Review: 'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles' is a Hollow Shell of a Movie
by Ethan Anderton
August 4, 2014
At one point in the latest iteration of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, our heroes in a half-shell are flying through the sewers on their way back home after a victory against the Foot Clan. After some quick sliding, flipping, skateboarding and more they all go flying towards the entrance back to their home pipe, but all four of them end up getting stuck in the doorway, and Michelangelo farts. That's what Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles feels like amidst an onslaught of remakes, reboots and sequels: another fart from the studio system that churns out films like this as if they were delivery pizzas that not even the turtles will eat.
Our film opens with a comic book style credit sequence featuring Tony Shalhoub as the voice of Master Splinter, giving the briefest of a backstory for anyone who may not be familiar with Kevin Eastman's adolescent, reptilian warriors created by a substance known as ooze. However, this ends up being redundant because the origin of the mutated heroes is explained by corporate suit Eric Sachs (William Fichtner) and the findings of reporter April O'Neil (Megan Fox) as they learn about how an experiment that was meant to be destroyed resulted in our titular vigilantes. And this is where one of the biggest problems begins.
The explanation and discovery of the turtles themselves is so sloppy and asinine that it feels like writers Josh Appelbaum & André Nemec (Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol) and Evan Daugherty (Snow White and the Huntsman) skimmed the comic books and decided to put an unnecessary twist on the story, making sure to connect all the characters in some contrived fashion. There are forced ties between April and the turtles that are absolutely stupid and offer no extra substance. Even more ludicrous is the ties between Sachs and the turtles' arch nemesis Shredder (Tohoru Masamune). The link between these characters just for convenience and uniqueness sake is weak and contrived, but the characters are worse.
With the exception of Will Arnett as fellow newsman Vernon Fenwick, who brings some of the biggest laughs outside of the turtles themselves, nearly all of the human characters are nothing more than vessels for poorly written dialogue, mindless exposition and some of the worst timed humor I've ever seen in a blockbuster, and that's saying something when you consider producer Michael Bay's previous attempts at humor in the Transformers franchise. Megan Fox isn't even the worst offender as all of the characters, again with the exception of Arnett, seem to be reading the script for the first time in front of the camera.
But the good news, if you can call it that, is not everything in this film is a complete disaster. Leonardo (voiced by Johnny Knoxville), Raphael (Alan Ritchson), Donatello (Jeremy Howard) and Michelangelo (Noel Fisher) are very well-crafted, brought to life perfectly with flawless special effects and some fantastic voice work. Even my skepticism of Knoxville as the wiser, leader Leonardo was washed away as you quickly forget that the Jackass star is behind the sword-wielding turtle brother, arguing with the rebellious Raphael. But the real scene-stealer is Noel Fisher as Michelangelo, cracking wise at every turn. This dynamic has always been at the core of the turtles. This is how teenage brothers behave, and it works.
Sadly, it takes what feels like a long time for the turtles to appear together, and there's far too much time spent with April O'Neill trying to figure out who they are. If the point-of-view of the film was shifted to the turtles themselves, the film would be improved, but probably not enough to make up for the shortcomings of the half-witted attempt at a plot, which feels lifted straight from The Amazing Spider-Man.
Also on the positive side, when the turtles get together, the action is exciting, fast-paced, big and fun. Even an amusing elevator scene leading up to the final battle is far more entertaining than any scene with human characters. Splinter also gets to see much more action in a face-off with Shredder than the rat mentor has ever seen before. One particular extended sequence that takes place on the side of a snowy mountain (apparently not a far drive from New York City), features a semi careening down the cliffs, as the turtles engage in some thoroughly impressive acrobatics and fighting. After this sequence is done, you could leave the theater, having experienced the best the film has to offer, but if you stick around, you can take solace in knowing the rest isn't anywhere near as bad as Transformers: Age of Extinction.
As someone who was excited for a new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, even moreso after seeing the trailers and TV spots, this was thoroughly disappointing. Director Jonathan Liebesman seems to do his best with the script that he was given, but at the same time, with Wrath of the Titans in the filmmaker's past, I'm left wondering if this is just a case of two wrongs not even coming close to making a right. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles doesn't make any sense, and is nothing more than a half-shell attempt to cash in on the reputation of the iconic crimefighters. Slick action, striking special effects and lead characters who stay true to the source material aren't enough to save this film from ultimately being an unfortunate waste of time and resources.
Ethan's Rating: 4 out of 10
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