‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ (2014)

The Turtles - TMNT 2014
The Turtles - TMNT 2014
The Turtles - TMNT 2014
The Turtles – TMNT 2014

Finally after an extra three months of waiting the latest incarnation of the heroes-in-a-half-shell has been released to UK cinemas as of 17th October!

Directed by relative newcomer Jonathan Liebesman (‘Battle: Los Angeles‘, ‘Wrath of the Titans‘) and based on a screenplay by Josh Applebaum (‘Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol‘), André Nemec (‘Beverly Hills Cop 4‘) and Evan Daugherty (‘Divergent‘, ‘Snow White and the Huntsman‘) the film stars Megan Fox, Will Arnett, William Fitchner plus the voices of Alan Richson, Noel Fisher, Jeremy Howard and Johnny Knoxville.

TMNT‘ 2014 is a full on reboot of the franchise takes cues from the comics and modern Nickelodeon cartoon series to pull together a recognisable but updated version of the now 30 year-old franchise.

We’ve been looking forward to this one for a while here at GYCO but it’s been difficult to escape the rumours and bad press that have dogged this film from the outset. First came the news that the film would be produced by Michael Bay, the name behind the entire big screen ‘Transformers‘ franchise which has divided critics and fans alike despite amassing a huge worldwide box-office of $3,674,773,552 over the course of four films.

Next was the news that the four leads would be aliens rather than mutated pet turtles, quickly denied by the production team there was a followup admission that the backstory of the comics and cartoons would be updated but still recognisable to long-time fans.

Finally came news of reshoots and the long delay of any trailer release until only a few short weeks before the film was due to his screen across America.

Post-release the film performed well at the US box office taking  $65.6 million, higher than studio expectations and immediately allowing the green light or a sequel to be released on 3rd June 2016 but sadly reviews remained negative leaving the film with a 22% fresh rating on aggregate site Rotten Tomatoes. Conflictingly audiences rated the film a B on a scale of A to F on polling site CinemaScore.

The Turtles & April O'Neil - TMNT 2014
The Turtles & April O’Neil – TMNT 2014

Even the UK release was handled oddly with posters advertising previews screenings starting a week before the official release. As a dedicated ‘TMNT‘ fan I had been counting the days to this release and rushed to buy tickets but even the preview screenings themselves did not go on sale until mere days before taking place.

Finally on Saturday 11th October at 17:20 did I get to see this film and my verdict… enjoyable, fun and not without a few emotional moments.

Overall the film does fall a little flat with its depth of emotion. There are moments in this film which really portray the brotherhood of the turtles and other moments which tug at the heartstrings of hardcore fans by playing with the notion of killing off major characters but around those moments are a series of set-pieces and short bursts of story which hold the film together albeit a little flimsily.

Don’t get me wrong I really enjoyed the film from start to finish and will go back to see it again but I was hoping for so much more.

Lets start with the story: opening the film is a really nicely animated sequence which covers all the major points of the turtles mutation from pets to heroes which also covers a lot of their childhood and the pains of growing up. It’s a great way to bring viewers up-to-speed knowing that most of the audience will already have heard the story several times over.

We’re quickly thrown in to the life of April O’Neill who is the audience in-road to the turtles, much of the movie follows her as she uncovers the mystery surrounding the vigilante of New York and the mysterious terrorist organisation known as The Foot. Meanwhile Eric Sacks, a man from her past, offers clues to the death of her father which also tie in to the creation of the turtles.

What Applebaum, Nemec and Daugherty do here is intertwine O’Neill in to the lives of all the major characters to bind them together. This version of the origin takes inspiration from the most recent IDW comics more than from previous incarnations or even the previous movies.

This of course means that much of the screen time in the film is devoted to Megan Fox which undoubtedly will annoy her many critics but she really isn’t that unlikeable here but more on that later. O’Neill is a great way to tie the film together giving insight in to all the major players both good and bad whilst allowing a more human element to pull through. Also doesn’t hurt that many audience members were girlfriend dragged along by their ‘TMNT’ loving boyfriends who needed a way to connect to the film or at least a female character to rag on.

Splinter and Shredder - TMNT 2014
Splinter and Shredder – TMNT 2014

Two heavily underused characters in the film are Splinter and Shredder. Splinter does appear and narrate parts of the film but in terms of on-screen action after a fight with Shredder he is sidelined for much of the movie. The screenwriters were clearly trying to ramp up the father-sons relationship and this does bring one of the emotional highlights of the film but it wasn’t a shame he wasn’t given more screen time.

Shredder is unfortunately the biggest disappointment of the film. The rumour mill was rife before the films release that William Fitchner would be playing Shredder (perhaps this will be true in later films) and even his name, Eric Sacks, echoes his original name of Oroku Saki but actually we’re all being trolled.

The Shredder who appears in this film is much more shadowy than his original series cartoon counterpart and his suit has been supercharged to preposterous proportions. His motives in this film are relatively hard to follow which is something which I hope will be much improved for any sequels. There’s justification for the suit overview due to his relationship with Sacks but overall it just takes the film from cartoony to over-the-top.

There are defined start, middle and end points to the film but in between there just isn’t enough story to make this anything more than a summer blockbuster so I really do hope that the writers listen to the fans and inject a whole lot more story to the impending sequel.

The casting of the film works pretty well, the big deal for most of the audience was the cast of Fox as April O’Neill given that she doesn’t have a great record for carrying a film as a lead. Her version of April doesn’t quite match up to the yellow catsuit of the cartoon but she does portray a strength of character which makes her likeable in this film. She is a slight caricature and somewhat painted-by-numbers but I would expect nothing more from this type of summer tent-pole film. There’s enough weight to her that she isn’t 2D but she could use a little more humanity to make us care.

Will Arnett provides great comedy relief as Vern Fenwick, brought straight from the cartoon series to the big screen. There’s an inevitable romantic connection between Vern and April which didn’t need to exist but does at least make these two characters a little more real. His appearance in the film is great for fans of the cartoon and does help to ground the film a little more in reality but again he provides a sidekick type role which means his character is adapted to be of use to any scene in which he appears.

One odd moment for me is the appearance of Minae Noji as Karai who at one point refers to Shredder as Master, never once referring to him as her father.

The individual turtles are brilliantly not defined by the actors who voice them, yes Johnny Knoxville is easily recognisable but Leonardo is not defined by the actor who voices him. All four turtles have individual personalities and voices which help define them as to who they are.

We all know the stereotypes: Leonardo, the leader; Michelangelo, the skater dude, Donatello, the geek and Raphael the hot head. None of those have been changed, they’re just been pushed to new levels in some cases. My favourite was always Donatello and that remains true although the amount of technology strapped to his back does echo the caricature nature of April. Similarly each of the turtles has had that personality defining trait maximised to new levels which will work great for the kids in the audience but takes away some of the subtlety that other incarnations of the turtles have had.

It wouldn’t be possible to review this type of film without covering the special effects which are on an absolutely epic scale throughout. The turtles might look pretty imposing and a little creepy but the effects that bring them to life are beyond top-notch. The motion capture used to inform the facial expressions of the turtles adds a whole new dimension to their characters, looking back on the original franchise movies the mechanical heads bring back fond memories of childhood but these 2014 turtles have personalities that reach far beyond just their voices.

They interact with their environments well and there weren’t any standout moments for me where it was obvious that live action elements were trying to interact with CGI. The fully CGI environments had great depth of field and were equally as believable as the turtles faces. The $125 million budget has been well spent here and Paramount/Nickelodeon should be very happy with their investment.

Set pieces such as the battle on top of the Sacks tower are epically rendered on an easy par with Bay’s own ‘Transformers‘ films, exactly what audiences have come to expect from this level of summer action but the standout moment in this film is the scene on the snowy mountain depicted in nearly every trailer and TV spot release in the run up to the film. From beginning to end this sequence had me on the edge of my seat. The turtles themselves work perfectly as a team from beginning to end and there’s even time for Vern and April to get in on the action as this is the stunning centrepiece of the film it’s a shame that most of it has been scene by anybody watching at the trailers before entering the theatre.

A note to the production team for the sequel: don’t ruin your best sequence by making it available to view before the film is released.

The score, provided by Brian Tyler, is consistent but not stand out. There are some great themes which repeat themselves throughout the movie but it doesn’t elevate the film to grand proportions. I’ve given it a few listens since seeing the film and it’s the type of score which is more enjoyable to listen separate from the film itself.

So overall the film almost impresses but does also disappoint. It’s a good summer action flick but as an entry to the ‘TMNT‘ franchise it’s only okay. Definitely go check it out whilst it’s still in cinemas but don’t hope to realise any of your dreams for a big screen adaption of the comics or the original cartoon.

This film lays the groundwork for a great new version of the franchise which now just needs to take some confidence in its characters and it’s past and allow itself to become bigger and better in the sequels to come.

3 stars

 

 

 

3 stars

About Neil Vagg 1970 Articles
Neil is the GYCO Editorial Chief. He has a BA in Film & Tv and an MA in Scriptwriting; he currently works 9-5 as an office manager and 5-9 as a reviewer/web designer. He has been subscribing to comics for around nine years but has been reading them as long as he can remember. Favourite comics: Batman; Nightwing, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and All New X-Men Favourite films: Batman (any apart from & Robin); Star Trek Generations, Underworld, Beetlejuice Favourite TV shows: Fringe; Buffy, Arrow, TBBT, Being Human UK and Star Trek TNG