TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES
Review by: Christopher Haskell
December 27, 2014
Michael Bay’s “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” are definitely not the ones you knew from your childhood. This time around they are motion captured CGI rather than complete animation or dudes in rubber suits but that is actually a step in the right direction. Their bodies might look steroid-ridden but their iconic humor endures, with their adolescence shining through. They are brothers, they each have unique personalities, and yet they always stick together. With Michael Bay as producer, the film takes on the tendencies of the “Transformers” franchise with its action-over-substance mentality and major set piece moments over an actual plot progression. Character depth is extremely thin, especially for leading lady Megan Fox, who looks good as April O’Neil, yellow jacket and all, but that’s about it. Will Arnett even has a hard time finding his comedic footing. However, some of the magic from the Turtles’ heyday prevails, simply shrouded by action movie mediocrity.
In this incarnation, April’s father and Eric Sacks (William Fichtner) are involved in creating a mutagen that is being tested on four turtles and a rat. But when their lab goes up in flames, young April nabs the test subjects and sends them into the sewers to save their lives. Years later, they grow to become the teenage mutant ninja turtles that we know and love. Grown up herself, April is trying to breakout as a journalist but to no avail. Stumbling upon some activity from a local gang called the Foot Clan sends her into a whirlwind that involves rediscovering the grown Turtles and their new life as crime fighters. When Eric Sacks gets wind that his experiments are still alive, he and the archnemesis Shredder resolve to capturing the Turtles and bleeding them of the mutagen in a plot to take over the city.
At times, the narrative constructs of “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” feels like the creators going “see, we know the Turtles’ lore” with pizza references and a few “cowabungas” thrown in. These nods are, of course, to attract previous fans, but the film also includes plenty for newcomers, like a freestyle rap in an elevator that ends up being one of the highlights of the film. Even the assault van makes an appearance. Following with the trend of grounding these superhero films in reality, Master Splinter (voiced by Tony Shalhoub), the rat turned sensei, is grotesque looking, so much more deliberate than his representations in the animated series and the previous films. However, that reality is completely abandoned when it comes to Shredder, who loses everything from his previous embodiments and becomes completely unbelievable. With boomerang knives for hands and the stature of Megatron, the bastardization of this Turtles character is particularly upsetting. The writers even have a chance to slightly redeem themselves with the flesh-and-bone villain of Eric Sacks, played by the powerhouse William Fichtner, but instead write him with the most stereotypical villainous tendencies that make his character complete two-dimensional. Even the fight sequences that the film relies on are hit-or-miss, with the downhill sledding sequences hitting rather well while the battle in the sewer and the fight on the top of a skyscraper come off like exact replicas of fight sequences in “The Amazing Spider-Man” between Peter Parker and the Lizard.
As much as anyone loved the Turtles growing up, little could have been done to make “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” a successful venture by consensus. Especially with Michael Bay at the wheel, this new iteration was either going to push the boundaries too far or not enough, with zero sweet spot even achievable. Ultimately, as far as the cinematic representation of these characters go, there was nowhere to go but up. We dealt with and learned to enjoy the guys wearing rubber Turtle suits because we had nothing better. By having Michael Bay step in and give them the “Transformers” treatment, it helps to at least hook new generations to these classic characters and will hopefully set enough wheels in motion to get the sequel to land closer to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles that we deserve. Until then, however, I saw we learn to enjoy the Turtles that we have been given. And just keep reminding yourself, at least they weren’t aliens.
August 8, 2014
“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” by Kevin Eastman & Peter Laird
(for sci-fi action violence)