Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles review

Jonathan Liebesman
Johnny Knoxville
Alan Ritchson
Noel Fisher
Jeremy Howard
Tony Shalhoub
Megan Fox
Will Arnett
William Fichtner
Rated: PG-13

Yo dudes this is no cartoon. Well, the turtles are animated, so technically it sort of is a cartoon.

The 2014 “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” is a retelling of the comic book/cartoon series phenomenon of the late 80s and early 90s. The movie follows the character April O’Neil (Fox), a young TV reporter just starting her career, who is trying to break a story on a secretive group of criminals called the Foot Clan.

On one of her assignments she comes across four mutant turtles who have been trained in the art of being a ninja. As the plot thickens, April finds out that she has a connection to the turtles from her youth and also to the mysterious Foot Clan.

The back story of the turtles is without a doubt silly. Four mutant turtles are trained by a rat to fight a samurai dude and are helped by a TV reporter. What made it work, though, was the simplicity of it all. This series was very easy to get into before.

That changes in the new version of TMNT, as the movie sets up this whole backstory in which April is connected to the turtles from her youth and there is this plot about a lab with this secret project. It comes off as convoluted and unnecessary compared to the TMNT products of the past where April just happened to meet the turtles and befriend them.

On further analysis, though, it’s obvious to see why the filmmakers went down this route and unfortunately it’s another negative. Because of the fact that April had this connection to the turtles from her youth, it resulted in there being very little in terms of “getting to know each other” scenes. I know that this movie should be based on its own merits, but looking at the 1990 movie, there were scenes where the turtles were getting to know April, and it led to solid character development.

Because of the lack of these types of scenes in this movie, the character development of the turtles was lacking and the relationship with April felt non existent because it wasn’t actually built up through the film.

The pacing of the movie was an issue, too, as it came off as feeling rather rushed. It leads to a lack of character development for the both the turtles and the villain Shredder, and on top of it, leads to a climax that is one big rip off of “The Amazing Spider-Man.”

Now, with all that being said, the real question is “did the movie get the turtles right?”

The answer is yes. All four of the ninja turtles are done well, they all have their classic personalities. They are funny, act like brothers and all of the voice actors delivered their lines well. It felt like any other incarnation of the turtles which is definitely a positive. The CGI for the turtles should be praised, too, as they actually ended up looking pretty good and realistic on screen.

More problems come about with the other characters, however, starting with April O’Neil. In this film, they make her into a rookie reporter instead of a more experienced one. This leads to some lame scenes where she is complaining about her job and has to talk to her boss about trying to break a story on the Foot Clan.

This focus on April’s career was just unnecessary and ended up sacrificing time that could have been spent with the turtles.

Will Arnett played one of the characters from the cartoon series, but at the end of the day he was nothing more than a poor comic relief character. The film would have really benefited from another character in the film, like series street fighter Casey Jones.

The worst part of the films come in the series’ two key characters, Splinter and Shredder. Starting off with Splinter, the CGI for him in this movie looked horrible. Whenever he was on screen, I couldn’t take him seriously because it looked so cartoonish. It’s surprising how much of a contrast his character design was from the turtles.

Making matters worse, they changed his backstory from the original movies and series. Instead of learning ninjutsu before coming in contact with the mutation liquid, he just finds a book on it by chance while taking care of the turtles. He has no real history with ninjutsu or with Japanese culture. This version of Splinter simply doesn’t come across as being a wise ninjutsu master, or even as a good father. There are no scenes where he is really teaching them wise life lessons, instead all we get is a sort of training sequence that is played more for humor.

The Shredder in this film has to be one of the most underdeveloped villains that I’ve seen on screen in a long time. All he gets for any sort of backstory is this short little scene that raises more questions than answers. His whole evil plan also comes off as rather random and his motives are very unclear.

On top of that, Shredder wears a suit to fight the turtles every time. It looks cool, sure, but the point of the Shredder was to show that he was easily superior to the turtles and they had to do extraordinary things to defeat him. The fact that he wears a mechanical robotic suits takes away from the fact that he is a ninjutsu master and that he has greater skills than the protagonists.

The Foot Clan was another problem in the film as it was never confirmed who exactly they were. Were they just hired henchmen? Were they martial artists who were following the Shredder? Were they pick pocketers and runaways off the streets like the first movie? The audience never gets to find out.

With all of its problems in the character and story department, though, the action in this film really delivers. The fight scenes with the turtles were fun, exciting and can keep viewers on the edge of their seats. One scene for example where the turtles are involved in a car chase down the slope of a mountain was particularly entertaining.

The latest TMNT got a couple of key things right. Most importantly, the turtles came across the way they should. Every time they were on screen, the movie was just fine. Also, the action does make for an exciting thrill ride.

Everything else was very poor. The film just doesn’t have enough in terms of character development or story telling to really care and be invested with what’s happening on screen. Despite the action looking good, it doesn’t come anywhere close to the emotion that the previous versions have had.

It was also lacking in atmosphere. While other versions, especially the 1990s film, had a gritty, urban atmosphere, this incarnation didn’t really have much of anything.

It all comes across as being such a generic modern action film, but fortunately, it’s not a total trainwreck. TMNT 2014 is filled with enough action and good scenes with the turtles that it is watchable, It just doesn’t offer anything more. 2 out of 5.

Author: Matthew Liedke

Journalist and film critic in Minnesota. Graduate of Rainy River College and Minnesota State University in Moorhead. Outside of movies I also enjoy sports, craft beers and the occasional video game.

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