Film Review: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, suffers the same array of problems that the Michael Bay directed Transformers films have suffered. The film takes emphasis away from the title characters of the film to put an increased focus on the human characters. To the film’s credit, it doesn’t clutter up the film with the samedegree of human characters as the Transformers film did, but those elements of the film distract from the main thrust of the narrative. Further, the rest of the film’s action is so cluttered and chaotic that it can’t compensate for the rest of the film’s weak points.
The film follows April O’Neil, played by Megan Fox. April, like her counterparts in the first film and animated series, is a reporter for Channel 6 news in New York City, who is investigating an increase in the crime rate brought on by a mysterious criminal organization known as the Foot. This is, also, unfortunately, where everything starts to fall apart. This version of the Foot is less a ninja clan, and more a PMC, carrying assault weapons, driving heavy machine gun equipped Hummers and so on. In the original film, The Foot had managed to operate with aconsiderable amount of subtlety and discretion. In the original animated series, Shredder and Krang were generally operating out in the open, but they still maintained the pretense of being a ninja clan, as opposed to going full Cobra. Here, they’ve gone full Cobra.
While investigating this organization, April discovers the existence of the title characters, and eventually their origin – the film’s second major and dramatic break from the source material. In this version of the Turtle’s origin, the Turtles and Splinter were laboratory experiments worked on by April’s father, a scientist, along with another scientist, Eric Sacks, played by William Fichner. After a tragic fire broke out in the lab, April saved the turtles and Splinter, but was unable to save her father. If you’re familiar at all with Fichner’s recent filmography, it should be clear from early on the film that Sacks killed April’s father – with the real mystery for the audience being not being the reveal of his identity, but why he killed April’s father.
This also means that while the turtles certainly have a connection to April, and, by extension, Sacks, their historic connection with Shredder, through Oroku Saki, and Saki’s connection with Hamato Yoshi (Splinter’s former owner), is gone. The writers attempted to replace this connection with a contrivance that the Shredder is Sack’s master, but this information is hidden until the middle of the film, and it’s not clear why. This also means that while in earlier films Splinter was written as a Japanese American, either through casting (Mako in the animated film), or the voice acting performances for the character (as in the first two live-action films). Here those elements were absent. it almost feels like Whitewashing.
This leads into April and the Turtles attempting to defeat Shredder and Sacks, and where the film’s action sequences come in. These sequences are either unfortunately darkly lit, or very chaotically structured. Early on in the film, fights are shot in a way where the Turtles aren’t clearly defined in the film’s environments – initially to play up the stealth elements of their fighting style. However, in the middle of the film, the amount of stealth used in those sequences is downplayed significantly, yet the characters are constatly shown in shadow, as if the director and crew were not confident in their CG.
In the back half of the film, the Turtles are more clearly lit, but the action sequences are also more chaotic and more difficult to track. There’s a mix of shakey-cam, and enough visual clutter and busyness on screen to make it hard to figure out geography and more than the general gist of the fight scene. There are exceptions, fortunately. In particular, Splinter’s fight with Shredder and the Foot is very well done, in terms of choreography and composition.
This is still a better film than TMNT III, but that is damning with faint praise. Otherwise, the film is completely missable, and indeed should be missed.