Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)
Release Date: August 8th, 2014 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Jonathan Liebesman Actors: Megan Fox, Will Arnett, William Fichtner, Johnny Knoxville, Tony Shalhoub, Whoopi Goldberg, Minae Noji, Abby Elliott
esiding in the sewers of New York, four mutant humanoid turtles train hard and wait patiently to become guardians of the city – as their destiny surely dictates. The rise of the Foot Clan, helmed by ruthless warlord the Shredder (Tohoru Masamune), is the catalyst for the half-shelled Raphael, Michelangelo, Leonardo, and Donatello to emerge from their subterranean dwelling and protect innocent civilians from terrorism. The Shredder’s soldiers routinely rob genetic research supplies from the Brooklyn docks to aid in a devious master plan of citywide domination. Meanwhile, April O’Neil (Megan Fox), a journalist for Channel 6 News, maddeningly contends with covering primarily frothy, foamy, filler pieces that lack substance but entertain the unintelligent masses. Her cameraman Vernon Fenwick (Will Arnett) doesn’t always support her yearning to tackle real stories, but he’s quick to accompany a pretty face. Her boss Bernadette Thompson (Whoopi Goldberg) doesn’t share the same sympathy.
Like Batman loftily descending from out of the darkness and rain upon armed thugs, the six-foot anthropomorphic terrapins foil a dock heist and are dubbed heroic vigilantes by April as she snaps a photo of the reveling fighters. Similarly metamorphosed giant rat Splinter (Tony Shalhoub), serving as a paternal sensei for the turtles, collects April to reveal that they were all part of Project Renaissance, a mutagen research program that millionaire Eric Sacks (William Fichtner, the go-to wealthy businessman movie villain) abused to create a powerful antidote that would lead to a ransoming of humanity for countless riches. Together, they must race against time to stop Shredder and his cohorts from bringing mankind to its knees.
The world domination plot (a “quest to reclaim victory”) is entirely stale, though the turtles’ origins receive a slightly new twist, especially in their relationship to April. The accompanying dialogue is rarely anything more than lifeless as characters spout generic scientific jargon, familiar catchphrases (“Cowabunga!”), and preachy convictions about teamwork, friendship, and self-esteem. Fortunately, the slapstick and infighting provide mildly amusing comic relief, while Arnett humorously leads the actors in the struggle to convincingly deliver hokey lines. “So, they’re aliens?” asks Vern. “No, that’s stupid. They’re reptiles,” replies April.
Like something out of a monster movie, the ninja turtles are gradually revealed through strobing lights, choppy cuts, speedy pans, and obscured flashes of leathery appendages. When they’re finally shown in full view, their designs are somewhat unsightly, missing the usual cuteness that saturated their action figure and cartoon series’ conceptualizations. Appropriately, April faints when she sizes them up. And Splinter looks even freakier.
It’s a good thing that since the late ‘80s the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have been ingrained in popular culture; the ninjitsu, pizza cravings, and hi-tech accouterments might not be so easy to digest if the imagery wasn’t so familiar. For this type of story, the fully CG heroes (as well as the Shredder) aren’t much more appropriate than the guys-in-rubber-suits from the 1990 theatrical venture; though here it’s easier to buy into the outlandish physics and unnatural choreography that presides over the adventure, adrenaline, martial arts battles, car chases, slow-motion camerawork, and obligatorily dragged out finale full of showdown-stalling tactics and repetitive clashes. Perhaps oddest of all is the PG-13 rating, slapped onto one of the tamest actioners in quite some time; a couple of subtle edits could have brought the MPAA certification down to match the younger target audience – without upsetting older crowds interested in revisiting this well-liked franchise.
– Mike Massie