BLU-RAY REVIEW: TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES / CERT: 12 / DIRECTOR: JONATHAN LIEBESMAN / SCREENPLAY: VARIOUS / STARRING: ALAN RITCHSON, NOEL FISHER, PETE PLOSZEK, JEREMY HOWARD, WILLIAM FICHTNER, MEGAN FOX, WILL ARNETT, JOHNNY KNOXVILLE, TONY SHALHOUB / RELEASE DATE: FEBRUARY 16TH
There's already a lot of hyperbole and superlative surrounding the release of Jonathan Liebesman's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles adaptation/remake/reboot: childhoods have been raped, turtles have been sodomised, and Michael Bay's name has been subject to a lot of abuse. To clear a few things up, (executive producer) Michael Bay did not direct Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, your childhood has not been raped and nobody has sodomised any turtles. Furthermore, were I ten years old, I would have loved this movie.
As it is, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles '14 is absolutely fine. Nowhere near as bad as its reputation already suggests, it's far from the disaster many of us were expecting. While their origins have been fiddled with, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles remain steadfastly teenage, mutant, ninja and turtles. They live in a sewer under the tutelage of giant rat Splinter, eating pizza (via some ghastly Pizza Hut product placement) and training to be heroes. Their enemies are Shredder and the evil Foot Clan, and they are assisted in their heroism by reporter April O' Neil, who wears a yellow leather jacket. The essentials, then, are all there. It's the specifics that will be the sticking point for a lot of people.
The biggest, perhaps, is the casting of Megan Fox as O' Neil. With Bay executive producing and his Transformers alumna Fox, you'd be forgiven for expecting Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (the Transformers nadir) all over again. Thankfully, Fox shoulders the lead surprisingly well. She's not exactly given a lot to work with, but she's more bearable than Shia LaBeouf ever was as an audience Mary Sue. Focusing on the Turtles, it works more often than it doesn't. Unlike Bay's Transformers, the Turtles largely feel like real characters – their interactions with O' Neil and the world not coming across like videogame cut-scenes or barked one-liners imported from a disconnected recording studio. Their world may be a mostly CGI construct, but it at least feels like a shared space between the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and actual humans. It's as cynical and manufactured as they come, but at least there's an effort for heart and a sense of brotherhood between the heroes in a half-shell. Basic though it may be, there's real character development here, with emotional beats and everything. Even better, the action is downright coherent. So, no, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is no Transformers sequel.
That said, the film is not without its hefty share of problems. Fox may have graduated from love interest to leading lady, but that doesn't stop the heroes (and camera) from leering at her every opportunity they get. At least a quarter of the script is wasted on Will Arnett and Michelangelo's hitting on April. It does neither any favours: wasting Arnett's considerable talents and completely undermining Mikey's comic relief status. This is at its most grim during a scene in which Arnett almost gets the lot of them killed by leering at April's arse when he should be driving. Even the villains of the piece have the good grace to not treat April like a piece of meat, even while trying to destroy the city with their massive MacGuffin.
William Fichtner gives good bad guy as evil scientist Eric Sacks, while Shredder lends the film an impressive physicality. Neither is afforded much in the way of characterisation (big bad Shredder is particularly wasted), being by far the film's weakest element. Jim Henson's designs remain King, but the CGI serves the action well enough. Not everyone will be a fan of the redesigns (Donatello looks particularly hideous) but they work in the context of this big, loud, modern blockbuster. If Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles could do with less CGI, that's more a statement on today's cinema than it is this particular movie. It joins the likes of The Lone Ranger (also not as bad as you may have heard), Man of Steel and The Dark Knight in being a modern superhero film that seems faintly embarrassed by and apologetic of its own setup. Like Superman's 'S is for hope' and the Ranger's 'hiyo Silver', we only get one good 'cowabunga', right at the end.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is an imperfect adaptation, but it's far better than one might expect. Man-babies of the 80s and 90s may hate it, but the children of today should have a lot of fun. Cowabunga, dude.
Special Features: Four featurettes / Extended ending / “Shell Shocked” music video / Making of “Shell Shocked”
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