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Monday, August 11, 2014

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)



Ninjas are very loud, according to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Traditionally, they aren't supposed to be. Ninjas are silent killers, like radon gas. Even Shredder, the evil ninja master and arch enemy of the Ninja Turtles is loud, clad in his clanky battle armor bristling with swords and knives. This new Michael Bay-produced and Jonathan Liebesman-directed reboot is a frenetic cacophony, updating the 1990 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movies by bombastically ramping up the action and the Ninja Turtles themselves. Now motion capture and CGI creations instead of stunt men in rubber suits, the Ninja Turtles and their wizened "father" and sensei Splinter the rat (voiced by Tony Shaloub!) are bigger, more expressive, more dynamic, and... a lot louder. 

As ever, the Ninja Turtles are named for Italian Renaissance painters and coded by color, weapon, and personality: Leonardo (blue mask, katana swords, played by Pete Ploszek and voiced by Johnny Knoxville) is the serious leader; Donatello (purple mask, bo staff, played by Jeremy Howard) is the nerdy techno-whiz; Michelangelo (yellow mask, nunchaku, played by Noel Fisher) is the party-loving horn dog, Raphael (red mask, sai, played by Alan Ritchson) is the hard-nosed loner who likes to put on his growly "Batman voice." Of course, they're into hip hop and superhero movies, and they still love pizza. Moreso, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles loves product placement money; the movie practically stops halfway through for Splinter and the Ninja Turtles to shamelessly pitch Pizza Hut to the audience.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is very much the Megan Fox show. Having learned how to anchor a Michael Bay special effects extravaganza based on a 1980s cartoon from her Transformers co-star Shia LaBeouf, Fox proves up to the challenge as the nexus of her own franchise. As yellow-clad reporter April O'Neil, Fox is the best she's ever been in a movie. A diehard Ninja Turtles fan in real life throwing herself into the material and playing it straight, Fox is in nearly every scene, working her ass off to sell both the bizarre exposition and the frenetic action she gets involved in. Trying to prove herself as a serious investigator by uncovering the truth of the "vigilantes" battling against the fearsome Foot Clan terrorizing New York City, Fox uncovers not only the insidious plot by billionaire industrialist William Fichtner and Shredder (Tohoru Masamune) to poison all of New York, but the secret of the Ninja Turtles. 

In a clever twist, the Ninja Turtles turn out to be Fox's childhood pets, whom she freed when a fire set by Fichtner killed her scientist father. This creates an interesting new bond between Fox and the Ninja Turtles while also presenting us with such visuals as a bewildered Fox sitting cross-legged opposite a talking rat. The blood in the Ninja Turtles that mutated them is the mutagen that can cure Fichtner and Shredder's poison, conveniently. Even though Fox is sort of the Ninja Turtles' "mother," it doesn't stop Michelangelo (Fox's real life favorite Ninja Turtle) from hitting on her repeatedly. It's awkward, but Fox just shakes it off with a laugh. Best not to contemplate Fox-Turtle mating any further.

Every human in the movie, including her news editor Whoopi Goldberg and roommate Abby Elliott, talks down to Fox as she tries to prove the "vigilantes" battling the Foot Clan are in fact four six-foot-tall talking turtles... and mutants... and teenagers... and ninjas. The only human (not affiliated with Shredder) who sort of believes her is her camera man Will Arnett, who's really just there to ogle Fox and try to get in her pants, as if seeking high fives from the men in the audience. (Just like when LaBeouf used the cartoon tag line "More than meets the eye" in Transformers, Fox is nonplussed when Arnett suggests the Ninja Turtles are "Heroes in a half-shell.") Poor Arnett finds himself blue-balled by the unattainable Fox and caught up battling and escaping from ninjas shooting machine guns while trying to drive an Optimus Prime-like truck down a snowy mountain side. But Arnett acquits himself admirably throughout; who can blame him for taking a moment during a car chase to scope out Fox's ass?

Though relegated to the shadows for much of the movie, by the time they're all together taking on Shredder on top of a skyscraper and trying to save themselves and Fox from plummeting to their deaths (their tag team move with Fox to kick Shredder to a Joker-like death dive was a nice Batman '89 homage), the Ninja Turtles do get their moments in the sun. Each Turtle's personality and capabilities gets a chance to shine through (at least enough to effectively tell them apart beyond the color coded masks) and they get a touching climactic moment reaffirming their family - turtles, rat and Fox. Where the Ninja Turtles got the Turtle Van with the rocket launcher on the roof at the end is a question that might have to be answered in the announced sequel, but whatever. More Turtle Power to them.