I'm finally reviewing this one now, because... Well, I just waited for it to come on DVD, and then to buy a cheap second-hand copy to see it. There. I said it!
Just on time for the sequel!
Just on time for the sequel!
Find more TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA REVIEWS on this very same blog!
Movie: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014) or simply Ninja Turtles as it is still known in most of the world
Directed by Jonathan Liebesman
Release date 2014
Genre Reboot of a Science-fiction/Action/Comedy film
Here's a film we all knew was coming one day or another.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a cult 80s phenomenon that managed to somehow survive over the decades and only become a bigger franchise every new iteration of the material.
This reboot was produced in the wake of co-creator of the Peter Laird selling the franchise rights to Nickelodeon back in October 2009, after having obtained the other half of the rights back from his co-creator Kevin Eastman. A new film was then quickly put in place for a possible release date in 2012.
This 2014 film was produced by Nickelodeon Movies and Heavy Metal (!!), and made by Hollywood gritty explosions and shaky cams-master Michael Bay's production company Platinum Dunes and distributed by Paramount Pictures. That's right, that post-Bad Boys 2/Transformers Michael Bay. But while it's a production by Michael Bay and his cohort, the film itself was in fact made by director and writer Jonathan Liebesman who worked several times with Bay and most recently directed another reboot/prequel The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning.also for Platinum Dunes, as well as Battle: Los Angeles and he almost directed the Friday the 13th reboot as well. But don't mind this reboot-loving director, this looks as close to an actual Michael Bay-directed film as it gets.
Various writers worked on this film during production up until actual filming.
Not surprisingly the film would be nominated to several Golden Raspberry Awards in 2015 including Worst Director for a film.
Allow me to explain why...
The story of the film is mostly based off the first live action film rather than the original comic book source or the classic cartoon material. But I'm already surprised by this result considering this was made by writers who didn't want to bother with the actual franchise in the first place. Interestingly enough some ideas appear to be directly taken from the current run at IDW.
Our main character is April O'Neil, a Channel 6 wannabe reporter who's been trying to cover the current crime wave by the Foot Clan terrorist group (yes, they're not ninjas here but actually terrorists that use firearms). But her boss Whoopi Goldberg tells her to stop trying to cover that story and go film zany stuff instead to take people's mind from these issues currently plaguing New York City. Right....
One night she witness some vigilante taking on the Foot Clan at the docks, somehow April always pops up wherever the Foot Clan is up next. She finds this mysterious logo after the attack, where did she see that before?... The following day there's a party hosted at Sacks Industries by the company's CEO Eric Sacks (who has a mysterious Oroku Saki-like sounding name, I wonder...). We get treated to a flashback where we find out how her father used to work with Sacks back when they lose turtles and that rat they were experimenting on in a lab.
True to the classic cartoon, April gets in a dangerous situation and ends up taken hostage by the Foot in a subway station. Thankfully they're freed by the vigilantes. She follows them on a rooftop only to discover 4 grown Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles!! She of course passes out, but not before hearing their names. With no surprise it all ties back to the earlier flashback, the turtles are the product of her dad and Sacks' work on "Project Renaissance". April even named the turtles herself here, Leonardo, Donatello, Raphael, and Michelangelo! It mutated the 4 pet turtles and a rat into mutants during the night of the fire.
She tries telling this story to Whoopi Goldberg who just mocks here and even fails to just show her the proof she captured that night on her phone. Why?!?
Of course she does the next logical thing... and instead shows this game-changing picture to the film's main villain. She goes to her friend/cameraman/colleague/professional sexual harasser Vern Fenwick to go to Sacks and reveal to him this knowledge about the mutant turtles. They were created by contact with the same mysterious "mutagen" that they developed to cure diseases.
The turtles bring April to her lair, she gets to listen to their origin story as usual. This time Master Splinter learned ninjutsu from a book found in the sewers. Soon the lair is attacked by Foot soldiers. They capture 3 of the 4 turtles.
It turns out the main turtle of this iteration ends up being Raphael for a change, in a complete reversal of the original first film.
And the villain's plan in the film ends up being to unleash a terrifying virus on NYC only to black mail the USA to pay for the cure only they would possess. Okay... Long tory short, Raph frees the other three, they escape from a random lab in the mountains and the turtles go after the one treu Shredder trying to spread the virus on the city while April and Vern go after Sacks in another lab.
It repeats a lot of the beats from the original film and features a lot of throwbacks to it, with added dumbed down over-the-top plot.
There's a lot mishandling of the franchise at the hands of Michael Bay and his Platinum Dunes pals. Originally the first script was notoriously really bad, the story taking the turtles completely off rails, even Kevin Eastman complained it was too much, too edgy. So then followed a lot of rewrites. There was a huge uproar from fans when it was revealed the film would by simply titled Ninja Turtles since the turtles would this time be from an alien race. But due to the immediate huge backlash there were a lot of changes behind the scenes to take out those "creative changes", they simply took out that whole turtle-planet backstory from the film.
Followed a lot of issues, the film being almost entirely shut down at some point. Just be thankful we didn't end up with the "turtle warriors from another dimension", where Splinter would be an alien and the villain of the film would have been Colonel Schrader, a government agent working with the bad aliens, although you can still find a lot of traces of it in the script such as the Foot Clan ninja basically being a black ops unit (Raphael would have been the comic relief like in the original cartoon and Michelangelo would fall in love with a turtle woman from another planet...).
Making the turtles fully CGi is (sadly) understandable nowadays, although honestly I wish they had tried better simpler more practical effects. The real problem is not really in the execution - although some of the shots in the film looked really bad, like bad CGi animated series bad a few times - the problem lies in the over-confusing 3D models. Just like the Michael Bay Transformers movie it just looks way too busy and messy. Changes for the sake of random changes serves no purpose and in fact is just detracts from the story. A few times in the film I wondered why Raph' never took out those awful stupid sunglasses from the top of his head during the entire film, despite being knocked out, buried beneath a crashed sewers wall, and thrown out off a tower during the climax of the film. The^effects were handled by Industrial Light & Magic. The digital turtles facial expressions relied on a new motion capture system that used the face of the actors portraying the turtles. The turtles themselves were given all distinct bodies, trying to give each turtle a different physic modeled on different sportsman figures such as Donatello looking more like a basketball player, Raph more like a football player and Mikey like a shorter soccer player.
Despite the definitively more realistic approach of the CGi, it kinda feels off, ending way cartoonier than they probably wanted and not that well integrated most times. Only making the old practical turtles suits stand out much better in my eyes. This here has a sort of uncanny valley going on with the faces looking too human.
The film stars newcomers Pete Ploszek as Leonardo, Alan Ritchson as Raphael, Noel Fisher as Michelangelo, Jeremy Howard as Donatello and Danny Woodburn as Splinter. For some reasons they also decided to rely on celebrities voicing characters to help promote the film, which explains how we also got Johnny Knoxville voicing Leo and Monk himself Tony Shalhoub voicing Splinter. While I found Johnny Knoxville voice acting pretty decent and not distracting, this was kinda insulting to the actors portraying them being replaced just like that...
As for the humans, we also get Michael Bay's go-to-sexy actress the insufferable queen of wooden acting Megan Fox, 30 Rock's Will Arnett in the role of lifetime as Vern, a badly used and miscasted William Fichtner as the faux Shredder and Abby Elliott. The "real Shredder" Tohoru Masamune seems like a late addition to bring the real Oroku Saki in there. And Whoopi Goldberg was a really detracting annoyance. And poor Minae Noji as Karai did barely a thing. We apparently also got Todd Freeman as Dr. Baxter Stockman in there, but I can't remember what he really did in there aside from a cameo. Oh, and a cameo of Derek Mears as a ninja.
A pretty bad casting in my eyes. And made even worse considering we almost had Anna Kendrick, or Elizabeth Olsen in the lead role of April, and Jessica Biel was also apparently very interested in the part.. Sigh... The only real good choice to come out of the film was in the excellent pick of Will Arnett who was basically born for the role of the cameraman Vern.
There's so much incoherence in the film.. There's basically two different versions of two different incarnations of April smashed together (the reporter and the scientist ones), lacking any true purpose or motivation for the film's version of April. She's only here to get hit on for two hours. There's a few nice enough aerial shots of New York inserted through the film in between every single scene just to have you go "yeah, this takes place in New York City!" even though nothing seems to make any sense geographically as a real place (what's with the epic mountain chase inserted in the film!?). It never feels like a real place, supposedly plagued by the Foot Clan for a while. Compared to, say, most Spider-Man movies that try to make New York City part of the film almost as another character on itself.
It all feels so dull and forgettable.Yet, it also was kind of fun. Not campy enough to make it entertaining or self-aware, but definitely watchable..
The main problem with this film is that it seems to be lacking any heart. It's bland, generic and filled with nonsensical action scenes that are barely watchable. If Michael Bay decides to retire, don't worry we have here a perfect replacement, Jonathan Liebesman seems to be just as much an affable director who already relies way too much on shaky cams. With this and Battle Los Angeles, he certainly proves to have all that it takes to become the new Michael Bay, with tons of badly quickly implemented CGi and 3D action shots, with no relation in space next to each other. A lot of the effects are quite rough, unpolished and lacking clean up late in post-production. The plot makes no sense at all (blame that on the rewrites).
The motion capture for the turtles sounded like a great idea to explore on the paper, akin to Andy Serkis' work or Mark Ruffalo's Hulk, but it also prevented the turtles to actual interact directly with the Foot turning them from ninjas into gunmen.
The redesigned turtles are way too weird-looking and generic.
They evne tried to shoe-horn every possible TMNT trivia from pizza to ninjutsu, "heroes in a half shell" only missing the basic weirdness and tone. The surface is shiny and modern, but the core is left feeling completely empty, like they're embarrassed to say Cowabunga, like they have to apologize before actually saying it.
On the plus side, Will Arnett is always fun, and even has a lot of screen time. But most of his jokes seem to be him pointing way too many times how ridiculous the entire concept is. And also it feels particularly creepy how everybody keeps hitting on Mega Fox. Really? How old were the people that wrote and produced this film?
Thankfully the origins of the turtles remained mostly intact despite early plans to have them with alien origins.
The personality of the TMNT seem rendered 2-dimensional, more so than ever. Donny is usually the tech-savy and the nerd, how about here? He's covered in junk and gadgets and has taped-up glasses on top of his head. How about Raph? Kind of a caricature. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles? They feel more like Giant
If the idea for this film was to go for a more realistic/mature film, at the end of the day all we are left with here is just an immature juvenile film.
I did like the black and white Mirage Comics-style introduction which felt kind of reminiscent of the 2012 animated series' flashbacks. We got a slice of pizza dropped on Splinter's head just like in the first film and even a nod to a "Hip Hop Christmas Album". If anything this film marked the first appearances of classic characters Vern Fenwick, Karai and Baxter Stockman in a live action film!
The gigantic bulletproof bad designs of the turtles kind of reminded me of some of the old one-off black and white comics from the early 90s. Action scenes were confusing and a particularly bland denouement. It feels like a disjointed film made by different people all doing their own thing from the different writers to the director. It's a Michael Bay-produced reboot as you would imagine it, with a lot of noise, easy violence, bad humor and action scenes, an illogical mess. And a finale duplicated from the Amazing Spider-Man!
And awfully generic music that doesn't seem to fit the movie's tone at all, composed by an uninspired Brian Tyler who's done so much better in the past...
Overall, at the end of the day Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2014 has a lot of flaws, and it's a pretty bad movie, but it's just decent enough to for a basis for a much better sequel out there. If anything it's fun but mostly forgettable. Have a Look if you're curious or a fan, but don't expect anything from it.
You know what? It didn't turn out as bad as I feared. Most of the film's main issues seem to come from the influence Michael Bay had on the production despite not directing the film himself, the director even detailing how many explosions his screenplay had to have.
The film has a paper thin plot. Loads of non-sense plotholes from numerous rewrites and reshoots. It almost makes the abysmal TMNT 3 look good. Almost. (But let's not kid ourselves!) I mean, it basically possesses all of the same flaws, only magnified. It has a very childish tone and dialogues, a cheesy 1-dimensional forgettable villain with a real stupid evil scheme, a non-existent story just to move things along from one scene to another, barely any use for April, bad special effects, bad direction and at the end of the day a very forgettable movie.
Aside from Vern, pretty bad casting in my eyes, aside from the bland April O'Neil we also have one-note forgetable Karai and Shredder.
But, you know what? For the life me I can't figure why I still found it fun. And even entertaining.
Despite the harsh reception, bad to mixed reviews and nominations for Worst Picture, Worst Prequel, Remake, Rip-off or Sequel, Worst Director, and Worst Screenplay, the film was a huge success which made a huge performance. So of course a sequel would follow, and it was just released as I write these lines. With an easy fix, this sequel Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows seems to aim to fix most of the issues I had with the first one, let's hope!
I give it: