting.
But as is seemingly common with movies made for children, there are some questionable additions. For example, the film contains an erection joke and gags about Lost. Because, you know, the youth of today were really into a show watched by adults that ended nearly five years ago. And, you know, making dick jokes in a kid’s movie is really “edgy”. At least it as less offensive than the statutory rape joke from Transformers: Age of Extinction. To be honest, the funniest moments in the movie come from the overt product placement for Microsoft, particularly a conversation clearly written in the script as a phone call but played out as a Skype video call on screen.
So, is Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles worthy of being hated on by the masses? Not really. It’s probably better than you’d think, but it’s still not very good. As a backhanded compliment, it’s not the most-hateable of 2014’s blockbuster movies based on an existing franchise. Kids might get a thrill of out the Turtles punching and kicking their way through the mundane dialogue scenes, but there is little on offer and on show for anyone else (unless you love erection jokes). Despite a few good action set pieces, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a horribly rushed affair that feels like it can’t wait to be over. Perhaps its biggest offence is that it’s completely forgettable.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Luke Owen is the Deputy Editor of Flickering Myth and the host of the Flickering Myth Podcast. You can follow him on Twitter @LukeWritesStuff.
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