In this eye-popping reimagining of the legendary heroes in a half shell, New York is under attack by the sinister Shredder, but fearless leader Leonardo, brilliant and brainy Donatello, rough and rebellious Raphael and wild and crazy Michelangelo take to the streets to defend their home with the help of intrepid reporter April O'Neil (Megan Fox) and their brilliant sensei, Splinter. Packed with jaw-dropping action and special effects and loaded with the franchise's signature humor, TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES is "fun for the whole family" (Joel Amos, Movie Fanatic). The film also stars Will Arnett, Whoopi Goldberg, and William Fichtner and features Johnny Knoxville as the voice of Leonardo and Tony Shalhoub as the voice of Splinter. (from Paramount Home Media Distribution)
Tis the era of 80s cartoons coming to the big screen in new ways. Whether it's been four live action entries into a Transformers franchise aimed at adults and teenagers, or mixing live action and animation for The Smurfs, Scooby-Doo, Garfield and many others, it's really no surprise that the ever-popular animated Ninja Turtles property would get a modern take and a new look, helmed by Michael Bay as producer (director of the Transformers films) and Jonathan Liebesman (Wrath of the Titans, Battle: Los Angeles) as director. Unfortunately for fans, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are not exempt from being given creative license and updates. The turtles themselves have a drastic new look, are given a more intimate history with their friend and reporter April O'Neil, and aren't really the main characters in their own movie. While, admittedly, it's tough to find the right tone for a live action movie involving "teenage," "mutant," "ninja" turtles, the end result of this latest attempt is mostly a mixed bag and an unrealized effort.
From the start, while giving us some history of the turtles, the movie focuses on the human characters, revolving the story around Megan Fox's portrayal of April instead of approaching it entirely from the turtles' perspective. This doesn't really work super well because April's written rather thin and Fox doesn't do a much better job here than she did with her role in the first two Transformers films. To make matters worse, she looks so done up and like a living Barbie doll (or an adult model?) and her character never feels real or believable. And that's not to mention that she just doesn't have a strong screen presence. Will Arnett essentially plays himself as her camera guy, but he's not given a hint of character development. He's a relief to watch amidst the onslaught of synthetic visuals, but you'd have to like his schtick to appreciate him here. Sadly, his attendance isn't enough to help the movie's end result. The turtles, once you get over how over-the-top they look (even for "mutant turtles"), often sound as cheesy as they tend to look. You might recognize comedian Johnny Knoxville as the voice of Leonardo, but the other guys just sound a bit too goofy--even for the turtles. I love Tony Shalhoub from Monk and Wings, and while he does a good job here, he also sounds a little out of place if you're familiar with who he is.
With recent movies like Amazing Spider-Man revolving around the main character having a scientist father who was murdered and their partner having a hand in it... all while having researched technology that leads to the central hero becoming who they are, having April's history with the turtles be intertwined with them just feels so convoluted. Maybe if fans didn't know the story another way or if this plot device hadn't been used so much before, it wouldn't be quite as bad, but here it feels far too by chance. It happens so conveniently for not only April to be the only reporter to discover them, but for them to have been her pets in her dad's lab as well. (And the turtles had kept the names she had given them as tiny turtles, of course.) It's not enough to totally ruin the film, but it feels too much like lazy writing and it cheapens the overall feel of the story. Good visuals aren't enough to make a film a good one (like the Transformers films), and a poor story just weighs the whole thing down. Certain plot elements even feel inspired by The Phantom Menace (like Obi-Wan being cut off from the fight to have to watch his master fight alone) or even The Last Crusade (where the hero must fight to save someone close to them by retrieving a special serum), among others, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles' return to the big screen just feels sophomoric at best.
Of course, it's not all a complete loss; it's just all too easy to highlight what went wrong. For the most part, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is still pretty entertaining. The action violence isn't too bad, but there's a pretty good reason why it was rated PG-13. The action is amped up just a bit from what you might see in a PG-rated action adventure film, and there is a little language present (mostly partially disguised by surrounding noise during action scenes), but for the most part, parents with young teens and pre-teens could probably let their kids watch this one. The action is fairly non-graphic, although what might be the most harrowing sequence is when Shredder fights Splinter and nearly kills him. Some of the action is fun to watch, including several scenes where the turtles take on the foot soldiers, and a race down a snowy mountain near the finale. Also, it's just fun seeing the turtles battle Shredder, even if the conclusion seemed a little predictable or cheesy (including the awful "confession" moment from one of the turtles). The CG animation is a bit jarring at times, and while it's probably still better than the puppet/suit-wearing turtles of the old films, they don't consistently seem photorealistic (even though they were performed by real actors in motion capture suits). William Fichtner also makes a great villain once again here, since he excels at playing creepy bad guys. Shredder, sadly, feels more like a minion of Fichtner's character than a leader, but perhaps if there are future films, the iconic Turtles villain will step it up.
The content is mostly just action violence. There's roughly 2 uses of the "S" word during the action (by the human actors) and a couple uses of the "a" word from the turtles near the end of the movie. That's the most of it, however. Michelangelo is overbearing with his flirtations toward April, but it doesn't really get very crude (except for one line where, upon meeting her, he comments about his shell tightening, which is an erection joke, but it'll go over kids' heads). So while Bay seems to go out of his way to make the Transformers movies unsuitable for young viewers, the latest Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a bit more suitable for the younger action movie lovers.
Digital Reality (17:56) - This is the first featurette and it focuses on redesigning the turtles for a new age. Director Jonathan Liebesman was a fan of the turtles and he wanted to make them darker and more serious here. The featurette also shows how they used previsualization animation to plan out the action scenes before filming, and we're treated to some examples of this. It also shows how they utilized motion capture suits for the turtles--even taking them to the streets as opposed to usually keeping the technology in a studio--and using real actors for the turtles. The cast reflect on how using real people as the turtles gave the actors around them better performances.
In Your Face: The Turtles In 3D (4:23) - You can watch this one in 2D or 3D if you have the capabilities (even though it's a 2D disc, but you need a 3D player and 3D capable TV). They talk about planning out and filming shots in 3D, even showing how one shot had them literally shrinking the picture so that Donatello's bow staff protruded out from it. It's a pretty neat effect.
It Ain't Easy Being Green (6:47) - Most of the central actors talk about having grown up being Turtles fans. They also talk about filming in the streets of New York in their motion capture suits and people not really caring how oddly dressed they were (...except that they were in their way, which Megan drops a bleeped-out "F" word to illustrate the New Yorkers' reactions). The Turtles actors also talk about how great friends they became and how it really was like a brotherhood for the actors.
Evolutionary Mash-Up (14:59) - This is an odd documentary that talks about the history and evolution of real turtles. They also mix swap back and forth with the history of ninjas and "shinobi." They then mix them together with clips of the Ninja Turtles from the film.
Turtle Rock (5:37) is all about the music in the movie. Brian Tyler is a composer who's really picking up steam in the movie industry, having done films like Iron Man 3 and Guardian of the Galaxy. He talks about his work being inspired by John Williams and how he emulated him for this score, but his scores all seem too bland and average to be even remotely on the same plane as Williams. Tyler also reveals here that he started writing music for the movie before ever having seen a single frame of it.
Extended Ending (0:46) - This isn't even a minute-long deleted scene that shows April reporting live from Times Square about the aftermath of the Shredder fight. Arnett smiles in a very corny way as the Turtles van drives by and the film ends. It's actually a super cheesy scene that was a smart edit out of the film.
"Shell Shcoked" Music Video (3:27) is a music video for the song performed by Juicy J, Moxie, Ty dolla $ign and Wiz Khalifa. It's a pretty cheesy rap video with the rappers shown in a graffiti style animation effect with scenes from the movie spliced in.
Making of "Shell Shocked" (1:31) just shows Wiz Khalifa talking about being a huge fan of the Turtles and being excited to have done "Shell Shocked" for the film.- John DiBiase, (reviewed: 12/16/14)
Disclaimer: All reviews are based solely on the opinions of the reviewer. Most reviews are rated on how the reviewer enjoyed the film overall, not exclusively on content. However, if the content really affects the reviewer's opinion and experience of the film, it will definitely affect the reviewer's overall rating.
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