MOVIE REVIEW – ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ (2014)

Written by J.T. Johnson

3-12-stars

DIRECTOR: Jonathan Liebesman
CINEMATOGRAPHY: Lula Carvalho
WRITERS: Josh Appelbaum
MUSIC: Brian Tyler

Well, this is certainly the year for the movies I predicted to suck to prove me wrong. First, “RoboCop” didn’t turn out to be a huge waste of time and “X-Men: Days of Future Past” ended up being the best film in that series. Now, another film that had all the makings of being a horrible mess has once again hit our big screens.

It’s not hard to understand why I thought this film would be bad. All of the press and the marketing pointed towards this being simply a new “Transformers” movie with a fresh, green coat of paint. Megan Fox was cast as April O’Neil, the trailers made this movie look like a “Transformers” film and, of course, the director of those horrible movies happens to also be the producer of the new TMNT flick.

Still, even after looking at all the pre-release mumbo jumbo, it was now my turn to check the movie out. 2014’s “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” is a loud, over-the-top, crazy and ultimately fun movie. It also does not stray too far from the plot of the 1990 film as well.

There is a crime wave in New York City surrounding a mysterious organization known as the Foot Clan. While others are investigating the gang’s activities, intrepid reporter April O’Neil (Fox) seems to be the only one who understands what is going on, but of course without solid evidence, no one believes her. Not even her own cameraman, Vernon Fenwick (Will Arnett), can find it in himself to believe her claims.

However, she does witness a robbery by the Foot, but this one happens to be stopped by mysterious vigilantes that stick to the shadows. After investigating further, she finally discovers the Turtles named Leonardo (Pete Plozek), Raphael (Alan Ritchson), Michelangelo (Noel Fisher) and Donatello (Jeremy Howard) along with their master Splinter (Danny Woodburn). Together, they discover an evil plot by the master of the Foot Clan known as the Shredder (Tohoru Masamune) and Eric Sacks (William Fichtner), a person who used to work with April’s father.

First, let me clear something up. Reports of William Fichtner incorrectly stated that he was playing the Shredder. However, this is not the case and I’ll go ahead and tell anyone who still doesn’t know this that they are two completely different characters. This revelation gave me great joy as I had not seen anything else correcting that particular error/misdirection.

As far as the story goes, they did change up the origins of the turtles to a certain degree. Their creation still involves mutagen and all of that jazz, but April’s own backstory has been integrated into their past as well. It’s not a sweeping change that really affects their origins and it did not affect the film at all for me. There is even a humorous reference to the pre-release reports that the turtles were going to be aliens this time out.

The best part is that the screenwriters did nail who the turtles are in the comics and the various animated shows. Leonardo is the quiet and more level-headed leader. Raphael is the one with attitude, Donatello is the nerdy technological wizard and Michelangelo is a party dude.

The movie does contain over-the-top action but unlike the “Transformers” films it feels a little more under control. Even the action sequence involving them sliding down a snowy mountain does not seem too over-the-top. One thing that can be said is that it is all thrilling to watch and the special-effects are amazing.

Another thing that works in the film’s favor is that the writers and filmmakers did not forget the past and what made this franchise special in the first place. There are several fun references for the adults in the audience who grew up with the original comic and animated show. One example is the fact that in Japanese, Shredder actually says, “Tonight, I dine on turtle soup,” and I smiled with nostalgic glee.

With the story well in place and the turtles being very much the turtles we’ve met before with a fresh look, there are a couple complaints, one major and one minor. The major one is the Shredder’s suit of armor. Yes, it is understandable that this character needs to look like he can take on the over-sized turtles, but they went a little too far.

The suit has way too much going on and the blades look like someone just pasted on some over-sized butcher knives to his arm. In addition to the blades, the less-is-more approach could have helped in the details department of the suit itself. There is so much going on in the armor that nothing really sticks out as all that impressive. The only good thing that can be said about the design is that thankfully it works for the purposes of the film.

Then, there were the minor things such as Donatello’s cliché nerd glasses with the tape in the middle or how he creates certain things that he really shouldn’t be able to create out of just the spare parts floating around the sewer. Still, these thoughts are not dumb enough to pull me out of a movie that is essentially about turtles mutating into giant Ninja death machines.

And that is ultimately the difference between director Jonathan Liebesman’s film and Bay’s “Transformers” abominations. In a film series that is as simple as alien machines that can turn into cars, Bay always manages to find ways for me to question the logic of that rather simple plot. With Liebesman’s “Teeanage Mutant Ninja Turtles”, I got a film that is fun and exciting. It may not be a perfect movie, but for now I’m glad to report that the TMNT franchise seems to be in good hands over at Nickelodeon. Turtle Power is back!

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