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~Ephesians 5:16

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014) Review

I think it's safe to say that just about everyone grew up with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. For many people it was the classic 80's episodic comedy adventures, for me it was the highly underrated 2003 incarnation, and today's generation is growing up with the current 2012 show. The previous Turtles movie, (simply called TMNT) came out back in 2007. It was a very good feature, having the darker tone of the 03 show while serving as a sequel to the three films from the 90's. Sadly it was never revisited. This year brought a reboot for the series, which isn't a bad thing in theory. When it was announced that Michael Bay and his company Platinum Dunes would be involved, the backlash against it was justified. One only needed to look at the four Transformers movies to see what kind of tone this film would have. Of course, Bay is not the director, only producer thankfully. The director is Johnathan Liebesman, whose best action film is Battle: Los Angeles. (Which isn't saying too much, and to add to that he directed what is probably the most boring "action" film of all time, Wrath of the Titans.) NINJA TURTLES is pretty much exactly what one expects from Bay being involved in some capacity. Overall however, it exceeds all the Transformer movies and is generally a fun film. It's nothing great, but could have been a whole lot worst. (It's scary to think how worst it could have been if Bay was full on director.)

Here's the official description from Paramount Pictures:

Darkness has settled over New York City as Shredder and his evil Foot Clan have an iron grip on everything from the police to the politicians. The future is grim until four unlikely outcast brothers rise from the sewers and discover their destiny as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The Turtles must work with fearless reporter April O'Neil and her cameraman Vern Fenwick to save the city and unravel Shredder's diabolical plan.

Perhaps the biggest problem with the Transformer movies is that the focus is almost always on the humans instead of the robot conflict. That was a fear going into this movie, but thankfully there's a healthy balance of the Turtles and human scenes. Most of them interlock from the middle going forward. First let's look at the cast. Megan Fox from the first two Transformer films stars as April O'Neil, who aside from the Turtles, Splinter, and the Shredder, is the most well-known character in the franchise. For Miss Fox, if you've seen or know about any movies starring her, (the first two Transformers movies, Jennifer's Body) you know she's not put on screen for her acting ability. There's nothing wrong with putting a pretty actress as the lead star, but what Bay likes to do is use sexual appeal to sell tickets. Sadly, there is more than one joke regarding her appearance in this movie, which is very unfortunate.

The morality of film-making is for another article another day, so let's look at the overall performance. While I was expecting a very mediocre portrayal, interestingly she's pretty okay with her character for the most part. Very few scenes feel forced and I actually wouldn't mind if she returned as April in the sequel. (With Bay and Platinum Dunes out of the picture of course.) It's Will Arnett's character, Vern Fenwick, that is easily the worst written thing in the whole movie. Almost every single line he has after he meets Raphael is incredibly forced, jarring, and unrealistic. (Akin to Joshua Joyce in Transformers: Age of Extinction.) The secondary antagonist, Eric Sacks, (William Fitchner) is pretty solid. He's a bit on the generic side, but otherwise not bad. The primary antagonist, the Shredder, is the one who shines the most.

If it's one thing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III and TMNT learned, it's that it's very difficult to have a villain as engaging as the Shredder. Tohoru Masamune delivers a great portrayal of the classic villain. Some say the armor is too much of a radical redesign, and there's some justification there. But, as explained in the film, it being an amalgamation of classic samurai and current technology is a pretty cool concept. Karai also appears, though a very underused role. If the viewer wasn't a longtime fan, they wouldn't know that she was the Shredder's daughter. This is not made evident in the film at all, which is a shame because Minae Noji delivers a solid portrayal of the character. Hopefully she's given more to do in the sequel. And then somehow Whoopi Goldberg is thrown into all this, as April's boss. She may have been a solid actress in Star Trek: The Next Generation, but those days are long over. Every scene she's in here is just to basically tell the viewer, "Hey guys Whoopi is in this!"

Onto the reason why everyone would want to watch this movie: the Turtles. Leonardo, Raphael, Donatello, and Michelangelo all match their cartoon/comic personalities well. Most of the banter is funny and overall it's pretty much what a fan wants to see in a modern day reboot...for the most part. Unfortunately, some of the comedy seen in the Transformer movies makes it way here. It is possible to have a serious tone while retaining the signature humor of the characters, but as expected from Bay, some of the humor is jarring. The scene where the Turtles are racing in the sewer and Mickey cuts the cheese was very juvenile, the adrenaline scene was overdone, and the elevator one was just strange. There's so much potential, because 75% is solid Ninja Turtles banter. It's a shame some juvenile and sexual humor make their way here. Master Splinter's portrayal at first seems rather different when compared to previous portrayals, but by the end there's really no complaints to be had.

By far the the greatest thing about this movie is the action. From the excellent first Shredder fight scene in the sewer to the climatic final battle on the rooftop, the movie has some of the best fight scenes of 2014. They are choreographed extremely well, and bring justice to the many great battles from the cartoons and comics. The soundtrack is nothing special, but nothing bad either, with easily the best theme being the one which played during Splinter's fight with Shredder. Interestingly, the film is under 2 hours, which is unusual for a summer blockbuster these days. This wouldn't be bad, but some things feel rushed or unfinished (such as Sacks' ultimate fate) but this is due to the writing, not the length.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a solid reboot which is full of potential that is hampered by some poor humor and writing. As a reboot it isn't a bad way to get acquainted with the franchise. The elements are there: much of the banter between the Turtles is genuinely good and the Shredder is one of his most menacing incarnations yet. (Second only to the 2003 version.) If the poor humor was played down and the Vern character completely revamped, we could have had a "great" start to the new film series.