A version of this review originally appeared in the Williamsport Sun-Gazette on August 14, 2014.
Surely, it’s self-evident that a film featuring butt-kicking humanoid turtles has an obligation only to entertain, and nothing more. I would never expect a movie titled “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” to inspire or move me in any fundamental, permanent way. To be fair, a gifted filmmaker could one day come along and harness the as-yet-undiscovered allegorical potential of the franchise, but until that happens, I will settle for something merely cool.
It’s astonishing then, that the latest film with the above title fails even on that front, at least most of the time.
There’s some humor, of course, and some inventive ninja action – a little atop a skyscraper, but almost none down a massive, snowy mountain during an oppressively long and incomprehensible computer-generated sequence that is so joyless not even probability can muster up a second for escape.
Who and what am I talking about? I’ll do my best to explain, because the movie sure doesn’t, despite its desperate attempts to:
I know that in the movie there are walking, talking, human-sized turtles named Leonardo, Michelangelo, Donatello and Raphael who learned ninjutsu from a walking, talking human-sized rat named Splinter while living in a sewer. They are the good guys who protect New York City from a gang known as the Foot Clan, because a cartoon sequence relays that information early on. The clan’s leader is Shredder. He’s the movie’s big bad villian because he’s big and bad and wants to rule other people.
There’s very little else regarding characters and motivations that I can speak about with certainty. Now, I’m being kind of disingenuous because I’m 24 years old and I know who the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are, but if you’re going into this movie without any pre-existing knowledge of the characters or franchise, there’s a chance you will leave the theater even more ignorant than before.
The film, in all its pixelated diffidence, flashes by so frantically that recalling the plot and specific scenes strains the mind. Nonetheless, I will try.
I remember the scene in which the ninja master rat tests his pupils’ discipline by tempting them with pizza. That was funny. I remember when all the turtles beatboxed together in an elevator before the climactic showdown with Shredder. That was funny too. And I remember when the turtle in the orange garb called the ambitious, underappreciated TV reporter character played by Megan Fox hot. That was only funny once.
Now that this review is ending, I hope you have not attributed my bitterness to the fact that the turtles of this film barely resemble the turtles of yore. The movie’s infidelity to the source material has no bearing on its quality. Its many failings are exclusive to itself, such as the nonexistent characterizations, the lazy humor and plotting, the tonal confusion, the busy blur of the action and almost everything that happens before the credits roll.