Thursday, 23 October 2014

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)

The polar opposite of something off-brand and colourful like The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Jonathan Liebesman's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles sees an established children's line subsumed in a misunderstood, post-The Dark Knight mire. Urban terror should be a decent fit for the franchise, after all Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird's original comics were full of gritty avengers engaging in bootlegged, Frank Miller mysticism. Liebesman's film wobbles though because it's clearly meant to be consumed by kids. Pre-teens at that. The turtles have the sing-song personalities rattled off in Chuck Lorre's 80s cartoon theme and the central character is basically a child detective.

Ninja Turtles 2014 gives the impression of a half-term feature hijacked at the last minute to appeal to the ghoulish spectrum of the superhero crowd. Life-ending bumps and matter-of-fact executions are present but never justified. Shredder has been inserted as a final boss but there's no solid narrative space for him. Villain minutes are instead apportioned to a megalomaniacal scientist who's despatched with a spot of head trauma courtesy of the sixth male lead. Like every other rebooted 1980s toy line Ninja Turtles seems to have been pitched as being exactly the same but with even more violence. It's a playground grasp at maturity, chemical weapons are smuggled into the film as if to denote seriousness and weight.

Likewise the turtles are depicted as seething mini-Hulks with the strength to hurl rival ninjas through speeding subway trains. Raphael and pals are massive, sweating, muscle lumps apparently running on the Unreal Engine. Splinter is positively Cronenbergian and Shredder looks like Michael Bay's Megatron cosplaying as a Predator. All this ugliness directly informs the film's one saving grace - the fights are blocked like a Donnie Yen movie. Liebesman shoots low and wide on full-contact between a menagerie of McFarlane Movie Maniacs. CG stunt work is experienced in sustained, sideslipped takes that emphasise impact with grinding, mechanical noise. The animated delivery in Ninja Turtles' action scenes may undermine any real sense of danger but I appreciated the effort.

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