Our series draws to a close with the final and most recent Ninja Turtles movie released just this year. As the turtles’ popularity peaked again last year with the new cartoon series, it made sense to try and reboot the movie franchise once more. Unlike before, the producers did not try to directly tie it into previous turtle movies or shows, but they also took that as a cue to approach it in their own way. That would not sound so ominous if the name Micheal Bay wasn’t attached to the title.
We’ll start with the elephants in the room first. The Turtles themselves were given heavy make-overs for the new movie. To start with, they are significantly larger. In the eighties, the Turtles were either shorter than or approximately the same height as April O’Neil depending on what material you were looking at. That has been mostly the case in each subsequent entry to the franchise. In the new movie, the Turtles are far more massive, towering over April and Vernon. However, the movie does provide explanation, as the mutagen in this universe is a sort of super-soldier-serum. The size is an odd choice, but an understandable one.
What isn’t quite as understandable is the turtles new flair, which I will discuss individually, as well as their realization in this movie.
Raphael is easily the best looking of the four, as he is the one with the least amount of swag dangling off him. The worst he gets is a doo-rag which is similar to the bandanna style they all wore in the Next Mutation series. Otherwise he looks fine, which is good since he easily has the most screen time, yet again.
Raphael is the only turtle crucial to the story, as well as the only one with an arc of any kind. However, his arc is implied and mentioned, but not really well developed at all. He expresses wanting to strike out on his own early in the movie, but ironically is put in the position where his brothers are captured and Splinter incapacitated. This leaves Raph to save his brothers, with some help from April and Vernon. This is a slightly different approach to developing Raphael, but unfortunately it isn’t developed enough to feel impactful… or at least not as much as the movie wants it to be.
Leonardo’s look is probably the most positive change. Leo wears reeds arranged across the front of his shell to resemble armor. Being a shell, it’s doubtful it has any practical use as such, but it channels the samurai look that Leonardo’s personality usually reflects. Perhaps due to him still being a teenager, he does offset this look with an obvious NYC button on his belt, but I’m willing to let that slide given how the rest of his design was handled.
Unfortunately, despite scoring well on his design, the script doesn’t give Leo much to do. Leonardo is voiced by Johnny Knoxville who does a good job with what he is given. As such, Leonardo is easily the most memorable character in any scene he’s in, but almost none of his scenes involve significant character or story revelations.
The winner of the “what-the-heck-were-they-thinking” award goes to Donatello’s design. Donatello is wearing more technology than he apparently knows what to do with, as it is almost never is used in the course of the movie. His ability to use his goggles is also impeded by the overly large eyeglasses that have been taped together — because every geek has to wear glasses right?
I’d comment about the Jeremy Howard’s performance, or Donatello’s story significance, but honestly there isn’t really anything to comment on. Donatello serves very little to the plot except providing possible answers to questions every now and again. His only starring scene is an action scene that was mostly CG eye-candy. I can’t say Jeremy Howard did a bad job, as Donatello is just far more ancillary to the plot than most of the other turtles.
Michealangelo’s look was what threw most fans off, namely that he wears pants. I never felt this was necessarily out of character for Mikey, considering he is the most human-empathetic of the four, and because he wore pants in Turtles 3 as well. The sunglasses also aren’t really out of place either, since I could see Mikey liking them and choosing to hang on to them, much like a young kid or teenager might.
What I don’t like is how Michaelangelo is portrayed in this one. Mikey is usually the goofball, and that is somewhat the case here. The difference is much of Mikey’s comedy this time comes from him trying to seduce April. Again, if we’re interpreting him as a teenager, most of his lines make sense, as he’s likely very unfamiliar with how relationships work. Also, Mikey having these types of feeling makes sense, since he is the heart of the team most of the time.
The issue I have is Michealangelo’s “moves” are all very inappropriate and at times kind of disturbing, especially if you take a moment to think about them. The fact that this is a would-be an inter-species relationship does not help any.
However, while how the Turtles look and act are one thing, how they interact with each other is easily the foremost concern, and on that end this movie hits it out of the park. The Turtles’ banter is refreshing and shows their comradery and companionship is still intact. This is what holds all the changes together to ensure to the audience that these are the same turtles we know and love. It’s only a shame that aren’t very well developed individually, but what can you expect when we only spend about two-thirds of the movie with them.
April is the other elephant in the room when it comes to this film, because she is being portrayed by the much-maligned Megan Fox. This is where I have to give some kudos, as April is well written for the most part during the first act. In this universe, April is a news reporter who is given public relations and other “fluff” stories rather than actual news. Meanwhile, she is slowly piecing together how her past, the turtles’ origin, Eric Sacks, and the foot clan are intertwined. Her goal is to pursue this hot story to prove her worth, and the viewer wants to see how she tries to achieve that goal. However, her pursuit inevitably gets her fired, and which belies the issue with April.
April O’Neil is important in the first act, but when everything is revealed as the second act begins, April’s story is pretty much over. She doesn’t try to get the big scoop on this story to get her job back; she doesn’t start uploading video to youtube to show the truth or warn the public. She is just there. She’s not even the turtles’ driver, a role given to Vernon instead.
April’s story is a huge missed opportunity, as she has absolutely no development. It hurts worse when we’ve spent a whole third of the movie with her with absolutely no pay off at the end.
Meagan Fox wasn’t the problem with April O’Neil, in fact she has a few good scenes that sell her in the role. The script, however, heavily mars this character.
The Plot and Script
Unlike some turtles films, this one has a very clear 3 act structure. Act 1 follows April O’Neil as she seeks out the connections between the turtles, the Foot, and herself. Act 2 is the capture and recovery of Leo, Mike, and Don as well as the Shredder’s plot being revealed. Act 3 involves the Turtles chasing down the Shredder to put a stop to his plan. It’s very simple, straight-forward, and doesn’t get too bogged down with extra side-plots. All the major players being interconnected in this way makes the Turtles’ world seem kinda small, but when the alternative is having several smaller plots that go nowhere, this would be an improvement.
The script is where I think most of the fault actually lies with the film, as it is all over the place. There are parts that are quite clever, such as Fox’s April being tired of being treated like a piece of meat, or the Turtles using a variant of a game they played as kids to defeat the Shredder. Other parts, though are particularly blunt. For instance, the audience at one point is treated to a montage as April O’Neil goes through her father’s notes and an old video she made as a girl, showing that these are the same turtles and rat that were in her father’s research facility. Once the montage is over, we move to April O’ Neil explaining all this to a character who only seems to exist for April to exposit to. It’s one thing to do this once, but it happens again at the end of the film too. When the Turtles are falling to their possible doom, Raphael explains every nuance of his implied character arc as well. Apparently, someone involved in this film heard the phrase “show don’t tell,” and decided he’d do both just to make sure the audience “gets it,” which is rather insulting.
Because of these issues, the movie does not seem to know what exactly it wants to be. Is it a story of great personal discovery, a science-fiction super-hero movie, an action film, or all of the above? It’s worth noting this movie is the first Turtles film to be rated PG-13 upon it’s release, due mostly to scene of intense action, as well as some rather dark elements when the three brothers are captured. These moments hint at something that may have lied underneath this film.
Rumor going around is this movie experienced a plethora of rewrites, to the point where some scenes had to be reshot in post-production. This means that the script most of the actors were working with may not have been the same product that we experienced. There appears to be some evidence to support this.
While the turtles’ banter helps keep the mood light-hearted, most of the time they are either off-screen while the banter is happening, or in a scene with no physical actors present. Eric Sacks’s presence adds little more than a public face for the Foot Clan to manipulate, and serves little other purpose in the movie. The Shredder’s motivations make much more sense if Sacks himself is the Shredder, rather than just his puppet. We also never see the shredder without his mask except in small interior shots with other villains. Also, the special focus on April in the early part of the movie is odd considering she has little to do in the rest of the movie.
While it’s not clear exactly where the changes took place, it seems the original script may have been quite a bit darker, but also far more stream-lined.
The Cast (or what’s left of it)
It’s worth mentioning that while Danny Woodburn and Pete Ploszek did motion capture work for Splinter and Leonardo respectively, but they were dubbed over in post by Tony Shaloub and Johnny Knoxville. Shaloub/Woodburn’s Splinter is very interesting. Splinter is much harder on the Turtles than in other movies, though this would match his modern cartoon persona a bit more. Nevertheless, he’s far more interesting in fight scenes than previous films, as his tail does some unexpected things.
William Fitchner’s Eric Sacks chews only the appropriate amount of scenery — as in enough to make us believe he’s crazy. Whoopi Goldberg gets one scene where she gets to look at a crazy white girl. Minae Noji and Tohuro Masamune were wasted with the roles of Karai and Shredder since we barely see them do much of anything in the movie.
However, I found myself in a conundrum as the character most useless to the script happens to be the biggest saving grace of the film. Vernon Fenwick is completely devoid of purpose to the point that forcing his presence throughout the film gives April’s character even less to do. However, Will Arnett’s performance is easily one of the best in the movie. He’s rather crude, but in a charming way that carries the first act. Because he has no actual significance to the plot, he doesn’t get the chance to be irritating either.
Rating – 3
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014) is a movie with many problems. Unlike most other Turtles excursions though, it has a distinct story progression that concludes without too many unanswered questions. It falls short of the original, because it still doesn’t have the charm or depth of character to the turtles, likely because it spends too little time with them. I also rank it below TMNT (2007), as the new film lacks any deep emotional core that it’s precursor had.
In conclusion, this is not a Turtles’ film I would watch all the time, but it’s good for every now and then.
This film is getting a sequel sometime in the near future as well. I’m not holding my breath for it to be any better, but perhaps we’ll see that one when we go back to the Sewers.