Megan Fox’s acting skills have long been a punchline, but she also has her advocates. In 2021, the Gay Times said Fox “refused to be a facsimile” throughout her career, despite the best attempts of Michael Bay to make her one in Transformers. Perhaps the strongest case for Fox being held back by an industry whose rules she refused to follow is Jennifer’s Body, a movie unfairly dismissed upon arrival in 2009.
But there’s another Fox movie that deserves at least partial reconsideration. It’s not a genre-defining classic, but it also didn’t deserve the Razzies it earned Fox. It’s Jonathan Liebesman’s 2014 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, an enjoyable action movie for kids.
Part of understanding the many returns of the heroes in a half-shell is the sheer goofiness of the concept. Creators Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird have discussed how they drew elements from four comics of the 1980s: one with teenage mutants (The New Mutants), one with anthropomorphic animals (Cerebus), and two with ninjas (Ronin and Daredevil). It’s like a Mr. Potato Head of ‘80s comics.
It’s also like Mr. Potato Head in that the turtles became an extremely popular toy. Their main success, a children’s animated show running from 1987 through 1996 that spun off live action movies and an iconic video game, made them staples to ‘90s kids everywhere. The pizza-loving turtles became so ubiquitous that they’re a part of the collective memory of the ‘90s, like Rainforest Cafes. Reboots were inevitable.
The 2014 movie focuses on the human accomplice of the turtles, April O'Neil (Megan Fox), a TV journalist who isn’t given the respect she deserves. Forced to become what her producer Vern (Will Arnett) calls the “froth,” she films piece of mindless joy for viewers as they watch her try novelty diets and bounce on trampolines. But she wants to report on the big story plaguing New York City: a crime wave perpetrated by the mysterious Foot Clan.
The movie spends a fair amount of time establishing O’Neil as a reporter, bringing her into a newsroom run by a disbelieving editor in the mold of J. Jonah Jameson, Bernadette (Whoopi Goldberg). O’Neil is laughed at by her colleagues for insisting there’s a vigilante fighting the Foot Clan, then fired for detailing her initial meeting with the Turtles.
In an interview at Comic-Con in 2014, Fox described O’Neil by joking “people underestimate her—I couldn’t possibly relate to that.” She added that "A lot of girl power ended up on the cutting room floor, unfortunately,” including a fight scene between her and the Foot Clan.
This isn’t a great drama, but Fox offers a fine portrayal of a journalist who wants to be taken seriously only to be met with flirtatious advances from the uninteresting Vern. April’s career is taken seriously, which allows the Turtles to be the fun side of the movie. It works, because who wants the turtles to be the serious side?
TMNT’s main plotline, about the machinations between CEO Eric Sacks (William Fichtner) and his master Shredder (Tohoru Masamune) to poison New York City and then sell the cure back using the mutagen that originally created the turtles and their master, Splinter (voiced by Tony Shaloub, motion-capture by Danny Woodburn), mostly lags. But the road to get there looks cool enough, starting with Shredder’s awesome armor. It’s like something Frank Miller would have drawn in Daredevil.
Within the turtles, the main focus is the fight for leadership between Leonardo (voiced by Johnny Knoxville, motion-captured by Pete Ploszek) and perpetual outsider Raphael (Alan Ritchson). While this leaves little for brainy Donatello (Jeremy Howard) and party dude Michelangelo (Noel Fisher), their overall dynamic is that of teenage brothers: they fight a lot, but ultimately love each other.
There are some fun, fast-paced action sequences, with one down a snowy mountain standing out. But the movie’s most memorable moment likely comes with the brothers making music in an elevator. It’s a fun and surprising bit that shows the depth of a brotherly relationship.
It might not be a classic, but TMNT has enough charm within it to surprise a viewer whose expectations are set.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is streaming on Amazon Prime.