The Bay-ification of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)

For all the talk of the nefarious Foot Clan in this movie, there’s a far bigger threat to not only the Turtles, but any popular cartoon series of the ‘80s or ‘90s. His name is Michael Bay, and it seems he cannot be stopped, especially if this insipid reboot of TMNT is anything to go by.

Despite the name of Jonathan Liebesman (best known for bringing us several barely watchable films) appearing on the directorial credits of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014), it’s Bay whose greasy prints are all over this rotten remake. From the overblown action sequences and product placement to its substandard characters and storyline, this film bears all the hallmarks of a perfectly serviceable ‘toon franchise being bled of all its charm by the same man still milking the Transformers for all they’re worth.

But let’s step back for a second and break down what’s so bad about this latest incarnation of the Turtles that makes even Vanilla Ice’s rap on the 1991 release seem acceptable.

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First, we have an early focus on April O’Neil (Megan Fox), played by an actress who brings every ounce of vacuity she can muster to the role of an inept New York reporter. Tired of broadcasting morning edition fluff pieces, she complains regularly (and annoyingly) to her cameraman Vernon Fenwick (Will Arnett). Understandably, he’s more interested in her ass than her ambition—it’s where all her talent lies, after all—and this little obsession takes up a significant portion of the movie. Although it does provide the opportunity for the occasional Arrested Development reference, that’s about all the comedy the movie can wring out of whatever obscene amount of money they paid to rope Gob into this mess.

The Bay-ification of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)

April’s obsession with a bigger story has her on the trail of the Foot Clan, a group of shadowy ninjas who for some reason choose to engage in mid-level crimes like commercial theft and mugging to make a (stupid) name for themselves. After coincidentally stumbling across them in the act a couple of times, as well as stalking their victims (sponsored by Skype!) for further information, April also learns that there are vigilantes at work in NYC, fighting the Foot Clan without anyone noticing… except our intrepid reporter, of course.

The Bay-ification of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)

Unfortunately, April has very little in the way of journalistic skills, and believes that her editor Bernadette (Whoopi Goldberg, phoning it in) will put resources on this story based on a few blurry printouts and a bit of googling. Inevitably, Bernadette views her with as much contempt as the audience already does, and quickly fires her.

Frustrated, April goes to greater lengths to get further proof (or, really, any proof at all) that the vigilantes are real. She soon gets caught up in a subway hostage situation organized by the Foot’s leader Shredder (Tohoru Masamune), designed to lure in the Turtles. It works, and the movie finally gets to the point that the original 1990 film hit straight out of the gate: April in trouble = Turtles to the rescue. It’s good to have so much time set aside for April’s character development; if only they’d spent that time actually developing her character, rather than giving us lots of questionable comedy and pushing Microsoft products.

The Bay-ification of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)

At long last, April meets the turtles face to face, and for the heroes of a kids’ film, they’re bizarrely menacing. They’re monstrously huge, with way too detailed ape-like facial features which are only made worse by their creepy mo-cap expressiveness. I’d go through their names and personalities, but you can easily replay the theme song in your head to get the gist of it. (In an odd casting note, they brought in Johnny Knoxville, who hasn’t been “teenage” in quite some time, to voice Leonardo, but the other three turtles are voiced by their mostly unknown mo-cap actors. It’s like the filmmakers realized way too late that overdubbing celebrity voices wasn’t worth the cost or effort.)

The Bay-ification of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)

From here, the “explosions and excitement” portion of Bay’s filmmaking kicks in, with crazy camera shots and improbable action sequences flowing like so much waste through the New York City sewer system the Turtles inhabit. April soon gets to meet the turtles’ patriarch Splinter (voiced by Tony Shaloub), who in this version is basically just a six-foot-tall sewer rat. A convoluted backstory expansion not present in the original series brings April’s deceased father and Eric Sacks (William Fichtner) into the picture as business partners, who years ago worked together to develop a mutagen that was tested on a rat and four box turtles for… some reason, under the codename of “Project Renaissance” (hence the turtles’ names)

The Bay-ification of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)

Sacks initially presents himself as a good guy, but turns out to have stolen his partner’s idea and killed him off to fully profit from it. April is also revealed as the young heroine who saved the turtles and rat from the fire her father died in, leaving them right next to a sewer where the mutagen already in their bloodstreams gave them the extreme strength we see today. Of course, this raises the question of why April didn’t attempt to save her father from the fire as well, but you can’t fault a girl for having her priorities in order.

All of this fluff makes little sense, but is really only around to set the scene for Shredder and Sacks to combine forces against the Turtles, and extract the mutagen from their blood to use in an attack on New York. After all manner of unlikely action, from a controlled multi-vehicle slide down the side of a snowy mountain, to the final showdown atop a skyscraper in NYC, the Turtles succeed in preventing the mutagen’s release on the city and defeat Shredder once and for all, despite the fact that he’s a walking knife rack and should be utterly untouchable.

The Bay-ification of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)

The lightweight plot and vapid characters could be forgiven if this were a likable Turtles romp that successfully recreated the original, but it isn’t. The closest Bay and his underling Liebesman come is in some snappy exchanges between the Turtles, who actually remain true to their intended personalities and manage the occasional comic moment of note.

The Bay-ification of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)

Everywhere else, however, the influence of Bay reaches in and either overlooks or inflates everything good about the series, to the point where it becomes almost unwatchable for fans. And for non-fans, there’s little more, with the action unintentionally comical and the characters annoying, tedious, or both. Also, did we really need the gratuitous Megan Fox butt shots (a Michael Bay trademark!), or Michelangelo talking about his “shell tightening” when she’s around?

If you were on the fence about this one for some inexplicable reason, here’s your final warning: steer clear. Even if you don’t pay to watch the movie, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014) is 101 minutes of your life you can never get back. Bay has Transformer-ized the Turtles, and the only real advantage this film has over Age of Extinction is that it’s over an hour shorter.

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  • I pretty much agree.

    Here is the review I wrote that hits a lot of the same stuff:

    Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

    I really do not think that I have the same nostalgia for this property that other people seem to have. I had lots and lots of toys of the turtles, I watched different cartoons, and I watched the older movies growing up. I never read the comics. Regardless, while they are a fixture of my childhood I do not consider them sacred or high art, they are a bit of goofy fun that you watch, laugh a little, and then move on. But this movie takes a lot of missteps and no real excuse for it, because the Turtles have been portrayed so many times so consistently that the failures are all the more obnoxious.

    First off I find that all of the Turtles themselves are well acted and well animated. They look suitably monstrous with enough visual distinction to tell them apart. Splinter is well acted, his voice oozes wisdom and concern. Both of those things are good.

    I have real problems with the scope of the movie, the hack plot, and the bad guys. Picture for a moment a tree, the tree branches out in numerous directions, with a big central trunk, then several large branches, then little branches, each with their own leaves. When building a universe, whether it is a fantasy world like Westros or Middle Earth, a space voyage like Star Wars or Star Trek, or a world of superheroes like the Avengers or the Turtles you have to grow the universe the same way. A central storyline: Fight Shredder and the Foot Clan; then secondary stories: Fight street crime with Casey Jones and April O’Neil, Fight monsters from Dimension X, Time Travel, Aliens, etc. This movie doesn’t branch.

    April saved them from the lab they were experimented on, the same lab that is working with the Shredder. See, you took what could have been 3 branches: Shredder, April, and the Lab, and turned them into more trunk. Rather than the story being able to go in a lot of different directions instead it goes in one direction. Lack of scope.

    The plot is incredibly hack, a product of two of the biggest hacks in Hollywood, the same guys who did the Transformers series, modern Star Trek, and the Amazing Spiderman…. and holy shit is the climax of this movie look like the climax to Spiderman, with a strange mutagenic gas about to be released over New York, the tower to launch it falling off the building, and a fight taking place in a lab between the female protagonist (April here, Gwen there) to secure a chemical. There is also magic blood (Star Trek Into Darkness and Amazing Spiderman 2), an action scene based around falling (Star Trek and Star Trek into Darkness, though I guess this is down a mountain rather than thru a debris field in space), and saving a mentor figure who is badly injured (Master Splinter here, Captain Pike in Star Trek). So many elements that have been used before.

    Lastly, the villains are just flat and boring. Their plan is to create a plague to sell the cure…. Which was the plot in a million other movies and Shredder is a mecha samurai…. just like the Silver Samurai was in “The Wolverine”. It is a boring plot, with boring motivation, and it once again echoes the sentiment of “9/11 Truther” movements which one of the writers is an outspoken member of. None of the bad guys have any personality and only Shredder ever posses any physical threat to the Turtles. Boring and unthreatening. Very weak.

    I really wish some other creative teams could get their feet in the door of these types of movies. I would not mind the Turtles fighting Krang or the Triceratops aliens, or just some big street gang. Something other than this.

  • MichaelANovelli

    I dunno. All the kids who went to see it when I did loved it. :)

    • I imagine that it will not hold up to their adult eyes.

      • MichaelANovelli

        Does anything, really?

        • I can think of many, many things. Some stuff gets better when you are old enough to get the jokes and subtext you missed as a child. I imagine there are a lot of kids who will have a sudden eureka a few years from now about the series finally of “Legend of Korra”.

          • Mike

            I saw this movie in theater partially out of sheer curiosity and partially wanting to find something vapid to cheer me up in the wake of Robin Williams death since I knew he was a fan of the franchise. I’m inclined to agree with Doug Walker in saying that there were a few good things even it was mostly bad, when you expected it to be all bad.
            Later I re-watched the original 1990 movie on Comcast just for nostalgic curiosity and MAN does it seem better in contrast. While it’s not a good movie in the general since, for what they had to work with I think it turned out better than it had any right to be. Especially when you consider no major studio wanted to produce it at the time. I was actually surprised how well some of the technically elements (the sewer sets, the costumes) hold up. And yes there were jokes I didn’t get when I saw it as a kid, like when April asks “Why can’t I just have dreams about Harrison Ford.” This is doubly funny when you consider they basically set her up to be Princess Leia to Casey Jones Han Solo. So yes, some things you liked as a kid are a let down when you see them again, others (in this case) hold up somewhat even if they don’t seem great anymore, and some actually really hidden gems that make them feel better with age.

          • MichaelANovelli

            Gonna have to disagree. The only untouchable thing in this world is Back To The Future! ;)

          • No joke, that was what first popped into my head, because I had watched them o bluray last year along with all the special features, but I figured a contemporary reference would work better. Back to the Future is so tightly loaded with foreshadowing and easter eggs it is kind of my gold standard for how to do it in a movie (especially the product placement).

        • Thomas Stockel

          Well, the CGI TMNT series on Nickelodeon, for one.

          • MichaelANovelli

            How can it hold up if it’s still new?

          • Thomas Stockel

            A valid point.

          • How about the 2000’s series? It actually holds up rather well, with its own twists on the material and at least one season that takes the characters wildly out of their traditional element (it is in the future and they fight with space age ninja weapons).

  • Nasty In The Pasty

    It’s not like the 80’s cartoon series was especially good…in fact, it’s TERRIBLE by today’s standards. And I say that as a fan from back in the day.

  • While this movie wasn’t as good as I hoped as a fan of the original movies and the current Nick series, I still enjoyed it. Did it has it’s issues? Sure, and the Turtles’s new looks were a little hard to get used to at first and this film had Whoopi Goldberg in a role that could have been played by anyone. But from what I saw, I liked this movie and I am looking forward to the sequel and will be there, when it opens.

  • The_Stig

    One thing the movie did get right is the Turtles themselves. Personality-wise if not in looks (DEFINITELY not in looks). Then again it’s not all that hard. Leonardo leads, Donatello does machines, Raphael is cool but rude and Michaelangelo is a party dude.

    • You know, aside from the poor choice of face and them being indestructible giants, I liked the clothes they gave them, and the little things like Raph having duct tape on his shell because his reckless nature gets him cracked.

  • Wizkamridr

    I was in Highschool during the whole turtle craze back in the 80’s. I am not a fan of the original cartoon. I only liked the pilot episodes. I’m more partial to the dark and gritty comics. I agree that the plotline sucked in this movie, but I still enjoyed it. Raph was my favorite.

  • Chris Palmer

    My belated two cents:

    The big problem with the movie is that it’s trying to follow in its celluloid predecessors’ footsteps. However in reality it’s a bizarre mix of the 80’s cartoon’s characters with the modern comic’s backstory (specifically, the part regarding the turtles and April). Hell, even TMNT retooled April (although “archaeologist” is a new one on me). As such, the injokey references to “Heroes in a Half-Shell” just ring hollow and make me yell expletives at the screen.