“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” it’s Just for Kids (Film Review)



The newest reboot of a franchise Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is just for kids.  Dumbing down the story to work on a level of the current cartoon series on Nickelodeon, the characters, although on the dark side, are as goofy and silly as their cable TV counterparts.  Working on two levels, adults may enjoy the action in the finale that has a nicely choreographed chase scene down a snow covered mountain, but aside from that, don’t expect a Guardians of the Galaxy.

Following the same formula that made the franchise a fortune from the youngsters so many years ago, the turtles, Donatello (Jeremy Howard), Raphael (Alan Ritchson), Leonardo (Pete Ploszek and voice by Johnny Knoxville) and Michelangelo (Noel Fisher) are using their powers to protect New York City.  The Foot Clan, a gang of ninjas lead by evil boss Shredder (Tohoru Masamune) are wrecking havoc and taking captives.  Controlling the government and law enforcement through a company called Sacks Industries is Eric Sacks (William Fichtner) who’s at the center of the crimes.

Michelangelo, Leonardo, Megan Fox as April O'Neil, Raphael, and Donatello

Michelangelo, Leonardo, Megan Fox as April O’Neil, Raphael, and Donatello

Fledgling reporter April O’Neil (Megan Fox) and her videographer Vernon Fenwick (Will Arnett) have been doing puff pieces for the local TV station. Following a day of inane stories, she comes upon the Foot Clan doing no good at a shipping container compound.  Watching the break-in, April witnesses the intervention of a mysterious vigilante.  She reports it back to her editor Bernadette Thompson (Whoopi Goldberg), but with no proof of the vigilante she gets turned down for a news piece. Hours later she sees people running from a subway exit and investigates. Following her instinct she climbs to the roof of the building on a fire escape.  There she sees the Turtles and gets introduced to the four justice defenders.

When she starts getting more involved in the story behind the turtles, an adventure begins that uncovers a plan to take over New York. Director Jonathan Liebesman does a good job of putting the story together even though its intellectual level only ranges from ages 6 to 14.  His characters are darker than the original movie heroes keeping up with the progression of video gamers ‘need’ for an edgier story.  The turtles have personalities that have comical value, but are also snarly, assertive, forceful, intimidating and menacing at times. Their costumes, CG and prosthetic are top drawer, but give the turtles creepy looks with scared faces, wide eyes and huge teeth.

Raphael and Leonardo jump off a building to save April

Raphael and Leonardo jump off a building to save April

Liebesman movies the story along at a fairly good speed introducing his characters as the plot starts to thicken.  He delivers a simple theme of defending a city from the greedy businessman/scientist who wants to control everyone in return for great wealth. He adds a side story involving Vern’s romantic inclinations for April, but there’s no chemistry between them to make it work.  His heroes are much like others including a few of the Marvel characters and even the X-Men that have been featured in films of late.  While the sewers are the home of these champions and a lab rat Splinter (Danny Woodburn with voice of Tony Shalhoub) that’s their chief, their fighting skills and attitude are the main things that make them similar to the aforementioned superheroes.
The filmmakers do a good job of bringing the movie to the screen using the tools that most of the blockbusters find successful.  Changing the Styrofoam covered turtles of the past into more convincing and invincible characters using CG coupled with costumes that look more realistic, Donatello, Michelangelo, Leonardo and Raphael are more fun to watch. Nicely decorated sets provide the sewer home of the Turtles, a New York City skyscraper rooftop, a lab that keeps the turtle’s captive, subway terminals and more.

Lens flare as in this scene can be avoided

Lens flare as in this scene can be avoided

The lighting is good, but the pesky lens flares that distract during some of the most compelling scenes should be outlawed in the industry. And YES they can be avoided and really don’t do anything for the production. Especially this film aimed at teens that can care less if glare is coming from the sun or camera pointing at a precarious light source. For me it’s an automatic reduction in the cinematography value. To the directors and producers of movies like Star Trek Into Darkness, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol or a large number of other action films that are using this juvenile and distracting technique, give us a break. In Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles there’s a lot of flaring and in one pivotal scene you can barely make out Megan Fox due to the flares.

Leonardo looks a lot more sinister than in previous films

Leonardo looks a lot more sinister than in previous films, but for adults that’s a good thing

The last 15 to 20 minutes of the movie are very exciting starting with the chase down a snow covered mountainside.  The special effects are nicely placed, stunts “ridiculous” and the thrilling finish insane.  I also liked the battle on the rooftop of the skyscraper during the end scene, even though it reminded somewhat of the finale of Transformers: Edge of Extinction’s use of the towers on a building. But of course if you saw the trailer you already know that.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles has been rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence.  While there isn’t an over abundance of physical violence (no one is shot point blank or body parts dismembered), the film still may be a bit too edgy for those tykes that watch “Ninja Turtles” on Nickelodeon. The Shredder has some scary moments and the knives he throws are quite large and damaging.  Turtle’s weapons, especially the samurai swords and the daggers, are very menacing.

FINAL ANALYSIS: A good attempt to revive a franchise, but it’s about average at best. (C-)

Additional Film Information:
Cast: Megan Fox, Will Arnett, William Fichtner, Danny Woodburn, Abby Elliott, Noel Fisher, Jeremy Howard, Pete Ploszek, Alan Ritchson, Minae Noji
Directed by: Jonathan Liebesman
Genre: Action, Adventure, Comedy
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sci-fi action violence
Running Time: 1 hr 41 min
Release Date: August 8, 2014
Distributed by: Paramount Pictures
Release Formats: 2D, 3D

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