Movie Review: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
By Matthew Huntley
August 12, 2014
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014) essentially tells the same story as, well, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990). There are some key differences, of course, like the former adding a new layer to the turtles’ upbringing, not to mention the means by which their sworn enemy, Shredder, plans to take over the world, but by and large, this is the same movie, only updated to 2014 standards. This means, among other things, smartphones play an integral role in the plot and the majority of shots contain digital effects. Oh, and the primary pizza sponsor is Pizza Hut instead of Domino’s.
With such trivial changes in mind, why the remake? My guess is the current Ninja Turtles cartoon show on Nickelodeon has proven popular enough that studio executives figured it was high time to re-launch the live-action movie franchise and assumed it’d be best to start from scratch.
But a shadow of the 1990 film remains attached to this latest incarnation, which unfortunately isn’t as good on a storytelling or filmmaking level. It lacks the darkness, rawness and tangibility of the first movie, which used life-sized turtle suits and puppets instead of CGI to bring Leonard, Donatello, Michelangelo and Raphael to life. This gave them presence, which made the idea of four adolescent turtles who love pizza and spew out surfer jargon all the more believable, as well as enjoyable. The new turtles simply aren’t as attractive, if you know what I mean.
Not that this new version is an all-out disaster. In a nutshell, or turtle shell, it’s brainless, by-the-numbers kiddie fare on special effects overdrive that (I’m guessing) projects the zany characteristics of the cartoon onto the big screen. Compared to the original, it’s expectedly bigger, louder and faster, but none of these qualities necessarily make it more fun or exciting to watch. True: I’m no longer the target demographic for this material, but I’d be curious to know which movie modern Turtles fans would respond to more. My money is on the first one, which, silliness and absurdity aside, had a heightened sense of craft and intrigue…for a Ninja Turtles movie, anyway.
Save for the presentation, not much else is different between the two. The personalities of the turtles, as well as their unique skill sets and weapons of choice, remain the same, as does the wisdom and discipline bestowed upon them by their sensei-father, Splinter, a giant rat. Leonardo is still the leader of the pack; Donatello the brains; Michelangelo the wisecracking jokester; and Raphael the no-nonsense loner.
Then there’s April O’Neil (Megan Fox), the plucky New York City reporter looking for her first big break. She tells her cameraman Vernon (Will Arnett) she wants to report hard, substantive news, which is why she’s on a mission to uncover the current crime wave sweeping Manhattan at the hands of a mysterious gang known as the Foot Clan. They report to Shredder, the metallic suit-donning megalomaniac from Japan who has nefarious ambitions to take over the city and then the world. He’s in cahoots with Eric Saks (William Fichtner), the CEO of a giant security company, and we know right from the get-go he’s a baddie.
If you’ve seen any Ninja Turtles movie, old or recent, or watched an episode of the TV show, or played the video games, or read the comics, this latest rendition won’t bring anything new to the table, which is exactly my problem with it. I wasn’t expecting a masterpiece or anything, but couldn’t the three screenwriters forge a more original narrative than this? The entire movie merely underlines the things we already know about and expect from the turtles. So again, I ask, what’s the point? Why even have this reboot retell the origin story? Surely anyone going into a Ninja Turtles movie will be aware of the heroes and the universe they inhabit, so why not have them dive headlong into a brand new adventure, one that doesn’t bother to re-introduce us to them or their world? If this was the case, the movie could have also been given a more original title.
As it is, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014) is simply unnecessary. Perhaps if the Turtles were given something new to do or a different villain to face, it would have been more interesting and entertaining. Writing as a Turtles fan, I was surprisingly bored with it, probably because I couldn’t shake the idea I’d seen it before.