Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2014 – Most Heinous

Despite my reservations since March when I got my first glimpse of the designs for the new TMNT, I will admit I started feeling better about the feel of the movie over the last month of its marketing blitz and so I decided I would go into the film with an open mind and give it a solid chance. I got nervous as the reviews started coming in and the Rotten Tomatoes score dropped, but I had bought the ticket, so I was going to see this through.

I’ve grown up with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  Like many children of the 80s, I was first exposed to the brothers through the cartoon, toys, birthday party items, the first movie and so on.  I enjoyed the first three films growing up, though now I mainly just like the first movie.  I still think the 2007 CG film “TMNT” was a good movie, despite its flaws.  I like the current Nick show and I am absolutely loving the IDW comic series, which is my favorite comic on a monthly basis.  And of course, I’ve gone back and read the original comics (though admittedly not all of them).  All in all, I think I’m fairly open to the various interpretations of the heroes in a half shell through the years.

The latest iteration of the turtles on film, though, deserves its Rotten Tomatoes rating and honestly, I feel like it deserves a poor performance in the box office.  It’s just not a great movie, nor even a great turtles movie.  Much to my disappointment.  I’m going to give fair warning…I didn’t care for the movie, so I’m not going to tease and encourage anyone to see it, so…..SPOILERS AHEAD.

Seriously, Spoilers ahead….

There’s spoilers in this review.

If you’re still here, you’ve been warned.  About spoilers.  Right here. In this post.

The drastic change to the turtles’ look is jarring at first and looks more horrible in still shots than in moving film.  To be honest, the nostrils and noses and the lips are quickly forgotten as you watch the film. You could even get used to these faces as the new look for a film series.  I still think they’re a bit overly decorated in their attire and gear, but even that I can forgive.  Their size, however, is still a detriment.  It just feels off with them being so huge.  At one point when they are sneaking back into the lair to avoid Splinter catching them, their drop to the ground is met with four heavy thuds upon landing.  How they could possibly be ninja when they’re so heavy and bulky is anyone’s guess.  Stealth just doesn’t seem possible, which is fine because they never really use stealth throughout the film.

Ninja are also martial artists, but you don’t see too much of that either.  I think Leonardo got the most actual martial arts demonstrations, followed by Mike and Don, but Raph didn’t really get the same opportunity.  The lack of martial arts is made more apparent by the fact that the Foot Clan aren’t ninja themselves in any way, shape, or form.  They are truly Foot Soldiers and that’s it.  Terrorist soldiers with guns.  There’s nothing martial arts about them, I’m afraid. 

We get some martial arts combat between the turtles and Shredder as well as Splinter against Shredder, but the scenes feel far too short and unsatisfying, particularly since all in all, the only thing we see is Shredder beating the hell out of Splinter and then out of all four turtles.  Yep, they never really beat Shredder. None of them.  They pull out a “we didn’t get killed and saved the day” basically thanks to April and the turtles working together to knock Shredder off dangling debris so he falls to his apparent death on the concrete (but he has mutagen on his gloved fingertip so somehow that’s probably an excuse for him to have a healing factor and survive if a sequel somehow gets approved).

These are disappointing, but even more disappointing is the plot. Or lack of one.  The film starts off with a lengthy intro from Splinter, voiced by Tony Shalhoub who I love as an actor but doesn’t make a very good Splinter to me, essentially talking to the turtles.  He explains how the city is under siege by the Foot Clan, named that because they walk all over others in their search for power.  I’m serious, that’s why they’re called the Foot Clan: they walk over people.  He goes on to talk about how important and extraordinary the turtles are and how they are destined to do great things.  I’m already feeling antsy that the opening scene talks about destiny.

From that point we pretty much just leap from action sequence or humorous scene with little to no time given to really build on the relationship between the brothers or with Splinter.  I did like that Splinter is a bit more harsh with the turtles, that more classic martial arts sensei of kung fu films coming through as he has them in a room for over 12 hours for their punishment.  Leo is in full splits between two chairs balancing eggs on chopsticks, Mike is hand standing on a spinning chair, Donatello is juggling a ping pong ball with paddle while balancing on a beam atop a ball that’s rotating, and honestly, I forget what Raph is having to do.

Beyond that, though, we jump quickly through the plot to learn about April’s father working with Eric Sacks and that Sacks works for Shredder.  We also learn how much they’ve altered the origin.  Which is to say, somewhat painfully.

So in this version of the film, the turtles and Splinter were lab animals that April’s dad was working with under Eric Sacks.  Splinter was a lab rat and April considered the turtles her pets as a child.  She often fed them pizza.  Her father learned what Sacks was up to and set the lab on fire to destroy their research, though we learn Sacks killed April’s father in the process.  And somewhere amidst all this, April rescued Splinter and the turtles and fled the lab to take them to leave them on a sewer grate.  Splinter and the turtles go into the sewers and begin to mutate.  Here’s where they really lose me….

Splinter finds a book on ninjutsu in the sewer and teaches himself, then teaches the turtles so they can defend themselves.  No Hamato Yoshi, nothing other than a mutated rat finds a book on an ancient secret style of martial arts and just teaches himself.  Sigh….

There are glimpses of some potential as Shredder has a cool scene fighting a Foot soldier with his own arms bound behind him.  He berates Karai for her men being weak and talks about how the Foot clan will rise to power again and people want to make the Foot into myth, which he won’t allow.  So there seems to be the indication that perhaps there is a ninja clan that’s been lost to time, but now they’re just terrorist soldier goons.  Nothing develops of this, though.

The film tries to tap into nostalgia with small references to past iterations, but Shredder’s line placement of “tonight I dine on turtle soup” feels really out of place.  Other than that, the original turtles cartoon theme is used for the turtle van’s horn.  It’s a clear attempt, but not well executed.

The characters themselves are in line with their personalities, but also somewhat stereotyped without depth. Donatello is the nerd and tech whiz, Raphael is the bad boy, Leonardo is the leader, and Michelangelo is….not the party dude so much as the horny teenager that wants to get hooked up with April.  I was fully expecting Mikey to steal most of the scenes, but his jokes that weren’t shown on the commercials are almost entirely related to how hot April is and making remarks like calling her “angel cakes.”  Granted, Mikey’s always been the one to have a bit of a crush on April in past films, but this time it’s just a bit weird and a tad creepy.

And the humor doesn’t quite land too well.  In my showing, there were two or three points that the audience audibly laughed.  Some scenes were cringe worthy and most of the best hits were seen in trailers.  The fight scenes being turtles vs automatic rifles really lowered the opportunity for banter as the boys battle.

They managed to get less across in 90 minutes than the original TMNT, despite being able to “convey more emotion” with current technology.  The movie just feels hollow and missing the charm that past movies have had.  It’s hard to decide if it’s worse than TMNT 3 for sure, but it’s a close race.

Visuals are good and some scenes are pretty well done, particularly the snow chase that people have probably heard of.  All in all, though, I’d suggest skipping this one and waiting for Netflix.  At best, it’s a 2 out of 5 pepperonis.

    • Brittany
    • September 17th, 2014

    Who decided to ruin this movie? No one likes the changes. Really master splinter isn’t really from Japan anymore? I hate the new storyline. It messed up the whole concept of mutant turtles fighting the crime of the foot clan. April o’neal had the turtles and splinter as pets? And where’s Casey Jones? You ruined it for everybody stupid producer and director

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