I go into the argument of the old Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles vs. the new movie as a neutral party. Yes, I grew up on the late-80s/early-90s television series and yes, I enjoyed watching it. I also remember the movie from 1990 and the rather unfortunate sequel that followed in 1991. Looking back upon these, however, I find little redeeming value other than the vague tickling of my childhood memories. I’m an original TMNT comic book kinda guy and will remain so forever. Imagine my surprise when I walked into the Michael Bay-produced and Jonathan Liebsman-directed 2014 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie and actually found myself having a good time. Wonder why? Read on for the review.
Let’s start with the overall synopsis, though I doubt there are too many people out there that don’t already know what this movie is about:
Four turtles get turned into ninjas because of crazy genetic ooze. So does a rat, who then becomes their martial arts sensei. The Foot clan is terrorizing New York. It is led by a baddy named Shredder (Tohoru Masamune) who has a buddy name Sacks (William Fichtner). They want to kill lots of people. Turtles to the rescue, along with their reporter friend, April O’Neil (Megan Fox). Fights ensue. The world is saved.
Yeah, we’re not looking at anything too complicated here. It’s pretty much the plot to any episode of the TMNT cartoon, though with the origin story squeezed in. They even kept some of the classic turtle clichés around, such as a teenage-like “Whoa, dude!” attitude for Michelangelo and a love of pizza that consumes all four of the team. Though those elements, like most of the comedic bits in the new TMNT, do not drown the rest of the story out in an attempt to appeal to kids and only kids. Heck, they even try to explain the classic silliness by using proper story elements. The turtles grew up eating pizza and learned the majority of their social skills via the bits and pieces of pop culture they witnessed when peeking out of their sewer lair.
This movie is made for the kids that watch the cartoons, for teenagers that like semi-gritty action films and for adults that always wanted to see their favorite ninja turtles taken a little more seriously. Unfortunately, in its attempt to reach every TMNT-loving demographic, it feels a little schizophrenic at times. One moment you feel like someone’s about ready to start cutting people to bits and spraying the screen with entrails and the next you’re rolling your eyes as Michelangelo makes yet another pass at April. But if you can sit back and take it for what it is, you might just enjoy yourself.
And now that the basics are out of the way, here are a few of the pros and cons of the flick. WARNING! Minor spoilers lurk within these here words.
Pro – The Turtles look amazing.
Seriously, say what you will about the character design, they come to life on the screen in a way that the old movies could never have hoped to achieve. They’re big, their faces are expressive, movements are fluid both in combat and out of it and the textures blend seamlessly into the natural world. These are some bad-ass looking CGI ninja turtles. And Splinter is done just as well.
Con – Shredder looks like shit.
While Michael Bay did produce this film, you rarely see the taint of his poisoned fingers upon the movie, which is one of the reasons it turned out so well. With Shredder, however, it feels like Bay walked on set and said: “Hey! Can’t we make him look and sound like a ninja Transformer? Kids love that shit!”
The end result is Mecha-Shredder, a pile of glimmering silver that is armed to the teeth with rapid-fire blades that never run out. The end result is also a complete lack of interest in the character. I remember Shredder being a bad-ass in his own right. He could kick turtle butt without any robot suit. In this flick, they don’t even give him a chance to try. If he wasn’t fighting the turtles, you might even forget he was in the movie.
Pro – Megan Fox didn’t annoy me.
She may not be the best choice for April O’Neil, but neither does she screw the movie up. In fact, the casting for the entire film was right about in the “just above mediocre” range. No one did an amazing job, but there were no truly painful performances. It allowed me to sit back and enjoy the explosions and ninja shit, which is what I was there for.
Con – The script was a fucking mess.
So why did Shredder and Splinter act like they’d known each other for years when both Splinter and the turtles were created at the same time and all five of them had the mutagen in them and could have been useful to Shredder, but for some reason only when the turtles are found out to be alive does he take an interest? I mean, if Shredder had met Splinter before, wouldn’t Sacks have told him “Dude! That’s the fucking mutant rat from the lab! We need his blood, yo!” Or did I miss something?
In either case, the script is full of little holes like this. Whether left unexplained or simply so bad that they didn’t even attempt to defend themselves, the writers could have made another pass over the script to clean this crap up.
Pro – The action was damned good.
Aside from a few specific moments, the action in the film was genuinely fun and clever. My favorite was when the turtles were being chased down the side of a snowy mountain. Sure it was about as unrealistic as anything out there, but it was done in a clever way with a thought put toward making something new and exciting. I didn’t see the film in 3D, but I imagine that scene in particular would have been boner-inducing. And most of the other action sequences measure up as well.
My biggest beef was near the end, when the film decided that it needed the ninja turtles, Shredder and April to all be threatened with falling to their doom. For damned near 15 fucking minutes. They could fall and die, I get it. But it’s boring as hell. Get back to the fight on the roof!
Con – Turtle purists will be PISSED
If you get mad when people re-write back-story and change crap around, prepare to be upset. Me, I didn’t care too much and offered forth a simple eye-roll. Fanboys of TMNT, however, might lose their shit.
So there you have it. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014) is not a complete waste of money. In fact, if I had to make the decision whether to watch the original movie or this one, I’d choose this one 99 times out of 100. It looked good, the action was put together professionally, the CGI was handled well and the actors didn’t stink like three-day-old donkey shit. I’d definitely recommend giving it a watch at least once.
And I can’t believe I just endorsed a movie that had Michael Bay attached to it in some way… may God have mercy on my soul.