Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Review
Posted by Jeffrey Harris on 08.08.2014
The world's most fearsome fighting team is back for a new live-action reboot of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise! Are the heroes in a half-shell better than ever or does the new film disappoint? 411's Jeffrey Harris checks in with his full review!
Directed By: Jonathan Liebesman Written By: Josh Appelbaum, Andre Nemec, and Evan Daugherty; Based on the comics created by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird Runtime: 101 minutes MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
Leonardo - Pete Ploszek/Johnny Knoxville Raphael - Alan Ritchson Michelangelo - Noel Fisher Donatello - Jeremy Howard April OíNeil - Megan fox Eric Sachs - William Fichtner The Shredder - Tohoru Masamune Splinter - Danny Woodburn/Tony Shaloub Vern Fenwick - Will Arnett Karai - Minae Noji Bernadette Thompson - Whoopi Goldberg Taylor - Abby Elliott
The heroes in a half shell, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, are back in a new action-packed adventure from producer Michael Bay and director Jonathan Liebesman. After the anthropomorphic turtlesí first appearance about 30 years ago, the franchise of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles has managed to withstand the test of time. Somehow, the series has constantly been able to find some sort of reinvigoration- through new animated shows, comics, or what have you. The last time the Ninja Turtles were onscreen was the 2007 CG animated film directed by Kevin Munroe. The film was decent and a mild success, but not the hit it was aimed to be. The franchise was later purchased by Viacom and re-launched with a new show on Nickelodeon, with Paramount teaming up with Bay to bring a new live-action film to the screen.
This new film in particular endured a great deal of controversy throughout its development after Bay revealed that the Turtles in the new film would be part of an ďalien race.Ē There were other troubling script leaks that implied a white-washed version of the Shredder. To be completely fair, none of those versions panned out or turned out to be true. The Turtles are not aliens. Shredder is not William Fichtner as originally thought. One of my longtime favorite characters from the franchise, Karai, has her first live-action appearance here, played by Minae Noji. The original live-action film released in 1990 is still a classic in my eyes. However, is this film a successful reboot? WellÖnot so much.
In New York City, jaded reporter April OíNeil (Fox) is trying to get her big break and wants to be taken seriously as a reporter. Aprilís cameraman, Vern Fenwick (Arnett), tries to encourage her to stick with the fluff pieces, but April is steadfast in wanting to expose the activities of the Foot clan, a gang of criminals that has been terrorizing the city. Eventually, April gets a glimpse of a vigilante fighting the Foot and disrupting one of the gangís arms deals. In another instance, the Foot attempt to take hostages in a New York subway. April runs into the thick of the danger, but the civilians and April are saved by the four Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Leonardo, Raphael, Donatello, and Michelangelo. April sneaks up on the group and tries to take a picture of them, but the Turtles catch her and erase her phone. April is still able to catch one photo of them running off. Something is familiar about the turtlesí names, and April looks back into her old journals. Aprilís father was a scientist who worked for the lucrative tech company, Sachs Industries, under Eric Sachs (Fichtner). 15 years earlier, Sachs and Aprilís father were experimenting on four turtles and a rat named Splinter with some experimental ooze that apparently came from outer space. April watched over the critters, named the turtles after Renaissance painters, and fed them pizza. However, her father tragically died in a mysterious lab fire. April is fired by her boss (Goldberg) for bringing her this story, and she tries to go to Eric Sachs for help. What April does not realize is that Sachs is actually aligned with the Foot clan and its leader, Master Shredder (Masamune).
Once the Turtlesí adopted father and sensei Splinter (Woodburn/Shaloub) gets wind of his sonsí encounter with April, he has them bring her to their lair. Splinter explains that April was their savior after she saved them all from the lab fire where they took refuge in the sewers and grew into human-sized mutants. However, Splinter is aware of Sachs and Shredderís nefarious goals. The Turtles and Splinterís blood is the key for Shredder and Sachs to take the city hostage with a chemical weapon, so the Turtles have to stop it.
I will give Liebesman this: He does a very good job with pacing, which is strong and quick. Scenes move quickly from one sequence to the next. However, the filmís rapid pacing comes at the cost of a coherent story with actual substance. The film never really has a chance to breathe or develop its characters beyond their threadbare characterizations.
The basic building blocks for the characterizations of the Ninja Turtles are there. The personalities of all the characters are fairly accurate. However, only Raphael has something halfway equating a character arc, and that is only brought into the plot twice. I hate to compare this film to Guardians of the Galaxy, but in that film great care was taken to make Rocket Raccoon into a well-rounded, fully developed character in a film with a lot of other characters and spinning plates. Unfortunately, the Ninja Turtles get the short end of the stick here. The Turtles bicker but never come off as fully realized characters. It is similar to the barely characterized Autobots or Decepticons in the live-action Transformers films.
The new designs and CG motion capture work will likely divide a lot of people. Granted itís a mixed bag in the film. A lot of the CG and visuals look really good. The redesigns for the Ninja Turtles generally work. The new designs make them look a lot more individualized and imposing. Unfortunately, Splinterís new design looks horrible. I realize Splinter is an anthropomorphic rat, but he never looked so hideous before. Not that Splinter should be handsome, but he should not be such an eyesore to look at.
Addressing the backstory changes is a bit of a difficult subject. This franchise has gone through many different versions and iterations for the origin story of the Ninja Turtles, Splinter, and Shredder. This is merely another alternate version. I am not a fan of the change in the backstory here. I realize that it is ridiculous to argue about what is dumber--having Splinter as a regular rat learn martial arts and ninjutsu from watching his master versus a mutated Splinter teaching himself ninjutsu from some trashed books in the sewer. Both ideas really sound silly if you truly break them down. However, the new film fails in that it presents and executes all the major story elements in a haphazard, convoluted fashion. The film constantly throws exposition at you that make no sense. The Ninja Turtles and Splinter no longer have a personal connection or vendetta against Shredder. That is sacrificed for a nonsensical personal connection with April.
Sachs is really a terrible villain. His aim in the plot is to make a lot of money from holding the city hostage with a virus. This makes no sense because he already appears to be filthy rich. Sachs has enough money to R&D and build an Iron Man style suit for Shredder. Why does he need more money? Why does he think this plan will work? Essentially, his plot resembles the first Austin Powers movie when Dr. Evil is unfrozen, and No. 2 exposes how ridiculous it is to hold the world for ransom because Dr. Evilís legitimate front company already makes billions in profit.
In defense of Megan Fox, I do not think she is terrible in the role. Sometimes she gets slagged on unfairly, and she really appears to be trying here. She probably has some of the more humorous moments in the film, since the Turtles do not have very many. The moments where she is forced to explain out loud what is going on actually worked for me. Those bits seem to be steeped in the humor and basis for this franchise from the get go. Will Arnett blatantly hitting and crushing on her was the most amusing subplot in the film.
The action is really fast, quick, and kinetic. The fight sequences are put together very well, except when Liebesman opts for excessive amounts of hand-held, shaky camera work. This made many moments rather jarring and dizzying to watch in 3D. Some of the visuals actually did pop out of the screen quite well, but other times it moved way too quickly. It looked as if the visual effects supervisors wanted these sequences to evoke almost like a thrill or rollercoaster ride. The effect with these sequences leaves something to be desired and makes it harder to take in the visuals.
The film makes a lot of questionable choices in terms of editing and storytelling. At one point, it is revealed by Splinter that Aprilís father basically started the lab fire in order to stop Sachs and Shredder after he learned what they wanted. So, Aprilís dad basically killed himself and risked his daughterís life. Then this event is contradicted and makes no sense. At one point, Shredder has all the good guys defeated and at his mercy, and he just walks away. Had he finished the job, the Turtles would have been done for and Shredder would have everything he wanted. The reasoning for Shredder leaving is inexplicable. During the climax, a major beat is established with the chemical weapon; and that is completely ignored for the sake of big explosions, debris, and mayhem. At least the original, for all its flaws and looking dated, made sense and did not constantly undercut its own plot.
All these issues aside, men my age are not the target audience for this film. The screening I attended took place in a room filled with kids who appeared to be absolutely enthralled with what was onscreen. When Karai came onscreen, a kid sitting fairly close to me loudly whispered to his dad or guardian, ďThatís Karai!Ē I do not begrudge any kids or families who enjoy these films. However, not all kidsí movies have to be as flawed and foolish as this film. It would have been preferable if the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles had found a stronger medium between having fun, yet still presenting a great story like the 1990 film.
The 411: Will your young kids like this film? They probably will. In terms of reboots, it is not the worst thing I have ever seen. I love the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles world and characters, but for me, these stories are not sacred texts. The changes in the film could have worked better. However, the changes are not as bothersome as the idiocy of the plot twists and the actual villains. For dedicated and hardcore fans of the franchise, I recommend sticking with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles animated series currently airing on Nickelodeon, which is a much stronger re-envisioning of the characters.