Movie Review: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)
When news spread that Michael Bay would produce the next live action Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie, hopes were not high. Announcements such as Megan Fox playing April O'Neil did not please fans, and the announcement that the eponymous turtles would be aliens only made their collective blood boil. The film was made: Michael Bay still produced. Megan Fox still played April O'Neil. However, the turtles remained mutated teenagers and the adaption was a little more faithful. So how did it turn out?
April O'Neil is a TV news reporter who has been relegated to puff pieces, but dreams of more. She stumbles onto the story of a lifetime when she discovers an ongoing battle between the foot clan and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. O'Neil follows the trail of the turtles only to discover that they were part of an experiment that her father worked on when she was younger. Although nobody believes her, April soon discovers that businessman Eric Sacks is teaming with the Foot Clan - and their leader Shredder - to use the turtles for sinister purposes.
One of the biggest flaws of the film is that the film focuses way too much on April O'Neil. So much early screen time is dedicated to April investigating the turtles that it feels less like the film is building suspense and more like the film is actually the April O'Neil Story with the eponymous turtles as supporting characters. At first this comes off as annoying that the film is so centered on April, but there are points where this becomes comical. The origin story is rewritten to say the turtles were April's pets. This plot turn is okay in theory, but in execution, it comes off like another reason to make April the focus of the story. SPOILER ALERT: For crying out loud, April even defeats Shredder in this film! SPOILER OVER.
As for Fox's performance as April. She is trying. And that is problem, she comes off like she is trying, rather than her performance coming naturally. Also, a good portion of her performance is spent breathing heavily. Seriously, was Fox allergic to something on the set? She breathes more heavily than Darth Vader! While the temptation is to dismiss Fox's performance as eye candy, she is likable enough in the role. (Also, for a little extra fun, try counting the number of shots of Fox's behind. One of the best laughs in the movie even acknowledges this.)
Some of the other characters are disappointing too. Will Arnett as Vern is a role that should have been a match made in Heaven. Arnett is one of the most gifted comic actors working in the business and he is adept at playing arrogant characters. However, his charisma and comedic timing can not overcome weak material. He has a line here and there that earned a laugh, but little else. The villains are pretty forgettable. Shredder feels largely crowbarred in, he is just a pawn and his outfit looks like it would be more at home in a Transformers film. Though to be fair, he does have some exciting fight scenes with the turtles. Adding insult to injury, he is only a pawn for another villain. William Fichtner is somewhat entertaining as Erick Sachs, but the character is very much a stock villain. His plan is pretty stock too. Gassing the citizens? The Joker, Scarecrow and the Lizard may want to have a word with him about that.
Even with these flaws, there are things to like about this film. For starters, the Turtles themselves are a lot of fun. These characters have been reinvented to the point where there is no 100% correct way to depict them. Having said that, the portrayal in this film is faithful to the source material. We know these personalities: Raphael is cool but rude, Michelangelo is a party dude! However, the green ones still have their own identity compared to other incarnations. They are fun, silly, have some funny one-liners and there are a lot of good moments such as when they break out into song while riding an elevator. These are the kind of guys I would follow for an entire movie. Wait a minute, this IS supposed to be their movie! Even if they should have been in more of the movie, any time the turtles were on screen, it was fun.
The characters' design is a bit of a mixed bag. It would have been nice to see practical effects, but there was very little doubt that the main characters were going to be CGI. This movie does suffer from having the bad luck of being released so soon after Guardians of the Galaxy. That film had some farfetched characters that really looked as though they were on screen. With this film's CGI, the illusion just is not there, and the film often resembles a cartoon. Also, the turtles are kind of ugly. However, on a positive note, the characters do have individual designs and are not just pallet swaps of each other.
The use of CGI does also have the advantage of allowing the characters to do a lot during the fight scenes. Splinter, in particular, is a much more active character in this film. Splinter has always been a fun character, however participates in more action in this movie with some imaginative uses of his tail. We really see Splinter whip the Turtles into shape - including an amusing scene where he puts the heroes in a half-shell through some bizarre physical challenges. Although it was hard to hear the voice without imagining Adrian Monk (or Antonio Scarpocci for Wings fans), Tony Shalloub was entertaining in the role of Splinter.
Action scenes are a big part of summer blockbusters. Although the film is a little back heavy with the action - most of it appears in the film's third act - the action scenes are generally exciting. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles does not reinvent the wheel in terms of action scenes, but they are entertaining. The film promised big action set pieces and martial arts battles, and it delivers. There are some annoying aspects - such as pointless slowdown in battles - but overall, these are quality action scenes.
There are other things to like about this film. In a day and age of overbloated summer blockbusters, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is the ideal length. At a brisk 101 minutes, this film is long enough to give viewers their money's worth, but short enough that it does not wear out its welcome. And to be fair, the film is never boring. The film is book ended with some neat comic book style title cards. Okay, this sort of thing would not change the quality of the film one way or another, but it is a nice touch. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles does carry a PG-13 rating. For concerned parents, there is some bawdy humor and a little bit of swearing, but nothing that left me thinking "How did they sneak THAT into a PG-13 movie?" If the kids have seen any of the other big action blockbusters, they will be able to handle this one.
Overall, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a flawed but still enjoyable movie. Mileage may vary on recommendations since different fans will have different ideas of what the turtles are and should be, but I can say I enjoyed this film. This is not the kind of movie that will be remembered for the ages, but it is fun for a few hours and worth seeing once - even if just a Netfix rental.
Favorite Ninja Turtle?
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