Monday, 29 September 2014

Film Review: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a live-action reboot of the popular '90's cartoon of the same name - starring Megan Fox, Will Arnett and William Fitchner, 2014 Ninja Turtles is a mixed bag, with some fun thrills and spills for youngsters but little in the way of decent lead characters.

Following on from the original comics, three separate animated shows, a trilogy of live action movies and one animated one, this latest incarnation of the famous heroes in a half-shell has had its fair share of detractors, even before it hit cinema screens. Reported changes to the established origin story, the casting of Megan 'Sammiches' Fox and the project's association with divisive director Michael Bay had fans of the beloved turtles raving across the Interwebs.

So, now the dust has settled, what's the verdict?

Well, my expectations were set pretty low - I'd automatically written this movie off through the Michael Bay association alone. Oddly enough, I ended up feeling surprisingly entertained. It's not great, but certainly not the unmitigated disaster many people had it pegged as. First off, let's detail the characters.

Megan Fox plays April O'Neil, a plucky young reporter who stumbles across New York's reptilian vigilantes. Fox quickly offers validation on why the promotional material for this film featured very little of her - it's because she's a sucky actress. But hey, we already knew that - what else did you expect? Poor casting aside (Fox simply doesn't fit the role of plucky reporter very well), she at least isn't Revenge of the Fallen awful. Her dialogue delivery is uneven, whilst her range of facial expressions barely surpasses that of a potato. Essentially, one of the films biggest issues is that it spends too much time trying to intertwine April O'Neil and the Turtles' backstory, especially given Fox isn't exactly qualified to carry the film all on her lonesome.

That's why the film introduces us to her cameraman friend, played by Will Arnett. His sole purpose in the film is to drive the van and make snarky comments about how ridiculous April sounds. Also, he's Will Arnett, so minus points for that.

William Fitchner plays Eric Sacks, a villainous businessman who has a past with April's father. He gets some of the ploddy exposition dialogue, as well as some really poorly written attempts at 'humour' - on meeting April, we get "Well, I guess April has come early this year" and then later, this gem - "We will drain every last ounce of their blood to get it, even if it kills them!"

Oh, I'm sure that'll do it.

Rightly so, the real stars of the movie are the Ninja Turtles; Leonardo, Raphael, Donatello, and Michelangelo. Where the film excels over its Hasbro stablemate, Transformers, is that it affords each of the Turtles their own distinct personality and quirks (like the cartoon, I assume). For example, Leonardo is the stoic, honourable leader, Raphael is hot-headed and fired-up, Donatello is a techie computer nerd and Michelangelo is the class clown, bursting with enthusiasm and affection for April. They compliment one another, forming for an entertaining ensemble that makes up for the less than interesting human characters.

It's worth pointing out that this film isn't really being served up for the nostalgic amongst us - it's squarely aimed at kids, specifically kids who've spent the last few years playing with the Lego and watching the latest Nickelodeon version of TMNT. If you're a long-standing fan of the original comics, show or films, you may have to adjust your expectations and accept the film isn't really being marketed towards you.

Like I said earlier, TMNT was never a major part of my childhood; I guess it just didn't register on my radar. As a result, any alterations to the 'lore' didn't bother me too much - that being said, there are some glaringly bad plot holes. For example, I'm pretty sure Master Splinter didn't teach the Turtles karate from a mouldy old book he found in the sewer in the original comic or cartoon. Correct me if I'm wrong, but you don't see many ancient Japanese textbooks on martial arts floating through New York sewers...

On top of that, the narrative isn't exactly the most original. It feels like a warmed-up hodge-podge of elements borrowed from other recent blockbusters, from Star Trek Into Darkness to The Amazing Spider-man.

All these criticisms aside, Ninja Turtles is pretty fun. The action is fluid and cartoonish, and the Turtles themselves keep the tone light, fun and approachable for both kids and adults. It's not great by any stretch, but also not the humourless husk of childhood-destroying poison it was prophesied to be.

The Verdict: 5/10

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles may spend too much time focusing on the human characters, but when it does switch focus to its namesake, the Saturday morning cartoon fun is too hard to deny. Narrative inconsistencies and clunky dialogue blight an otherwise passable kid-friendly flick.


  1. Awesome review! I'm still on the fence, I want to see TMNT for pure nostalgia alone, but I think it might wait for a DVD release.
    - Allie

    1. Hmm, I think that might be a good idea Allie :) I went along with some friends, some of whom were much bigger TMNT fans that I was - otherwise, I might have just waited for the DVD like yourself.

  2. Nice review. I, too, didn't think it was quite the disaster that I was expecting, but it was still a far cry from a good movie. Really, I mostly wish the damn thing would've just taken a freakin' breath every now and then, 'cause man was it an exhausting sit. :P

    1. It certainly raced by didn't it? I guess it was to keep the kiddies hooked - too much dialogue (read: plot) might've sent them to sleep :) Thanks for commenting Chris!



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