Bringing the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to the big screen has been one of the more interesting cinematic case studies of the past twenty-plus years. Whether live action, animation, or, in this case, motion-capture combined with live action, it’s pretty much impossible for the turtles not to be some combination of creepy and weird. I adored them as a child. As you get older, it becomes increasingly clear what a strange phenomenon they are. The early 90’s movies started out dark (the original 1990 version), went crazy (1991’s The Secret of the Ooze), then totally off the rails (1993’s third film). 2007’s animated TMNT went for more of a comic book feel with some success. Now we’ve come full circle with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, a high-energy, at-times sloppily-written effort that will undoubtedly please its target demographic of pre-teen boys.
If you’re at all familiar with Turtles lore, this will sound pretty routine. We have young, eager reporter April O’Neill (Fox) and the four turtles, Raphael (Ritchson), Leonardo (voiced by Johnny Knoxville), Donatello (Jeremy Howard), and Michaelangelo (Fisher). After a fair amount of origin story exposition, the five are pitted against Eric Sacks (William Fichtner), a turn-coat scientist that is after the mutagen that made the turtles the way they are. Sacks takes orders from the villainous Shredder (Tohoru Masamune), who leads the evil Foot Clan in a plot to take over New York City.
The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles certainly feel as lifelike as ever in this offering. Mixing motion-capture technology seamlessly with real-world locations, director Jonathan Liebesman and has team have created one slick-looking picture. Muscle-bound and hulking, these turtles have truly human emotions and physical presences. The action centerpiece is a sensational chase sequence involving a semi-truck sliding down a snowy mountainside. The character interactions are less inspired, with the humor a mixed bag (though one joke about the oft-rumored “alien” turtles does work) and the non-turtle performances largely subdued.
Expectations for a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie must be all over the place. Are you looking for the darker elements of the 1990 film? Or the goofiness of the second one? Or the pun-filled cartoons? Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles has elements of each while throwing in a few nostalgic winks to those who have followed the series from the beginning (“tonight I dine on turtle soup.”). It’s nearly impossible to gauge what constitutes a “good” Turtles film, but this one delivers the requisite thrills, visual effects, and humor as well as one can reasonably ask for.
Studio: Paramount Pictures
Length: 101 Minutes
Rating: PG-13 for sci-fi action violence.
Theatrical Release: August 8, 2014
Directed by: Jonathan Liebesman
Written by: Josh Appelbaum & André Nemec & Evan Daugherty. Based upon the characters created by Peter Laird & Kevin Eastman.
Cast: Megan Fox, Alan Ritchson, Will Arnett, Noel Fisher, Johnny Knoxville (voice)