Film Review: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (USA, 2014)

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The tale of anthropomorphic ninja turtles, raised and trained by an anthropomorphic rat sensei, has been ubiquitous in children’s lives since the 1980’s. There’s something about this ridiculous concept that has worked for years, with the lore of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles increasingly rich with video games, toys, comics, TV shows, and even pizza advertising deals. While the TMNT world has been outside of the mainstream consciousness for more than a few years, someone thought it was a good idea to go ahead and reboot the classic franchise with a live action movie, directed by Jonathan Liebesman, the same man who brought us Battle Los Angeles and Wrath of the Titans. To beef up the visually-focused behind the scenes cast, production credits go to the divisive Michael Bay.

The problem with these visually-focused artists at the helm of one of the most loved childhood franchises is pretty much the same that plagued the Transformers franchise. What we are given here is a handful of impressive action scenes – particularly one very memorable and incredibly fun snow-covered sequence – but very little to satisfy what is expected of these characters. While the quartet of Leonardo, Donatello, Raphael and Michelangelo will once again have us playing “who’s your favourite” – with each turtle distinctly playing into their archetypes, as shallow as they are – our heroes in a half shell strangely take a peripheral role to Megan Fox’s April O’Neil and Will Arnett’s friend-zone caricature/cameraman Vernon.

Voiced by a mixed cast – but not necessarily psychically portrayed by that same cast – the CGI-heavy characters in the movie have an admirable fluidity about them, with the effects throughout the movie consistently engaging and awe-inspiring. In particular, Shredder is effectively made out to be an unstoppable giant, with his massive custom-made steel suit and blade-flinging mechanisms making it seem like the TMNT could actually lose this round. Although choosing to lean towards the joyful, predictable side, the course of the film is full of teetering odds which do build some nice tension for the three major action scenes.

The dialogue is a big weak point for this reboot, with the turtles given the lion’s share of embarrassingly dull lines. Michelangelo (Noel Fisher), in particular, often comes across as an obnoxious pervert so much so that he borders on the unlikeable. Traditionally the de-facto leader of the four, Leonardo (Johnny Knoxville) is actually given the least to do in the movie, with the harmless tension between him and Raphael (Alan Ritchson) pretty much the only thing going for him. Fans of Raphael will find more has been done for them here, with the resident bad-ass given ample screen time and the best dialogue out of the four – especially towards the end. On a similar hand, Donatello – as the “nerdy” one – drives much of the film’s most memorable sequence, using his trademark bo staff to launch cars into the air, as well as his own brother.

The simplistic plot of the movie centres around April and her pursuit of a story on the mysterious Foot Clan; a desire which leads her to reconnect with the turtles (and splinter) and realise that she knew them since childhood. An attempt at an origin story here is given a nice start, but then quickly dissolves into the half-interesting current-day plot.

When you look past every other element of the movie and just focus on the visuals, then you will have an incredible time watching Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. But if you’re looking for anything more than a half-excellent pop-corn blockbuster then consider your nostalgia-driven anticipation ruined. With that being said, it’s still a decent enough movie for a potential sequel to be an exiciting possibility – if only it includes Krang, Tokka, and Rahzar

Review Score: THREE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Running Time: 101 minutes

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is currently in cinemas nationwide