When it comes to Jonathan Liebesman’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014), there are a lot of mixed feelings toward the movie. Almost from the get-go, there was controversy as Michael Bay’s production company Platinum Dunes was attached and there was an initial plan of altering the Turtles’ origin story drastically. Needless to say, it would have turned the Heroes in a Half-Shell into aliens, and the fans weren’t left impressed by this major tweak. Fortunately, that version stayed in the drafts folder as Josh Appelbaum, André Nemec, and Evan Daugherty penned a final script that was more in line with the TV shows.
That being said, the damage was already done as the audience believed this project would be a mess from the start. Then, the designs of these new Turtles surfaced and the outrage escalated to an even higher level. For some reason, people believe six-foot turtles who are also ninjas can exist, live in the New York City sewers, and tuck away boxes of pizza, but them having nostrils is a step too far. Go figure. While the movie is far from perfect or an award-winning feature that will challenge Casablanca or Citizen Kane for cultural supremacy, it isn’t nearly as bad as people make it out to be.
The cast is radical, dude
Right. Let’s run through the casting for a second here. Take a deep breath and read along. Johnny Knoxville as Leonardo. Alan Ritchson as Raphael. Jeremy Howard as Donatello. Noel Fisher as Michelangelo. Tony Shalhoub as Master Splinter. Megan Fox as April O’Neil. William Fichtner as Eric Sacks. Tohoru Masamune as the Shredder. Will Arnett as Vern Fenwick. Whoopi Goldberg as Bernadette Thompson. While Pete Ploszek and Danny Woodburn did motion capture for Leonardo and Splinter respectively.
Phew! Now that is some cast for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014). There is a star in every corner – from the top to the supporting cast members – and everyone brings their part here. Fox’s casting as April might have been controversial at first, but it’s safe to say she captures the vibe of the plucky journalist from the 1987 animated series and has greater character development than what she had as Mikaela Banes in the Transformers series. Similarly, Arnett is fantastic as April’s colleague Vern. The character was one of the most annoying and insufferable in the original cartoon and Arnett leans into that aspect of Vern at times, while also bringing a little bit of Gob Bluth from Arrested Development.
In terms of the four brothers, Ritchson is undoubtedly the standout as Raph. He brings the intensity and anger of the fierce turtle, while also showcasing there’s a softer, caring side, especially when he believes his bros are in trouble and he is powerless to help them. Fisher might have been a left-field casting choice for Mikey, but he leans into the party and fun-loving side of the character brilliantly. Plus, he has some of the best one-liners in the film, too.
It’s no secret the script and production went through some major changes. At one point, William Fichtner’s Eric Sacks was meant to be revealed as the evil Shredder; however, that was changed during the reshoots. Speaking to MovieWeb, Fichtner confirmed he was meant to be the main villain in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014), but the decision was taken to change this while they were deep in production. Yet, the actor feels this alteration actually made the movie better in the long run. “I’m happy to say that when I saw the film for the first time, at the premiere, I thought, ‘Okay! This is a better movie,'” he said. “It was a different movie, but a really good movie. At the end of the day, that’s what everyone wanted and I did too.”
It makes sense, too, since the Shredder has traditionally been portrayed as a Japanese man, and any changes to this story would have been met with accusations of whitewashing – and rightfully so. It also shows that the producers were listening to what the people were saying and writing on the forums, since there had been rumours flying around about Sacks becoming Shredder early on and fans weren’t too pleased about it. Ultimately, the right decision was taken to cast Tohoru Masamune as the leader of the Foot Clan. It’s a pity he didn’t return for the sequel; however, Brian Tee was equally as good as Oroku Saki.
Much like any other adaptation, there are changes made to the origin element of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014), but it isn’t as radical as the whole alien debacle that was originally mooted and drew the ire of the internet. Instead, this narrative pulls from several iterations and incarnations of the Ninja Turtles, while also establishing Eric Sacks as an influential presence in the creation of the Turtles and the death of April O’Neil’s father.
In the end, though, the story is easy to follow and a typical fun action-packed adventure that has the heroes fighting the villains and protecting New York City from a dastardly scheme. Again, this is like every single one of Shredder and Krang’s plans from the 1987 animated shows. Seriously, how many times did they have a big laser beam over the city and threaten doom and explosions?
Of course, martial arts are on display, but this was never going to be a Scott Adkins movie. Even in the original cartoon, the Turtles aren’t pulling out Van Damme splits or roundhouse kicking people’s ears off. It’s all PG-13, being more about humour and disarming foes than inflicting serious, long-lasting damage. That said, the Turtles still pull off a couple of cool tag-team moves that would go down perfectly with Vanilla Ice’s “Ninja Rap” playing in the background. In fact, that’s the biggest criticism of the movie – there was no Ice here, baby.
The year 2014 was a busy one for comic book movies. Fans saw the likes of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Guardians of the Galaxy, X-Men: Days of Future Past, and The Amazing Spider-Man 2 all released and do incredibly well at the box office. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014) arrived toward the tail end of the summer. It debuted early in Mexico in July before receiving its international release a few days later on August 8. In South Africa, it arrived much later than that, because Hollywood seems to hate letting us watch Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movies at the same time as everyone else across the globe.
To say critics were divided about the film would be putting it mildly. The film holds a super-low 21% score on Rotten Tomatoes, with most reviewers bashing the movie entirely. Daily Telegraph didn’t hold back in its review, writing: “The new film, projected in three dimensions and acted in one, is dreadful, but no more or less dreadful than the three Nineties live-action Turtles films that came before it.” Honestly, to mention the early live-action movies like that is heresy, but that’s a topic for another day.
Regardless of what critics wrote about it, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014) laughed all the way to the bank. It made a respectable $485 million from a $125 million budget. (Heck, Warner Bros.’ The Flash would travel back in time and force Barry Allen to revisit his mother’s death on an infinite loop for those kinds of numbers.) Naturally, a sequel went into development.
A franchise that never reached its full potential
The 2016 sequel, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows, was much better received by critics. It also introduced Bebop and Rocksteady, as well as Krang; therefore, making it the perfect accompaniment to the 1987 animated series. Unfortunately, it failed to do the business at the box office, managing only $246 million from a $135 million budget. As a result, any potential third entry in the series was cancelled since the audience didn’t buy enough tickets for this movie.
Yet, here’s the thing: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014) and its sequel tried to honour one of the most popular iterations of the franchise. It leaned into the cheese of the animated show and toy line as it tried to bring the Ninja Turtles to a new generation of fans, while appealing to the old ones. Yes, the original film made a few missteps, but it was still solid enough to set up a superior sequel and be a live-action version of the cartoon. Now imagine what could have been done in the third movie. There could have been a bunch of new villains, such as the Rat King or even General Traag, while the Punk Frogs could have debuted as well. There was still a lot of story to tell, but in the end, most people rejected this franchise simply because of turtles having nostrils.
Sergio Pereira is a writer from Johannesburg, South Africa. He has a strong interest in comic books, film, music, and comedy, having been in the entertainment journalism space for over 15 years.
Sergio is also an accredited Rotten Tomatoes reviewer and has interviewed numerous celebrities in this time. He is the author of the highly rated fantasy comedy novel The Not-So-Grim Reaper and numerous short stories. In addition, he is the co-writer of the South African crime drama film The Lifesaver. As a columnist, he contributes to Looper, Grunge, Screen Rant, Ranker, CBR, SYFY WIRE, IGN Africa, and Fortress of Solitude.
For Sergio, all he wants in life is to see the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles eclipse the Justice League as the greatest heroes of all time. Then, he will sleep peacefully.