Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014) Theatrical Review

TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES

Shredder puts forth his best Transformers routine and the Turtles spend their days cat calling in this pitiful reboot

Parents complained about the violence in 1990’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, a dark, atmospheric adaptation of what was then a blossoming franchise. In 2014, the Foot Clan – ill-formed in their allegiance to a Transformer-cosplaying Shredder – fire actual guns. They’re thrown into walls. Their cars flip. They wrap around metal poles. And this violence is distractingly real.

Here the computer formed, mutated amphibians poorly broker themselves for a part in Marvel’s movie universe. They’re as ungainly massive as the Incredible Hulk and take weary, sexually non-comedic pot shots at Megan Fox as if the audience wasn’t aware of why we she was cast as damsel reporter April O’Neil.

Three credited writers take aim at this comic book legend, creating a malformation which produces personalities, not characters, and a plot which wraps around to a finale duplicated from Amazing Spider-Man. Production design by Neil Spisak is so unnaturally loud as to represent the entire feature’s clouded downfall. The Turtle’s sewer lair is backed by mounds of ’80s era boom boxes. It’s not because they serve actual purpose, but because they’re meant as visual noise.

Ninja Turtles is abrasively scattered, jumping between once impossible rounds of in-movie marketing and then moving into flustering hyper activity. Johanthan Liebsman may direct, but the nauseous slaughter of natural cinematography is wholly formed in the mind of producer Michael Bay. In fact, all of this is, from an ungainly villain who is villainous because he has pointy things to unnecessary explosions. Ninja Turtles abruptly closes on a rocket launch to pierce the otherwise quaint dialog scene, as if the feature failed to reach its quota prior.

It’s a travesty too. This work wastes perfect heel actor William Fichtner by making him an utter incompetent who can’t walk around a table to shoot his targets. It fumbles Will Arnett in a bit of dream casting as dopey cameraman Vernon Fenwick, who only exists to further exude uncomfortable Megan Fox gawking. Whoopi Goldberg bloats the cast with an added layer of scripted disbelief while Ninja Turtles continually seems to be in shock over its own existence.

That mental trauma isn’t just internal. It’s shared.

TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES

We’re yet again amidst a re-introduction of an origin story the audience already knows, layering in a maybe/maybe not of alien origin after a fan revolt. Ninja Turtles cannot decide on a reality even if the Turtle designs give them revolting human lips. To say this is a story of walking, talking turtles is to lazily excuse the writing. Too often this script work is disinterested in computing a base of logic, critical to the establishment of a new series and to support the increasingly surrealist, gravity-less action. Ninja Turtles makes things up as it goes because it has no grounded boundaries to conform too. Yes, the ninjas can now eject bullets from their hardened shells… because adrenaline or something. Or, merely because it’s fashionable amongst the glut of super hero flicks.

There is no time to cook emotion or fulfill the needs of the narrative. Master Splinter, the mutant rat who guides the Turtles in their martial arts (and appears here as more of a bison than a rodent), is mercilessly clobbered merely as exposition. His purpose is only a propellent and the central expose on how this wandering script drifts ever further from a well-considered baseline.

Each successive generation of Turtle devotees have been given a cinematic curve. The ’90s film disconnected from the cartoon. After the 2003 TV series, a 2007 animated movie ignored the recent small screen animation. And now this, a theatrical aberration which eschews the enjoyable build-up present in the current Nickelodeon TV show. While the idea of an adult-centric Turtles is alluring, the move to PG-13 is perilously immature rather than a return to creator’s Peter Eastman & Kevin Laird’s grit-loaded comic. What’s here is warped, deformed, and distressing. Ninja Turtles produces minimal means (or time) to imbue the film with the ideas of brotherhood central to the lore and instead teaches classes on outmoded ways to gawk at women. How tragic.

Movie ★★☆☆☆ 

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Note: The following technical critiques are based on location experiences. Such reviews are not scored and should be considered as generalized guidelines given variations in theatrical projection/audio systems.

It’s a shame that not only does this feature luridly address its female star, it pours layers of digital smoothing to turn her skin less realistic than that of mutants. Close-ups of Megan Fox are worse than some cartoons and devoid of fidelity which has been sapped by digital manipulation. Much of Ninja Turtles has been tampered with. Egregious spots of orange & teal pouring onto the frame give it away. To some credit to the visual effects, much is done in exterior daylight, allowing the searing hues to be voided and fidelity to soar. Primaries can then be strengthened for plentiful hues. Backed by shadow crushing black levels, this movie is ALL contrast, all the time with extremes.

Post converted into 3D, the darkness will create some problems with cross talk against bright sources, although these are marginal. Moments do shoot for effectiveness, including one example which breaks the 2.35:1 frame work. A handful of errors misplace trees during aerial tracking over a home, but not enough to off-set the best shots. Overall though, this one seems to struggle at the source, trying to find a reason to use the format, resulting in hokey instances of hands stretching toward the screen or shots of its ilk. Much of Ninja Turtles is claustrophobic too, kept to small rooms which won’t allow the needed dimensional stretch.

Audio mixing is the third tier, with stupidly loud, piercing highs and with action so frantic, it becomes frustratingly without focus. Sound may travel (including an excellent bit where a trailer is swung back and forth), but too often this becomes a mash-up of loudness rather than apparent precision. Front soundstage work felt held back with rear surround work used in excess. In some way, it seems like a perfect audio attachment.