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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (TMNT), the 2014 live action reboot, is finally here. I say this because we’ve been seeing coverage on the movie’s development for over a year and it all seemed to be bad news for the franchise. That’s significant for many of us that were kids when the comic launched in 1984 and eventually transcended every major medium over the course of the fifteen years that followed. In short, you couldn’t get away from these “heroes in the half shell” in the late 80s/early 90s if you were tuned into pop culture in the least. TMNT is a bare-bones, predictable plot where a vapid lead reporter stumbles into one troubled situation after another while immature childlike creatures try to protect her with pointless explosions and IQ-free action sequences. Don’t think I’m being negative; that’s exactly what the Ninja Turtles have been all along, and this film nailed it.
It’s the strangest dichotomy from start to finish. On one hand you’re watching a familiar plot as April attempts to break a story on the nefarious foot clan that has plagued New York City. On the other hand you’re introduced to a new aesthetic for the Turtles that takes some getting used to. As you progress through the film’s 100 minute jaunt everything will begin to bleed together and suddenly you don’t question a Shredder that looks like the Predator. Despite these visual setbacks, TMNT still remains quite self-aware and has no problem digging deep into the vaults and featuring characters like Vernon Fenwick (Vern) or using the line “tonight, I dine on turtle soup.” There was even a line where Vern asks April if the Turtles may be aliens and she mentions how dumb that concept would be – which those that followed the film’s development will note was the original idea for this reboot. I even have to commend the frantic camera work of Lula Carvalho that seems to borrow from some of my favorite parts of the cartoon show, in some cases matching the shots exactly, because I never would have imagined it be allowed in a major film.
While Michael Bay did produce this film, his touch is barely present in the grand scheme of things and probably is the last name you should be interested in. I wasn’t thrilled with writing duo Josh Applebaum and Andre Nemec (of Alias fame among others) penning the script, but a third involvement of Evan Daughtery (Snow White and the Huntsman, Divergent) did assist in grounding the plot and giving it a justifiable ending. Director Jonathan Liebesman’s Battle Los Angeles and Wrath of the Titans work clearly came in handy for some of the crazier action sequences – there’s an excellent snowy mountainside sequence. Many criticized Megan Fox for being the hot chick without much talent, and while I sadly must admit her acting leaves something to be desired, I would argue she fills the shoes of April O’Neil appropriately in every way except for her visual similarity to the character in comics and cartoons. As usual William Fichtner is underutilized as Eric Sacks, who has a large role in the script but always falls short of any true character development. I’m sure many would argue that the Turtles themselves should be mentioned, but I neither knew much about the actors nor could recognize them enough in the film to consider it notable.
If you grew up with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles you probably were introduced by a frantic cartoon whose ability to withstand the test of time is debatable. When the live action film released it was clearly forced to use drama and one-liners to conceal the fact that big guys in rubber suits cannot emulate their cartoon counterparts. This new film is finally able to keep up with what the cartoon started, which may be great for kids and fans of the original, but dwindles to nothing more than Hollywood summer blockbuster spectacle to most others. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for it, but if you’re hoping to see some sort of gritty new well-written world where the Ninja Turtles are handled like Nolan’s Dark Knight saga, look elsewhere. Still, I can’t help but feel that perhaps this license just isn’t suited for something so high brow, it’s just big dumb fun.
Final Score: 3 out of 5
The reviewer paid to see this film and was provided with no press passes or other promotional material.