Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Review

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

I’ve made a huge mistake…

I have to caveat this review by admitting that I was, and, dammit, I guess I still am, a huge fan of the original live-action Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film which was helmed by Steve Barron back in 1990.

That particular film, if you remember, boasted a host of treats including special effects courtesy of the Jim Henson Workshop, Elias Koteas as a bad-ass vigilante, and of course the voice talents of Corey Feldman.


The sequels sadly descended into time-travelling, Vanilla-Ice-rapping depths of surrealism, and the franchise all but disappeared, give or take the odd animated feature.

I was therefore half-excited and half-skeptical about the prospect of a live action reboot.

My skepticism was well-founded, my excitement was not.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014) tells the familiar origin story of the turtle quartet, who were long ago adopted by a rat, then mutated and grew up into ninja-fighting, sewer-dwelling, pizza-loving heroes.

In their covert nightly battle to uphold justice in New York City, the turtles fall afoul of the Foot Clan, which admittedly sounds like some sort of chiropodist cult. They also lock horns with the clan leader, the fearsome Shredder: half man, half kitchen utensil, all evil.

There are some slight tweaks to the backstory, but overall there is nothing really new here: the turtles are subtly revealed, they save plucky reporter April O’Neil, they suffer an attack at their secret lair, there is a kidnap, and they finish up with a rooftop showdown against the Shredder.

Sound familiar?

The film may be directed by Jonathan Liebesman but the touch of producer Michael Bay is far from light. There are sweeping panoramic shots, lens flare effects, slow-motion projectile-dodging, unfeasible explosions and multiple, gratuitous shots of Megan Fox’s rear end.

The burden largely falls upon the cast to save the film’s grace.

And by cast, I mean an even mix of motion capture and live action performers.

In the latter category, Fox (as April O’Neill) is far less believable as a jobbing journalist than Judith Hoag, and William Fichtner pretty much phones it in with the limited screen time he has.

Oh, and there’s Whoopi Goldberg, who seems to get forgotten about after the first hour or so.

On the plus side, Will Arnett provides welcome comic relief as April’s colleague Vern.

As for the, arguably more crucial, non-human cast: I’ll start on a positive note.

The turtles’ personalities are admittedly well-etched, apart from Leonardo, who draws the short straw as the honorable, stoic one.

Michelangelo is the jokester, Raphael is the hothead and the Donatello is the techie geek (the glasses are a nice touch). So far, so Eastman and Laird.

Though some jokes fall flat, there are some humorous moments, and an impromptu comedy rap in an elevator works unexpectedly well.

But, and I’ll be superficial here, the turtles just look wrong. Much more mutant than turtle.

And Splinter is decidedly less benevolent than previous incarnations: during his first appearance in the film we see him essentially beating his adopted sons. Even Tony Shaloub’s measured voice-work cannot soften that scene.

The box office receipts will dictate whether a sequel is forthcoming. But for me, this is a film that only pre-teens may enjoy. Fans of the 1990 version will be surely as disappointed as I was.

Conor Brennan

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Dates ‘n stuff

October 2014