Review - Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014), PG-13, 101 minutes - This reboot of the live action Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise came out last weekend and has already been successful enough at the box office that a sequel has been announced with a scheduled 2016 release.  That's all well and good, but what I had heard about the film itself over the past week was that it fell flat and wasn't really all that good.  I tend to try not to let a bunch of critic-speak sway my desire to see a film, but sometimes that's difficult to do when the prevailing opinion is negative.  I had a little free time earlier today and I decided to give it a shot and what I found was a film that at its core, got the TMNT vibe down pretty well.

Now admittedly, there's not much depth to the story here, but honestly, upon re-watching the original 1990 live action Ninja Turtles movie prior to seeing this, there wasn't much there either.  This go around, the world's favorite wisecracking teenage turtles have a history that is directly entwined with that of fledgling reporter April O'Neil (Megan Fox).  Along with a rat named Splinter (Danny Woodburn, voiced by Tony Shalhoub) who would become their father figure, the four turtles were test subjects in April's father's lab where she treated them as pets as a kid.  Years later Leonardo (Pete Ploszek, voiced by Johnny Knoxville), Raphael (Alan Ritchson), Michelangelo (Noel Fisher), and Donatello (Jeremy Howard) are trying to stop the combined forces of Shredder (Tohoru Masamune) and bio-chemist mogul (and April's father's former boss) Eric Sacks (William Fichtner).  Sacks and Shredder are attempting to poison the city of New York with a toxin that only they control the antidote for (derived from the Turtles' blood).  Shredder isn't a completely random element here, he was Sacks' sensei as a child in Japan and bank rolled the research behind the testing on the turtles.  Another change in this incarnation is Shredder's Foot Clan.  They are no longer a swarm of ninja, but instead more of a para-military task force.

I wasn't sure how I felt about the new design of the turtles when I saw the initial trailer months ago.  They seemed a little hulked out to me and while I'm still not in love with the design, it has grown on me.  Shredder's armor gets a pretty beefy upgrade, which is cool initially but he soon turns into a one trick pony, reduced to repeatedly slinging blades.  That was a little disappointing but it did contribute to a couple of neat action sequences.  The characterizations of the turtles were handled quite well as there were plenty of pop-culture references and nods to the TMNT history that preceded this film.  Will Arnett's Vernon Fenwick (a new character as far as I know - please correct me if I'm wrong) provides some added amusement on top of Michelangelo's constant jibber jabber and numerous professions of love towards April.

Despite producer Michael Bay's original plan to re-envision the Turtles as aliens (yeah, that got more than a little backlash), the announcement that Megan Fox was going to be the female lead (she and Bay don't exactly have what one would call a good working relationship), and the horrible ratings I've seen online, I was quite pleased with how much fun this film (directed by Jonathan Liebesman) turned out to be.  I'm not sure if that's by product of my low expectations, or if it is actually decent, but what I can say from the screening that I saw was that this incarnation of the TMNT seems to be to today's youth what the original 1990 film was to my generation.  If that's the case, then it doesn't really matter if the thirty five year old me can find holes in the plot.  I'm just glad that the Turtles continue to live on for the enjoyment of another generation and that I was pleasantly surprised by what I saw.

Knowing that this is likely a film that parent friends of mine will be curious about for their kids - it is rated PG-13, but I don't remember any language.  I think that rating is mostly for the violence which is mainly gun play from the Foot Clan (no blood) and some wreckage falling in the city.  The rest is martial arts related.  It's always the parent's call, but I didn't see much of anything that would suggest keeping a kid from seeing it.  In fact the screening I saw was full young kids all I heard was laughter throughout the film.












*****SPOILERS*****

- Pizza Hut appears to be the Turtles' pizza of choice (Dominos was the pizza featured in the 1990 film).

- Is it just me or did is seem like Megan Fox was actually trying to act in this film?  I'm not trying to be mean, but let's be honest, she's never held down a role before because of her acting chops.

- I still want there to be a stronger tie between Shredder and Splinter than there is in this film, but I think that the changes that were made in how the characters relate to each other worked relatively well in this version.  

- I never read the comics as a kid, but I did watch the cartoon religiously.  I lived in New Hampshire at the time and fellow New Englander's Peter Laird and Kevin Eastman created the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in the 1980's.  It was a pretty big deal locally when the original movie came out in 1990 because of the proximity to the Turtles' creation.

- I loved loved loved that they snuck in a 'Cowabunga!' or two.  Classic turtle-speak right there.  Nice to see the characters' history embraced like that as opposed to last years The Lone Ranger when Tonto told the Lone Ranger never to say 'Hi-ho Silver, away!' again.

- Leonardo was always my favorite as a kid.

- Whoopi Godlberg has a small roll as April's boss at the television station, Bernadette Thompson.

- I couldn't help but laugh the couple of times that Splinter did a Pai Mei-esque (Kill Bill, Vol. 2) wisp of his beard.

- Will Arnett's 'heroes in a half shell' comment was a nice old school turtles nod.

- Interestingly, there are a couple of very similar parallels between this film and the one from 1990.  Both include a stretch where the Turtles have to fend for themselves without Splinter's guidance.  Both films include a scene in which the Turtles are forced to discard their weapons so that Shredder does not kill one of their own (Leonardo in the 1990 film, Splinter in this one).  Shredder also falls from a great height (apparently to his death) in both.

Comments

  1. Vern was in the '87 cartoon and integrated into the comics like Harley Quinn. And yes, Megan Fox really stepped up her acting game in this movie. I'm sure she felt like she wasn't going to waste this second chance. As soon as five minutes into her role I could tell she was taking acting classes to give a better performance.

    I'm 30 and along with Batman and Transformers have been a fan of TMNT since I was old enough to watch TV and as such I feel like this movie was not only a great time at the theater but a worthy addition to the franchise. I too re-watched the 1990's version and while I enjoy it is also appropriately a goofy kids movie. So this one shouldn't be faulted for being similar.

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    1. Thanks for the info regarding Vern! I'm glad you enjoyed it, and that I'm not alone in being entertained by this film now that I'm older. It's funny because usually the nostalgia of things from my youth causes me to be overly critical. I'm glad I re-watched the 1990 film earlier in the weekend because, while I had very fond memories of it, I was reminded just how much of a fun kids flick it really was. I think that helped provide a more realistic baseline for my expectations of this film.

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  2. It'd be easier to give TMNT a pass if it was aiming purely for goofy fun, but it keeps taking itself so damn seriously.

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