TITLE: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
STARRING: Megan Fox, Johnny Knoxville (voice), Noel Fisher, Alan Ritchson, Jeremy Howard,
DIRECTOR: Jonathan Liebsman
STUDIOS: Paramount Pictures, Nickelodeon Movies, Platinum Dunes, Gama Entertainment, Mednick Productions
RUN TIME: 101 min
RELEASED: August 8, 2014
By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder
The fanboy/fangirl community has earned the right to be skeptical. Over the years we’ve been let down by so many lackluster takes on comic book stories and concepts. Too many to name here. So when this Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles reboot was announced, with Michael Bay attached as a producer and Megan Fox cast as April O’Neil, a lot of justified skepticism and criticism was leveled at the project. Fans would go on to scratch their heads at the sight of these new CGI motion capture Turtles, and roll their eyes when Johnny Knoxville and Tony Shalhoub were brought in at the last minute to do voice over work for Leonardo and Splinter.
But as both a critic and a fanboy, my philosophy is that while you have every right to be skeptical, you’ve got to see the full movie before you can officially condemn it.
And as a life-long, die hard Ninja Turtles fan, it breaks my heart to tell you the skeptics were right. Not only that, but the film’s three major problems were all evident in the trailers and the advertising:
1. They overthought the concept.
2. They forgot to have fun.
3. They cast Megan Fox.
As expected, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a rehash of the origin story. There are some tweaks here and there, but essentially it’s the same. Our heroes are Leonardo, Donatello, Raphael, and Michelangelo. They have a sensei/father/humanoid rat named Splinter, a human friend named April, and an arch enemy called The Shredder. In this film, The Shredder and his scientist pupil Eric Sacks (William Fichtner) attempt to steal the mutagen in the Turtles’ blood, and use it as a cure for a bioweapon they plan to unleash on the city, thus allowing the Foot to extort massive amounts of money and rise to power.
There’s been a lot of talk as to why the Turtles and Shredder were tinkered with so much in this film. They’re all gimmicked up for no real reason. Leonardo wears bamboo armor, Michaelangelo wears pants when none of the others do, Donatello wears taped glasses and is geared up like a friggin’ Ghostbuster. Meanwhile, Shredder is no longer a sinister ninja master wearing some intimidating bladed armor. Now, he’s essentially a nameless, faceless big bad who puts on a techno wondersuit and becomes an evil CGI Transformer. All the pure hate and evil has been sucked out of him, and he’s been reduced to a mere special effect.
So why has so much been tinkered with to the point of ridiculousness? There could be a multitude of reasons. But my gut tells me the filmmakers wanted to give us something a bit different than what we’ve seen before, while also making our villains more dangerous, and raising the stakes. This is all fine on paper. But remember, you’re catering to a vast audience ranging from little kids to grown adults, and all these people are expecting these characters to more or less look a certain way. For the Turtles, it’s been bandanas and elbow/knee pads for 30 years. If you’re going to change that, give me a reason. Donatello’s techno attachments make sense, but they overdid it. Ditto for Shredder. It’s a classic case of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
This notion of four talking turtles and their enemy who wears knives on his arms is pretty damn far-fetched. But if you pull it off the right way, you can suck the audience in and get them invested in this ludicrous fantasy. But make it TOO ludicrous, and give the audience too many questions to ask, then the whole thing falls apart and you lose that connection. Ninja Turtles lost that connection with me once friggin’ RoboShredder walked on screen. They stretched our suspension of disbelief too far and robbed us of an awesome villain in one fell swoop.
Ninja Turtles isn’t much fun to watch, either. Mikey brings some great comic relief to the table, as he should. But the boys in green spend most of the movie either bickering with each other or dealing with the battle at hand. I believe they’re brothers, but the fun of seeing them interact on the big screen is missing. It’s ironic that one of the elements that the Nickelodeon show really nailed, the Nickelodeon movie let sail over its head.
And then there’s Megan Fox’s portrayal of April O’Neil. This version of April, much like the one we saw in the ’80s cartoon, is a hard-nosed journalist who’s not willing to risk her safety to get the big story. She’s the Lois Lane of the TMNT universe. In Ninja Turtles, she’s in many ways the main character. She’s also the one we’re supposed to connect with, and it’s her actions that drive the story forward.
But in the end, casting Megan Fox as April O’Neil was a TERRIBLE mistake, and it’s her presence on screen that drags the movie down more than anything. Instead of coming off as ambitious and brave, the character becomes annoying and stupid. It boggles the mind just how many better actresses could have been chosen to play this part (for instance, Mae Whiteman, who voices the character on TV). But instead we’re forced to endure Fox’s wooden, and at times downright irritating performance.
Casting aside Megan Fox (gladly) for a moment, one can argue the April character was overemphasized in this film anyway. When we open the movie, she’s struggling to be taken seriously as a reporter. Her cause isn’t helped when she brings her boss (played by Whoopi Goldberg) this story about six foot turtles that can talk and do karate. But is the movie about her, or is it about the Turtles and the oddball family they’ve created together? Thus, the film becomes unfocused. Come to think of it, that whole “April wants respect” plotline isn’t even resolved. So in the end, it didn’t even matter…
The sad thing is that from a story standpoint, what we see in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles isn’t necessarily bad. If we’d made a casting change or two, simplified everybody’s look, and fleshed out Shredder, this could have been a passable attempt to revive the TMNT movie franchise. It wouldn’t have been perfect, but it would have at least been respectable. Instead we have this. A joyless, largely lifeless CGI suckfest. And ultimately, that’s pretty much what the skeptics said it was going to be, isn’t it?
Fate added insult to injury, what with this movie being released one week after Guardians of the Galaxy. That movie did the whole sci-fi/action/comedy flick in a way that got almost everything right. As much as I love the franchise, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles got almost everything wrong, just as we all feared it would. If you’re looking for your Turtle Power fix in the modern era, my advice is to stick to the TV show.
Front page image from fandango.com. Interior images from rottentomatoes.com.
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