a critiQal film review Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)

Plot: Spawned from a lab experiment gone awry, teenage terrapins Leonardo, Michelangelo, Donatello and Raphael live in the sewers beneath New York. Although their rodent sensei, Splinter, advises against showing themselves above ground, the justice-loving, pizza-eating brothers can't stand idly by while evil Shredder and his minions terrorize the city. With help from intrepid reporter April O'Neil (Fox) and her cameraman (Arnett), the Turtles set out to save New York.

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Looking for a newer movie to review, we decided to go with the much-hyped Michael Bay produced reboot, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. With a sequel (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows (2016)) coming to theaters soon, the film obviously did pretty good in theaters. But, would this reboot be worth our time? Or are updated graphics not enough to bring out the fun of these “Heroes in the Half Shell”?

The cast is an odd bag of celebrities. While Megan Fox does a decent – if a bit silly – version of April O’Neil, Will Arnett shines as her lovestruck cameraman. His bumbling efforts to try to get a date with April are highlights of their screen time together, and he easily steals the scene from the over-hyped Fox.

William Fichtner, who was great in “Prison Break” (TV), is sadly misused in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Given very little character development, and wrapped up in a scheme that doesn’t make much sense, he does the best with what he has.

The much-ballyhooed villain Shredder, and his Foot Clan (lead by Korai), are all familiar staples of the previous incarnations, yet they are just as much wasted as Fichtner’s character. Sure, Shredder – looking like a cross between an evil samurai and Iron Man – is a baddie that’s hard to beat. But, unlike the TV shows, there isn’t a built-in vendetta in this big screen version, and without that blood feud, Shredder isn’t much more than a generic baddie in a cool suit.

The real stars of the show, are, of course, Leo, Don, Raph, Mikey, and their sensei Splinter. A lot of detail has gone into this incarnation, and the rubber suits of the horrendous 90’s films are a thing of the past. Much bigger than ever before, these new Turtles are impressive, and the detail that has gone into even the folds of their masks are fantastic. They actually look like the mutant creatures they are – so much so that they might be a bit off-putting at first glance. Still, they look utterly realistic, and kudos go to the artists who created them. Toss in a spot-on placement of Tony Shalhoub (“Monk” (TV)) as Splinter’s voice, and the film kicks it up a notch when these heroes are on the screen.

Sadly, with so much obvious attention spent on the turtles themselves, nearly everything else around them suffers greatly. From a change in back story (that omits the blood feud mentioned earlier) to the lack of impact from the villains, it’s obvious Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is mainly just a showcase for these heroic mutations. Thankfully, the special effects keep this popcorn muncher rolling, especially a spectacularly exciting slalom down a snow-covered mountain.

Like Spider-Man (2002), Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles needlessly changes the back story, and the film is the worse because of it. Since the film is obviously just a showcase for the turtles, that doesn’t quite matter as much here. Sure, Shredder and his clan could have used the oomph, but the turtles are entertaining enough that silly things like plot depth and backstory changes can be overlooked a bit in this first film.

While Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles isn’t fantastic, it does have its moments. It’s chock full of fun action sequences (especially that slalom), it’s got good bits of comedy from Arnett and Mikey, and viewers should enjoy finally seeing the turtles fully realized in a live-action flick. Sure, it has its flaws, but for a mindless popcorn-chomping good time, it’s just plain fun.

Will they be able to step it up for the sequel and toss in some missing elements like plot and a villain viewers will want to boo? Let’s hope so. For now, we wouldn’t mind re-watching this one at some point. After all, even with it’s flaws, its so much better than the abysmal mockery that was the 90’s trio of films.

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