Movie Review: "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" (2014)

Sometimes it’s difficult for me to relate to almost anyone who shares my enjoyment of movies. Not necessarily because of conflicting opinions on movies and such, because that’s not always the case, but because of conflicting appreciations of the industry itself. I went to one of the first showings of the new “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” today and thought: “Wow! It’s gonna be refreshing to see a surprisingly warm critical reception because—

Wait, hold on.

I just didn’t get it. That degree of critical scorn would suggest something ineptly made. Worthless trash. The kind of stuff you’d see and think “Well there’s no chance anyone could like that!” Were there people that thought that after watching?

One of the funniest things about this movie is that, as it happened with “Transformers”, I didn’t remember being a fan until I saw the characters again. I saw the TMNT TV show when I was a kid, I saw the first two movies, I played TMNT with my older brothers, but I hadn’t given the franchise much thought until very recently. Now, watching the movie, I definitely began to remember why I liked it.

Maybe that’s why I liked this movie so much. I was a fan when I was seven years old. I certainly wasn’t a fan three weeks ago. It’s not something that returns to my head or something I would aggressively defend because again, it’s something I loved when I was seven years old. There are new seven year olds out there today who want to watch four mutant brothers kick the bad guys’ asses in a medium that isn’t entirely outdated.

Look, I’m an adult. I am so aware of being an adult, in fact, that I have the ability to detach myself from adulthood and enjoy things with the appreciation of a kid. It’s something a lot of people who’re grabbing on to their childhoods like they’re the last bag of cheetos lack. Your childhood is dead, Michael Bay or not. If you don’t separate your kid self from your grown-ass self, you’re the one who’s gonna have a shit time when your childhood loves go on without you.

This movie is not for you. It’s corny. It’s cheesy. Characters go “Uh oh!” But most importantly: it’s completely aware of it.

“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” stays mostly true to the popular mythos (not the darker and weird comic book origin). April O’Neil is chasing a story in a city ravaged by the crimes of an apparently powerful gang called the Foot Clan. She discovers a vigilante kicking the asses of the bad guys and chases him to discover four hulking humanoid turtles who totally do ninja shit and are so awesome. Eventually she links them to her own past and things come together in a fairly simple way that wouldn’t really make you question much.

Which is a great thing. Other than its strangely violent streak (Raph wasn’t fucking around), this movie is aimed to a younger audience than, say, “Transformers” was. It has zero pretenses about complex personalities or villains with profound backstories that shed light on their evil ways. It’s the simple set-up of distinguishable good guys vs. evil guys. Four lead characters with archetypical personalities, typical abilities, and the typical relationships you would expect. It is not trying to be anything it’s not. Even “Transformers” fucked this up. Sorry Bay, but fun as though they are, you can’t have movies that stupid go for that long. If “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” had gone on for as long as a “Transformers” movie, I would’ve walked out, so it’s good that it never overstays its welcome.

Still, one of the biggest problems for me was that it goes on for too long following April O’Neil’s story before anything interesting happens with the actual turtles. Sadly, April is the definition of “one-dimensional”, can’t be a leading character and it never should have been one. Every time the camera wasn’t focused on the turtles, I was groaning. I didn’t give a shit about April, or whatever Will Arnett’s underused character was called, or obvious surprise villain Sacks. Hell, even the turtle youth flashbacks, adorable as though they were, weren’t fun. I wanted the turtles getting/not getting along, and fight scenes.

Mercifully, after about half an hour or so, the story starts and it was difficult for me not to enjoy it because all it was was “turtles getting/not getting along, and fight scenes”. How can anyone who didn’t grow up in a child army in Africa watch the snow escape scene and not go crazy? The movie had the dynamics between the characters down, and I sincerely loved seeing them interact, especially in such a ridiculously over-the-top and beautifully cartoonish set piece. The action itself was awesome. It was much better edited than anything in “Transformers” and just as well orchestrated, so that means you get to see the badass without getting the dizzy.

I thought it was amazing that it even lacked those giant gaps in writing “Transformers” are famous for. There were issues with the story itself, but minor. For example, they try to make some epic ancient rivalry between Shredder and Splinter play out when they literally had never met before. Or how the Turtles are seen in broad daylight in the finale but during the epilogue their existence is still apparently a secret.

I don’t think it’s really necessary to talk about acting and such, is it? It’s “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”. No one is bad and no one is good because there are no significant roles for anyone involved. I must say that the mocap technology is awesome, and I really loved the CGI on the turtles. Splinter looked iffy, but he was barely in it.

I think the heart of the movie is seeing four young, immature dorks kick so much ass. It’s so easy for a kid to see himself and his friends/brothers reflected in the banter and the base personalities, so through the magic of Kid Goggles, I easily saw how much fun the whole thing was. I also laughed a lot, and was so pleased to see there was only one fart joke, and it went by fast (which reminds me: Mikey can sometimes be grating but . . . well, that’s just Mikey, isn’t it?). The bit when they’re high on adrenaline was hysterical.

Does it fuck up along the way? Definitely, but never in unexpected ways, so it didn't disappoint me. I think it boils down to this: this representation of TMNT isn’t anything TMNT hasn’t always been. It’s simple, juvenile, and fundamentally ridiculous. I’m not immature or stupid for enjoying this. I just understand this. If this movie were actually five brand new episodes of the late 80’s cartoon, I’m sure Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Nostalgia Boner Band would be slobbering. I certainly wouldn’t; I’m so very okay with something like this: the things I loved as a kid, in a medium I can appreciate today.


- Donnie
- Leo
- Mikey
- Raph

Some things never change.
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About The Damn Beast

Pre-op trans-minotaur, sci-fi/fantasy/horror author, metal singer, videogame journalist, pop culture blogger. I also lift heavy things and put them down again repeatedly to occupy more space.
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