Review: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)

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Director: Jonathan Liebesman
Screenwriters: Josh Appelbaum, André Nemec & Evan Daugherty
Based on the comic-book of the same name by Peter Laird & Kevin Eastman
Cast: Alan Ritchson, Noel Fisher, Pete Ploszek, Jeremy Howard, Danny Woodburn, Megan Fox, Will Arnett, William Fichtner & Tohoru Masamune, with voice performances from Johnny Knoxville & Tony Shalhoub
Runtime: 101 min // Certificate: 12a

The World’s most fearsome fighting team (they’re really hip, don’t cha know) are back in yet another reboot that no-one in their right mind actually wanted, yet one that few people can feasibly complain about when you look at the original source material without your rose-tinted, nostalgia-laden glasses.

Now, to suggest that this adaptation of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (TMNT for short) is nowhere near as execrable as I was expecting really is to damn it with the very faintest of praise. Nonetheless, for all of its gaping flaws and complete absence of narrative or characterisation, it’s actually a strangely passable – and, at times, perhaps even enjoyable – autumn blockbuster.

A CGI-reliant reboot of the camp, low-budget comics and films of the 80s and 90s, TMNT attempts to do the impossible and breathe a semblance of energetic realism into a story about four sewer-dwelling mutant turtles who, under the guidance of a mutant rat (Splinter, voiced by Tony Shalhoub; Pain & Gain), serve as vigilante protectors of the crime-ridden city above their heads. Aided by amateur news reporter April (Fox; Transformers) and her cameraman Vernon (Arnett; The LEGO Movie), the turtles face their first major challenge when an evil Japanese warlord known as Shredder (Masamune) plans a biological attack on New York using the same mutagen that gave the turtles their powers in the first place.

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It’s absurd, baffling dreck – of course it is – but, beneath all of the shiny gloss and flavourless special effects that we’ve come to expect from a hack like Liebesman (Wrath of the Titans) lies a relatively fine film that manages to straddle the line between offensiveness and childish charm rather well. The plot is garbage and doesn’t make a blind bit of sense, Fox is a barely tolerable lead (though fair play to the writers for making April the rock upon which the story is built, rather than the turtles themselves) and the script’s desperate quest for laughs is so strained that one can’t help but shake their head at the immaturity of it all, yet as a piece of throwaway cinema, it’s reasonably entertaining.

If you go to see a TMNT film then you don’t really expect much anyway, so the fact that this isn’t the complete abomination it could easily have been is, I guess, quite a welcome surprise. Fair enough, it’s the very worst kind of “Twitter cinema”, aimed at people with all the attention span of a cat in a tumble dryer, but sometimes that’s okay. Sometimes it’s alright to just sit back and watch a load of nonsense that doesn’t outstay its welcome or patronise its audience with an attempt to be needlessly deep or dark. It’s definitely encumbered by a desire to explain the inexplicable, when a more liberal, carefree approach to the minutiae of the narrative wouldn’t have gone a miss, but whatever. It is what it is, and what it is is safe, passable dreck.

Put it this way; though I prefer The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (just), Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles has a more fully-formed story than that particular film, and it knows how to have more fun too.