Monday, August 11, 2014

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Review

Written by Stu Cooper

This past week marked the release of the newest live action installment of “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” and it was an odd one. Before it's release the film was riddled with rumors of re-shoots, script rewrites and an outcry of negativity from the original Turtles fan-base, so to say I had low expectations is a drastic understatement. My expectations were met with mediocre action, a convoluted villain story, and the most wooden April O'Neil you will ever see. With that said, it wasn't nearly as bad as I thought it would be. I realized before I went into the theater that I cannot let myself be a victim to nostalgia and I have to look at the film as if I were a 9 year old kid, and not a full grown man who has seen every cinematic trope 1,000 times. With that kind of mind set, I still found myself bored with the film but it showed signs of hope.

“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” is the fifth full length Ninja Turtles film and is the fourth live action incarnation. The film is directed by Johnathan Liebesman and is produced by Michael Bay and his company Platinum Dunes. The film is a reboot and started around 2009 when TMNT co-creator Peter Laird sold the rights to Nickelodeon. The immediate result was the brand new television show which has since become quite popular. The film itself has been in production for a few years and has been met with mostly negative feedback ever since early drafts of the script emerged. Bay supposedly responded to some of this feedback and the film had many re-shoots. The film stars Megan Fox as April O'Neil, Will Arnett as the Channel 6 cameraman Vern, Johnny Knoxville as Leonardo, as well as Alan Ritchson, Noel Fisher, and Jeremy Howard playing the other turtles.

The story revolves around April O'Neil chasing a story involving chemicals that cause mutations. These chemicals are linked to an experiment her father used to be involved in. April begins to investigate and soon learns of “The Foot Clan” and their involvement with the recent crime spree in New York City. Before getting busted spying by “The Foot” The Ninja Turtles quickly appear and save the day. April witnesses this and as a result becomes obsessed with tracking down these so-called “Ninja Turtles”. Through this story we meet Will Arnett as Vernon, who was a rather forgettable character in the cartoon. The character in the film is slightly more fleshed out but is really just some schmuck obsessed with April. You should get used to that theme, because it will pop up in the story A LOT. There is a bit of awkward tension between April and Michelangelo. The turtles even full on cock-block Vernon at one point. Through April we also meet her boss played by Whoopi Goldberg. I'm not sure why Whoopi was chosen for the role because it really only features two throwaway scenes and Whoopi has certainly seen better days. It was not a good spotlight for her. I'd much rather see her reprise Guinan on Star Trek!

Once April becomes involved with the turtles we meet their master “Splinter” who is voiced by Tony Shalhoub. This has to be the worst casting choice in the entire movie. Shalhoub's voice is so distinctive that you can't picture anyone but “Monk” talking every time Splinter talks. It doesn't help that the CGI for Splinter is quite odd and looks borderline gross. He looks like a rat who is partially in a fetus state. Doesn't exactly scream likable kung-fu master.

The villain of the story is also introduced through April. April's father apparently worked with two men, one of them went on to become an evil billionaire. This evil billionaire was apparently raised by Shredder, and he uses his money to help Shredder gain a hold over New York City. The character reminded me a lot of “Max Shreck” from Batman Returns. He is a evil man who is invented out of convenience for the REAL main villain. There is a nice little nod at the beginning of the film when you see Sacks (evil billionaire) wearing a Grey suit with a purple tie. It looks very similar to Shredder's outfit in the original cartoon. While the Sacks character takes up most of the villain time, we do get treated to a bad-ass incarnation of Shredder. The Shredder character seems to be similar to most of his previous versions. He has a very deep menacing voice and a scarred up face. The major difference would be his battle attire which is a tad over the top. The armor consists of a vast array of knives. It actually makes him look so dangerous, you can't understand how anyone could even touch him. The way the suit moves is also very robotic and reminds me of Transformers or a villain from Soul Calibur. Overall tho, I was very pleased with the use of Shredder. I told myself that as long as Shredder was alright, I could enjoy the film.

The real downfall of the film comes with Megan Fox as April O'Neil. If you didn't like Megan Fox in the Transformers films, you're really not going to like her in this. It's more of the same. Lots of beauty shots of her lovely hot face, but once she talks you feel immediately turned off. The acting by Fox is quite wooden, and it's hard to believe she is ever in any real danger. The issue with this is, she is constantly in danger, even more so than the turtles! This movie should have been called “April O'Neil feat. The Ninja Turtles” because she is the subject of the film. This is almost not a Ninja Turtles movie at all, it just happens to feature them. The first 20-30 minutes of the film is mostly centered on Fox. I'm not sure what I don't like about it more, that the Turtles are second to her character, or that she is the actress playing the character. I can't help but wonder if I would like the character more, if the cast choice was better. The film ends up giving April more credit than the actual turtles when it's all said and done. If the turtles can't do it, April can!

Speaking of the turtles. Let's talk about them for a second. The turtles are similar enough to their characters in the cartoon. You won't get any of the darkness from the comics, but that's to be expected. Each turtle has one particular trait and that's about all there is to that character. Michelangelo's sole trait seems to be crushing on April. Leonardo is the leader, Raphael is the angry loner, and Donatello is a gigantic nerd. They will demonstrate these traits often. In terms of their look, they are wearing far too many accessories and that makes them look a little busy. They also sometimes wear glasses, which is fine but makes them feel a little obnoxious. Their fighting skills are pretty spot on, but they move insanely fast and if you get nauseated easily, you may get annoyed by that. Donatello seems to be the one who gets the most out of their weaponry. His staff proves to be quite resourceful.

Another thing you'll also see almost as much as April on screen is the PIZZA HUT logo! There is so much product placement in this film that the characters literally describe Pizza Hut pizza while the camera pans across a multitude of Pizza Hut brand boxes. It was like a product placement scene out of Wayne's World. I remember in the older films it was pretty heavy handed, but not quite this bad. If I hadn't had a pretty disgusting looking pizza from there recently, I may be tempted to order Pizza Hut after viewing the film.

In the end, I had to remind myself that this is a children's film and if I was 9 years old I might not care about the quality of the actors. The action scenes in the film are definitely high impact and intense, so for a kid hyped on sugar staring at the screen without a care in the world, it might be the right movie. If you are a child over the age of 12, or an adult hoping to relive the nostalgia of the late 80's, you may find yourself disappointed. This film serves it's purpose and I would say it's on par with the fully animated feature TMNT that came out a couple of years back. I think this film should have been fully animated like that one, since most of the CGI to human scenes came off wooden anyways. With the cameo by Baxter Stockman in the film (keep your eyes open) and the nod to other characters, I'm hoping maybe the sequels can further tap into that nostalgia part of TMNT that we all love. If you're looking for a brainless action movie to take the kids to, this would be an alright choice. If you are craving something a little more from your Turtles then I would suggest revisiting the 1990 classic film.