2014 - 101 minutes
Directed by: Jonathan Liebesman
Written by: Josh Applebaum, André Nemec, Evan Daugherty
Starring: Megan Fox, William Fichtner, Will Arnett, Tohoru Masamune, Whoopi Goldberg
This review is brought to you by Pizza Hut*, official pizza of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – 2014 version. I’m sure somebody somewhere will tally an exact count of Pizza Hut boxes strewn about in this film, but my immediate estimate is: lots. The most blatant product placement in this update of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, however, is the turtles themselves.
Those of us who fondly remember the goofiness of the colorful – blue, red, purple, and yellow, and green – characters of the ‘80s and early ‘90s can apply previous knowledge to the beautifully rendered CGI creations here, but those who cannot will find it hard to connect with the four mutated teens. The script is light on character development, getting caught up in the plot-twisting minutiae of the modern blockbuster.
Ambitious reporter April O’Neil (Megan Fox) is chasing a story on a group of thugs called the Foot Clan, who are on a crime spree in New York. When her enthusiasm gets her trapped in a hostage situation, she’s saved by Leonardo, Raphael, Donatello, and Michelangelo, becoming the first New Yorker to lay eyes on the muscular, sewer-dwelling talking turtles. Meanwhile, Shredder (Tohoru Masamune), leader of the Foot Clan, is intent on “taking over the city” armed with a plan to poison the masses, as well as a pretty slick metallic samurai suit that shoots a bevy of blades. Amid all of the extraordinary discoveries, which also include the turtles’ rat sensei master Splinter, April seeks assistance from billionaire scientist/industrialist Eric Sacks (William Fichtner), who was a partner of her late father. Sacks offers up a story of him as a child in the Far East. That probably foreshadows something.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in quite impressive on a technical level. Standout action sequences on a snowy hillside with multiple vehicles and shell-tobogganing turtles, as well as a climactic showdown atop a skyscraper offer several fun moments. The problems come with communicating the personality of the computer created characters dancing across the screen. Shredder is nothing more than a mecha-menace with no real motivation or meaningful connection to the plot as it unfolds.
The turtles are each given subtle differences in their looks and outfits that readily identify their dispositions: Leonardo the lead dog, Raphael the chafed outsider, Michelangelo the skateboarding dude-bro, and Donatello the brain. (Though it is a little ridiculous that Raphael is constantly brooding while having a dusty pair of circa 1991 Oakley sunglasses resting on his head.) There just isn’t enough back-and-forth interplay with the group of turtles to give an impression of their brotherly bonds.
Unnecessarily convoluted plotting also gets in the way at times, with great actor Fichtner used as an exposition megaphone during speeches to crowds, stories told to April, and declarations made to turtles. It’s also convenient and inconvenient at the same time that April is actually connected to the turtles’ creation, with her dad and Sacks responsible for synthesizing the mutagen that led to their metamorphosis. The action set pieces and interconnected backstories don’t leave a lot of time for general merriment, a staple of the different iterations of the ninja turtles franchise. A quiet elevator ride that turns into a freestyle turtle rap is fun, but it seems director Jonathan Liebesman is content to let Will Arnett, as April’s cameraman, handle comic relief duties with his obviously ad-libbed quips.
The bloat reaches its peak in a climax that involves computer hacking, a flurry of ninja weapons, falling debris, and even an awkwardly shoehorned in “Cowabunga” out of duty to the source material. While Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles occasionally does what it does fairly well, its lack of focus on the titular turtles sucks out a lot of the potential.
*Not really. Don’t sue me.