At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles “2014”

MPAA Rating: PG-13/ Genre: Action-Comedy/ Stars: Megan Fox, Will Arnett, William Fichtner, Tohoru Masamune, Whoopi Goldberg, Minae Noji, Abby Elliott, Taran Killam, K. Todd Freeman, Paul Fitzgerald, Chance Kelly, Derek Mears; Voices of: Johnny Knoxville, Jeremy Howard, Alan Ritchson, Noel Fisher, Tony Shalhoub/ Runtime: 101 minutes

I think it is quite safe to say that the iconic pizza loving, martial arts-wielding, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are a true gift that keeps somehow paying out dividends for the entertainment community at large. Indeed here is a property that was all the rage back in that magical time known as the 80s which managed to stay fairly strong all the way up to the present day and then in 2014 found itself headed back to the big screen courtesy of a live action movie being helmed by one Jonathan Liebesman. A movie incidentally that is neither a sequel or re-imagining of what came before, but is a full on, don’t pass go and collect 200 dollars reboot of the franchise that was intended for the modern movie goer who simply wanted to see the latest in scope and technology. Yet when you set out to make a film that exists as nothing more than a crowd pleaser in this day and age of the cinema, you also run the risk of exposing your film to a lot of the issues that those films plus present day cinema combined can throw your way. Thus it should come as no surprise to learn that this film, tragically but also quite predictably, manages to fall prey to nearly every single one. Indeed whilst this is a franchise that has grown up a fair deal from the cartoons, the toys, the toy commercials, and even the older movies which are still an integral part of some peoples’ youth, myself included, it has also transformed, pun intended, into a smorgasbord of rehashed materials designed to excite you whilst sacrificing narrative and character development. Yes the amount of genuine and pathos driven narrative you can get from a franchise based on a quartet of martial arts wielding, pizza eating, anthromorphic turtles, their rat of a father-figure, and their main foe Shredder (not to mention a couple of overgrown animal henchmen who don’t appear in this film, but hey! That’s what the sequel was for….yay) is up for considerable amounts of debate. What is not up for debate however is just how lacking in the substance department this film is thus making it a literal chore to watch a fair bit of the time. To that end, it should be noted that this film really is nothing more than a distinct twist on a time-recognized beverage in the form of the Michael Bay film that is all style and nothing else, but that is also a drink choice that is really starting to lose more and more fizz and taste the more Hollywood Bar and Grill chooses to make it for us.

The plot is as follows: Our film tells the story of an aspiring and inquisitive young reporter living in New York City by the name of April O’Neil who really has become exasperated with simply being assigned to various fluff stories rather than some serious hard hitting journalism. Indeed this is a young woman who sadly can’t even get 10 minutes from her boss while all the while her career has stagnated and is stuck between continue writing what she is given or have the guts to go out and find stories on her own that she can make her name with. Of course as April deals with this crisis, we soon see that NYC is dealing with a crisis of their own courtesy of a group of crooks aiming on raising heck in the Big Apple known simply as the “Foot Clan”. However when April finds herself inadvertently witnessing a Foot Clan op in progress she also witnesses something….mysterious coming in, kicking bad guy butt, and saving the day before vanishing. Thus, despite the incredulity of the entire news team, April and devoted co-worker Vern decide to investigate further and eventually uncover that what she saw was one of a quartet of giant anthromorphic martial arts utilizing turtles by the names of Leonardo, Donatello, Raphael, and Michelangelo who are led by a talking rodent who goes by Splinter. Now it is up to April and our heroes in a half shell to unravel a nefarious scheme involving a corporate honcho named Eric Sachs and an evil warrior called Shredder and the Foot Clan which, if successful, could usher in a new reign of terror for all of New York City….

Now I’m just going to come right out and say it: Megan Fox was not the best choice for the role of April O’Neil. A fact that becomes painfully evident when the only things Fox seems capable of doing during this film’s 101-minute runtime is have this eerie blank stare that seems to envelop her whole face. Heck even in the moments where the movie’s script requires her to engage in such actions as “deep in thought”, “surprised at what has just been revealed”, or “view a conflict with interest while also scared she might die”, Miss Fox manages to give the same exact look that manages to showcase none of that or rather maybe all of that at the same time. To be fair to her however, the stare she gives is also the one that you, the movie goer will also have throughout the 101 minute runtime since this is a film that is a posterchild example of “stock” through and through. By that I mean this film is as soulless, as manufactured, as devoid of heart, and as generic as you can possibly get. I mean this was not made because someone loved this franchise or just film genre. Rather this was made to sell pizzas, toys, and just about any other form of tie-in merchandise you can possibly think of. Yes there is most assuredly nothing wrong with making money in this world, it is after all how the world goes round depending on who you ask, but this is one film that doesn’t even try to deny it is no more and no less than a feature-length marketing gimmick instead of an integrity and passion-driven attempt at bringing a time-honored franchise back for a new generation to enjoy.

Now it should be noted that the stock ingredients contained in this film do not start nor conclude with the action beats, technically astonishing to some degree as they might be to say nothing of some respectable choreography work in the final act of the film, but rather in the whole build-up to the proverbial final act which literally feels like no more than a bullet train going from one station to another without giving you time to catch your breath. Indeed every miniscule bit of pathos-build up in terms of plot just feels as contrived and stale as possible be it April wanting to live up to her dad’s standards (an arc that incidentally gives her a closer bond with our quartet of heroes) or the one-dimensional nefarious corporate type who just wants to make a living off of everyone else’s misery. Heck even Shredder and the Foot Clan are devoid of characterization to such a criminal extent that they literally feel more like the typical villain that, unlike the corporate type, can actually take the fight to our heroes though if the big wig had been Shredder….that honestly would’ve worked out a lot better honestly. Faring the worst though is the fact that the film makes New York City, which in this universe is almost as much as a character as any of the other characters, a rote one-note background with perhaps its most prominent moment in the film being a “NYC” button worn by Leonardo. A subtle and nice add, but also the only tie you, the film’s audience will have with this truly vibrant and lively metropolis. Thus when you take all of that plus some truly scattershot moments of humor where for every joke that works you also get about 5-10 which either fail or fail miserably and you are left with one of the biggest film messes of the year 2014.

Now amidst all these negatives that I am hurling in this film’s general direction, I am astonished to point out that although this film is not a complete and utter misfire, the positives contained therein don’t always overcome the superficial barrier. First off the titular heroes do look fairly well done, and are some of the more realistic looking digital effects work I have seen in a while. Indeed not only do they actually feel like living creatures, but from a physique standpoint they look they can actually pull of the acts of heroism that they do even while chitchatting about stuff that has no relevance whatsoever. Also as a group they do feel more cohesive than in the past live action itinerations and they are a lot more distinguishable by other characteristics including weapon choice, mask size and color, and so. Yes the filmmakers do go a little bit overboard on Donatello with regard to both how he sounds and how he looks, but otherwise the filmmakers do seem to have fulfilled the most basic yet most integral task to a film like this which is getting down the general vibe of who the Turtles are both as a group and as individuals. Also, and this might just be because of a bias I may or may not have, but William Fichtner does do a good job as this film’s nefarious corporate type. Yes the character is not as good as he should be, but at least Fichtner being the dedicated and talented character actor he is does manage to insert a wonderfully necessary vibe of malicious deviousness in what otherwise could easily have been a truly one-note character. Thus those items, along with the other items I mentioned earlier in this film, are sadly the few positives which I could located oozing, pun intended, out of this film. It may not be much, but hey it’s better than nothing.

All in all I can most assuredly say and without any doubt whatsoever that the 2014 take on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is, pun most definitely intended, a complete and utter shell of what a film with these distinct characters really ought to be. Yes it is, in all fairness, an engaging and relaxed entry in the action genre of movie magic, but it is so typical and so devoid of legit creativity that it honestly threading the needle a little bit when it comes to how insulting this film is to these characters and their legacy both on the printed page and on screens both big and small. As a result, we get a whole film that is a see through trash pile of stereotypical and 21st century filmmaking slog that has a preference for style, blitzkrieg style camera usage, and sound over a genuinely good narrative and pathos that has any meaning to it whatsoever. Yes you can rightfully argue that this is one franchise that doesn’t always work well especially with some of the more intricate and immersive thematic concepts that are around in the world today, especially on a subtle level, but trying to take the movie beyond just being the latest film to feel like it came off of Hollywood’s seemingly never ending assembly line would have definitely made this a fair bit better. Taken as is however, this is a wonderful poster child for modern cinema junk food, a fact that becomes even more evident when you learn Michael Bay produced this. Thus if you’re the kind of person who loved these characters growing up be prepared to not be satisfied, and if you loathed what Bay did with Transformers then you ought to get ready because you are going to “absolutely love” this….sigh…On a scale of 1-5 I give Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles “2014” a solid 2.5 out of 5.