Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)

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“You’re a talking turtle.”

This movie doesn’t quite seem to know what it wants to be. Is it an origin story about the anthropomorphic turtles? Could it be about April O’Neil uncovering her past? Are we supposed to laugh with the movie or at it? None of those questions really get answered. Still, this is not as bad as some might have you believe. It’s occasionally very funny and at times visually stunning. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles ends up being a middling, albeit entertaining, entry in the franchise.

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A strangely animated but surprisingly effective opening sets the story of the film. It’s New York City and the terrorist like group known as the Foot Clan, lead by the shadowy Shredder, has a stranglehold on the city. April O’Neil (Megan Fox) is a local news reporter stuck with segments about exercise tips and weight loss. Not the most compelling stuff for a woman who wants to be an investigative journalist and bring real, pertinent news to the city. April follows the Foot Clan and witnesses vigilantes completely foil their plans. And after too long of a wait, we finally meet the turtles.

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The best parts of the movie involve the turtles and during the worst they are sorely absent. Growing up, I always had a hard time distinguishing them from one another, but that’s not the case here. They’re lead by Leonardo (voiced by Johnny Knoxville, acted by Pete Ploszek). Raphael (Alan Ritchson) is the stubborn one of the group who wants to go off on his own. Donatello (Jeremy Howard) fills the nerd role, great with computers and technology. Michelangelo (Noel Fisher) provides constant laughter and a strangely realistic boyish charm. The odd thing is, they feel like teenagers, and their brotherhood is very well done. You’d swear you have met brothers like this before in real life.

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Throughout it all we see April with Eric Sacks (William Fichtner). He’s a wealthy businessman and scientist who worked side by side with her father before he passed away. Little kids might not see it coming, but most people with deduce that this man is two-faced (After all, Fichtner does usually play a bad guy). April reveals the secret of the turtles to Sacks, who then goes on an exposition filled discourse about his upbringing in Asia and why the turtles mean so much to him. Sacks drives the last third of the movie, which gets too explosive like producer Michael Bay’s movies for its own good. But his character is so one-dimensional that we don’t know his motivation besides greed. Even the bad guys need to have a small piece of likability.

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A lot of people were up in arms over the actual look of the turtles. I for one loved it. They’re way too bulky, but the CGI is very well done, except for the odd-looking Master Splinter (Tony Shalhoub). All of the actors are unique as the turtle they’re depicting and do a wonderful job with the witty humor and repartee between the four. Noel Fisher is the clear standout though, as Michelangelo is given the most to work with. He’s laugh out loud funny and has great comedic timing. However, the turtles are oddly lacking in the beginning of the movie. They’re mostly used as pawns for set pieces, one of which set in snowy mountains is fantastic, but I had hoped for quieter moments to get to know who they are. It’s almost more about April O’Neil than it is them.

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On that note, I should say Megan Fox is decent in the role. Even though it definitely tiptoes a fine line, I was glad to see her character wasn’t reduced to a sexual object. She’s kind of funny and reliable when in her damsel in distress mode. Her sidekick Vern (Will Arnett) tries to win her over, but the character is just kind of there, never providing the laughs that he clearly is meant to get. April uncovers the truth about the turtles and how she has been connected to them since she was a little girl. It feels like The Amazing Spider-Man 2 in that regard. Everything falls into place too conveniently and while the backstory provides some worthwhile detail, none of it is anything we would have otherwise sought out to know. I mean, they’re talking turtles. The concept alone is goofy enough. We don’t need to be hit over the head with trivial aspects of their story.

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All in all, I was impressed by the movie. Director Jonathan Liebesman shoots with a visual flair, and while he uses way too many techniques, they’re all well executed (notice the number of segue shots panning the city…it’s a little excessive). At the same time I was disappointed by the unrelenting product placement. Skype, Pizza Hut, Windows Phone, Orange Crush Soda. It never stops throughout the movie and makes parts feel like commercials. The kids in my theater laughed and stayed locked on the screen and I was happy to see that. This is a movie for children, even with the overloaded amount of violence. I found myself remembering the 6-year-old me, wearing my TMNT gear, orange headband (Michelangelo was my favorite) and yelling “Cowabunga Dude!” Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is far from perfect, but go into it knowing how ridiculous it’s going to be and you’re sure to have a good time.

“Your true power lies in believing in one another.”

Rating: 2.5 out of 5

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