Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

By on August 18, 2014
TMNT poster

Okay, so, up front, full disclosure: I was never a die-hard “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” fan back in the day. Yes, I watched the cartoon, and yes, I saw all of the movies, including the most recent CGI-animated one, so I’m not at all unfamiliar with the franchise, but I wouldn’t call myself a mega-fan by any stretch of the imagination. As such, if you are one and want to read a review of the movie from a fanboy’s perspective, then you’ve come to the wrong place, but there are plenty of places you can go for that on the internet.

This review is strictly going to be from a semi-layman on the franchise. I am a moderate fan at best, so therefore, I have no desire to talk about how faithful the latest iteration is to the source material or not. My only concern is that of any typical film critic: is it a good movie?  Or is it a complete waste of time?

Uh, I'm sure you guys are nice and all, but I'll take the one in the middle, thanks. Megan Fox tries to stand out in the crowd in "Teenage Mutatnt Ninja Turtles." Courtesy of imdb.com

Uh, I’m sure you guys are nice and all, but I’ll take the one in the middle, thanks. Megan Fox tries to stand out in the crowd in “Teenage Mutatnt Ninja Turtles.”
Courtesy of imdb.com

Well, there’s good news and bad news. On the plus side, on a scale of Michael Bay, with the Transformers series- especially the most recent ones- on the low end of the totem pole, and “Pain & Gain” and maybe “The Island” at the top of the food chain (feel free to include “The Rock” if you’re so inclined), “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” on which Bay served as a producer only, probably ranks somewhere at the high end of the middle. It isn’t a total embarrassment, like some of the horror remakes he was involved in (i.e. “A Nightmare on Elm Street” and “Friday the 13th”), but it’s not exactly the “Citizen Kane” of talking animal movies, either.

What it most likely is, is the best big screen take on the franchise to date, though I didn’t hate the last one, the animated 2007 version, “TMNT.” But it’s a damn sight bit better than the original trilogy of borderline ridiculous 90’s films I grew up on, which, granted, I haven’t seen since I was a kid, but I think even then I knew they weren’t exactly bravura filmmaking. Not that they were meant to be, necessarily- not everything has to be top-notch entertainment, obviously- but, at best, they were passable flicks for kids that probably were no great shakes for the adults subjected to them.

I suppose the overall best “TMNT” endeavors were the original cartoons, which are what I have the fondest memories of, save running around singing “Go Ninja, go ninja, go!” after that ridiculous Vanilla Ice song from the second movie, “The Secret of the Ooze.” Yes, the song still brings a smile to my face when I hear it, and I admittedly got a kick out of the fairly recent commercial with Ice referencing it- though it might have had more to do with the fact that Ice willingly played himself working at a grocery store!

Shredder sets about trying to make some turtle soup in "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles." Courtesy of imdb.com

Shredder sets about trying to make some turtle soup in “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.”
Courtesy of imdb.com

The latest version is an oddly-pitched, relatively straight-forward take on the material that seems a bit torn about what it should be. On the one hand, it isn’t without a sense of humor, but on the other, that sense of humor isn’t exactly LOL funny, either. In fact, at times, the turtles themselves are oddly- and unnecessarily- a little on the creepy side. Sure, some of that is the inevitable by-product of using a combination of live-action, CGI and motion capture for the turtles, but even the turtles themselves seem to recognize their own high levels of creepiness.

I almost feel like they had already put in the work, special effects-wise, had a deadline to meet, and decided at the last minute to acknowledge it within the movie in order to offset the fact to the audience. Maybe if we say that it is a little creepy and joke about it, it will seem less creepy, right? Not really, but the good news is that you do get used to it eventually, and the film thankfully gets better as it goes along, once the initial set-up is out of the way.

What worked best for me personally was the action-oriented stuff towards the second half of the film, notably a slam-bang car/truck chase sequence on a snowy mountainside, and a thrilling sequence on the top of a high-rise building. Though I opted to forgo the 3D for this one, not expecting much overall, I imagine these scenes were even more impressive in that format, for those so inclined. There are also some fun fight scenes with the turtles and the bad guys, including several with head baddie Shredder.

As for the cast, Will Arnett is his usual self-effacing self, and if you like his style of humor, you’ll like it here as well. As a longtime “Arrested Development” fan, it is admittedly nice seeing him as a leading man, even if it is in something like this. As for the much-maligned Megan Fox, while she might not get much in the way of accolades for her work here, I will say that her enthusiasm for the project is readily apparent.

Will Arnett and Megan Fox get their action on in "TMNT." Courtesy of imdb.com

Will Arnett and Megan Fox get their action on in “TMNT.”
Courtesy of imdb.com

Fox is truly a fan-girl of the material, and it shows, especially in the fact that she’s willingly gone above and beyond the call of duty of in relentlessly plugging the film anywhere and everywhere she could. After that whole “Transformers” debacle that got her fired, she’s clearly playing ball with the Hollywood machine and, by extension, Bay. I can’t imagine she would have done that if she didn’t actually genuinely love the franchise in the first place.

Possibly for the first time ever, Fox actually manages to come off as semi-relatable and even moderately likable, which has not always been the case. Though I’ll allow that, more often than not, she’s played the vixen/bad girl-type, and wasn’t necessarily supposed to be likable in the first place. She comes pretty close here, though, and she’s way easy on the eyes if you don’t cater to her acting chops, so there’s that as well. I wouldn’t quite go so far as to call it a good performance- to be honest, she’s better at the bad girl stuff that made her name- but this and her interview appearances are definitely a step in the right direction, in terms of making her seem down-to-earth, even if her looks are anything but.

People aren’t going to this for the hot babe, though,  any more than they went to the “Transformers” films for the same. They want to see anthropomorphic butt-kicking turtles with a pizza and hip-hop obsession, who were trained by a wise rat sensei and who combat with ninja master Shredder.

And you get plenty of that, so why complain?

Let’s face it; this film wasn’t made for the highbrow movie lovers out there. It was made for kids and nostalgic fanboys and girls. Purists might balk, and Bay haters might hate, but it is what it is. The simple truth of the matter is that the kids who want to see this are not going to be disappointed by it, and anyone who grew up with the franchise needs to get over it if they are disappointed because you’re not a 15-years-old  anymore.

The turtles get psyched up for battle in "TMNT." Courtesy of imdb.com

The turtles get psyched up for battle in “TMNT.”
Courtesy of imdb.com

If you’re that determined to cherish the old-school versions, then those are still there and always will be. If you’re determined to hate it, guess what? You probably will. For those of us who don’t demand so much from their entertainment, like kids- or the kids at heart- the film basically does what it sets out to do, and I can live with that.

Even under the best of circumstances, I don’t know that I’d rate this higher than a B-, although a C+ is probably closer to the mark. Depending on what your frame of mind is going in, you should be fine with the overall results. It’s a passable flick that doesn’t embarrass anyone involved. When you’re dealing with a movie about giant talking turtles, that may be the best anyone can hope for. So, I say unto thee: Go ninja, go ninja, go ninja go!

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About Mark Trammell

Mark Trammell is the resident entertainment critic at UAB, the University of Alabama at Birmingham, where he is also a Graduate Student and does a vid-cast movie review show. He is a life-long fan of films and has a pretty whacked-out, all-over-the-place movie collection that would give most sane people pause. He loves horror movies and Disney flicks and isn't entirely sure there is a difference. He one day hopes to put his money where his mouth is and inflict his own perverse vision on society, entirely so that he can tell people who ask: "If you think you can do better, why don't you make a movie yourself?" to shut up.
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