‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ (2014) Movie Review

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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie review
Photo: Paramount Pictures

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a “paint by numbers” action-comedy hoping to attract an audience that still enjoys the Turtles today while also aspiring to appeal to an older audience that may be familiar with the mutant amphibians from their childhood through name alone. Truth is, this is a movie that will mostly appeal to a younger audience and yet it still carries a PG-13 rating despite the actual content warranting nothing more than a PG.

The film opens with an animated sequence hinting at the mutant turtles origins, which is largely a waste of time since it’s explored deeper within the story’s narrative, involving “frothy” television reporter April O’Neil (Megan Fox) and her previously unknown involvement in the lives of the turtles and their “father”, a rat named Splinter (voiced by Tony Shalhoub). This narrative, as it were, includes a mean ol’ businessman focused on taking over New York City alongside the even more evil Shredder using a contagion for which only said businessman’s company has the cure. Isn’t that always the way? (Answer: Yes, yes it is.)

The screenplay by Josh Appelbaum, André Nemec and Evan Daugherty is hardly original and director Jonathan Liebesman does the film no favors in the way he pieces together the opening third, choosing to use April as a narrative mouthpiece in scenes meant to be funny(?) as she expounds on less-than-intricate plot details either to herself, her roommate, her cameraman (Will Arnett) or her boss (Whoopi Goldberg). She also thinks it’s a good idea to ride her bike at night, in the rain, at the shipping docks and go exploring in an area where known criminal activity has previously taken place. Fortunately for her this offers up her first sighting of the vigilante mutant turtles, an incident that actually sets the entire plot in motion. In fact, had she been a smart and responsible individual the entirety of this film might never have taken place.

I don’t want to sound too down on the film, though, I did laugh at a few moments. Arnett gets a few chuckles and the turtles even have a few humorous moments, most of which belonging to Michelangelo (voiced by Noel Fisher) as he pines for April and delivers the majority of the film’s one-liners, very few of which, surprisingly, are all that cringe-worthy. Even the Turtles’ “Cowabunga” catchphrase works, but it works within the framework of a movie largely meant for an audience of children.

To evaluate this as a movie for adults is another story because it’s not for adults even if your attention might be sated by a few humorous moments and impressive visual effects. There is nothing beyond standard plot points being explored, the ticking clock is utilized in the most cliched of ways, fight scenes are less than spectacular and one massive set piece falling down a snowy mountain, while visually impressive (as are all the film’s effects), comes with very little sense of peril no different than the barrel sequence in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.

It’s a movie that seems to capture the essence of Peter Laird and Kevin Eastman‘s mid-’80s creation, at least as I remember seeing them as a child. Their love of pizza isn’t stuffed down our throats (though the Pizza Hut tie-in is, as is a giant billboard for upcoming Paramount release Project Almanac, which, like Turtles, is also produced by Michael Bay) and their catchphrases and teen lingo are kept to a minimum, thankfully and appropriately considering the time for “dude”, “gnarly” and “radical” has pretty much passed.

If I was of a particular age I bet I would have eaten up every bit of this movie. As it is, I don’t think I’ve necessarily outgrown the “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” but this adaptation is hoping to target too broad an audience for me to care much if at all.