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Movie review: 'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles' merely a shell of its former self

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)


Another childhood treasure brutally ruined. It's not enough that Dungeons & Dragons, G.I. Joe and other popular toy franchises from my youth have already been destroyed and humiliated with less-than awful big-screen incarnations. Now it's the disappointing, unnecessary reboot of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (opening today), that gives Hollywood another excuse to earn some green backs, on the backs of these green teenage heroes.

"Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles."
Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures, 2014. Used with permission.

Simply put, this latest Ninja Turtles film is lazy, messy, irrelevant and irreverent. It's a swift nunchuck to the nuts of fans who hold these characters in great esteem, who grew up with first the comic books followed by the three previous movies (four if you count the 2007 CG film, TMNT), who then relished in the "Turtle Mania" that came after. I for one, had a T-shirt and ate their breakfast cereal. I also remember mastering their surprisingly challenging NES game, and I probably saw every episode of the Ninja Turtles cartoon. Oh yeah, and I also had all the action figures.

So if you're at all like me, you may have sort have been curious as to what this "reboot" would be all about. Breathing in the sweet mists of nostalgia, I had high hopes for Donatello, Raphael, Michelangelo and Leonardo and had hoped that these characters would be handled with the grace and reverence of someone who cares as much as me, or as much as any of the rest of you out there who hold a soft spot in your hearts for these pizza-loving mutants.

I must say that I still love these characters. The major, catastrophic problem with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014), is that they are just trapped in a s***ty movie.

Raised in the sewers of New York and trained in the art of Ninjutsu by their master, Splinter (a mutant rodent), the Turtles are kept out of the eye of the public. But a powerful gang known as the Foot Clan has began taking over much of the city, led by their master, Shredder, and their criminal activity forces the Turtles to surface.

Megan Fox is horribly miscast as April O'Neil, the yellow-coat wearing TV reporter that befriends the turtles. Vying for her attention is here cameraman, Vernon Fenwick (Will Arnett), who is just as douche-y as his name sounds. O'Neil has been trying to shed light on the shady activity of the Foot Clan, but she uncovers the existence of the Turtles in doing so.

The first huge mishandling is that Megan Fox is asked to carry the first third of the picture, along with fellow Shakespearean thespian, comedian Will Arnett. In a film called Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, nearly 30 minutes go by before we actually see them fully. When we do, they are a welcome sight.

Those that know the characters from the previous films/comic books/cartoon know that each of the four Turtles has their own unique personality, as well as their own color and ninja weapon. But each of their characters are sorely under-developed here. Their banter is the film's only redeeming quality, but what we know of each of them - and the fact that we care about their fate - comes from our prior knowledge of them, not anything this film establishes.

The plot is weak and uninspired, even for a Ninja Turtle movie. Coming on the heels of Guardians of the Galaxy - a massively entertaining film - makes the Turtles film feel even worse.

Shredder (Tohoru Masamune) is reduced to your average lunk-headed villain, intent on taking over the world via the most complicated way possible instead of using other more obvious means. This film seems to re-imagine his identity and backstory too. No longer is he Oroku Saki and no longer does he have any meaningful backstory with Splinter. He just wants to be a bad guy. Interestingly, the film does feature a new character, a villainous businessman, by the name of Eric Sachs (William Fichtner), a name that sounds oddly familiar to Oroku Saki. It's fairly implied that he may become the next Shredder, perhaps.

With no story, horrible dialogue and messy, busy action sequences, the new Turtles movie also manages to do a few other things wrong. Top to bottom, the film seems miscast, from Fox and Arnett, to Whoopi Goldberg as O'Neil's boss, to Tony Shalhoub as the voice of Splinter. Splinter actually looks ridiculous, almost cartoonish next to the other realistically rendered beings in the film. I much preferred the Jim Henson version from the 90s films.

One action scene goes on and on, a car chase that sees a truck sliding down a snowy mountainside for what seems like an eternity. Impressive, that the truck never flips. The sequence has little to do with the rest of the film, is implausible and poorly executed and quite frankly, had me wondering if the Alps bordered New York City in this version.

Peripheral characters from the Turtles Universe, like Rocksteady, Bebop and Casey Jones, are nowhere to be seen in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. They were the smart ones. If this is how the Ninja Turtles are going to be handled moving forward, I'd rather them all crawl back down into the sewer and die. There'd be more dignity in that act than appearing in a sequel that aims as low as the home they inhabit.

Genre: Action, Adventure, Comedy

Run Time: 1 hour 41 minutes, Rated PG-13

Starring: Megan Fox, Alan Ritchson, Will Arnett, Noel Fisher, Johnny Knoxville (voice), William Fichtner, Jeremy Howard, Whoopi Goldberg, Tony Shalhoub (voice), Pete Ploszek, Tohoru Masamune

Directed by Jonathan Liebesman (Wrath of the Titans, Battle Los Angeles, The Killing Room, Darkness Falls)

Opens locally on Friday, Aug 8, 2014 (check for show times).

Be sure to watch Tom Santilli on TV! Check your local listings for “Movie Show Plus” for Tom’s weekly movie review segment.

How to read Tom Santilli's "Star Ratings:"

  • 5 Stars: Exceptional, must-see movie
  • 4 Stars: Very good movie, not without flaws
  • 3 Stars: The movie was just OK, leaves a lot to be desired
  • 2 Stars: Pretty bad, a let-down, disappointing, but with some redeeming qualities
  • 1 Star: Awful, sloppy, a total waste of time
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