Film review: TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES, from Built For Speed

The Ninja Turtles were ripe for a re-incarnation. The sight of four human sized, fun-loving ass-kicking, crime-fighting turtles living in the sewer with their giant rat ninja master Splinter, is still an enormous attraction for the tweens while the concept, which began in the 80’s, packs enough nostalgia value to lure cashed-up gen X-ers.  Throw in Megan Fox and some scenes of mass destruction and the teens are on board.

The latest addition to the Turtle cannon awkwardly negotiates a fine line between jokey superhero parody and noisy violent action movie.  Like a hybrid of Spiderman and (gulp!) Transformers the film features mysterious heroes namely the turtles emerging from the shadows to take on a villain threatening New York.  It’s mostly jerky, barely comprehensible action sequences full of rapid-fire editing, swirling camera movements and physics-defying acrobatics. Some of the fight scenes are dynamic and genuinely bone-crunching but too many are shot in near darkness or extreme close-up making them a blur.  The action is by no means as indigestible as that in a Transformers film but the fight sequences do have the disturbing aroma of a Michael Bay film and it’s no surprise to discover Mr Bay was an executive producer here.

Oddly (or perhaps not so strangely) much of the film focuses on a human character, the intrepid TV journalist April O’Neill (Megan Fox) rather than the CGI turtles.  Like any decent movie journalist, she is pursuing a story of life or death importance for the city but encounters only scepticism and derision from her colleagues and her editor (Whoopi Goldberg). She’s on the trail of dangerous chemicals used in genetic experiments which have been swiped from the docks by a sinister crime gang known as the Foot Clan.  Her investigations lead to a renowned scientist (William Fichtner), a megalomaniacal Samurai crime lord know as Shredder (Tohuru Masumune) and the subterranean Ninja turtles.  Anyone vaguely familiar with previous Turtle product will know exactly how this film will play out although there is a slight but effective change to the Turtle origin story that connects them more closely to April.

A large part of the original cartoon series’ appeal was the individual turtles’ quirky and clearly delineated personalities.  These have largely been maintained here with Michelangelo (Noel Fisher)  the California surfer dude, Leonardo (Johnny Knoxville) the serious, self-proclaimed leader, Donatello (Jeremy Howard)  the neurotic brainiac and Raphael (Alan Ritchson) the cynical rebel. There have been changes, though as the turtles are bigger, musclier, more gnarled and more threatening looking than in the cartoon series or previous movie incarnations.  The grumpy loner Raphael, in particular, is more aggressive in this film than at any other time in Turtle history.  The CGI effects giving life to the turtles are reasonably impressive as the lads mostly look like creatures in real space.

Megan Fox isn’t exactly the most convincing journalist in cinema history then again she’s playing a role where she investigates nunchaku wielding turtles not Watergate. In a throwback to the early Transformers films the camera purves gratuitously at her which feels creepy in a kid’s film. Will Arnett ads some intentional comedy relief as Fox’s horny bumbling camera man although his sporadic appearances don’t really do justice to his comic talents.  William Fichtner, as the deranged scientist, brings his usual unnerving intensity to his role although clues throughout the film suggest  that this role may have been edited down to something less than was originally intended.  A few names in the cast and more expensive special effects, however, can’t entirely disguise the fact that this is really just a Golden Harvest-style chop-socky action flick with a few passable gags pasted on.  

After a slow start it’s pretty much all action which means it achieves its main aims of keeping the kids interested enough to buy the merchandise and ensuring that audience keep staring at all the  shameless product placement on-screen.

Nick’s rating: **1/2.

Genre: Action/ Science Fiction.

Classification: M.

Director(s): Jonathan Liebesman.

Release date: 11th Sept 2014

Running time: 101 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast. 


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