Thursday, June 9, 2016

Movie Review: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows
Directed by: Dave Green.
Written by: Josh Appelbaum & André Nemec based on the characters created by Peter Laird and Kevin Eastman.
Starring: Megan Fox (April O'Neil), Will Arnett (Vernon Fenwick), Laura Linney (Chief Vincent), Stephen Amell (Casey Jones), Noel Fisher (Michelangelo), Jeremy Howard (Donatello), Pete Ploszek (Leonardo), Alan Ritchson (Raphael), Tyler Perry (Baxter Stockman), Brian Tee (Shredder), Stephen Farrelly (Rocksteady), Gary Anthony Williams (Bebop), Peter Donald Badalamenti II (Splinter), Tony Shalhoub (Splinter – voice), Brad Garrett (Krang - voice).

Nostalgia for things one liked as a kid has a way of turning ugly, or at the very least, giving us a lot of crappy movies and TV shows. Is there a reason other than nostalgia for Netflix to bring back Fuller House? That, at least, is ultimately harmless. It gets ugly when some men (and yes, it’s almost always men) treat the movies and shows they loved as children as if they are somehow Holy texts – so that when George Lucas makes a Star Wars movie you don’t like, some will say with a straight face that George Lucas “raped” their childhood. Or when a remake of a beloved film from the 1980s decides to – for once – try something completely different, and cast four women instead of men, people lose their damn mind and spout a bunch of misogynistic bullshit online. For the most part, I try to stay away from such nostalgia – mainly because I now realize that much of what I liked as a kid was never very good – it just appealed to me a kid – something that dawns on me often when I’m bored and settle in to watch a few minutes of Teletoon Retro. The one exception I make is for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – a series that I can whole heartedly admit  was never very good, but that I loved so much as a kid that I don’t think I’ll ever quite be able to let them go. The 2014 cinematic reboot of the franchise wasn’t particularly good, but the 8 year old in me loved it. The sequel, Out of the Shadows, is better than that movie – not good, just better – but once again that 8 year old loved it. The movie is goofy and silly and unabashedly made for 8 year olds – which I don’t necessarily think, is a bad thing. After all, who the hell else wants to see a movie about teenage mutant ninja turtles?

The plot of the movie is the kind of goofy stuff of a Saturday morning cartoon show – with the turtles first trying to stop their arch nemesis, Shredder, from escaping from prison, and then once he does, trying to arrest him again. But he’s not their only problem – as the film also introduces not one, not two, not three but FOUR new villains – the powerful Kwang, a giant brain inside the torso of a robot, who wants to rule world, and everything else, two idiot criminals – Bebop and Rocksteady, who will eventually become a rhino and a warthog, and tech genius Baxter Stockman (Tyler Perry). I particularly liked Perry’s work here – he’s clearly having fun with the role, and although he goes over the top into cartoon-y  at times, it works in the movie. The same can be said for the other major new addition – Stephen Amell as Casey Jones – a hockey mask wearing cop, who becomes an ally for the turtles. Megan Fox is back as ace reporter April O’Neill – although I don’t think she does any reporting until the very last scene in the movie (still, she’s a female journalist, in a movie, who doesn’t sleep with her source, which basically makes her the greatest female journalist in cinema history). Fox fits into this world well. For some reason, Laura Linney is in the movie as well – but oddly the film doesn’t really do anything with her.

But who are we kidding, no one goes to a Ninja Turtle movie for the human characters – you want the turtles and the action sequences – both of them are, sadly, a mixed bag. I’m not a huge fan of the look of the turtles, but after two films, I’ve at least gotten use to them. The real problem is that other than Michelangelo, the other turtles are not very well defined – even in the very broad strokes you would expect in a film like this. Leonardo, in particular, has no discernable personality – I think because each turtle is only allowed to be ONE thing – and his is to be the leader, and that isn’t much a personality trait. The film essentially copies a few of the plot points from the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles sequel - 1991s The Secret of the Ooze – once again, ooze does play an important role in the plot, and once again, Leonardo and Raphael argue with each other (you can tell how much I loved these movies as a kid, that I haven’t seen that film in well over 20 years, and I still remember a hell of a lot of it).

The action sequences have their moments. There is a car chase that turns into a fight sequence which is the best one this series has offered so far. The finale is another one of those large scale sequences with a bunch of huge stuff flying through the air above – a la Avengers or X-Men Apocalypse – and those never do much for me.

I cannot in good faith recommend the movie. It really isn’t all that good. And yet, while I was I watching the film, I couldn’t help but view it through the eyes of that 9 and 10 year old me who sat in a darkened theatre and loved the first two Ninja Turtle movies all those years ago. That me would have thought that the movie was great. And for current Ninja Turtle fans who are now that age, I’m sure they’ll feel the same way. The 35 year old me knows that the film isn’t good – but that hardly matters. I think everyone is entitled to enjoy something from their childhood well past the point they should have outgrown it. It’s when that love of those childhood things turns ugly that we have a problem.

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