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

  • keith

    loool.. this is what i expected. now where can I get the classic online for the ps3? I thought they took it off the ps store. So they are bulletproof now? whats the point of being a ninja?? I would say they look freaking monstrous. They look like something the hulk should and need to smash. You are right just give him power rangers and let bay go insanse.

  • Seriously. It was so goofy. I’m disappointed it sounds like it will beat out “Guardians” this weekend.

  • Andy

    What do you mean “Never got a good live action TMNT”? The original and Turtles in Time were both excellent movies for their audiences. Maybe not for you, but millions would disagree.

  • I thought the first one was a bit over the top kiddie.

    Andy, thanks for respectfully disagreeing. You give me hope for the net yet. Are you looking forward to this one?

  • Dani

    Personally, I like their appearances. They kind of fit the Turtles, what with Raph being the strongest, Donny the geek (though that’s kind of going over the top), Leo being all Zen, and Mikey being the goofy one. I do agree with you about Shredder, though, however cool he may look to younger kids. I didn’t grow up with the “original” Turtles, though I’ve seen the old movies (I was one of the kids who watched the 2003 series), and they were just as silly. I still liked them. Still, maybe the fans would be better off making their own movie.

  • Fred

    True, it could happen but it will be a very close race this weekend.

  • Being a fan of the 80’s cartoon and the original live action movie i have to admit I am excited to see this one..i think the biggest surprise for me is how the critics are not bashing this movie simply because M Bay is associated with it. Whenever it comes to reading reviews about his movies i normally have to break out a thesaurus to under stand what the critic is saying!!…that being said the general census seems to be that though its not a great movie…its not a bad one either…I appreciate your POV, I got that it was honest and not biased….but…. i’m afraid I’m still gonna fork over that green this weekend…and yes that pun was intended.

  • I liked the differences to them, but I found them too hulking and a bit rough and not so kid-friendly, which seemed to go against the rest of the film’s tone. Thanks for writing in Dani. Be curious to hear your thoughts after you see it.

  • Appreciate your comments Michael. I’m not necessarily anti-Bay as I’ve enjoyed a number of his films save the Transformers. Turtles didn’t have to be bad per se, but a few mistakes messed it up and really held it back from reaching its potential.

  • That it shall! ?

  • keith

    Jeff just to show you are fighting the crime of bad movies, I will give you an example from last night. Im just hanging out and I see a friend on facebook( one of the laker haters). He says he going to see turtles and was trying to talk me into it. I was like nope, I have a guy who reviews movies and he is good at what he does( minus one film lol) I said I trust him and he hasnt let me down. I said you going to get your feelings hurt since he is a big turtles fan. After a about a 10 minute exchange of trying to get him to go see guardians or if he would see get on up again, I would go. Long story short. around 11.. He was like you were right. It was terrible. So what have I learned today: Suffering through bad movies so you don’t have to is what jeff does man! lol Thank you from saving my time and money

  • My man! I appreciate the kind words. I try to warn folks but in some cases they enjoy what I hate. Doesn’t sound like that’s the case with the majority of folks though?

  • Dani

    I retract my previous statement. I liked it, more than I thought I would. I can make out the more fast-paced fighting sequences just fine. Splinter totally kicks butt, by the way. The Tasers were more like cattle prods. You jack it up high enough, it’ll take down anything, thick skin or not. Back to their appearences, the Turtles and Splinter are mutants; you can’t expect them to be all cute and cuddly. The animals aren’t that way to begin with, and people just don’t realize that. Very small kids don’t need to be watching this anyway; the rating is a testament to that. And the city isn’t quite under the Foot’s control just yet. If it was, the cops and the city council wouldn’t even bother trying to stop them, which they are trying. As for females, we never really have good characters onscreen. Mostly they’re half naked, sitting on some guy’s lap. Megan Fox does a pretty good April; she cares more about the story than her camera man, who is (typically) constantly trying to get with her. Main stream audiences might like it for the blend of humor and action if that’s what they like. I didn’t see a problem with the weather/time thing, but maybe that’s just me. I really have nothing to say to the comic book fans, other than you can’t expect this to be just like the comics. From what I’ve heard, they were a lot darker than what this is movie meant to be. This is all with the utmost respect. I’m just stating my opinion, like you are. The only real complaint I have is not keeping the Foot as ninjas, and Splinter being Yoshi Hammato, or the other way around. I still kind of liked what they did with him, though.

  • Can I get an “I told you so”? Seriously, they could have just re-made the original TMNT movie and had a better film. Sheesh. I’ll stick to the Nickelodeon cartoons.

  • You told me so 🙂

    I still don’t see what’s so hard about getting this franchise right.

  • Hey Dani
    Glad to hear you enjoyed it more than I did. And hey, this site is all about sharing our thoughts on movies, comics, whatever. Long as we all do it respectfully, I welcome different opinions on ’em! Hope to hear from you again soon! 🙂

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