By: 3-Deep –
I’ll be honest with you, my fellow loyal, alcohol-loving brothers and sisters: I’m not a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles fan. Never was, and I don’t think I ever will be. But I suppose, in a way, I can understand their appeal. The fun-loving amohimorphic turtles are exactly the sort of laid-back, radical personalities that would appropriately appeal to ’90s kids like myself. They love a cheesy joke as much as they love to gobble down a cheesy slice of pizza, and their brand coasts on low stakes and easy-going mindless amusement. In their purest sense, they’re stupid in a simple sorta way; I can admire them, even if I can’t get behind them. Plus, I love goofy and stupid stuff all the time. So, who am I to complain?
That said, I’ve had a hard time understanding what anyone, including the producers, could possibly find appealing about their live-action/CG-heavy 2014 reboot. You know, the one that took all the lighthearted fun and replaced it with all the queasy appeal of two-week-old cold pizza. With an unsteady balance of grave undertones with poor attempts to replicate the corny humor of the past, it was a jarring, deeply unsettling and, most of all, ugly as sin monstrosity, the result of pure tone-deaf studio heads trying to figure out to re-brand a popular series and failing at nearly every single step. So, of course, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014) was produced by Michael Bay under his Platinum Dunes banner and, while not under his direction, came with more than a handful of the insufferable traits that are associated with his brand.
Though it was sleeker, shinier and more expensive than any other TMNT movie prior, it felt disingenuous, impure, and purely for capitalistic gain. It was a nauseating explosion of CG-infused boredom parading itself as something it wasn’t, and it was apparent from the off-set that nothing about it felt right or true to the animated series. But worse of all, it didn’t look like anyone involved was having an iota of fun making it — and that translated loud and clear on the screen. So I’ll give its unwarranted, rushed sequel, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows, this much: for all its faults (which I’ll get into momentarily, of course), at least this one looks like it was made by people with an objective to, you know, have fun with what they’re doing.
Sure, the plot is still muddled and nonsensical. And the character designs are never pleasing on the eye. And the acting is a mixed bag, at best. And the writing is still completely, utterly horrendous — with practically one out of a 150 jokes even cracking a brief smile. Some things never change. But with director Dave Green (Earth to Echo) replacing the poorly-assigned previous director, Jonathan Liebesman (Battle: Los Angeles), it’s evident Out of the Shadows comes from a greater understanding of the characters, the dynamic of the characters and the appeal that lays within. It’s still not good, at all, mind you. But at least it has good intentions by its side this time. There’s a greater appreciation for what these characters can do, and how to incorporate all the expected beats with more tonal assurance, brighter colors and cinematic grandeur. But like a turtle, the progress moves as a glacier pace. It’s just not enough to warrant the money, time and effects put into this production. Insert half-shell joke here.
While varied at best, the performances all around are definitely more inspired than they were prior. There’s a greater chemistry shared between our titular turtles, and there’s also a better understanding of their dichotomy and their loyalty for one another. Even if the message is flimsy and stale, they do a noble job of trying to add some palpability to it anyway. Plus, presented in a lighter, more visually appealing green and with a little more fluidity in their movement, the special effects are massively better than they were before. As grotesque and horrific as they might look, they do look like realistic human turtles. That’s a compliment, right? We’ll call it a compliment.
As far as the humans themselves go, they’re not all terrible either. Well, okay, Megan Fox is as bad as ever. In fact, this might very well be her worst performance to date. But, thankfully, she’s just a small piece of the pie here, and everyone is above a flatline. Arrow’s Stephen Amell, in particular, feels relieved to have a chance to lighten up, and while he’s not quite true to the original character, he carries a charm and a swagger that’s easy to watch and massively welcomed. Likewise, Laura Linney provides a far better performance that she should in a movie called Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows, and proves once-and-for-all that she’s an absolute professional. If there were any doubts in her acting capabilities (though, I’m not sure why), this movie puts them all to rest. If you can talk exposition to a CG turtle and make it feel honest, you deserve an Academy Award in my book.
Tyler Perry, meanwhile, while never quite good, is also never less than giddy throughout. He lets himself be immersed in the goofiness with a big-ass grin and a devilish glee — almost as if he’s been waiting for the chance to play a mad scientist his entire life. It never comes together, but there’s a charm to it. Similar to the kind of charm you’d have from watching an unexperienced 5th grader acting his heart out in the school play. It’s not good, but it’s admirable. Bless his heart. It’s openly, unabashedly sincere, and that’s deeply appreciated.
As the 2014 film was too moody and grim for its own good, therein by unable to balance its more serious tone with its fan-centric lightheartedness, Out of the Shadows is now, somehow, too cartoony. From the first high-flying shot of our titular heroes jumping and bouncing throughout the city, literally, it’s evident the stakes are nonexistent and the action is CG-heavy to a fault. As I said before, they look much better this time around, but there’s still a lumpiness to them that’s impossible to ignore. They look better, but they never feel honest or grounded in reality. I suppose that should be understandable for something called, you know, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. But after a while, much like the past variations of these characters, it gets old and tiresome. The one-note characterizations, the terrible puns, the never-ending silliness — it just gets stale way too quick. After a while, it comes across haggard and repetitive, and when the final climax comes into action, there’s nothing to feel emotionally invested in. Even trying to remember it makes me feel exhausted.
Also, the film never quite decides what to do with itself, trying to put everything in the turtle soup and hoping the flavors will marry in the pot. But they don’t, of course. The introduction of Bebop and Rocksteady are fun, but their characters are there merely to help another limp plan from Shedder — a man who, again, is more an imposing look than a truly menacing villain. He often feels sidelined in the action, however, once Out of the Shadows decides it wants Krang to be the true foe. And while Krang, of course, looks as unpleasant as you’d think in his realistic CG presentation, his screen time is limited to a mere 20 or so minutes, tops. He most definitely feels like a third draft re-write, with Bay and the other producers stressing the memorial wad of pink mesh be placed in the action, even though his presence feels premature, at best.
The same can almost be said for Casey Jones, as recent reports noted how Bay forced the character into the production. But, again, Amell’s natural charisma and charm feels warranted and fun. He brings a much needed sense of life to the film, and keeps the lightheartedness not found from the turtles themselves. Other characters, like Perry’s aforementioned mad scientist, try to foot the same bill, but they only end up feeling awkward and off-key. They never quite fit in —which is a weird thing to say about a movie that also features talking human turtles, a talking human warthog, and a talking human rhinoceros. Also, speaking of that warthog, he beats the Lights, Camera, Jackson record for most utterances of “My Man” in the history of (my) mankind. Maybe that was his character? I don’t know, but one of the biggest laughs I got out of this film was hearing him laugh and yell his catchphrase in a moment of transformation, experiencing the worst, most horrific pain he’s ever receive. It felt like his character was written by a machine, and I suppose that’s only appropriate.
Nothing about Out of the Shadows feels honest or true to itself or its source material. Though Green come with better intentions, the action is flat, the characters are poorly realized and the plot is all over the place. Nothing about it is lighthearted or enjoyable. It’s a slog and a half to sit through, especially when it comes in at an ungodly two hours. There’s no reason, for the record, why this movie should be two hours. There’s nothing in TMNT lore that suggests it needs to reach past 100 minutes. But then again, what does it matter? Out of the Shadows is a capitalistic venture that was made to continue the money-making franchise, not to honor the fans. As someone who isn’t a fan of the series, I’m glad to know I’m not offended here.
This movie is a tone-deaf bore that can’t fix the sins of its past and only, instead, tries to make things just a little bit better as a consolation prize. And is it better? I guess it is a little bit, but not enough for it to matter. It’s unappealing and made with only half-good intentions this time. I already called it a half-shell of a film, but that gave it too much credit. It’s an empty pit made to give the fans another experience with their favorite characters, but neither a good nor fun one. Just an experience. Just something to keep them coming back, to give them another glimpse at their mutated-in-all-the-wrong-ways childhood heroes. And that’s worth no cowabunga, dude.
Weirdly, Out of the Shadows is easily the better of the two movies, especially on paper, yet remains on par with the poor quality of the last film. The jokes are lame and cheesy, and not in the ways they should be, the character work is disheveled, even when it’s earnest, and the plot feels as hollow and emptied as a discarded turtle shell. There’s more respect for the source material, but no real attempt to improve upon the film before. As such, there’s nothing really rewarding, entertaining or interesting. It’s just another boring, unimaginative studio production that, once again, features these turtles I never really cared for in the first place. So I truly got nothing much out of it, except making fun of it with my best friend in the theater. It’s disgusting. It’s bombastic. It’s cliched. It’s loud. But it’s not engaging, and watching these movies feels more and more like getting hit on the head over and over with a pair of nunchunks with each new addition to the series.
They say a wise man once said “Forgiveness is divine, but never pay full price for late pizza.” Well, I say never pay full price for another CG/live-action Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, especially one as bad as this one. You should spend that money on, you know, some pizza and just watch the original series. At the very least, you’d walk away full and satisfied, and get what you wanted. And though I can’t speak for them, I believe that’s what the fans truly want in the end. So you know what to do. Is this where I say “Turtle Power?”
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows (2016) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: for every bad joke uttered by a turtle, human, or anyone with a voice.
Take a Drink: anytime you’re overwhelmed by an onslaught of CG.
Take a Drink: anytime pizza comes on the screen.
Take Two Drinks: every time pizza plays a factor in the plot.
Take a Drink: for every plot hole, or simply anything that doesn’t make any sense at all.
Take a Drink: every time you’d rather be watching the original cartoon, or the original movies.
Do a Shot: anytime you’d rather be watching The Secret of the Ooze, or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III.