THEATRICAL REVIEW: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)
Produced by: Michael Bay, Andrew Form, Bradley Fuller, Galen Walker, Scott Mednick, Ian Bryce
Written by: Josh Appelbaum, André Nemec, Evan Daugherty
Edited by: Joel Negron, Glen Scantlebury
Cinematography by: Lula Carvalho
Music by: Brian Tyler
Starring: Megan Fox, William Fichtner, Will Arnett, Alan Ritchson, Noel Fisher, Jeremy Howard, Johnny Knoxville, Pete Ploszek, Tony Shalhoub, Danny Woodburn, Tohoru Masamune, Whoopi Goldberg, Minae Noji, Abby Elliott, Taran Killam, K. Todd Freeman, Paul Fitzgerald, Malina Weissman
Based on the comics by Peter Laird and Kevin Eastman
Full disclosure: Of all the nerdy things that I’m into, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was, incredibly, the one thing I never actually got into. I do recall that my first exposure to them was through the old Nintendo game when I was little and my friend brought over his NES sometime before I started kindergarten. I remember that was pretty fun, but I really had no broader understanding of what the franchise really was until I got went to school and made more friends, but I was already at a stage where I looked down on them as being pretty stupid. (The Power Rangers were way better, amiright?) So, by the time that I wised up and realized a silly concept doesn’t automatically negate something as being legitimately entertaining, I was still pretty much just ambivalent about the whole franchise and never cared to catch up to the hype train. That’s right – I’ve never seen anything Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle related beyond the video game and… maybe one or two episodes of the 1990s series. That is, until this past weekend.
I wasn’t planning on seeing this initially. I had two coworkers who were/are pretty big fans who were pretty excited for it, despite the freaky character designs and the producing duties belonging to none other than big budget schlock master Michael Bay. The one who ended up seeing the movie early on balked at the reviews and my revulsion for the trailers, however, and insisted I would eat my words if I just went and saw it for myself. And so I did. My first Ninja Turtles…. anything. I went alone, hoping for the best – the best, in this case, being that the movie would at least be so bad it was enjoyable. And, failing that, at least I had decided to also buy some candy with my soda.
The film opens up with fleeting glimpses at the Turtles’ hands as they gear up for a night of crime fighting. Right away, you know that the movie is going to be a chaotic mess thanks to no one shot is held for more than a second. It’s supposed to get you pumped up for the action, but with all the shadows and the meandering dialogue from the heroes playing over the scene, it kinda feels like footage shot at the world’s most poorly lit rave. Savor it, however, as it’ll be a while until you see these guys again. The movie’s primary focus seems to be on April O’Neal, a struggling reporter who is looking for a meatier story than the fluff pieces she’s usually assigned as the hot girl on staff. Naturally, this results in her getting tangled up in matters greater than she ever expected… but, first, she has to spend about 50 minutes figuring out just who these ninja turtle guys are. I’m sure it’s fascinating to April, but it’s not made all that interesting for the audience, even for those who were never fans in the first place.
See, that’s one of the biggest problems with the movie: it’s friggin’ loaded with dull exposition and plotting that’s meant to induce some sort of mythological wonder about these ridiculous characters. Now, don’t get me wrong here – I’m not putting this series down and fully recognize that even Batman is a ridiculous concept when you think about it, but if there’s one thing I know about the Ninja Turtles, it’s that they were always intended to be sort of ridiculous, anyway. They were originally a parody of the Frank Miller grim-and-gritty style and, yeah, morphed into the far more kid-friendly, pizza-scarfing, skateboard-riding form we more often think of today, but they were still ridiculous and, more importantly, aimed to be fun to watch. I can tell that, perhaps, this new film was attempting to strike a balance between the adult and child-friendly with its grittier-than-cartoons action, “realistic” character designs, and an honest attempt at making the characters resonate with audiences on a more emotional level, but it only barely works. Unfortunately, this has resulted in a film that is never really comfortable with being as silly as it is, sometimes even going so far as to apologize for it in the form of a joke. We know you’re ridiculous, movie! Just embrace it!
Luckily, amidst all the gabbing about honor, character origins, relations with fathers, and Will Arnett hitting on Megan Fox in unfunny ways, there is some other story about William Fichtner teaming up with the Foot Clan and their fearsome leader, Shredder, to release a potentially deadly disease into the air and enslave New York by forcing them to buy the only cure for it, which just so happens to be manufactured by Fichtner drug company. That in itself isn’t terribly interesting, but the resulting battles that stem from this plot thread at least result in some CGI-heavy action sequences between the Turtles and some faceless ninja dudes. Of the few that are there, there really one really stands out – it’s that one in all the trailers where the turtles are hurtling down a snowy mountainside and taking down a bunch of SUVs. Unlike most of the action sequences and … pretty much every other aspect of this movie… at least that one has a certain semblance of gravity going for it that makes it feel a lot more tangible and risky. It’s a pretty decent effects fest, even with the ever present herky-jerky cam that also happens to make even simple dialogue scenes feel like they were filmed in a bouncy castle. You’ll never forget you’re watching a movie (and with those horrendous character designs, you’ll be happy to have a constant reminder that they can’t actually hurt you), but there have been far worse things I’ve seen.
Likewise, Megan Fox has probably done worse in the Transformers movies, and the rest of the cast is… fine, I guess, too, but hardly remarkable. Anyone who doesn’t care for Johnny Knoxville will be grateful for the fact that he disappears into the role so much that you really can’t tell that it’s him voicing the personality-free Leonardo, I guess, and Fichtner looks like he’s having some fun as the megalomaniacal scientist guy. Those who enjoyed the kinda disappointing Silver Samurai in The Wolverine might get a kick out of Shredder here, too, ‘cause he’s pretty much exactly that, only pointier and with more screen time.
I guess the same could be said about this latest Ninja Turtles flick, too, honestly. It’s certainly terrible, but it’s also pretty forgettable. The movie is mercifully short in real time (despite feeling like an eternity) compared to the 3 hour Transformers movies, and Nickelodeon has certainly commissioned far worse films than this, too – but then that’ll always be the case with The Last Airbender around. Like with that movie, I kind of feel like I’ve been presented with a stripped down, bastardized form of something better but which never caught on with me in the first place, and now I have to hold back judgment on the source material from an objective standpoint because I know there’s got to be something more than what’s presented in the bland and often unbearable live action film that was made in its place. I guess we should be thankful that there were no accusations of whitewashing the cast – heck, they even made a progressive choice in casting Whoopi Goldberg as a character originally portrayed as a white, blonde guy. Consider your bone thrown, critics, and all of Nickelodeon’s sins forgiven, I guess!
If you’re a fan of the source material and haven’t done so already, then, by all means, I get it and would recommend it for you for the nostalgia factor, just as I would with any Batman film, no matter the reviews. It’s just my thing. For anyone else, though, consider, instead, going out and buying a large Dr Pepper and some peanut M&M’s instead. That was certainly the best part of my movie going experience that day.
The Viewer’s Commentary Rating: 1 / 5