Mark Reviews Movies

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)


1 ½ Stars (out of 4)

Director: Jonathan Liebesman

Cast: Megan Fox, Will Arnett, William Fichtner, Alan Richson, Noel Fisher, Pete Ploszek, Jeremy Howard, Danny Woodburn, Tohoru Masamune, Minae Noji, Whoppi Goldberg, the voices of Johnny Knoxville, Tony Shalhoub

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for sci-fi action violence)

Running Time: 1:41

Release Date: 8/8/14

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Review by Mark Dujsik | August 7, 2014

Amidst the noise and confusion of a chase/avalanche sequence in which our shelled heroes are sliding down a mountain in, on, and around a semi-truck as a group of baddies shoot at and try to lasso them, there comes a moment of clarity. It's brief—a single shot, really—but it gives us a very clear notion of what's missing from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. In it, one of the turtles places one end of his staff against the bumper of a pursuing jeep and sticks the other end in the ground as it rushes underneath him. The collision sends the jeep flying into the air, but director Jonathan Liebesman doesn't follow the vehicle as we would expect. Instead, the camera arcs over the turtle's face as he erupts in a giddy laugh that's a quarter victory and three-quarters disbelief.

This is the third cinematic incarnation (across five movies) of the four adolescent mutant turtles with skills in ninjutsu. We've seen them as stunt performers in costumes with animatronic masks. We've seen them in computer animation. This time, they are computer-generated, motion-captured characters at play in the real world. They look convincing—all slithery and slimy and scaly and rough. In fact, if there ever came a time that box turtles were injected with a mutagen that caused them grow into six-foot-tall mutant turtles, these characters are probably as close an approximation of those hypothetical genetic monstrosities that visual effects can offer.

In other words, they're a little eerie. Well, to be perfectly frank, they're downright disturbing. This is not anti-turtle prejudice speaking. Turtles are perfectly tolerable and sometimes cute in their natural, non-mutant form. These turtles, though, have gone through a process of mishmash anthropomorphism. Their eyes are big and blue. They have lips and buck teeth. Their bodies are huge muscles bulging out of a shell.

If they simply looked like enlarged, bipedal turtles, perhaps the design would fare better. Then again, their sensei is a four-foot-tall rat that looks very much like a big rat, complete with soulless, oily pools for eyes. Maybe the buck teeth aren't such a bad thing.

That's why the shot of a laughing Donatello (Jeremy Howard), the brains of the team, stands out. It's a genuine moment of personality for a character who—like the rest of the visual-effects creations here—doesn't really have one. There are the broad strokes, of course. Leonardo (Pete Ploszek and the voice of Johnny Knoxville) is the noble leader. Raphael (Alan Ritchson) is the disobedient brute. Michelangelo (Noel Fisher) is the devil-may-care jokester. They crack wise with indistinguishable voices during fights. They all love pizza, which provides a few moments to advertise a certain pizzeria franchise.

Otherwise, these characters are fodder for an effects demo reel. Talented people made them because they could, but the screenplay by Josh Appelbaum, André Nemec, and Evan Daugherty doesn't provide any real reason that those artists should have created them.

The story is recycled origin-story stuff. The evil Shredder (Tohoru Masamune) and his gang the Foot Clan have been terrorizing New York City. The big baddie has plans to team with Eric Sachs (William Fichtner)—a corporate magnate and minor baddie—to spread a toxin throughout the city, sell the antidote to the government, and become rich and powerful.

Only the turtles can stop the villains and save their sensei Splinter (Danny Woodburn and the voice of Tony Shalhoub). They get "help" from April O'Neil (Megan Fox), a TV news reporter who is disillusioned with a career of fluff pieces (There is ample evidence throughout the movie that suggests a good reason she gets those assignments, such as forgetting that she knew the turtles as a child and needing a giant rat to tell her twice that she has been aiding a bad guy). Her cameraman Vernon (Will Arnett) tags along to ogle her.

The screenplay is jammed with exposition and back story (Everything stops so that Splinter can explain his and the turtles' origin, and, really, why doesn't April warn the rat when he reveals she has been helping the villain?). The action sequences play out with much kinetic confusion and very little care for the laws of physics. There are times when we question if the filmmakers even have a basic understanding of spatial relation (In one scene, characters fall straight down and, in the next shot, appear many, many feet away from where they were an instant before, just so that there can be a cliffhanger climax).

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles attempts to show that what sets its heroes apart is their fun-loving nature. Other than that one shot, the movie doesn't seem to be having much fun.

Copyright © 2014 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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