There is something about fitting four human-sized talking and fighting turtles into a live action film that draws scepticism.
And while Leonardo, Raphael, Michaelangelo and Donatello – the turtles, not the Italian Renaissance artists – look less laughable in 2014’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles than in the 1990 live action film, it is still hard to take them or the rest of the movie seriously.
We all know that some cartoons might be better off never leaving the animated realm, and this film reinforces that message. But that is far from the only thing that reduces Turtles into a borderline juvenile excuse for a movie, and one that ought to crawl back into its shell.
MINI-SPOILER MARK: Minor plot details discussed beyond this point. No major spoilers revealed.
Ambitious television news reporter April O’Neil (Megan Fox) is determined to produce the story that will launch her career by investigating the Foot Clan, a ninjutsu organised crime ring that terrorises New York City. Her investigative exploits lead to her witnessing a group of vigilantes foiling the Foot Clan’s efforts, and it is not long before she realises that the vigilantes in question are four six foot tall talking Turtles. And that they are teenagers, mutants and ninjas. April soon learns not only about her personal history with the Turtles and their man-sized rat sensei Splinter, but also about the truth behind her father’s death and the Foot Clan’s plans to control New York. The vigilante Turtles become the only thing that stands in the way between the Foot Clan and leader Shredder’s (Tohoru Masamune) rise to total dominance.
In essence, Turtles is barely anything at all. A film of such mindless standards, save for a few decent action scenes, comes off as something that only the franchise’s five-year-old fan base would enjoy. But Turtles suffers from so many shortcomings that it might actually manage to bore the children as well.
Terrible pacing, horrendous character development and a lazy plot are the main nemeses for Turtles. For a 100 minute film, the audience is made to sit through an unsatisfactorily long wait before any real Turtle action is seen. For the first half, Fox’s April O’Neil is the sole star, and the titular characters take a back seat to April’s own journalistic “adventure”. 30 minutes in, and we are made to wonder if the film should be renamed “April O’Neil and the Four Turtles”. But by the second half, everything abruptly changes.
The tables turn and the Turtles provide the main sizzle, while April is relegated to a running and screaming eye candy, a la Mikaela Banes of Transformers. The leading lady’s sudden demotion is effectively reinforced in the classless scene where Fox’s behind exclusively receives five seconds of screen time, much to the delight of her cameraman (Will Arnett). Meanwhile, the Turtles literally jump right into action. But when the Turtles finally start to shine, there is insufficient time to develop any of the titular characters. Resultantly, the Turtles wind up flat and one dimensional, and to whom the audience has no emotional investment. In other words, we wouldn’t give a hoot if the titular characters were killed, and that is a key characteristic for a flop.
In fact, superficiality seems to be an unintended theme in Turtles. The only things more lacking in depth than the Turtles are Shredder and the Foot Clan, who were lazily tossed into the film with no effort at development. The last thing we want is a boring villain that fails to intimidate the audience, and that’s exactly what Turtles‘ antagonists are. Perhaps another distinctively flat feature of the movie is the lead actress herself. Fox is not exactly known for emotionally intense Oscar-winning performances, but her acting ability seems to have hit an all-time low. As April O’Neil, her performance is as wooden as Donatello’s bo staff.
Turtles is also textbook for when humour threatens to sink, rather than lifts, a film. Will Arnett’s Vernon Fenwick and resident Turtle joker Michaelangelo are the movie’s main sources of comic relief. And while Arnett’s natural humour somewhat works, Michaelangelo’s consistent childish remarks and the occasional juvenile behaviour from the rest of the Turtles only remove the gravity of any situation that threatens them. That, and the audience’s complete lack of interest in the protagonists and antagonists, means that we are never on the edge of our seats. Turtles simply does not have the intensity – physical or emotional – for an action film to succeed.
The film’s only redeeming quality is its action scenes, which are unfortunately jam packed into the second half of the movie and almost completely absent, or unsatisfactorily presented, in the first half. Uneven pacing ultimately prevents the martial arts and fight scenes from becoming the sole glorifying factor in the movie.
Big names like William Fichtner and Whoopi Goldberg add star power to the cast, but their portrayals of Eric Sacks and editor Bernadette Thompson do nothing for Turtles, and they are unable to save the movie from itself.
Throughout the movie, Splinter reiterates that the Turtles should not go above ground before they are ready. Perhaps the film-makers should have heeded their own character’s advice.
From the way it has turned out, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles should have remained hidden in the sewers.
Rating: 1.0/5 (TALK-o-meter: “They actually put this on the big screen?”)