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Review: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)

Directed by: Jonathan Liebesman

Premise: Based on the comic book. A group of mutant turtles trained in martial arts take on a criminal organization out to devastate New York City.

What Works: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles plays best whenever the filmmakers emphasize the humor. The premise behind the Ninja Turtles has always been inherently silly and the franchise has worked best when the filmmakers acknowledged that silliness. The new movie has flashes of humor in the banter between the turtles and in those moments this film captures a glimmer of what made the Ninja Turtles franchise a success in the first place.  

What Doesn’t: The 2014 version of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was directed by Jonathan Liebesman, who had previously helmed movies like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning, Battle Los Angeles, and Wrath of the Titans, and it was produced by Platinum Dunes, the Michael Bay affiliated production company largely responsible for the past decade of remakes of classic horror titles like Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street. That bit of information pretty much sums up what viewers can expect from the new Ninja Turtles film. Like the horror remakes that both Liebesman and Platinum Dunes have been affiliated with, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was made with digital slickness but it also demonstrates no grasp of character, storytelling, or coherent moviemaking. The connection with Michael Bay is most telling, as this new incarnation of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles has the same visual and storytelling style as Bay’s Transformers pictures (although thankfully Ninja Turtles is much shorter) and it possesses virtually every quality that made Bay’s robot films insufferable. There is a lot wrong with this movie but the most critical failure is the characterization of the turtles. There isn’t any. They are visually distinguished by their telltale weapons and headbands but the turtles have no personality. Just as the alien machines of Michael Bay’s Transformers movies were a bunch of mechanical parts with no soul, the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are more special effects than characters. Equally shallow are the characters played by human actors. Shredder (Tohoru Masamune), the villain of the film, is not really a character so much as he is a video game boss and the filmmakers never characterize him, give him a motivation, or even make him threatening. April O’Neil is played by Megan Fox, who is sorely miscast in the role. Fox has never been a particularly strong actress and this part needs a solid player. O’Neil is the closest that this movie gets to a coherent point-of-view character and Fox is not up to the job. Ninja Turtles’ problems with characterization are partly a result of flaws in the script and character design but it’s also a result of the filmmaking choices. This movie is franticly photographed and assembled. Even non-action scenes are agitated and the filmmakers choose odd camera angles that make the direction of scenes confusing. What is bad in the film’s quieter moments is even worse in the action sequences. There is apparently a lot going on but—again like Michael Bay’s Transformers pictures—it is impossible to follow the action. The erratic filmmaking might be a failed attempt to distract the viewer from the film’s many errors, including an extraordinary continuity problem. At one point the turtles escape from the villain’s compound, where it is apparently the middle of winter, and there is a prolonged car chase through the snow. But there is no snow in the rest of the movie and it is obviously not winter anywhere else. This kind of sloppiness defines the movie. It is terribly busy and yet nothing is involving and there is never anything palatable at stake, resulting in a movie that is really boring.

Bottom Line: The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle feature films of the 1990s were not great movies but they were at least competently made, adhered to some kind of narrative logic, and had recognizable and sometimes engaging characters. The 2014 version fails at even the most basic precepts of filmmaking and it is a mind numbing waste of time.

Episode: #504 (August 17, 2014)