The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have had a very interesting cinematic history. After being launched as a black and white comic book series in 1984, the characters than moved into a continued animated form in the 1987 cartoon series, and then into live action in the 1990’s for a trilogy of films. Coming full circle, the Turtles returned to animation in 2007. Now, in 2014, the Turtles are back in live action form for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but as the times have changed, so have the Turtles, or at least the film they’re in. Produced by blockbuster director Michael Bay, and directed by Jonathan Liebesman, the next film looks to update everyone’s favorite heroes in a half shell, but maybe not for the better.
The film opens in a cool, stylized, animated form explaining the history of the turtles, Master Splinter, and the Foot Clan. But as the stilted dialogue begins, something begins to feel off about the film…We’re told the Foot Clan is called that because they walk all over people, stepping on them, and it quickly becomes apparent that this version is going to be a more modern, straight forward take on the mythology. We quickly learn that the Turtles were actually April’s pets, and they were engineered by her father and his partner, the film’s main villain. From there, the story becomes the basic set up of the villains trying to make lots of money, while controlling the country, and then the world.
If that all sounds very rinse, wash, and repeat, that’s because it is. The film feels completely void of any real fun, and doesn’t really have any sense of character or purpose. There’s no passion behind this film, and it feels like a movie made to cash in on the comic book craze, without any real afterthought to what they were making. Michael Bay, the film’s producer, seemed to have been very hands on with the film, and it shows. All his trademarks are here, including his often off kilter humor, and zest for action over story. In fact, the film really feels like he ghost directed it, with Jonathan Liebesman doing nothing more than lending his name to the credits, hoping to take some heat off of the film for Bay’s name being attached. The whole thing just feels dodgy, boring, and really gives us no reason to invest in the proceedings.
Megan Fox plays April O’Neal, the famed reporter from the comics, and she’s as boring and uninterested as she’s ever been here. Fox just doesn’t seem to have much of a personality, and it really holds back the film. She’s supposed to be our eyes and ears into the universe, but she’s so inept in her acting, that you grow tiresome of her being on screen. It doesn’t help that Will Arnett, who is usually at least fun to see on screen is frustrating and downright annoying. His character Vernon has no purpose than to be the creepy older guy who hits on April, wanting to be with her. It’s about as unnecessary as subplots come, and he’s a horrible character who didn’t need to be in the film.
The semi-saving grace of the film comes from three of the four turtles, and Master Splinter. Tony Shaloub voices Splinter, and his voice fits the character well enough. He adds some needed class to the film, but he’s underutilized. Then there’s Raphael, Leonardo, and Donatello, who are all fun to watch. Jonny Knoxville voices Leonardo, and he’s actually not bad in the role, and it works fine. The others work fine, but there’s nothing incredibly memorable about them, but at least the turtles come off as fun. But the weak link is Mikey, who is horribly handled. He’s annoying, used as a wannabe gangster at times, and as a lovesick puppy others, and the character grates on the film. Every time he’s on screen, save for a few of the better action beats, he just doesn’t work, and his character just feels like he was handled clumsily.
Leibesman’s direction is, in short, unspectacular. He doesn’t have a real presence, or really do anything exciting. It just feels vapid and bland. The action in particular feels wholly unsatisfying, with a real empty feel, all feeling way too familiar. The one standout scene is a downhill chase with some hummers, but it’s not enough to really make the film better. His frequent use of shaky came hinders the film as well, especially in the darker action sequences, making it near impossible to tell what’s going on. But when he finally sets the camera still, we begin to see how cheap and claustrophobic the film really feels, as we really don’t spend much time outside of dark, dank buildings. There’s never a sense of the Turtles really living in New York City, because we spend so much time in warehouses and inside buildings, you’d never know you’re in the greatest city on earth.
Once we finally get to the grand finale, it doesn’t feel special at all. In fact, it’s boring, and ultimately forgettable, taking place on a sky scrapper over the city, as Shredder tries to poison New York, pulling right out of The Amazing Spider-Man. There’s no tension, and Shredder has no personality, and we never learn anything from his a villain, which makes the final showdown pointless. But the whole thing just feels half baked, with no real of wonder or awe. We’re left cold and numb to something we’ve seen many times before, but done much better. It’s a very frustrating experience, and it’s too bad it all comes together that way. There’s so much potential of what to do with these characters, yet it all seems so squandered. The real problem comes down to the fact the film doesn’t know what it wants to be, or who to aim at. It’s too dark and violent at times for kids, but too childish for adults. There’s no middle ground, which really ends up making the film feel uneven. That’s especially suprising considering it’s a film produced by Nickelodeon.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is bland, boring, and incredibly uninspired. There’s not a single ounce of passion In the project, which makes it feel completely tone def. The personalities of the Turtles are handled more or less correctly, thankfully, though Mikey is so annoying and irritating. For a large summer blockbuster, the movie feels tiny and cheap, using the same sets over and over, and we never feel like the Turtles really live in New York City. Shredder is poorly handled, and the action is hit and miss. Megan Fox can’t act, her April is horrible, and it’s really disappointing they didn’t get someone else to do the part. Honestly, it’s just bad. Very, very sad seeing the Turtles once again mishandled.