‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ Review: Heroes with a Half-Brain

'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles' [2014]

Movie Rating:


The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have returned, possibly signaling the moment when ’90s nostalgia hits the mainstream. There’s a problem with nostalgia, though. Fond memories tend to make things seem better than they were. Unless you’re an unapologetic Ninja Turtles nut, all this new reboot offers is definitive proof that some franchises should never be revived.

This Michael Bay-ified edition of ‘Ninja Turtles’ plays out pretty much exactly as you’d expect. Megan Fox plays April O’Neil, a news reporter (who looks like she might sideline as a porn star) obsessed with breaking out of her strict regimen of frothy news stories by covering the dastardly deeds of evil ninjas ravaging New York (even though no one else seems to notice or care). Along with her wise-cracking cameraman Will Arnett, April discovers four folks fighting back against the evil Foot Clan and their blade-packing leader Shredder. Shockingly, these four warriors are massive mutant turtles.

So far, it’s pretty much the movie that came out in 1990. The only real difference this time is that the turtles are brought to life by state of the art motion-capture technology that is somehow less believable than the rubber puppet suits the Jim Henson Workshop whipped up over twenty years ago. Plus, the film has a little ‘Amazing Spider-Man’-style needless augmentation to the back story, which now suggests that April’s scientist parents were involved with creating the Heroes in a Half Shell. Why? Who knows and who cares? It’s just a needless expansion in an attempt to make a goofy story seems dark and meaningful (which doesn’t work, by the way).

Michael Bay is only an executive producer on the movie, so it’s unfair to attribute all the blame to his blackened heart. However, his touchstones are all over it, from weirdly sexualized humor in a children’s movie to a climax that involves a bunch of CGI stuff smashing into other CGI stuff so that it can explode. At the same time, this probably would have been a better movie had Michael Bay directed. Say what you will about his artistic bankruptcy, but the guy at least has style and flair. The actual director Jonathan Liebesman (‘Battle: Los Angeles’), on the other hand, seems to have no sense of style, pacing or visual orientation whatsoever. His vision of blockbuster action cinema is one of murky lighting, shaky cameras, and such needlessly rapid-fire editing that you can barely ever see what’s happening. Toss in cheap post-converted 3D and you’ve got an action movie in which you can barely see the action. Not exactly ideal.

Acting-wise, Megan Fox does her thing, which isn’t bad yet is far from great. Will Arnett desperately tries to make the horrible jokes in the script work but rarely succeeds. William Fichtner is probably the best part of the movie as the villain, but given that he neither plays Shedder nor Krang, that’s not what the kids will want to see. Tony Shalhoub is moderately amusing as Splinter, while the actors voicing the turtles are universally indistinct. (Whoever thought it was a good idea to hire Johnny Knoxville to voice Leonardo needs to be medicated, because it’s incomprehensible miscasting.) Everyone else is bland and forgettable, which I suppose is appropriate given that this is a big stupid movie about talking turtles who fight crime and eat pizza. Complaints could be made about the predictable plotting and shameless Pizza Hut product placement, but what’s the point? If you didn’t see that coming then you probably haven’t heard of the Ninja Turtles.

The new ‘Ninja Turtles’ movie is a big dumb mess and a textbook example of lazy blockbuster filmmaking. Of course, that doesn’t mean the target audience won’t enjoy it. I was 6 at the height of Turtle mania, as was absolutely obsessed with the cartoon, toys, videogames and everything else. I still have a certain level of nostalgia for the Ninja Turtles because they played such a large role in my childhood, but if I try to watch any of the old movies or TV shows now, I feel embarrassed. After the weird underground books that parodied gritty comic book excess, the entire franchise transitioned to one manufactured by toy companies and pizza chains.

The Ninja Turtles have never been art and rarely even clever pop culture. That didn’t matter to me when I was a kid because they were friggin’ ninja turtles so I loved them without question. There’s a good chance that kids today might feel the same way, and an even better chance that anyone who can’t see past nostalgia when viewing old ‘Ninja Turtles’ nonsense through adult eyes will dig the movie as well. That doesn’t make it right, but it will at least explain things if this stupid movie turns out to be a hit.

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  1. Timcharger


    I know you’re saying you give this modern TMNT film 2 stars.

    Are you also saying when you revisited the old TMNT films, you would also give them 2 stars, too?
    Maybe even less for the Vanilla Ice sequel?

    • Phil Brown

      I’d give both 2 and 3 less than two stars. I have such fond memories of the first one that I don’t want to watch it again because I’m sure it won’t hold up and I don’t want to ruin the memory.

      • Chris B

        I absolutley loved the first TMMT when I was a kid and I saw it for the first time in years a few months ago. I was really impressed with how well it holds up today. Watch it Phil, it’s still entertaing as hell.

      • Timcharger

        Introduced my boys to the 4 films last year. They loved it.

        But I didn’t. TMNT (the 4th one) held my interest the most.
        I watched 1 and it didn’t bring back the childhood magic.
        For 2 & 3, I couldn’t sit through them, I used that time to
        get away from my boys. I probably was web surfing here
        at HDD.

      • William Henley

        This is where I am at – I have the movies on Blu-Ray, but have been reluctant to open them for this very reason. The show was corney, the movies worse. I have such fond memories, but am pretty sure that if I tried to watch it now, I will be greatly disappointed.

        As for this movie, its a rental for me. I do not care for the rebranding or the new stylized look.

    • Oh hell yeah, I loved those things.

      Wow was this review harsh, pretty much a complete bash fest, was there complete hatred going into this movie or something? Havent read this negative of a review for some time. But hey, its the Ninja Turtles, I’m not sure what people were expecting here, also this version isnt much for kids IMO as the originals were. For one you have a much darker story and a PG-13 rating. I’m guessing those 6 year olds that love Ninja Turtles probably shouldnt be in the theater for this one. Back in the 90s, the movie was a HUGE deal, I watched that thing a billion times and I still put it in to watch it because it embodies everything I loved about my childhood and I still think it holds up quite well, but it was PG with a lot less violence, language and zero sexual innuendos, I know my mom would have never let me see this new version of the Turtles if I was that age and I certainly wouldnt be taking my 6 or 7 year old either probably if he was that old 🙂

  2. Big Turtles fan here, too! I was 6 in 1990, and the toys were EVERYWHERE. I distinctly remember going to a toy store abroad (‘Breda’ in The Netherlands, not too far abroad for me, actually) and coming across a toy store with nothing but Turtles toys. At least, in my memory, the store was 100% Turtles oriented (and I still managed to walk out with a G.I. Joe instead of a Turtle!).

    I never had a lot of the TMNT merchandising, but – as coincidence would have it – I have just bought a few of Playmates’ very awesome ‘new sculpts’ of the classic Turtles this week. These are not the new Nickelodeon designs, but rather a deliberate throwback to the 1988-1994 figures in a bigger scale with no less than 34 points of articulation! I was very impressed. These cost $26/piece in most toy stores, but ‘Bart Smit’ (a Dutch chain – again, Dutch!) currently sells them for $12. I couldn’t resist.

    Anyway, I’m really psyched/pumped to see this, even though I just know it won’t be good. Still, I can’t look away. The movie’s calling to me.

  3. plissken99

    I was 7 during 1990, and was a massive Turtles fan as well. It was a weekly ritual having Grandma take me to Walmart to buy a new figure(small town, only store). Turtle bubble-bath user here. Oh the joy I felt with the Turtle van and the base, god knows how many cans of the ‘turtle ooz” lol. OMG those hostess pies! I forgot all about them, yet I can now recall how delicious they were. Anyone else see them live in the “coming out of their shell” tour? I saw them in Oklahoma city, my 1st concert lol. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dE8Vyq2nx1A

    The original movies hold up really well, at least the 1st two do, I wasn’t that wild about part 3 when it came out(think I was probably about growing out of them by that time). Never realized they were Jim Henson workshop creations, that’s why they were so good, they do indeed look better than the new CGI turtles in this movie.

    I have no desire to see this new iteration, the review confirms my suspicions from the previews. Must be frustrating that they can’t top the look of them from the 1st movie circa 1990. 🙂

  4. It sounds like the same mess as transformers in terms of not knowing who it’s target audience is. Too innapropriate of humor for kids, too idiotic of humor for adults. My 5-year-old (appropriately named Leonardo) really wants to see it and I’m afraid to given all my research of the movie. Ugh.
    This is one of those lose-lose situations for Michael Bay. If the movie was great people would say it’s because he didn’t direct it. If it sucked they would say it’s because he had anything to do with it. Unfortunately they got the director of Battle: LA so I think it was a combination of those two dudes plus a crappy script.

    • Wow, you have a kid named Leonardo Martin? Such an Awesome McCoolname! Nice!
      (coincidentally, one of Belgium’s most beloved comedians was called ‘Leo Martin’)

      • Haha thanks! I haven’t heard of him before. It’s appropriate though since my other son, Graham, was mostly named because of my love for Monty Python. I guess if I have another son he shall be named Mitch! Haha.

  5. When I heard Michael Bay was ruining yet another beloved franchise that was so important to my childhood, I knew I would never bother seeing it. Was the 1990 movie perfect? Of course not. But I’m sure it’s a lot better than the film currently playing in theaters.

  6. Bryan

    I took my son (just turned 11) to see the new Turtles this weekend. My son really liked it, but he’s pretty much the exact target demographic. I have to say it was better than I feared after reading all of the reviews and bad press I’d seen over the past couple of months. Don’t get me wrong – I don’t think it’s going to win any Academy Awards, but it was enjoyable enough. It more-or-less faithfully told the origin story of the turtles, the CGI is reasonably well done, and Megan Fox still looks pretty hot… 🙂

  7. I’m starting to come to terms with the fact that just because childhood favorite franchises are being rebooted, doesn’t mean they’re tailor made for my genereation. Keeping that in mind actually made for a fun viewing experience. One who’s more cynical than me will argue that I’m just lowering expectations, but I’d like to think of it as keeping an open mind. I saw TMNT at a Thursday night 8 ‘o’clock screening and there were plenty of kids there and they ate it all up. It made me happy to hear them scream and laugh at all the right cues (that was me 24 years ago), so in that aspect I think it was a success. I don’t think the movie was a total train wreck. I wish the design of the turtles were less busy and less hulking, but technically speaking they looked good. There were even some segments that reminded me of the old cartoon. I’m glad they didn’t mask everything in darkness, there were plenty of well lit action sequences including the final showdown. It was a bummer that it felt way too much like The Amazing Spider-Man’s climax. I also loathe shaky cam, which unfortunately the director seems to love. The voice talent was plenty good although I didn’t like Tony Shalhoub as Splinter, I prefer the old wise sensei voice. Raphael’s voice was a little too angsty for my tastes as well. I would’ve never guessed that Johnny Knoxville voiced Leonardo and I’m glad because that would’ve been distracting. He did a fine/serviceable job. This may not be saying much, but it was a hell of a lot more enjoyable than the latest Transformers movie or even the G.I. Joe movies. I would rate it somewhere between a 3 and 3.5.

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