Review: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

tmnt teenage mutant ninja turtles 2014 one sheet posterMichael Bay hired director Jonathan Liebesman and brought back the somewhat radioactive Megan Fox as the human lead in yet another remake of the amusing children’s tale Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. What’s Liebesman done before? Battle: Los Angeles (an incoherent mess) and Wrath of the Titans (a me-too Greek mythology flick). His lack of experience creating a polished film shows, and while Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is true to the comic book origins of the tiny box turtles who grow up in the NY sewers to become smart-aleck ninjas, but it’s a dry exercise in how to string action sequences together into a tired, trope-ridden story.

There’s no story art, no Oscar-worthy cinematography, no acting that really…

Oh, I can’t go on. It’s a live-action movie with a ton of motion capture about four 7-foot turtles who have human facial expressions, adore pizza and have been taught by their genetically tweaked rat sensei to be wicked good ninja warriors defending the streets of New York from bad guys. What the heck did I expect?

Well, I expected something fun. The four heroes, Leonardo (Pete Ploszek), Raphael (Alan Ritchson), Michelangelo (Noel Fisher) and Donatello (Jeremy Howard), are teenage boys who have been raised in an underground dojo and really are crazy good ninjas. The sarcasm’s present, as is the tension between leader Leonardo and his alpha sibling Raphael, there’s a pizza cameo courtesy of Pizza Hut but even a theater full of kids were remarkably quiet, probably more overwhelmed by the non-stop violence than amused by the amphibious antics and flat dialog. And this is a really violent film. I’d estimate that at least 100 people die in this movie from cars flying, buildings collapsing, and good old turtle on bad guy mayhem.

The bad guys are all part of the Foot Clan, led by Shredder (Tohoru Masamune) who spends most of his time in a bad-ass, but really uncomfortable looking steel suit that makes him look like the angry love child of Iron Man and one of the Autobots.

The Ninja’s sensei and virtual father is Splinter (Danny Woodburn), a 7 foot rat who spouts ancient Japanese koans for no obvious reason and has taught the boys all they know about martial arts after finding a book on ninjitsu, the art of ninja fighting, in the sewers. Darn handy. What if he’d found 50 Shades of Grey in the sewer instead?

And then there’s our feckless reporter, a sort of dopey Oh-My-God variation of stoic Lois Lane called April O’Neil (Megan Fox). Assigned to the fluff stories at Channel 6 news and teased by her colleagues about what an airhead she is — including by newsroom boss Thompson (Whoopi Goldberg) — she’s still risking life and limb off hours to track down the facts behind some chemical thefts from the docks.

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The boys show up, ready for a rumble. From “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”

She spies Raphael foiling the dastardly Foot Clan’s next attempted robbery, led by the cute but mysterious Asian baddie Karai (Minae Noji), and ends up getting a photo of the four turtles. Dude. Not good. They wipe her phone and warn her off, which of course propels her further toward investigating the vigilantes on the half shell and getting pulled into the stupid plot by Shredder and business tycoon Eric Sacks (William Fichtner) to poison the city of NYC, then sell the vaccine and make millions.

Except Sacks already lives in an amazing mansion (pretty sure it’s the same one they used for the exteriors of the School for Gifted Youngsters in the X-Men series) and appears to be insanely wealthy. Why would he want more money?

Ah, there I go again, trying to apply logic and story development to this film. And again, it just collapses. At best Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a guilty pleasure, but even in the oeuvre of Michael Bay films, it’s not very high up on the chart. It’s certainly a competent production with good special effects, visual effects and motion capture for the various people, but it’s just not fun. There’s no development of a single character in the film — heck, we barely see Shredder before he becomes Metal Ninja Guy — and even the interesting peripheral characters like April and Karai are ignored.

Unless you’re some sort of Michael Bay fanatic, there’s just not much here. Even if you like Megan Fox, you’ll be disappointed. No skimpy outfits, no bikini shots, nothing for the voyeur in you (unlike Transformers, but that’s another story). I’d say go watch the cartoon and save your $10 for something better in the theater.

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