Review: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)

Okay, something I have to get out of the way when discussing the live-action reboot of the “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”: the redesigns of the Turtles are pretty awful. First, they decided to make them big — the Turtles are reimagined as being at least six-and-a-half feet tall, but they move in a strangely weightless manner… because CGI.

Secondly, the designs are far too busy. You can see every bump on their skin, which is pretty unappealing. Furthermore, very Turtle is slathered in characteristic adornments and pieces of clothing that do nothing but distract. Why is Raphael wearing a belt with other belts hanging off it? Why is Leonardo wearing wooden chest armor? Why is Michelangelo carrying around a pair of sunglasses that won’t fit his head?

Thirdly, their faces… look kind of like stretched noseless human faces. It trips the uncanny valley meter.

But even if you can get past the weird appearances of the Turtles, the live-action “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” reboot is not a very good movie. The Turtles’ origin story is filled with inexplicable holes, and the characters are thinly-developed at best — including the Turtles themselves, but most of all the villain, whose motivations can be summed up as “he’s rich and he wants to get richer.”

Reporter April O’Neil wants to tackle serious reporter stuff, like the gang wars that are being thwarted by mysterious vigilantes. But alas, nobody takes her seriously because she’s played by Megan Fox. But one night when the terrorists known as the Foot Clan attack some random people in a subway, she encounters those four vigilantes — giant mutant turtles who also happen to be elite ninjas. And get this: they were her childhood pets. Not kidding.

April’s search for the Turtles — and an explanation for how they ended up mutant ninjas — leads her to the obviously evil Eric Sacks. When the Turtles capture April so that they can explain their origin story to her, she inadvertently leads the Foot Clan directly to them — and I wish I could say that their sworn nemesis Shredder attacks, but in this movie he’s not so much a bitter foe as…. some guy they don’t really know.

“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” is… not a terribly good movie. One of its biggest flaws is that it is less a story about the Turtles than a story about April O’Neil. Oh, the Turtles are important parts of the story, but the main arc is actually April’s — and so is pretty much the entire first act, in which the Turtles’ roles are basically cameos.

It also has a plot that is both simple and full of holes — it has all the hallmarks of several rewrites (Splinter and Shredder recognize each other despite never having met), and has some head-slapping idiocies (Splinter teaches the Turtles ninjutsu… from a picture book). The central conflict with Sacks especially feels like it was neutered somewhere along the line, given that the villain role is split between two people. And, you know, the fact that Sacks’ motivation is very stupid.

All the characters are pretty thin. This is especially shown in the Turtles — they each have one stereotypical character trait and not much else. Donatello is a nerd, Leonardo is vaguely leaderesque, Mikey seems like a budding sex offender who wants to kidnap April and keep her tied up in a dungeon, etc. Raphael has the most uneven characterization — he basically is just angry for most of the movie, only to vomit up the rest of his characterization in thirty seconds at the movie’s climax.

That said, most of the voice acting is pretty good, especially Alan Ritchison as Raphael and Tony Shalhoub as Splinter. The exception is Leonardo — for some reason, they decided to dub over Pete Ploszek’s voice with Johnny Knoxville, who sounds like a very unheroic fortysomething with an alcohol problem. As for the humans, Fox is not terribly good as April, but not unbelievably bad either, while William Fichter is profoundly meh.

“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” tries to give a new spin to the Turtles’ origin story, but the thin characters and abundant plot holes make it more of a chore than a delight. Also, Mikey is creepy.

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