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Thursday, 1 January 2015

REVIEW - TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES (2014)

Directed by: Jonathan Liebesman
Written by: Josh Appelbaum, André Nemec, Evan Daugherty
Starring: Megan Fox, Will Arnett, William Fichtner
Music by: Brian Tyler
Release date: August 8, 2014


This movie was never exactly met with great anticipation pre-release. There were so many things against it: Michael Bay and his remake-happy and ingenuity-mining Platinum Dunes buddies were serving as producers, the early leaked scripts depicted the turtles as aliens which enraged fans and contributed to the numerous amounts of rewrites, the new designs were divisive, and Megan Fox - who is so devoid of theatrical talent that even she knows she's never been given a part for her actual acting ability - was in the starring human role. The turtles' cinematic track record is also rocky at best, and with everything else stacked up against it, I would've bet vital parts of my anatomy that this movie would've turned out to be bad. But could there be a chance it defies its low expectations?

The Foot Clan - presented here as a terrorist cult of sorts as opposed to the usual stealthy ninjas - are on an upward rise. Led by the iron-clad Shredder (Tohoro Masamune), they have a tight grip on the city of New York. While trying to find a big scoop in order to be taken seriously in media journalism, intrepid reporter April O'Neil (Megan Fox) stumbles across four mutated turtles - Leonardo (mo-capped by Pete Ploszek, voiced by Johnny Knoxville), Raphael (Alan Ritchson), Michelangelo (Noel Fisher) and Donatello (Jeremy Howard) - and their sensei, a humanoid rat with a Fu Manchu mustache named Splinter. And then there's some convoluted backstory involving the turtles having magic plot device blood and April's father making them what they are today, all of which is a complete waste of time and frankly doesn't make a lick of sense.


When the oodles of poorly-written exposition aren't being shoved in your face, TMNT struggles to stand on the quivering legs of a paper-thin plot that oddly has nothing to say regarding themes or characters. This may be an outing for the young'uns, but in an age where we have kids movies with real brains from the likes of the Toy Story franchise and The LEGO Movie, such minimal effort is inexcusable. The script is lackluster and relies heavily on coincidences, and what little plot we have here is thrown away in favour of stakes and long action scenes in the second act. A lot of it feels like a mish-mash of various standard superhero movie tropes, and the turtles themselves are hardly integral at all. The movie's fast pacing also never really allows the story to breathe.

An interesting point to make is that if you've seen The Amazing Spider-Man (2012), you've seen about half of TMNT. This movie has some uncanny similarities to Sony's premature reboot of the wallcrawler: it's got a conspiracy about a main character's father, a hidden box full of plot information, and a plan to unleash a harmful toxin from a doomsday device at the top of a New York skyscraper taking place in the climax. Sure, The Amazing Spider-Man was a solid movie, but there are better. Out of all the superhero flicks you could've ripped off, why that one?


Even if Whoopi Goldberg is mildly entertaining, the human characters in TMNT are insipid. Megan Fox may as well be reading out the script in front of her and is predictably dull as April O'Neil, with a complete lack of range and enthusiasm for the project. This version of April is also only out to get the best news story instead of trying to expose corruption, which makes her unlikeable and a hell of a lot less interesting. Considering Fox's past squabbles with Bay that resulted in her leaving the Transformers franchise and ridiculing him in a series of hilarious quotes - including one where she compared him to Hitler - it's nothing short of bizarre that they seemed to have kissed and made up for this movie. Despite his attempts to come off as some kind of wise-cracking ladies man, Will Arnett has no presence as Vern Ferwick and is so void of charisma that Michelangelo acknowledges it, and there's an extremely forced romantic angle between him and April that comes out of nowhere at the end of the movie. Arnett also delivers some particularly drab and unoriginal jokes, which is an accomplishment as a lot of the jokes here fall flat on their faces, although there is one scene that takes place in an elevator which is pretty great. Oh, and April's father is evidently a braindead moron, because anybody who sets his lab on fire with both him and his young daughter still inside of it needs to take some lessons on parenting, or at least basic survival skills.

TMNT went through a series of reshoots due to fan backlash that mostly spawned from the turtles' arch-enemy, the Shredder, being made into a Caucasian male whereas he's usually depicted as Japanese. As a result, the character suffers severely. This Shredder is just a big thing for the turtles to beat up during the climax. Played by Tohoru Masamune, while out of costume the character is a nameless Japanese man who spends all of his limited screentime in the shadows and has practically no background and very flimsy motivations. While in the suit he's a shiny robot-ninja-thing with retractable blades as far as the eye can see. Originally, the Shredder was to be played by William Fitchner, who now plays the uninteresting billionaire Eric Sacks. The changes implemented late in production are glaringly obvious, as despite his supposed status as a secondary villain, Sacks certainly has much more screentime than who we're supposed to believe is the main nemesis here. There's also an attempted "I killed your father" twist which is hilariously ineffective.


For all its sins, there are some areas in which TMNT (mostly) succeeds. Character-wise, this movie's greatest strengths are, quite fittingly, the ones that aren't really there. The relationships between them are unexplored, but the four main turtles are all energetically voice-acted and brought to life with some great CGI and motion-capture performances. They're also more visually distinguishable than before, and while Michelangelo can be just a tad annoying with his constant advances towards April and Donatello is a bit too much of a stereotypical nerd, they're all quite entertaining and fun to watch. Surprisingly, Raphael is the only one who goes through some form of an arc, and is strangely presented as more of a leader than the usual captain Leonardo is. Everyone else's arcs apparently occur off-screen, so Raph will probably end up with the most fans. Michelangelo does look slightly creepy with his big human lips, and while you could probably get away with making Raphael the big guy, the decision to make them all six-foot-tall makes them come off as slightly more imposing than they need to be. Splinter isn't really anything more than the obligatory mentor figure and spends most of his time out of action, but he's performed and voiced impeccably by Danny Woodburn. Also, when he does put up a fight he's notably spry - perhaps even more so than the character is usually depicted - and the filmmakers have come up with some creative and entertaining ways for him to use his tail.

In fact, this movie actually boasts some brilliant action sequences. Despite a few quick flashes of unoriginality, the climax is easily the best part of the movie with its fast-paced snowy mountain chase, and boasts some top-notch sound design. The slo-mo is thankfully used sparingly and compliments the action nicely, long-takes and 360 shots are favoured over quick cuts, and the choreography is fairly inventive. It all looks great and as far as TMNT action scenes go, it's something that's never been seen before.


Brian Tyler's score for TMNT is an unusually mixed bag. Technically it's great and the compositions are impressive on their own, but sometimes it can come across as too dramatic and overly-theatrical, with a bunch of guys urgently chanting in some ominous foreign language. It's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, not Lord of the Rings.

TMNT only exists to pacify nine-year-olds and is not a good movie by any stretch of the imagination, but its fantastic action scenes and entertaining main quartet just about save it from being a true travesty. If you're not a forgiving viewer or a Turtles fan, give this one a miss, but as far as the ridiculous amount of reboots/remakes that come out of Hollywood today go, it's surprisingly not awful, just middle-of-the-road. There's little innovation here, but as a shallow popcorn flick it's fairly enjoyable, and despite this movie not being directed by Michael Bay yet having his fingerprints all over it, it's better than most of his movies. I'm pretty sure there was only one unnecessary explosion in here.