Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Review

5 Overall Score
Story : 4/10
Characters : 6/10
Direction : 5/10

The Turtles themselves, Some Visual Flair

Unconvincing Story, Dull, Lacks Emotion

Let me take you back to the year 1984. Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird were searching for inspiration, a new idea to take to Mirage Studios as an idea for a comic book series. After a session of brainstorming (and what I must assume was a copious amount of drugs), they found their premise; four anthropomorphic turtles serving as the ninja guardians of New York City. Thus the “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” were born, first as a satirical black-and-white comic, then as the more colorful, kid-friendly personalities that we know today. Exactly 30 years later, the identifiers of Leonardo, Donatello, Raphael, and Michelangelo are more synonymous with the four turtles than the Renaissance painters they were based off.

The latest iteration of the “TMNT” phenomenon has been met with its share of controversy. Michael Bay’s involvement in the project caused many nostalgic fans of the property to audibly scoff, and that was coupled with unpopular rumored changes to the franchise’s mythology (i.e. the choice to transform the turtles from mutations into aliens). For every choice that was or wasn’t made, negative buzz continued to build. So what does director Jonathan Liebesman’s final product evoke? It’s a film of two entirely different minds, frequently capturing the spirit of the Ninja Turtles while also suffering the same setbacks as several higher budget films. It’s neither good nor bad; it is thoroughly frustrating.

The 2014 version of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is not just the story of the four titular brothers, but also the story of April O’Neil (Megan Fox). O’Neil is an aspiring investigative journalist trapped in the doldrums of daytime television fluff pieces, but her luck changes when she witnesses a veiled, hulking vigilante attack members of the villainous terror group known as the Foot Clan. Further investigation leads her to discover the turtles, Leonardo (voiced by Johnny Knoxville), Donatello (Jeremy Howard), Raphael (Alan Ritchson), and Michelangelo (Noel Fisher). O’Neil digs deeper and discovers that her fate is directly tied to the turtles’ existence, as her father and his boss, corporate man Eric Sacks (William Fitchner), helped create the turtles as they are today. She also uncovers a plot by the diabolical leader of the Foot Clan, The Shredder (Tohoru Masamune), to destroy New York as we know it. It’s up to the turtles to save the day.

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We all expected significant changes to the origins of the turtles in this adaptation due to the pre-production buzz, but the adjustments made by Josh Appelbaum, Andre Nemec, and Evan Daugherty are far less egregious than anticipated. The decision to make April and the turtles meeting a huge coincidence is a misstep, but it could’ve been forgiven if the rest of the story came together in a satisfying fashion. That happens very infrequently, however, as the story follows so many of the tropes of modern blockbusters that it becomes nauseatingly predictable and easy to follow. Predictability isn’t necessarily an awful thing, especially in a film aimed as children such as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. But Ninja Turtles’ frequently makes little to no sense, requiring quite a bit of logic stretching or unconditional acceptance of things that don’t add up. This applies especially to the Shredder’s villainous plan, which made me wonder on several occasions if the supposed evil mastermind had spent longer than two minutes coming up with this dastardly scheme.

Liebsman’s direction falls in line with his work on films such as Battle: Los Angeles and Wrath of the Titans. He has a knack for letting the pieces of the film play out without injecting any sort of emotion into the proceedings. Ninja Turtles’ money is always on the screen, and it occasionally visually dazzles. In particular, an action sequence at the beginning of the third act involving the turtles and a snowy slope is a highlight for not just this film, but for the summer movie season. However, Liebsman left his pesky pathos at home once again, as Ninja Turtles works better as a visual effects package than it does an actual film. The rest of the action is unspectacular, and the film is more concerned on keeping things moving than it is in giving its characters depth. Granted, the Turtles themselves have always been broad archetypes, but to give them nothing different to do after all these years is aggravating.

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Having said that, a number of things can go wrong with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles if the titular characters themselves fulfill their expected duties. When the four brothers are onscreen, kicking butt and cracking wise, the film comes to life. A lot of people have taken exception with their character designs, but I kind of appreciate their bulky physique as a more accurate depiction of what it would be like if four turtles were genetically mutated (stupidest sentence I’ve ever written). Out of the four, the two that usually standout are Michelangelo and Raphael, and that’s certainly the case here.

Fox is fine as April O’Neil, and she’s certainly improved as an actress as the years have passed. Will Arnett plays cameraman Vernon Fenwick, earning a couple of funny lines but mostly fading into the background. Fitchner is his usual strong presence as Sacks, but the role frequently wastes someone of his considerable talents. Same goes for Whoopi Goldberg, whose role as April’s boss is so thankless you wonder why she even showed up.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles may be rated PG-13 and has garnered some general interest from nostalgic adults, but this is first and foremost a Nickelodeon Movies production. This is an adventure aimed at kids, lacking the intellectual weight we’ve come to expect from our blockbuster films. For adults, it features flashes of the Turtles movie we want to see, but constantly becomes muddled in problems that we so don’t want to see. As per Michael Bay formula, it feels more like a product than a film at points. Because of this, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles rarely comes to life with the energy expected of a story following four crime-fighting reptiles.

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Author: Andrew Auger View all posts by
Andrew Auger is a student at Marist College and is majoring in Journalism. He is a huge fan of movies, and considers the late film critic Roger Ebert his idol. He hopes to one day be a prestigious film critic just like Mr. Ebert.

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