Review: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)

Industrial Light & Magic / Paramount  Michelangelo, Raphael, Leonardo, and Donatello
Industrial Light & Magic / Paramount
Michelangelo, Raphael, Leonardo, and Donatello

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” makes one thing painfully obvious for longtime fans of the property — we’re never going to get a good live-action movie.

The premise — four mutated turtles trained as ninjas seek to protect New York from an evil ninja group called the Foot Clan and their armored leader The Shredder — is one that shouldn’t be this hard to make work. Yet every filmmaker who tackles the property finds some way to drop the shell.

Industrial Light & Magic / Paramount  Leonardo, Raphael, Michelangelo, Donatello, and Splinter.
Industrial Light & Magic / Paramount
Leonardo, Raphael, Michelangelo, Donatello, and Splinter.

When producer Michael Bay came on board, there were crazy rumors that there was going to be massive changes to the turtles’ origin like making them aliens from a planet full of turtles. Not shockingly, fans were outraged and for the 1,138th time called for Bay’s head. In a rare concession to the masses, Bay backpedaled and stays mostly consistent with the established origin. The screenwriters even manage a cute line mocking the rumored twist on the film. That’s not to say that some deviations still won’t leave longtime fans seething.

This time, the Foot Clan is a group of gun-toting thugs who alternate between being a shadowy, clandestine force to one that operates in broad daylight based on the screenwriters’ whims. Businessman Eric Sacks (a slumming William Fichtner, “Armageddon”) is mobilizing a weapon to stop Shredder (Tohoru Masamune, “Inception”) and the Foot Clan as the regular city police can’t get the job done.

Mark Fellman/Paramount Pictures Vern (Will Arnett) and April O'Neil (Megan Fox).
Mark Fellman/Paramount Pictures
Vern (Will Arnett) and April O’Neil (Megan Fox).

Intrepid aspiring news reporter April O’Neil (Megan Fox, “This is 40”) wants to break the story of a vigilante fighting back against the Foot, but she’s stuck filming fluff pieces with cameraman Vernon (Will Arnett, “The LEGO Movie”). While her acting hasn’t improved any since the “Transformer” films, Fox seems more relaxed and comfortable. Arnett is around for human comic relief, but he’s largely annoying in a role he can’t salvage.

As April digs further, she encounters four turtles Leonardo (Pete Ploszek/voiced by Johnny Knoxville), Raphael (Alan Ritchson), Michelangelo (Noel Fisher) and Donatello (Jeremy Howard) and their rat sensei Splinter (Danny Woodburn/voiced by Tony Shalhoub). Thankfully, the turtles’ personalities are unscathed so Raphael is appropriately surly, Donatello is the tech geek, Leonardo is the straight-laced leader and Michelangelo is the playful fun one who gets most of the film’s best lines.

Industrial Light & Magic / Paramount  Raphael, Michelangelo, Leonardo, and Donatello in "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles."
Industrial Light & Magic / Paramount
Raphael, Michelangelo, Leonardo, and Donatello in “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.”

Sacks is interested in the turtles for his own purposes while Shredder prepares to unleash his master plan that will require the four brothers to use all their prowess in order to save New York from annihilation.

Designs for the turtles, Splinter and Shredder are all hideous, with the turtles being the biggest offender thanks to their more sinister, villainous look. Shredder, meanwhile, resembles a cross between Iron Man and one of Bay’s overly detailed Transformers.

Industrial Light & Magic / Paramount  Michelangelo, Leonardo, Megan Fox as April O'Neil, Raphael, and Donatello in "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles."
Industrial Light & Magic / Paramount
Michelangelo, Leonardo, Megan Fox as April O’Neil, Raphael, and Donatello in “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.”

Director Jonathan Liebesman (“Wrath of the Titans”) doesn’t stay consistent within the framework of the film. Significant differences in time and weather occur from one scene to the next seemingly because that’s when the set/location was free. The turtles are both bulletproof yet somehow strongly affected by Tasers and Shredder’s big plan consists of ruling a city the Foot Clan clearly already has firmly under control.

The action scenes are the film’s highlight, even if Liebesman doesn’t shoot them in a manner where you can exactly make out everything that’s happening. This is further complicated by one of the worse 3D transfers this year, which is clearly more a cash-grab with dizzying effects meant to compliment nausea far more than any action sequence on screen.

Industrial Light & Magic / Paramount  Shredder faces off against Leonardo, Michelangelo, and Donatello.
Industrial Light & Magic / Paramount
Shredder faces off against Leonardo, Michelangelo, and Donatello.

The biggest disappointment is that the movie didn’t have to be such a complete travesty. It’s not like the original 1990 film was such an untouchable classic that any remake was destined to fail. Instead, the filmmakers make all of the same mistakes as the previous films: focus on the kids rather than audiences in general. Is it that hard to just rip off Marvel Studios’ formula of making a PG-13 rated film that connects with comic book fans, females, mainstream audiences as well as children??

There’s no reason for yet another mediocre “Turtles” movie beyond something even stronger than turtle power — more green. Don’t reward this lackluster by forking yours over. Instead, just treat yourself to dinner at your favorite pizza joint and play the arcade classic online. It’s guaranteed to be a lot more fun.

Rating: 2 out of 10

Buy on 3D Blu-Ray: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Blu-ray 3D + Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD)

Buy on DVD: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

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