Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)
The Turtles were probably the first friends I had as a kid. I was obsessed with all things Turtular and watched the cartoon and the ’90s movie religiously. Too many people regard this as another Bay revival of an ’80s property. It’s important to note that Michael Bay didn’t direct this and was one of three producers on the film, but the Bay connection is still there. It was marketed as such and purposefully looks like a Bay film, complete with blue lens flares and the like, so there’s that. I remember all the characters and basic plot points from childhood and still have a genuine affection for them. It’s definitely nostalgic for me and reminds me of a time before the world decided to stomp me flat and take money from my wallet at every opportunity. Having said that, I’m not a blinkered fanboy, ignoring all shortcomings in favour of a hit of pure history. What all of this boils down to is that yes, I’m nearly 30 and I went to see a probably terrible kids’ film on purpose. Shut up.
“You live, you die, you fight as brothers. Remember, nothing is as strong as family.”
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2K14 focuses on April O’Neil (Megan Fox), a struggling journalist who wants a shot at reporting deeper news than simple fluff pieces. She investigates the recent rise in crime attributed to the Foot gang and during her sneaking around, witnesses a strange vigilante stopping a Foot crime. After more digging, she finds that there’s four of these vigilantes and they just happen to be talking Juvenile, Genetically-Altered, Martial Arts Reptiles named after great Renaissance artists. They team up with cameraman Vernon (Will Arnett) when it transpires that the city is under threat by a man in a robot samurai suit who calls himself “The Shredder” and billionaire totally-a-bad-guy-from-the-off Eric Sacks (William Fichtner). I’m really not sure why they thought that this was the best way to proceed with reintroducing the Turtles to younger audiences.
The premise is inherently ridiculous, but the film seems to want to ground it and play it off as semi-realistic, which is baffling. The Foot Clan aren’t ninjas, they’re just dudes with guns. Shredder isn’t just a guy with a silly purple cape and sharp metal accessories, he’s a guy in an advanced robot suit with knives upon knives on it. The plot seems to be Standard Superhero Plot #4723A, with the Turtles license bent and snapped to fit the story. A lot of it reminded me of the hacktastic Amazing Spider-Man, right down to the ultimate evil plot of gassing New York from atop a tall building and featuring a big radio tower falling as the end action sequence. The plot is lazy as shit and relies on coincidence as its main way of explaining why stuff happens. Guess how the Turtles become ninjas. Splinter finds a book on ninjutsu in the sewer, complete with step-by-step instructions. Fuck you whoever wrote that. I know it’s all ridiculous, but that’s so dumb, even for this. Know how they do it in the far superior ’90s film? Splinter is a ninja master’s pet who watches him train for hours a day and starts mimicking him. Yes, that’s a different kind of stupid, but it makes more sense for the character. Also the decision to give April a personal stake in the Turtles’ creation by having them be her pets from when she was a kid is just the kind of terrible decision films of this ilk make. Here’s a secret, giving a character like that personal ties to whatever’s going on doesn’t make the drama any more involving. It’s a hackneyed device that always shows up your film for the empty experience it is. The writing wants to be a bit smart, self-aware and witty but it often falls flat. I’d be a filthy liar if I said I didn’t chuckle at some of the gags though.
Cast wise, it’s not terrible. Megan Fox is actually pretty tolerable as April O’Neil. I expected her to be the worst thing ever, but turns out if you do stuff enough, you get better. It’s a shame we had to pay and sit through her acting classes beforehand though. Will Arnett is decent enough, but misused. Same with William Fichtner, who can play creepy dudes in his sleep, but is not given much to work with here. The Turtles’ voices are fine. Johnny Knoxville is an odd choice as Leonardo- the straight-talking leader. Surely he’d be more suited for Michelangelo, considering his Jackass background? Also, Christ knows what kind of voice Tony Shaloub gives Splinter. It’s kind of Japanese, but not really. Fucking distracting. As you can see from the poster above, the Turtles designs are horrible. I get that they’re going for a more realistic turtle design, but since when does realism have anything to do with TMNT? Splinter also looks straight-up bad.
The film doesn’t know who it wants to appeal to and tries to appeal to both kids and jaded, rose-tinted bespectacled adults like yours truly. As is often the case, it ends up falling inbetween and appealing to nobody. Tonally it’s all over the place. The film has some surprisingly brutal fighting in it, especially in one part where Splinter gets proper fucked up by Shredder. However, in the same film you have the Turtles acting all goofy and a fart joke or two. It just doesn’t gel. The action is slightly more decipherable than your standard Bayformers flick, but still isn’t particularly good. It’s all just a pixelfuck with by-the-numbers slow motion bits to show you the apparently super-awesome bits. A little restraint would have been nice.
So, is there anything good? Well, despite the heavily compromised characters, I still liked the Turtles’ dynamic. Leonardo is still the leader, Raphael is the tough one who wants to go solo, Donatello is the nerdy one and Michelangelo is the wacky one. Despite the godawful script, there are still little glimpses of their personalities and it still sort of works. There’s one moment in an elevator between fights where Mikey starts beatboxing and the rest of the Turtles join in. It’s a fun little moment and the film needed way more of these to have any chance of being good. I will say that it’s nowhere near as offensive as the Transformers films, which is a relief. I’m not sure I could have handled another morally bankrupt, racist and sexist piece of shite masquerading as childrens’ entertainment, especially one that meant the world to me as a child.
“Four turtles… one’s fighting a robot samurai. Why not?”
So yeah, this TMNT is pretty much the worst version of the story that’s been done. No effort has been made to make anything other than a brand-recognition title in the hope of making money from any remaining goodwill the property has with adults and capitalising on the new-ish Nickelodeon cartoon. Don’t worry though- a sequel is already in development. Fucking sigh.