Director – Jonathan Liebesman, Screenplay – Josh Appelbaum, Evan Daugherty & Andre Nemec, Based on the Comic Book Created by Kevin Eastman & Peter Laird, Producers – Michael Bay, Ian Bryce, Andrew Form, Brad Fuller, Scott Mednick & Galen Walker, Photography (3D) – Lula Carvalho, Music – Brian Tyler, Visual Effects Supervisor – Pablo Helman, Visual Effects – Industrial Light and Magic, Additional Visual Effects – Hybride, Image Engine, Lola VFX, Shade VFX & Tippett, Special Effects Supervisor – Burt Dalton, Production Design – Neil Spisak. Production Company – Paramount/Nickelodeon Movies/Platinum Dunes/Gama Entertainment/Mednick Productions/Heavy Metal.
Megan Fox (April O’Neil), Alan Ritchson (Raphael), Noel Fisher (Michelangelo), Jeremy Howard (Donatello), Pete Plozek (Leonardo), Will Arnett (Vern Fenwick), William Fichtner (Eric Sachs), Johnny Knoxville (Voice of Leonardo), Tohoru Masamune (Shredder), Danny Woodburn (Splinter), Tony Shalhoub (Voice of Splinter), Whoopi Goldberg (Bernadette Thompson), Minae Noji (Karai), Abby Elliott (Taylor)
New York City is being terrorised by a criminal gang known as The Foot. April O’Neil, a junior reporter with Channel 9 News, is determined to get a lead on the story. In chasing an interview, she sees a Foot raid on the docks and mysterious figures fighting back. She believes that a vigilante is operating but the idea is ridiculed by her editor. April is caught up in a hostage situation in the subway but escapes to encounter four humanoid turtles over six feet tall as they foil The Foot. The turtles introduce themselves to her as Leonardo, Michelangelo, Donatello and Raphael and say that they are ninja. She meets their sensei Splinter, a mutated rat, and April realises that they are all pet animals that were given life by a mutagen that her father created. The Foot leader, the massive and lethal samurai known as Shredder, determines to release the mutagen throughout the city and it is up to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to fight back.
The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were one of the essential pop culture icons of the late 1980s/early 90s. Dreamed up as a joke by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird, they were launched in 1984 as a single-issue comic-book with an initial limited run of 3000. This proved successful and the Turtles were spun out into an ongoing comic-book series. Laird and Eastman had put out less than a dozen issues of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles when they were approached by marketing people who wished to spin the Turtles off as a toy line. The marketers then approached the animation studio Murakami-Wolfe-Swenson to launch an animated tv series, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1987-96), which lasted for ten seasons of 193 half-hour episodes.
It is largely the animated tv series that made the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles into the phenomenon they became. The animated series made a virtue of the pop culture humour and pitched the Turtles far more to the children’s demographic than the comic-book, which was much darker in tone. In a matter of five years, the Turtles were propelled from an independently produced graphic novel to a mass-market comic-book to a cartoon series and a toy and accessory marketing phenomenon. This was capped by three live-action films, the not bad Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990) and two indifferent sequels, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze (1991) and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III (1993). By the mid-1990s, the popularity of the Turtles was waning but these were followed by a live-action tv series Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation (1997-8), which had the novelty of introducing a female Turtle Venus de Milo, two further animated series Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2003-9) and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2012– ) and the animated film TMNT (2007).
This cinematic reboot of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comes from producer Michael Bay, the director of Armageddon (1998), The Island (2005) and most recently Transformers (2007) and sequels. The film is produced by Bay and his Platinum Dunes production company while direction has been handed to Jonathan Liesbesman, a relative newcomer who had directed several medium-budgeted horror films with the likes of Darkness Falls (2003), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning (2006) and The Killing Room (2009). Liebesman then made the A-budget alien invasion film Battle Los Angeles (2011) and went onto direct Wrath of the Titans (2012).
With the Transformers series, Michael Bay took a toy line turned animated series and spun out a massively popular series of films based around seeing the toys incarnated in live-action amid much thunderous action, explosions etc. When it comes to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the thinking has been fairly clear on the parts of Bay and Liebesman – take another popular animated series of the same period and turn it into a similar gritty, spectacular action vehicle that will hopefully hit well enough with audiences that it will spin out a franchise. You can even see that this extends to the casting of Megan Fox who leap-frogged to fame on the basis of Transformers and has been recruited as the lead here too.
The thing about the announcement of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2014, which came closely on the back of Jonathan Liebesman’s Battle Los Angeles, is the muted enthusiasm it received from what should have been its built-in fanbase. You could hardly say there was a groundswell of people from the 1980s/90s who were waiting with baited breath for the Turtles to make a return to the screen. Whatever enthusiasm there may have been was even further dampened when the first trailer hit the internet where everyone reacted to the replacement of the cute, anthropomorphic turtles of the original with anatomically correct, coarsely textured and rather sinister seven-foot tall creatures that seemed more like they belonged in a monster movie.
What Michael Bay did with the Transformers simply fails to work when applied to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. With the Transformers, it was a fairly simple equation – Bay threw allegiance to the animated series out the window and gave us big machines beating the crap out of one another, lots of explosions, hot girls and fast cars – the sort of things that every fourteen year-old boy loves. When it comes to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the fatal mistake is in coasting by on the same thinking while failing entirely to tap the essence that made the original. The appeal of the Turtles in the 1980s was the funky marriage of an absurd concept, a barrage of 80s pop culture, teen idiom and the over-spilling gee whiz enthusiasm of the central quartet of chelonians. Even the weak live-action sequels managed to get the hip enthusiasm of the characters down right if nothing else. On the other hand, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2014 replaces this with a far more glum and downbeat attitude – it feels like it is trying to drag the Turtles into the Dark Knight milieu.
Everything about the remake seems off. In the original series, April O’Neil was a feisty go-getter in the Lois Lane mold. You would have expected the perfect casting for a modern incarnation to be a Scarlett Johansson or maybe a Kirsten Dunst. What we get instead is Megan Fox – a non-actress who became a tabloid joke for her trash-talking empty-headedness. This was someone even so legendarily bitchy that she managed to get herself fired from Michael Bay’s Transformers films – and we are talking here about a series where the only real casting requirement for its lead actresses is their ability to look like fashion models. As might be expected, this is an April where Fox merely inhabits the customary yellow jacket and gives the role not an iota more than that.
At least Shredder gets incarnated as a lethally armoured, nine foot tall samurai, looking more like a super-villain than he ever did in the other live-action films. The plot for the film is little more than the slight afterthought that served in all the other live-action films. The Turtles spout their cowabungas, eat pizza and ride skateboards but the infectious child-like enthusiasm and energy that the originals had has been buried beneath the film’s dirty, downbeat texture and overblown, adrenalised action sequences. It feels like something fun echoing to be heard amid a loud and noisy blockbuster wannabe that really lacks a clue about what it is trying to do. It might be the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles but it is in name only.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows (2016) was a sequel that did a much better job of recapturing the spirit of the originals. This was followed by a further animated crossover film Batman vs Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2019). Turtle Power: The Definitive History of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014) is a documentary about the Turtle phenomenon.