Movie review: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles elevates the art of cinema to new heights | Arts

Movie review: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles elevates the art of cinema to new heights

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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
★★
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Kidding! Yeah, it’s not great—but it’s not as awful as you’ve heard.

In this reboot of a long-running, media-crossing action/comedy franchise, New York TV news reporter April O’Neil (Megan Fox) discovers that her childhood pet turtles have mutated into a quartet of anthropomorphic sewer-dwelling vigilantes, trained in ninjutsu by her similarly evolved pet rat Splinter.

Take a moment to let that sink in, because things only get stranger from here.

The turtles are fighting back against the reign of terror of the Foot Clan, led by the hilariously over-armored martial artist Shredder, who looks like he escaped from one of producer Michael Bay’s Transformers flicks.

These mutant ninja turtles also happen to be teenagers, which means they have what late-20th-century youth marketers insisted on called 'tude, love pizza and speak in slang (more inspired by rappers than surfers in 2014—though don’t worry, you’ll get a climactic “Cowabunga!”). You can tell them apart by the colors of their masks, their one personality trait apiece and the weapons they wield: katana, nunchaku, bo staff or sai knives.

To its credit, the film treats this ludicrous premise with affectionate mockery rather than asking us to take it seriously—though things do get serious when the Foot Clan badly injures Splinter and kidnaps the turtles so an evil corporation can harvest the mutagen from their veins, hurtling them toward the inevitable final standoff with Shredder.

The CGI turtles have weighty statures, dynamic movements and expressive gestures, which makes the action scenes fun and engaging. Abundant pop-culture riffs on the franchise and beyond keep things light and accessible despite the rococo context, which perhaps made more sense in the mid-’80s underground comics that spawned it before it became one of the unlikeliest crossover smashes ever.

None of this changes the facts that the plotting is both direly schematic and full of holes, the stakes low, the one-liners often sophomoric (though sometimes amusing) and the premise profoundly silly. No hidden depths are plumbed; the villain's backstory is nonexistent; the product placement for Pizza Hut and Crush soda is shameless.

But this is still an enjoyable enough diversion for anyone with low expectations and fond memories of TMNT’s late-’80s and early-’90s cartoon and movie heyday, not to mention for their credulous children.


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