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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – Movie Review

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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – Movie Review

Rating: B (Good)

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A lot of people, even hardcore fans and the creators themselves, will admit that the Ninja Turtles are a ridiculous concept. They’re mutated reptiles performing martial arts and eating pizzas in the sewers of New York. How more silly can you get? However, their longevity is based on what such a bizarre and yet appealing idea it is and through the cartoons of old and new, they continue to enchant new generations. Director Jonathan Liebesman understands this, too, and has crafted an entertaining summer flick that is very respectful of the source material and smoothly updates it to the twenty-first century. He doesn’t take the movie too seriously, but also doesn’t talk down to the ‘80s-‘90s generation who grew up with the Ninja Turtles or the children of today who are just discovering them.

In previous incarnations of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, they tend to be mostly interchangeable creatures with their coloured masks being the way to tell them apart. One of the best elements in this film is how each Turtle is distinct with a personality that’s more than simply basic. It does not take long to tell which is which, making them even more likeable and appealing than they already are. After a while, one actually starts to care about these heroes in a half-shell that leap across the screen. Michelangelo is appropriately the funniest of the bunch, but the other Turtles are given good material to work with and the family dynamic is nicely portrayed. The designs are different than other versions, opting for a look closer to actual turtles and with a certain wear-and-tear from all of the fighting they have likely partaken in over the years. The computer artists have impressively given them a real weight and they look like actual mutated turtles jumping around. As well-constructed as Jim Henson’s suits in the 1990 film adaptation were, it was hard not to see them as costumed actors walking around New York.

Another aspect that this improves on the earlier live-action movie is the human characters. While Judith Hoag’s April O’Neil was a bore, Megan Fox’s incarnation is that of an intrepid reporter, investigating the next story with detective-like skills. As our human eyes to this world, she succeeds as somebody worth rooting for. Producer Michael Bay, who mainly focused on Fox’s sexuality in his Transformers films, has allowed her to play an actual character in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and she gets to show her acting skills more than anything else. April has always been a very simple and one-dimensional character, but Fox brings a certain spark to the character. The way the script connects her with the Turtles is quite fascinating in its execution and makes her relationship with them resonate that much more. The annoying side characters of Bay’s Transformers are also non-existent here. Will Arnett’s Vernon Fenwick, appearing on-screen for the first time since the 1980s animated series, provides some solid comic relief as he interacts with both April and the Turtles. Arnett does not attempt to steal the spotlight from the Ninja Turtles, but still gives us a character worth following and investing in. The script never demeans him or makes him the butt of many jokes, even though the opportunity definitely presented itself.

Shredder, the Turtles’ biggest archenemy, is given the right balance of threatening and mysterious in this film. He proves to be real competition for the Turtles and while the title heroes are appropriately cartoony, Shredder being a serious force is a great contrast. While the Shredder voiced by James Avery in the ‘80s cartoon was hilariously inept and over-the-top, that depiction wouldn’t fit with this universe and he’s not simply a man in a suit. Thus, the eventual final battle between the Turtles and Shredder is exciting and nicely shows the strengths and weaknesses of both sides. Shredder’s plan is more than simply one of taking over the world and actually has layers, particularly his alliance formed with an evil scientist with plans of his own. Jonathan Liebesman directs the other action sequences with confidence and high-flying wizardry. The highlight is a brilliantly choreographed slide through a snowy mountain, complete with avalanche. The Turtles, April and Vernon are given plenty to do and even as they zoom past the screen, each character is distinguishable. As nostalgic as people may feel about the costumes in previous live-action incarnations, the motion-capture and computer effects used in this film have allowed for more freedom with what the Ninja Turtles can do. The 2007 animated film, the current Nickelodeon cartoon and this new film have shown that computer animation is the perfect medium for bringing the Turtles to the screen.

This new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie has been hit with undeserving backlash, mainly because of Michael Bay’s role as producer. However, this is very different from his Transformers films and it seems most of his involvement on this project has been mainly promotional. Jonathan Liebesman and screenwriters Josh Appelbaum, Andre Nemec and Evan Dougherty are clearly fans of the Ninja Turtles and have succeeded in creating the right balance in this adaptation. The plot is rather simple and its main focus is to provide summer-time thrills and exciting action sequences, but let’s be honest here. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise is not high-class art. It’s a silly idea that knows it’s silly and has fun with it, while still creating appealing characters. This is a worthy addition to the ever-growing franchise and the opportunities are even higher for the sequel, especially with the multitude of fun villains they could fight along the way.

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Review By: Stefan Ellison

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