Overview: A group of turtle vigilantes try to save New York from a gang and its kingpin with the help of a news reporter and her driver. Paramount Pictures. 2014. 101 minutes. PG-13.
Cowabunga, Dude: The origin story of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is entirely new from anything seen from the source comics or early movie/cartoon versions. The writing team of Josh Appelbaum, André Nemec, and Evan Daugherty does a fantastic job in creating a new, engaging story that allows viewers to really separate this movie from the original franchise and enjoy a wholly new experience. Here, the Turtles were actually April O’Neil’s pets, which creates a warm and fuzzy knot between the characters that didn’t exist before, and really explains why these characters would care so much for protecting an otherwise random news reporter. The plot wrestles with questions already familiar from other superhero movies: Would the world be accepting of mutants? Would the human element of the Turtles hinder or help them protect the innocent ?
Cinematics: The Turtles look pretty good, compared to past manifestations. They are huge and muscular, but still manage to display immaturity in their turtle faces. However, the same compliment can not be extended to the appearance of Master Splinter, who, up close, looks excessively CGI’d and cartoonish. Director Jonathon Leibesman’s portrayal carries the evident influence of Michael Bay, who served as producer for the film. (a lot of flashing lights, a car chase scene, and some mindless explosions). This style of directing, however maligned it might be in Bay’s films, makes for pretty spot-on context in a story about teenage, mutant, ninja turtles. With characters this absurd, why expect anything but over-the-top danger and excitement? The Turtles throw shipment containers, slide on their shells through a snowy mountain, and use their shells for shields from bullets, while still managing to save their city from The Foot.
The Shredder: Shredder was the most disappointing part of this movie. I can’t tell you how many times I had to remind myself that Shredder wasn’t some unfortunate product of cross-breed between human and Transformer. His distractingly unrealistic armor appears insanely threatening. However, the Turtles typically have a hard time defeating this kingpin not because he wears an armor suit that allows him to shoot blades out at them in every directior, but because of his martial arts ability.
Overall: If you are looking for great cinematic craft or resonant thematic elements, why in the world would you choose Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles? If you watch this movie, gauge your expectations. The Ninja Turtles are a group of characters that are supposed to be fun and lighthearted, and on that front the movie succeeds. Even as they believe they are falling to their death, the characters continue to make jokes, and that’s the only spirit in which I can imagine this subject matter being successful. In the darkest scenes of the movie (like when you think Splinter is dying, for example), comedy still presents itself to remind you of just what type of story you’re being told.