Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)

Warning – this review contains spoilers!

Action, comedy, adventure, based on the popular cartoon series, produced by Michael Bay and directed by Jonathan Liebesman.

Trailer

Cast

There are effectively two cast credits for the Turtles and Splinter, as there were on-set motion capture performances, and also voice actors.

Alan Ritchson as Raphael

Noel Fisher as Michelangelo

Pete Ploszek as Leonardo (motion-capture performer)

Johnny Knoxville as Leonardo (voice)

Jeremy Howard as Donatello

Danny Woodburn as Splinter (motion-capture performer)

Tony Shalhoub as Splinter (voice)

A familiar face from Michael Bay’s “Transformers” movies, Megan Fox plays journalist, April O’Neil.

Gravel-voiced Will Arnett plays O’Neil’s cameraman, Vern Fenwick.

“Prison Break” star William Fichtner stars as Eric Sacks, a philanthropic scientist.

Classical Japanese actor, Tohoru Masamune plays the evil Samurai, Shredder.

Oscar-winning actress Whoopi Goldberg stars as O’Neil’s boss, Bernadette Thompson.

Plot

New York is a city being terrorised by a mysterious group of criminals known as the “Foot Clan”. An intrepid reporter, April O’Neil, fed up with covering frothy news stories, thinks she is onto something when she looks into a robbery of chemicals at the docks. Returning to the docks at night, she witnesses the Foot Clan attempting to remove some chemicals, when a powerful and mysterious figure in the darkness thwarts them. No one will believe O’Neil, but when she encounters the Foot Clan again in the subway, she manages to follow the mysterious and shady avengers.

To her surprise, she discovers four vigilantes who are…. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. They are named after famous Renaissance painters; Donatello, Leonardo, Michelangelo and Raphael.

Her boss is still sceptical, but O’Neil makes a connection between the Turtles and experiments her deceased father and millionaire scientist, Eric Sacks were conducting. O’Neil tells Sacks what she has seen, and Sacks reveals that he and her father were working on Project Renaissance, to develop a mutagen with healing properties, when their work was destroyed by a laboratory fire.

Eric Sacks is in fact an apprentice of Shredder, an evil Samurai warrior, and head of the Foot Clan. They plan to poison New York and use the mutagen as a cure to take control of the city.

The Turtle’s master, is a mutant rat called Splinter. He fears O’Neil is in danger. The Turtles find April and take her to Splinter. He explains how she saved their lives years before, when she rescued them from the laboratory fire and released them into the sewers. As the Turtles and Splinter grew more intelligent from the mutagen over the past 15 years, he started to teach the Turtles how to defend themselves in the art of ninjitsu, from a martial arts manual he found in the sewer.

The Foot Clan attack the Turtle’s lair in the sewers, capturing all except Raphael. Sacks’ plan is to drain their blood and synthesise the mutagen.

Can Raphael rescue his brothers in order to stop the evil Sacks and Shredder, and save New York City?

Action

To the filmmakers credit, although this is a CGI-heavy film, they used on-set motion capture for a lot of the movie. The Los Angeles-based stunt team 87Eleven, provided most of the martial arts skills for the battles between the Ninja Turtles and the Foot Clan.

87 Eleven have worked on films such as “The Expendables 3”, “The Hunger Games”, “Man of Tai Chi” and “The Wolverine”, to name but a few. For Ninja Turtles, they looked to films such as “Fist of Legend” for inspiration.

Although I couldn’t recognise any nods to Yuen Woo Ping’s work on “Fist of Legend“, the choreography is actually very good. There is a mix of freestyle acrobatics, and wushu weapon work, which, certainly in the second half of the movie, is shot very clearly, with some great slow-motion visuals.

The earlier action is deliberately hidden in the shadows, but there are still enough cool moves to entertain.

For a martial arts fan, you may baulk at the CGI, likening it to watching a videogame. But when you consider much of what you see was motion-captured by human performers, there’s no denying it’s pretty impressive.

Fans of the type of action seen in Michael Bay’s other pet-project, “Transformers”, should immensely enjoy what is on offer here as there are many similarities.

Summary

I came to this review from a rather curious perspective. I am a big fan of the original 1990 movie. I was still a teenager (just about!) when I saw it. Although I wasn’t training in martial arts then, I was a huge fan of martial arts movies. The film impressed me with its action choreography, and I enjoyed the charm and humour of the Turtles. When the film was finally released on DVD in the UK in 2004, uncut for the first time, I had a significant amount of gymnastics and martial arts training and coaching under my belt. The film, although dated, impressed me even more in some ways. I had discovered the stunt doubles in the rubber suits were wushu athletes. The way they performed some stunning moves in the rather cumbersome suits was incredible.

Fast forward to 2014, and my junior martial arts students were invited to perform a demonstration at a screening of the new “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” movie, and watch the film.

I already had a rough idea what to expect from the trailer; loud, “Transformers”/ Michael Bay-like action, and lots of CGI. To me, the Ninja Turtles looked a little bit like monsters, Shredder looked like a Samurai-Decepticon.

However, I was pleasantly surprised. The visual effects are excellent, and it allows the Turtles to have much more expressive faces than their animatronic predecessors. The action was mostly very well shot, and there are some slow motion sequences that even John Woo would probably be proud of.

There are elements of the humour and wit that has often accompanied the Ninja Turtles franchise too, although the biggest laugh from the (mostly under 12) audience came from Michelangelo breaking wind!

In conclusion, I enjoyed it more than I thought I was going to. The plot has its flaws, but this is a film based on a kid’s cartoon called “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”. It hasn’t quite got the charm and the humour that I loved in the 1990 version. But my ten year old son thought it was brilliant and “much better than that old one”, making me realise that, sadly, I am no longer the target audience for the “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”!

Trivia

  • Michael Bay originally announced that the Turtles would be aliens. After a huge negative response from fans, he changed the plot to a more familiar version. April’s (Megan Fox) line “Aliens? No, that’s stupid!” references the fan reaction!
  • The filmmakers cite the comic book film The Avengers (2012) and the martial arts films Fist of Legend (1994) and The Raid: Redemption (2011) as an influence on the action.
  • During the movie Shredder says, “Tonight I dine on Turtle Soup”, a reference to the “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” arcade game.
  • Eric Sacks mentions testing the mutagen on rabbits. This is in homage to “Usagi Yojimbo”, a comic about a samurai bunny.
  • The 2014 release is the highest grossing film in the “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” film franchise, and a sequel was green lit within two weeks of its release.

 

Film Rating: 7.5/10

 

Influenced by the movies of Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan, Glen began training in martial arts and gymnastics in 1995. He made his first of many visits to Malaysia and Singapore in 1998 to learn Chin Woo kung fu under the supervision of Master Teng Wie Yoo. Glen is the author of "The Art of Coaching" and "Fearless The Story of Chin Woo Kung Fu", and runs a kung fu & kickboxing school in Hertfordshire, England.

We will be happy to hear your thoughts

Leave a reply

Kung-fu Kingdom