And Cue the Explosions...
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)
For fans of the Teenage Mutant Ninja TurtlesOriginally dreamed up as a parody of Marvel's Daredevil comics (going so far as to basically reproduce to opening shots of that comic's hero gaining his powers), the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles not only launched a sudden boom of anthropomorphic fighting animal comics but have, themselves, starred in multiple comics series, TV shows, and movies. there was no small amount of trepidation when it was announced that the Turtles would be coming back to the big screen under the "care" and "direction" of Michael Bay. Bay is a great many thing when it comes to films -- admittedly not all of them nice, although the man certainly does know his way around an action set-piece -- but considering some of his past efforts, fans of the Turtles were wary about the direction his film would go. After all, this is the guy that managed to take the Transformers and turn that franchise into a series of tedious, awful slogs.
Of course, there were a number of initial reports that made fan fears even worse. At one point the plan was to make the Turtles into aliens (as in from outer space). Then there were reports that the Shredder, a traditionally Asian character, would be played by a white guy. No small amount of retooling behind the scenes was called for, all to try and fix a vision for the film that the studios agreed was pretty bad. So the committees got to work and sanded the edges off, all to produce 2014's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
The good news is that the film is nowhere near as bad as those initial rumors, nor is it as bad as a film made by committee normally would be. The 2014 entry in the growing franchise is a perfectly fine and acceptable film, one that manages to put April and the Turtles up front and let them have all the glory (unlike how the Transformers were treated in their own films). I wouldn't say the film get everything right, nor that the film is even great, but considering how bad these films have gotten (hell, the last truly great film in the series was the first one), this 2014 effort at least manages to rise above the low bar set by the previous efforts.
We're introduced to April O'Neil (Megan Fox) first, and aspiring crime report working for Channel 6 news who is mostly sent out to cover puff pieces. April, though, has he eyes locked on the crime wave striking the city, thefts and other crimes managed by a mysterious group calling themselves the Foot. While searching by the docks on night April find the Foot in the middle of a crime. This puts her on their radar and soon, as another incident, she's captured and nearly killed. But then she's saved by four six-foot-tall Turtles: Leonardo (Pete Ploszek for motion-capture, Johnny Knoxville for voice), Donatello (Jeremy Howard), Raphael (Alan Ritchson), and Michelangelo (Noel Fisher). The four heroes save the girl, then vanish into the night.
April, though, realizes she's seen these guys before, back when they were four tiny little turtles in her father's genetics experiment, Project Renaissance. As it turns out, her father was a brilliant guy that figured out how to mutate the animals, but a fire at his lab caused his death. April, though, saved the turtles (and the rat in the lab as well) and got them all to a sewer where they were released to safety. They grew up, somehow became ninjas, and now work as vigilantes keeping the city safe. And they're skills will be needed soon because there's an evil on the horizon looking to terrorize the city and cause untold damage: the Shredder (Tohoru Masamune).
So, we have a lot to unpack here but the first thing we need to tackle is that, for some reason, April had to be given a personal connection to the Turtles and all the events going on. The Shredder took an apprentice, Eric Sacks (William Fichtner), who grew to become a rich and powerful CEO that funded April's father's experiment. At the center of everything, the good guys, the bad guys, and their plans, sits April. It can't just be that she's a good reporter and figured everything about the crime wave, the Foot, and the Turtles on her own. No, she had to be given a personal connection as if serendipity were guiding her. It's a silly bit of storytelling that stretched credulity (and that's saying something in a movie about four mutant ninja turtles).
It also forces the Turtles to be the deus ex machina. They can't just be heroes fighting a bad guy, no they also have to be the key to his plan, their blood the mutagen he needs so he can ransom the city. Heroes can't just be heroic here, they have to be forced into it. Meanwhile the villain has to have an over-the-top, Bond-villain level plan -- you know, the opposite kind of plan that a ninja used to working in the shadows would design. It really is quite stupid all around.
And yet, at the same time, the film is actually quite tolerable so long as you just shut your brain off. the actors/voice actors do a credible job with their thing characters (and yes, that even includes Megan Fox), getting us at least invested in them even if the story going on around them is pretty awful. There's good repartee between the leads, fun banter and a decent number of jokes that actually land such that the film feels light and energetic. It helps that it's just over an hour-and-a-half long so by the time it could start to wear out its welcome, the film ends. It's not a great ending, mind you -- dumb and a bit rushed, like so much of the film -- but it at least gets out of its own way pretty quickly.
Plus, yes, the action is pretty solid. There are a couple of decent set-pieces, the highlight of which is a case scene down the side of a snowy mountain, that are well filmed and tightly executed. The CGI isn't the film's best factor, being used for all four turtles such that they're little more the 1s and 0s in a computer, but after the initial shock of that fades you find yourself enjoying them and caring when they get hurt, hoping they survive the death-defying stunts the characters perform. Michael Bay has an eye for action and, whatever else can be said about his films, the man can direct the hell out of a good action sequence. The movie doesn't lack for great scenes of the Turtles doing what they do best: kicking ass.
All that on the table, then, I can see why this film was a hit. It's certainly better than many of the TMNT films to come before, being just good enough to be passable entertainment without being too irritating. That's really not high praise at all, but considering where it came from, and what came before, I don't really know (even as a Turtles fan) if we should have expected more than that, especially from Bay. This is a film that was hobbled from its creation and the fact that it even managed "passable" is quite the achievement.
I doubt anyone is going to hold up the 2014 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles as a classic of series. Hell, having now watched it twice I have no desire to ever see it again. It's just good enough, and that's about it. Sadly, not even that "compliment" can be lodged against its sequel...