Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)

Genres - Action, Fantasy  |   Sub-Genres - Superhero Film, Martial Arts  |   Release Date - Aug 8, 2014 (USA)  |   Run Time - 100 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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If movie studios were monsters, Platinum Dunes would be Dracula. Founded by Michael Bay, Brad Fuller, and Andrew Form back in 2001, the studio seemed to exist solely to suck the life out of beloved horror properties such as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Amityville Horror, and A Nightmare on Elm Street. But you can only plunder one genre for so long before the fans start to take notice, and with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Bay and company shift their focus to comic books in an apparent bid to cash in on the Comic-Con crowd's increasing domination of mainstream cinema. And though the lack of inspiration is still plain to see, the most surprising aspect of the studio's latest exercise in the derivative is that it may well be their best film to date.

Opening with a striking animated sequence detailing how the villainous Shredder and his dreaded Foot Clan slowly gained a stronghold in New York City, the movie then introduces us to ambitious news reporter April O'Neil (Megan Fox) as she chases an important lead down by the docks. When that story falls through, she phones in a fluff piece on fitness with the help of her smitten cameraman Vern (Will Arnett). That night, April returns to the docks for another interview, and watches in amazement as a shadowy vigilante thwarts a Foot Clan heist.

Later, after April covers a speech by local scientist and philanthropist Eric Sachs (William Fichtner), who worked with her late father before he was killed in a tragic lab accident, she witnesses the Foot Clan taking hostages in the subway. In a flash, the thugs are neutralized by four masked figures who beat a hasty retreat up to the rooftops. Following them, April discovers that the shadowy heroes are in fact Leonardo, Raphael, Michelangelo, and Donatello, four six-foot-tall turtles who mastered the art of Ninjutsu under their rodent mentor Splinter. Those fighting skills come in handy when April and her new friends stumble upon a sinister plot to unleash a lethal chemical over the city in a diabolical bid to win a lucrative government contract.

Given that the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have gone through several incarnations since their comic-book conception, it was inevitable that screenwriters Josh Appelbaum, André Nemec, and Evan Daugherty would have taken some liberties with the established lore. Yet unlike previous Platinum Dunes atrocities, the screenwriting team here manage to keep the spirit of the characters intact, even if the details seem slightly off. In addition to giving each of the turtles distinctive personalities, Appelbaum, Nemec, and Daugherty have fashioned a script that moves along at a satisfying pace. Sure, there's the occasional lapse in logic, but those are the moments when it pays to remember that you're watching a movie about giant crime-fighting, pizza-munching turtles with juvenile personalities.

Meanwhile, Jonathan Liebesman's efficient direction perfectly complements the nimble script -- thanks in no small part to editors Joel Negron and Glen Scantlebury, who keep the action moving at an exciting clip (especially in a showstopping chase scene set atop a snowy mountain ridge and the dizzying climactic fight). It certainly isn't high art, but like the "froth" atop Vern's savory cup of coffee, it's an airy confection that gives the familiar just enough sweetness to go down smoothly.