It comes as no surprise to many, but I’m a huge Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles fan. Ever since the repeats in the early 90s, I’ve been hooked. Peter Laird and Kevin Eastman’s Turtles took over my life as a child, as I covered my arms in tacky TMNT transferable tattoos, and I looked for the next gimmicky Turtles toy. Throughout the years, this old passion of mine has been reignited by Nickelodeon’s enjoyable animated series, and IDW’s excellent comic.
The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have recently celebrated their 30th anniversary this year, and with that we also see the release of a brand new movie; Ninja Turtles. Directed by Jonathan Liebesman and produced by Michael Bay, Ninja Turtles attempts to reinvigorate the ninjas back onto the big screen. Back in the 90s, their first two movies were enormous hits amongst cinemagoers, becoming some of the highest grossing movies of their respective years. Sure, they weren’t particularly ground-breaking movies, but the series featured some of Jim Henson’s best and most complex work to date.
Ever since the designs of the 2014 Ninja Turtles were released, there was a huge wave of disappointment from fans. These new turtles looked horribly realistic, with misshapen faces and bizarre proportions. Adding onto that, they were also dressed in leftover scraps found in the sewers (ideal for product placement, of course). They looked horrendously ugly, but it would be silly to judge the movie primarily on the awful designs alone. Surely Jonathan Liebesman could pull off a great TMNT movie despite this, and he could make everyone forget about his previous efforts, such as Battle Los Angeles and Wrath of Titans, right?
Well, the answer to that is a resounding no. Unfortunately, Ninja Turtles just doesn’t live up to its full potential. It’s a damn shame too, because there are faint glimmers of what could have been possible. Perhaps this is also due to Michael Bay’s involvement, or the fact that three different screenwriters attempted to put together such a generic script, but the end result is a movie that fails to really entertain on all fronts, and here’s why…
5. Generic Plot
Recently, the IDW series and Nickelodeon animation have proved that you can get a really interesting backstory from mutated turtles living in a sewer, and they have really fleshed out the characters of Splinter and Shredder. They have an interesting history, with a feud that has lasted years. The two main characters of the series have their own motivations and mutual hatred for each other, which of course is hardly seen anywhere in Liebesman’s Ninja Turtles.
Most CGI-heavy blockbusters do suffer from a weak script, and this film is obviously no exception. There’s virtually no backstory provided for Splinter and Shredder, and the turtles themselves are left with a disgusting lack of character development. Why should cinemagoers care about these characters, when they’re given no foundations to build up on? That’s what we’re left wondering when the final moments of the movie kick in.
Shredder is hurt the most by this awful script though, as his dastardly plot doesn’t really make that much sense. He requires the blood of the turtles, which will act as a cure for a toxin that he plans to release on the inhabitants of New York. Once he releases the deadly toxin, everyone will apparently fall under his command, after he offers the treatment. It almost sounds like a fool proof plan, right?
Obviously, it’s utterly pointless, and it gives the writers a poor excuse for Shredder to seek out the turtles. He already has full control over the powerful and influential Foot Clan, and he has the assistance of Eric Sacks (William Fichtner), a powerful businessman who could be utilised for so much more. Putting all of these powerful elements together should be more than enough to strike fear in New York.
His eventual confrontation with Splinter is completely watered down by this misnomer too, as they have no real bad blood between them. Suddenly Splinter acts like he’s known this shiny cheese grater for decades, but as we’re all unfortunately aware, they’ve only just met. It shouldn’t work like that, and previous incarnations of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have really excelled in their storytelling development (we’re not counting the third 90s movie).
Mentioning the character of Eric Sacks brings forward this point too; he is completely unnecessary in the progression of this movie. The inclusion of a different antagonist was an afterthought, and whilst Ficthner is a decent actor, he is completely underutilised in Ninja Turtles. Having a different antagonist placed into Shredder so later on in production, is a telling sign of how much care was put into this film.
It’s a real disappointment, when you consider that there were three screenwriters on this movie. Instead of an enjoyable romp, we’re given some basic ‘poison the city’ storyline, and when you think about the healing properties of the rare mutagen, you’ll end up questioning why it’s so necessary towards the end of the movie. It’s just awful storytelling, from start to finish. However, that’s not Ninja Turtles’ only problem.
4. Megan Fox / April O’Neil
It’s almost fashionable to dislike Megan Fox nowadays, but cinemagoers have had her unwillingly shoved in their faces in awful blockbusters before. She’s been objectified countless times already, and we’re all blissfully aware that she shares the same acting abilities of a plank of wood. Unfortunately for her, she’s yet to have any redeeming roles of any sort, and Ninja Turtles is certainly another blemish on her career.
It is a great indignity that Megan Fox was so horribly miscast as April O’Neil, who in the past has been a strong female character within the TMNT franchise. Whether she’s a teenager in school or a young adult working for Channel 6 News, April O’Neil has always managed to be an important character. For some reason, Megan Fox just doesn’t seem to fit the bill. The role would probably have been better suited for actresses such as Mary Elizabeth-Winstead, Emma Stone and even Aubrey Plaza.
There’s only so many times you can see the wooden Megan Fox fall down, quiver and look shocked. It all becomes the same dull expression throughout the movie, and it’s unforgivable that the first appearance of the turtles comes in at approximately 20 minutes into the film. Nobody cares about Fox to see her on the screen for that long, but thankfully she’s paired with the fantastic Will Arnett for most of the movie.
However, if you’re part of the fandom that hated the decision of Megan Fox’s casting (even creator Laird was reportedly concerned), then you can go ‘F*** Off’, according to Fox:
Now that’s an actress with integrity. If you don’t like her awful acting and greased up face, then you can shove it, because she’ll make money despite what you think. What a lovely woman.
3. The ‘Comedy’
There’s one thing that’s integral to the TMNT series, and that’s humour. Whether it comes from the turtles or the ridiculously goofy villains, there’s some comedy found in mostly all TMNT incarnations. The recent Nickelodeon series does a fantastic job of mixing in some neat comedic elements, especially with the simple-minded Michelangelo and yet again, the one-liners that are used in Ninja Turtles fall completely flat.
It’s apparent that three different writers worked on the movie, because the jokes range from being inappropriate in tone (jokes make towards O’Neil’s looks and posterior), to tired pop-culture references. No Michelangelo, Lost happened years ago. There’s no need to bring it up.
Of course, pop-culture has found its way into the franchise before, and sometimes they worked with it well. Even when they’re blatantly getting paid to advertise Domino’s pizza in the 90s film, it still works. It was funny in some respects. In Ninja Turtles though, we’re treated to an unfunny and horribly shot Pizza Hut advert. “Four cheeses?!” Yeah, embarrassing.
The inappropriate jokes that Michelangelo also spits out towards April O’Neil just come off as really creepy too, and after he mentions her for the third time it gets tiresome really fast. It’s just really uncharacteristic of his character, and even as a group the team really don’t have any funny lines. The beat-boxing segment in the lift isn’t particularly entertaining, and it just comes off as being forced. What’s worse, is that some people are calling that the best scene of the movie. Some people have low standards.
The same can be said for the majority of the self-deprecating humour throughout too. There’s just no wit to it, the jokes are bland and dry. Thankfully though, Will Arnett is in the movie and there is an Arrested Development reference. He did provide some form of humour in the movie too, but that might be his natural talent. It isn’t enough though, as the franchise revels in humour with its various forms. It’s a typical Michael Bay production though; it’s full of terrible jokes and awful pop-culture references.
2. The Turtles Dynamic
The most important aspect of a TMNT production is the relationship between the turtles and their master. Their success comes when they’re together, and they have a unique family relationship which is not necessarily apparent in other franchises. Each turtle has their own little definitive trait that defines them; Raphael’s the brawny tough guy that would rather go it alone, Michelangelo is the jokester, Donatello is the genius and Leonardo is the strong decisive leader. When you add all of those elements together, you get magic.
Ninja Turtles does admittedly explore the various traits of the turtles, but their actual relationship between each other is hardly touched upon. There’s always been a great conflict of interest between Raphael and Leonardo, but fans will be disappointed if they expect any of that here. The 2007 TMNT movie had an amazing rivalry between the two which reached a climax atop rainy rooftops, but in Ninja Turtles Raphael literally makes one comment about wanting to leave, and he disappears during a fight for a few minutes. That’s literally it. So when Raphael opens up his heart towards the end of the movie, it comes off as having zero emotional weight to it whatsoever.
It’s a big and apparent problem in the movie, and whilst Ninja Turtles certainly shouldn’t follow suit like all the other previous series have done before it, it would’ve been appropriate to at least explore how the turtles react around each other. We’re treated to a flashback sequence with them playing a game, but the majority of the time their family connection comes off as being really unnatural. There needs to be some love amongst the turtles and not just for their sensei. It’s what Ninja Turtles desires, some real heart.
You’ll only witness some of that turtles unique spark during the mountaintop sequence, but then that’s covered in CGI and it suddenly ends up lasting all too long. It doesn’t help that Megan Fox’s April O’Neil just doesn’t seem to fit within the mould either (regardless of her massive importance to the team).
Perhaps the inevitable sequel will improve on the loose foundations given, and maybe we’ll see more of the family dynamic. Ninja Turtles doesn’t really have that spark though, which has been seen countless times before.
1. The Designs
Now, these turtles might be mutant ninjas, but there’s no excuse for the way they look in Liebesman’s movie. Ninja Turtles probably has the worst design of any other TMNT series to date, and that includes The Next Mutation. The design of the turtles is way too busy, as they are covered head to toe in rubbish. They haven’t been clothed in a ridiculous manner before, so why should they bother now? Oh right, product placement opportunities…
Their proportions are outright ugly too, and they end up looking like grotesque life forms. Henson’s creations had an engaging quality to them, but these CGI behemoths don’t look like something children will aspire to be at Halloween. They’re hulking brutes, and the merchandise for Ninja Turtles certainly does their designs no favours, with the Lego minifigures really showcasing the designs downfalls.
However, it’s not just the turtles who suffer from such a poor visual design. Even Shredder can’t escape the clutches of the overly busy designers. In Ninja Turtles, the much-loved villain gets reduced to a bunch of sharp knives, attached onto a shiny cheese grater. It looks ridiculously stupid, as viewers will struggle to count the amount of knives Shredder has on one hand, let alone two.
Whilst he’s covered in this laughable armour, Shredder is still surprisingly nimble. He looks like the lovechild of Silver Samurai and Megatron, and when he looks this way, it’s difficult to take him as a credible threat. Even with his magic flying knives, Shredder just comes off as a two-bit villain and the resulting product of simple visual concept which has been seen before in too many of Michael Bay’s movies. It’s really disappointing to see the great Shredder depicted in such a manner, even if he quotes the infamous ‘Turtle Soup’ line.
Splinter is the only special character in the film that manages to look somewhat decent. At least fans will be content with the way he looks, and cinemagoers won’t find any amusement with his appearance. With plans of a sequel already in the works, it’s annoying to realise that we’ll still have the same goofy looking Michelangelo in cinemas.
People tend to cry out that Ninja Turtles is primarily a ‘kids’ movie, so viewers shouldn’t expect much. However, that is as asinine way to look at movies aimed at kids. Two of the biggest box-office hits of the year have been How to Train Your Dragon 2, and The Lego Movie. Both movies are aimed at kids with tons of merchandise, but they also appeal to an older demographic, and they’re actually favoured by critics. At this point of writing, Ninja Turtles has a dismal 20% on reviews aggregator Rotten Tomatoes. That should be enough evidence.
Whilst fans shouldn’t expect the same material from the franchise again and again, it doesn’t excuse the liberties that Liebesman’s movie takes. It is a blatant cash grab on an intellectual property, and it has yet again proved – similarly to Transformers – that blockbusters still have that tendency to let us down tremendously. When directors like Phil Lord and Christopher Miller prove to us otherwise, hacks such as Liebesman provide cinemagoers with films which are cut-and-paste jobs, with action scenes littered amongst unfunny dialogue and nonsensical plots. However, studios will throw enough money at it for it to turn a huge profit.
If you’re a devout fan of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, do yourself a favour and skip this one. Enjoy some of the comics, watch the new cartoon. Hell, I’d recommend even watching the third Turtles movie from the 90s. It was ridiculous, but at least it had Casey Jones teaching some 16th century samurai the art of hockey. That was pure gold, right?
And if you’re a typical cinemagoer, save yourself the ticket price and go see something else. Perhaps some people will love it, and maybe the merchandise will help with its success. Just remember though, that you are part of the problem if you go spend money on Liebesman’s excuse for a motion picture. Booyakasha.