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So there’s a new live-action Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film in theaters right now. You’d think I’d be overjoyed. Or maybe you’d think I’d be livid. The truth is much more disappointing. I just can’t bring myself to care. My friends have tried egging me into rants with leading questions like, “So, have you seen the new Turtles trailer? Is it true the TMNT are gonna be aliens? Did you know Michael Bay’s making a TMNT movie? Eh? Eh? EH?” I think I got poked with a stick enough that I went numb, because that’s certainly how I felt both before and after I left the theater.

I suppose the saving grace is that for a fan of the Ninja Turtles, it’s not like this movie is the only new thing out there right now. IDW has two ongoing comic books plus a rotating selection of miniseries to read. Nickelodeon has a stop-go animated series that’d be pretty good if it didn’t take month-long breaks every two or three episodes. There are toys. There’s merch. There are rereleases of all the old stuff from the ‘80s and ‘90s lining book shelves and DVD bins. It’s hard to get excited or angry about the potential quality of a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie when there are so many options out there.

teenage-mutant-ninja-turtles-2014-movie-poster

But after two establishing paragraphs, I’ll get down to business: This was a stupid movie and it wasn’t very good. I’m not ANGRY because it was a stupid movie and it wasn’t very good. I can always go read the comics or watch the cartoons to get my contemporary Turtle fix and banish all thoughts of this film from my mind. But it was stupid. And it wasn’t very good.

The plot in a nutshell is that the corporate businessman Eric Sacks (William Fichtner) has teamed up with the Shredder (Tohoru Masamune) and his sinister paramilitary Foot Clan. Their scheme is to unleash a devastating virus upon New York City and then sell a pre-fabricated antidote to the Government, thereby becoming billionaires and “taking over the city” (what they hope to gain by physically taking over New York is never really elaborated upon). The key to bringing their plot to life are the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and their master Splinter, who were part of the genetic experiment and the mutagen in their blood is the last ingredient necessary. Along for the ride are news reporter April O’Neil (Megan Fox) and her dorky sidekick Verne Fenwick (Will Arnett); and at least in April’s case, she has a deeper connection to the Turtles than anybody knows.

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This new TMNT film from Director Jonathan Liebesman is very much indebted to the 1987 cartoon series produced by Fred Wolf. It takes the majority of its cues from that show, so if you’ve ever wanted to see a big budget blockbuster Ninja Turtles movie based on the ‘80s cartoon without any of that icky Mirage Comics stuff getting in the way, then you may want to take notice. The connection is mostly superficial, though; there are references to catchphrases from the cartoon (“Tonight, I dine on turtle soup”, “Heroes on a half-shell”, etc.), cartoon-only characters populate the cast (Verne/Vernon as mentioned, but Whoopi Goldberg also plays a female version of Burne Thompson), April’s a news reporter rather than a scientist/antique dealer, the pizza jokes are relentless, and the Turtles all act like a bunch of spastic, comedic goofballs that can’t take anything seriously for more than five seconds.

No Technodrome, Bebop and Rocksteady or Flush-o-Matic torture-toilet playset, though. So don’t get too excited.

If Michelangelo alone had received a 50% reduction in dialogue, this might have been a better film

I guess we can start with the Turtles. They’re all very… annoying. The writing for the characters is humorous to the extreme (while rarely being funny) and the attempts at anything approaching drama or that nebulous quality known as “heart” fall flat thanks to an immediate derailing into one-liner territory. For example, the Turtles get taken prisoner in the middle of the movie and Raphael has to go it alone to save them. But while HE may be going through a crisis, everything AROUND him is still constantly being played for laughs. It’s hard to get in tune with Raph’s anxiety and fear when Will Arnett won’t stop doing his stupid shtick.

But while all the Turtles have overdosed on silly pills, it’s Michelangelo who is the chief offender. He is positively incorrigible in this incarnation, taking his role as the “party dude” and the comedy relief way too far. He’s constantly popping in and interrupting with slapstick, pop culture references, throwaway quotes and dull gags, like a dog barking in your ear while you’re trying to have a conversation. The even bigger struggle is that his material is BAD. He doesn’t say or do anything clever, but instead recycles the most tiresome clichés that exist only to provide noise and distractions. Stuff like accidentally launching a missile and deadpanning, “My bad,” or accidentally farting on his brothers’ faces and deadpanning, “It’s the pepperoni”. And so on and so on. His stuff never elevates to anything more thoughtfully humorous than that except for maybe a boner reference and a scene during the credits where he gropes the boob of a Victoria’s Secret billboard. If Michelangelo alone had received a 50% reduction in dialogue, this might have been a better film.

teenage-mutant-ninja-turtles-2014-movie-michelangelo
“Wanna know how much mental anguish you’re gonna associate with this color now, dude?”

At least there’s something to say about him, which I suppose is a point in Mikey’s corner. Because the other Turtles seem to just coexist with Michelangelo and their inability to take anything seriously for longer than five seconds rubs off like they’re trying to compete with him for the audience’s attention. Their personalities exist only skin deep; and by that, I mean that their designs are all cheap visual shorthand for “personality”. Donatello does machines, so he’s a nerd with glasses and lots of tech gear strapped to his body. Raphael is cool but rude, so he’s got a do-rag on his head and sunglasses on top of them. Michelangelo is the party dude, so he’s got surfer puka shells and biker shorts on. Leonardo leads so he’s got samurai cosplay going on.

It’s not that I’m against the idea of individualizing the Turtles on a visual level to match their personalities, but there’s something to be said for subtlety, you know? Just look at how the current Nickelodeon cartoon does it. Don’s the nerd, so he’s lankier and has a dorky gap-tooth. Raph is the tough guy, so he has a small crack in his plastron. Mikey’s the joker, so he’s got bigger eyes and freckles. Leo’s the no-nonsense leader, so he’s the “generic” looking Turtle. It’s the same thing, but not done to such grotesque excess as this movie’s character designs, which rely more on the clothing and accessories to get their personalities across than actually going through the trouble of writing them with individual personalities. Take away their bling and all they amount to is Leader-Michelangelo, Jerk-Michelangelo, Nerd-Michelangelo and Michelangelo-Michelangelo.

teenage-mutant-ninja-turtles-2014-movie-leonardo-april

One of the biggest flaws in this film is that there is no weight to the rivalry between the Turtles and the Shredder. Their beef is with Eric Sacks, since he killed April’s father and created the virus. However, they all ACT like the Shredder is the one whom they’ve had a long-standing feud with and, likewise, the Shredder reciprocates that attitude. The only reason they behave this way is because in EVERY OTHER Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon, comic book or movie, that’s how it is. However, they forgot to write that into this film, so we have a bunch of characters carrying a relationship that exists in other media, but not this one.

One of the biggest flaws in this film is that there is no weight to the rivalry between the Turtles and the Shredder

There is no Hamato Yoshi. Splinter was just a rat in a test lab that was injected, alongside the Turtles, with mutagen during Sacks’s project. He learns ninjutsu after finding a manual in the sewer. Not because he was the pet rat of a martial arts master from Japan and not because he WAS that martial arts master from Japan (the origin varies), but because he found a manual in the sewer and decided “neat”. He has no feud with the Shredder and yet they treat each other with a long simmering enmity, as though they’d been battling for their whole lives. The movie wants to HAVE that substance without actually BUILDING that substance and the whole thing rings hollow because of it.

If it’s any consolation, Eric Sacks is not the Shredder. That was a marketing ruse meant to misdirect audience expectations. But Jesus Christ, WHAT FOR? It isn’t like there’s a Ken Watanabe/Liam Neeson switcheroo in this film where you THINK Sacks is the Shredder only for Oroku Saki to pull a fast one. No, right off the bat, Sacks meets with the Shredder in person to discuss his sinister plan to take over the city. Again, this movie wanted to HAVE a big reveal by using marketing misdirection, but there ISN’T a big reveal anywhere in the movie. It’s that whole lack of substance thing I was telling you about a paragraph ago all over again.

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I’d say Masamune was a good Shredder, but the truth is that he disappears from the film after only two scenes near the beginning. The Shredder for the remainder of the film is played by a CG cartoon character (voiced by Masamune, and to his credit, he does a decent job). The design is fine, I guess, though you can’t tell if a person is even in there; he might as well be a robot. He honestly only shows up for the boss battles and it’s Fichtner’s Sacks who gets to chew the scenery and, well, try to be anything other than a special effect.

Also, Karai is in this movie (played by Minae Noji). It’s a waste of an established character from the source material, as she’s never anything more than a glorified henchwoman with minimal dialogue or screen presence. I think, THINK that they say her name one time in the entire film (and about halfway through) and she vanishes during the fight on the mountainside. They don’t bother telling you whether she lived or died because it doesn’t especially matter. Wikipedia is telling me that Baxter Stockman was in this movie, played by K. Todd Freeman, but really? No joke? Because I didn’t even fucking notice.

The movie wants to have that substance without actually building that substance and the whole thing rings hollow because of it

Megan Fox’s April O’Neil is just as bad as every other character Fox has played and do you REALLY need me to go on at length about her? Go read a review for Revenge of the Fallen or something; I’m sure they’ll parrot my exact criticisms. But to sum it up, her expressive range extends no further than “mouth open” and “mouth closed”. Whether she thinks that her beloved pet Splinter is dead, whether she’s charmed by Michelangelo’s one-liners, whether she’s watching in horror as the spire of a skyscraper topples to the streets, whether she’s terrified as Eric Sacks menaces her with a handgun… her plastic, artificial face never changes.

This has been a long review and I’m coming to the bottom of three Word pages, so I really ought to wrap this up. I haven’t even touched upon the overall plot, but I guess I’ll try to give you the Reader’s Digest version: The conflicts in the second and third acts are both resolved with what essentially amount to “self destruct buttons”. A character goes to a computer interface, presses a conveniently labeled button and the problem is resolved. It’s hard to give a shit about the overarching conflicts in this movie when buttons are the answer to everything.

Long story short, this was a stupid movie and it was not very good. I wasn’t angry at it, nor was I disappointed with it. I never thought much of it to begin with, hence my numbness now. It was a bad movie on just about every level. But then, I paid $5.50 for a matinee showing and I found a $5 bill in the parking lot on my way out. It’s like fate had decided it was being too hard on me and gave me a refund. So I can’t get too upset.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014) Review
The fight in the sewer lair is pretty good if you can put the dialogue on mute
Michelangelo.Resolving two conflicts in the film with button mashing.No substance to any of the characters or their relationships; a very shallow film.
3Overall Score
Reader Rating 50 Votes
3.1
  • Nathaniel Towns

    I think I can the Oroku Saki/Eric Sachs red herring. Eric Sachs was really supposed to be Shredder but everyone complaining on the internet got them to change it. Think about it, there were reshoots one right before second trailer came out, the scene with Eric Sachs approaching the Shredder armor from the first trailer never happened, you only see Shredder out of his armor in three short scenes with only a couple of people, and scenes with the Shredder seem really choppy because they had to edit in Tohoru Masamune at the last second.

    • Mark Pellegrini

      I read about that today after I’d written my review and it does look like there were major changes in post production that swapped out William Fichtner with Tohoru Masamune as Shredder. They didn’t change any of the dialogue, though, so we still wound up with the Turtles and the Shredder talking like they were arch foes when really it was Sacks whom they had their beef with. The Shredder ends up feeling like a henchman for Sacks throughout most of the film, just lumbering around and beating people up while Sacks tries to take control of things.

      But then, a whole lot of the nonsense in the film seems to stem from late running changes. Eric Sacks, an American, was originally supposed to lead a terrorist cell called the Foot, hence their paramilitary look. Then they change things at the last minute to the classic concept of the Foot Clan being Japanese ninjas… Yet we still have a paramilitary-looking organization running around with no ninjas in sight.

      The whole thing was just a mess. My review was getting long, so I didn’t even get into stuff like the subplot regarding April getting fired never being resolved but simply forgotten, the question of where the Turtles got the mutagen to save Splinter’s life when Shredder took the jar with him when he fell, or why the Foot were stealing chemicals at the start of the movie when Sacks later says that the virus project was defunct. And there’s a million other things that don’t add up in the film; massive plot holes that were either created due to rewrites, post production changes, or because multiple drafts got fused together and nobody edited the thing to tighten up all the seams.

      The debatable aesthetic qualities of the film were the least of its worries. On a storytelling level, the whole film is a string of incongruities and non sequiturs that try to blind you with special effects and pop culture references in the hopes that you won’t notice them.

      • Dan

        BTW, Sacks is Shredder in the video games tie-in. Which does seem to suggest Tohoru Masamune was a last minute addition.

    • I would love to read an early draft of the script before the reshoots. There’s gotta be a ton of deleted scenes to this, although I think a 101 minute run time was a wise move. This movie was tolerable and sometimes fun (for me) in its brief run time, but I can’t imagine this film supporting a 2 hour cut.

      • Kenshiroh

        The draft of the script where they were aliens fighting Colonel Schrader leaked onto the internet a while ago.

        • I do have that one, but I think all that was changed before filming. I’m talking about the film that might have been shot before the reshoots.

  • You pretty much nail all my feelings on this film. I think the only thing that pissed me off was that the turtles learn Ninjitsu from the freaking Abridged Book of Ninja Fighting. One of the funnier lines from the original flick is sickly twisted into the origin in this version. Sheesh. Also, the movie seems to stop about every 10 minutes and make fun of the concept of TMNT. It got to the point for me where the flick just started feeling like a parody. Anyway, awesome review 🙂

  • 50 cent movies are the best kind of movies!

    This review is spot-on too, even though I did enjoy the film for what it was (and maybe for what it wasn’t).

    I also enjoyed G. I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, which is what this film keeps getting compared to in some ways. As for the sequel, I’m curious if Platinum Dunes might go the same way as GI Joe: Retaliation in trying desperately to raise the stakes of the plot conflict by divorcing itself almost entirely from the first installment with all new leads and villains.

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  • SleeperWillWake

    “Go read a review for Revenge of the Fallen or something; I’m sure they’ll parrot my exact criticisms.”
    Yeah, because those reviews would say that Revenge of the Fallen was filled with riveting performances besides Megan Fox. And let’s not forget that Jonathan Liebesman is known for getting great performances out of his actors. If you ask me singling her for giving a bad performance is rather redundant.

    • Geoff

      Nobody asked you, and nobody ever will.

      • SleeperWillWake

        Does it look like I care?

        • Aaron

          Coming back after a month to weakly reply to a burn? Yeah, look how much you don’t care.

          • SleeperWillWake

            Yeah, I came back after a month. You came after what “six seconds”? It’s pathetic types like yourself that turning the internet into an intellectual wasteland. If you want to be verbally abused go to talk to your mother I don’t have time for it.

  • Lauren Gately

    I think what you and most adults forget when they watch this movie is that it is a kids movie. I mean that doesn’t affect Megan Fox’s horrible acting or the muddled plot but it does guide the humor.
    I think the biggest problem with this movie is the audience. We have one portion which is mostly kids which first found turtles from the CG show on Nick. Then there’s the older group that either found the turtles from the gritty original comic or the cartoon. Last there’s the people that the other two groups con into watching it. The older group wants an adult turtles movie. They’ve lived through prepubescent turtles already and they want the next step. I would freaking love an IDW style move of turtles. But we aren’t the ones filling the theater and buying lunchboxes. It’s the kids. We’ve had our turtles movie already, now it’s the new kids turn. Kids don’t connect to the old foot clan and animatronic bad guys like the 90s kids. They are growing up on Halo and gluten free lunches. They need a little bit of a different movie.
    As for the humor, I don’t really get where you are coming from. Again it is a kids movie. The turtles are teens. What do 15 year olds laugh at? Fart jokes and cultural references. Thinking the humor was in anyway worse the the original movie means you have a little nostalgia clouding your judgement. What was the humor like in the original movie? Fart jokes, pizza and cultural references, and (worst of all) Larry, Curly and Moe nods. Mikey was less “annoying” because Donatello was basically Mikey in purple. They were more like caricatures of themselves with Raph being ragey (surprise!) and Leo regretting being the “hard leader.” Mikey has the wise cracks in the back and Don was… was Don in the movie? Oh right someone needed to fix the truck.
    It bothers me that you referred to their character design as cheap. I do wish they spent more time on character development but how they were dressed was really neat and anything but cheap. In the literal sense, animating all that detail isn’t cheap. Why wouldn’t Don keep some of his inventions strapped to himself? Would a teenager who only really cared about ninjutsu and Japanese style honor not dress like something from the stories he grew up with? It just makes sense. Remember the turtles are teens living secluded by themselves in a sewer. They wouldn’t have sets of armor just sitting around. It would all be found objects.
    I’m not saying it’s the best turtle movie that has ever or will ever be made but I don’t think it is bad enough to warrant the venom most people are giving it especially since it’s a kid’s movie.

    • bill

      I reject the notion that this movie was bad because “it’s a kids movie”. The nick show is primarily aimed at kids and it’s the greatest thing ever. Seriously, even if an individual dislikes that show there is no denying how successful it has been both comercially and critically.

      No, this was a poor movie because it was poorly written and the actors gave poor performances. Saying anything else is to make an excuse for a film that did not HAVE to be terrible.

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  • swing kinker

    Shame you didn’t like it. As my expectations were so low I went in not expecting much and I have to say I enjoyed not. Lots of plot points and changes were frustrating but we’ve had all that before. I just thought it was fun. Hoping for more character development in the next one though

  • MM

    -Origin Story AGAIN
    -April isn’t hot
    -Shredder’s ridiculous iron man transformer big budget armor
    -Lame jokes
    -Adrenaline

    +Vernon (love him, and Will Arnett, it’d be neat if they got his pink shirt, suspenders and grey tie outfit on him)
    +Splinter fighting
    +Over the top ridiculously long slide down a mountain that should have ended 5 minutes ago
    +Feeding the baby turtles Pizza