Wednesday, August 13, 2014


The latest cinematic version of the 1980’s comic, TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES, is very much a product of our current times; it is heavily inspired by the current wave of superhero films and by the  Christopher Nolan technique of practical realism in fantasy. On top of those two factors, it is also a product of directing-by-committee; a technique which does not always bring in the best results.
In modern day New York City, ambitious reporter April O’Neil (Megan Fox) is hot on the trail of the mysterious organized crime group called the Foot Clan, when she stumbles upon four mutated turtles living in the sewers who are battling the same evil.

This version of the TURTLES sets itself up as a standard superhero origin-tale in the real world. The template in place is sound, and the practical-reasons-for-everything also go a long way in keeping what is a silly concept of karate-chopping turtles close to the ground and realistic. But the approach in telling this story is troubled right out of the manhole courtesy of a clumsy and lazy script the filmmakers decided to run with. Most of the film is spent in boring exposition; scene after scene of setting up one thing which leads to another…and although there is some payoff, the film often slogs itself into the ground. Worse, the characters themselves suffer from the laziness in the screenplay; everyone seems to have some sort of convenient connection to each other, the origin of the turtles, and the nefarious plot at work…and it does not take long to figure out where the plot is going or what characters are meant to do.
Jonathan Liebesman is the credited director, but it’s clear that he was merely the hired gun to keep things moving on the set during shooting. The film very much feels like it was put together by committee; an approach with a board-room full of stiffs throwing in their different wants and needs. It would explain the cobbled-together feel as the film as many elements and plotpoints which just don’t work together, and the overall experience has no real heart or soul.

Long-time fans of the now 30 year-old franchise do have a lot to latch onto. Every element of the TURTLES mythos is present, and the effort to bring them to life is also impressive. The CG is very good, and each one of the turtles has a distinct personality which helps carry things forward. Those personalities are little one-note and they don’t really move past their standard archetype, but they do provide some very fun moments and plenty to laugh-out-loud at. The action sequences are fun despite some over-use of the goddamn shaky-cam technique, and a third-act chase down a mountain slope is a fantastic thrill-ride. From a visual angle, the film is great to look at and often stunning.

Acting is a mixed bag. Megan Fox is the weakest link and she often feels like she showed up just to collect a check. She’s never been the greatest in the biz, but she has turned in better work than this. William Fichtner turns in a great role as the head of a corporation (again, conveniently) linked to everyone and everything, and the leader of the Foot Clan, Master Shredder, (played by Tohoru Masamune), is fine as a standard big baddie who growls a lot. Will Arnett and Whoopi Goldberg are passable although the film could have done just fine without them. The voice-work behind the CG creatures is excellent, with Johnny Knoxville’s work behind the turtles’ leader Leonardo and Tony Shalhoub’s talent behind their mutated-rat teacher being the standouts.
After a very predictable finale, it’s hard to figure out exactly why this movie had to be made other than a big studio looking for a new money-maker to hang their hats on as it only occasionally justifies itself in storytelling. It has its fun moments, and has enough for old fans to be liked, but is just too flawed to be loved. Even for a story about talking turtles.


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