Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)
Published by The Massie Twins
Release Date: August 8th, 2014 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Jonathan Liebesman Actors: Megan Fox, Will Arnett, William Fichtner, Johnny Knoxville, Tony Shalhoub, Whoopi Goldberg, Minae Noji, Abby Elliott
esiding in the sewers of New York, four mutant humanoid turtles train hard and wait patiently to become guardians of the city – as their destiny surely dictates. The rise of the Foot Clan, helmed by ruthless warlord the Shredder (Tohoru Masamune), is the catalyst for the half-shelled Raphael, Michelangelo, Leonardo, and Donatello to emerge from their subterranean dwelling and protect innocent civilians from terrorism. The Shredder’s soldiers routinely rob genetic research supplies from the Brooklyn docks to aid in a devious master plan of citywide domination. Meanwhile, April O’Neil (Megan Fox), a journalist for Channel 6 News, maddeningly contends with covering primarily frothy, foamy, filler pieces that lack substance but entertain the unintelligent masses. Her cameraman Vernon Fenwick (Will Arnett) doesn’t always support her yearning to tackle real stories, but he’s quick to accompany a pretty face. Her boss Bernadette Thompson (Whoopi Goldberg) doesn’t share the same sympathy.
Like Batman loftily descending from out of the darkness and rain upon armed thugs, the six-foot anthropomorphic terrapins foil a dock heist and are dubbed heroic vigilantes by April as she snaps a photo of the reveling fighters. Similarly metamorphosed giant rat Splinter (Tony Shalhoub), serving as a paternal sensei for the turtles, collects April to reveal that they were all part of Project Renaissance, a mutagen research program that millionaire Eric Sacks (William Fichtner, the go-to wealthy businessman movie villain) abused to create a powerful antidote that would lead to a ransoming of humanity for countless riches. Together, they must race against time to stop Shredder and his cohorts from bringing mankind to its knees.
The world domination plot (a “quest to reclaim victory”) is entirely stale, though the turtles’ origins receive a slightly new twist, especially in their relationship to April. The accompanying dialogue is rarely anything more than lifeless as characters spout generic scientific jargon, familiar catchphrases (“Cowabunga!”), and preachy convictions about teamwork, friendship, and self-esteem. Fortunately, the slapstick and infighting provide mildly amusing comic relief, while Arnett humorously leads the actors in the struggle to convincingly deliver hokey lines. “So, they’re aliens?” asks Vern. “No, that’s stupid. They’re reptiles,” replies April.
Like something out of a monster movie, the ninja turtles are gradually revealed through strobing lights, choppy cuts, speedy pans, and obscured flashes of leathery appendages. When they’re finally shown in full view, their designs are somewhat unsightly, missing the usual cuteness that saturated their action figure and cartoon series’ conceptualizations. Appropriately, April faints when she sizes them up. And Splinter looks even freakier.
It’s a good thing that since the late ‘80s the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have been ingrained in popular culture; the ninjitsu, pizza cravings, and hi-tech accouterments might not be so easy to digest if the imagery wasn’t so familiar. For this type of story, the fully CG heroes (as well as the Shredder) aren’t much more appropriate than the guys-in-rubber-suits from the 1990 theatrical venture; though here it’s easier to buy into the outlandish physics and unnatural choreography that presides over the adventure, adrenaline, martial arts battles, car chases, slow-motion camerawork, and obligatorily dragged out finale full of showdown-stalling tactics and repetitive clashes. Perhaps oddest of all is the PG-13 rating, slapped onto one of the tamest actioners in quite some time; a couple of subtle edits could have brought the MPAA certification down to match the younger target audience – without upsetting older crowds interested in revisiting this well-liked franchise.
– Mike Massie
Anyone unfortunate enough to have a Nintendo device in the house will be familiar with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, who star in one of the most insidiously addictive Nintendo games. The turtles live in the subways beneath Manhattan, where, exposed to radiation, they have grown into teenager-sized, intelligent creatures, and have absorbed such items from the culture as surfer jargon.
On the Nintendo screen, the turtles leap, spin, cartwheel and eat pizza. Everything they do is accompanied by the same maddening music, which plays over and over again until it drills itself into the tooth of your mind. There are said to be many levels to the video game, but I succeeded in penetrating only to the second before I realized I had to abandon Ninja Turtles that instant, or risk permanent psychic damage.
Now comes "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" the movie. I did not walk into the screening with a light step and a heart that sang. For that matter, I did not walk out afterward with my spirits renewed. But this movie is nowhere near as bad as it might have been, and probably is the best possible Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle movie.
It supplies, in other words, more or less what Turtle fans will expect: the Ninja Turtles, subways, pizzas, villains, a rudimentary plot and an explanation of how the Turtles met their Zen-master, a wise old rodent.
Having not followed every detail of the film's production with great interest, I was surprised to discover it's a live-action film. I expected animation - a spinoff of the Saturday morning Turtle cartoon show. But no. These are actual human beings for the most part, including stunt men inside the life-size turtle suits (certain other characters have been created artifically by the Jim Henson folks).
The plot? Do you care? It involves a TV news reporter and her friends, a teenage crime wave, a secret society named the Foot, and a learning experience for the Turtles as they grow and adapt and become braver warriors with more character. And there are flashbacks to give us the back-story about how their rodent teacher came by his knowledge.
The most interesting part of the film for a non-Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle fan is the production design - the sewers and the city streets above them. Roy Forge Smith is the designer, and seems inspired by a low-rent vision of "Batman" or maybe "Metropolis" (1927). The city looks like a grungy back-lot version of shabby film noir, and the sewers are like medieval dungeons. It's a very dark film, and one wonders, after seeing it, if young Turtle fans are being denied the brightness and bounciness of an earlier generation of kiddie films.
Concerns have been expressed about the Turtles recently on two subjects: the level of violence, and the presence in some Turtle stories of characters that may imply negative racial stereotypes. There is no racism in the film version, and the violence is fairly routine, as these things go - stylized and not very graphic.
"Turtle," by the way, is a very funny word.