Monday, June 6, 2016

Review: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows

by Adam Riske
There is only one good Turtles movie. Nothing has changed.

Imagine a student who takes a midterm and gets an F. Then he or she takes the final exam and gets a C-. Should we be pleasantly surprised that student didn’t fall flat on his or her face again? No, not really. We should expect more out of them. Such is the case with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows. Why this movie is getting a pass from some just for being better than the truly wretched Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014), I’m sure I don’t know. To be fair, I enjoyed some of the new Turtles film: about 1/8 genuinely, 3/8 ironically and 4/8 not at all.
I would consider myself a Turtle fan, but I have to say that I’m at the point where I have to admit that I overrated this property in my youth. I still really enjoy the 1990 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie but the evidence that this series sucks is piling up: Secret of the Ooze (bad), Turtles III (bad), TMNT (bad), the 2014 reboot (bad) and now Out of the Shadows (bad). We should have known that the odds were against us with Out of the Shadows no matter what new characters they added or how “ok” the new trailers looked. As the Old Indian in Natural Born Killers said: “Look, bitch, you knew I was a snake.”

The plot of this movie has attention deficit disorder. Lip service is paid that the Turtles want to become human so they don’t have to hide anymore, there’s a mad doctor (played entertainingly by Tyler Perry) who wants to receive credit for opening a portal to another world, the Shredder wants the Turtles dead, Krang wants to take over Earth, etc., etc., etc. Every scene feels like it’s introducing a new story element and it’s so all over the place that the Turtles don’t even know the main villain of the movie exists until there’s about five minutes of screen time before they fight them. This movie is also the worst example to-date of a franchise hedging its bets and saving its characters for future installments instead of killing them off or disposing of them with some finality. I couldn’t believe that we were at the film’s climax and 4 out of the 5 villains in this movie (there are 5 villains in this movie!) were jettisoned (often by other villains -- probably because none of their motivations synched up) allowing the Turtles to basically win by forfeit because the other baddies weren’t even around to fight them. Forget resolutions. Blockbuster films are now so misbegotten that they’re basically establishing threats and not even giving us fucking climaxes for them.
Out of the Shadows is full of fan service moments, but I won’t bitch about those because honestly, while I don’t like them, they don’t really bother me either. At least it shows that there’s some effort being put into the movie. But at its heart, Out of the Shadows is a homogenized Michael Bay-Platinum Dunes vehicle no matter what attempt director Dave Green (Earth to Echo) gave to put his personal stamp on it. In the film’s pre-release, at least one pop culture site I follow was really championing Out of the Shadows based on the pedigree of Dave Green because he himself is a Turtle fanboy and in their opinion (I hadn’t seen any of his stuff to make my own opinion) a talented filmmaker. But just like with James Bobin’s Alice Through the Looking Glass, this is a producer’s movie. While it doesn’t have the usual Michael Bay production ugliness or cynicism, the aesthetic is still the same as the Bay Transformers movies or the 2014 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. In the movie’s most annoying moment, Michelangelo finds himself in the middle of a Halloween parade and high-fives a guy dressed up like Bumblebee from Transformers. It’s the worst.

Did I like anything in Out of the Shadows? Yes. A couple of the performances are good, such as Tyler Perry, who is having fun and in the spirit of what this movie should have been which is an out-and-out episode of the Saturday morning cartoon show. Laura Linney is the police chief and gives a game performance because she is incapable of giving a bad one. That girl can act for days! I also liked character of Krang (voiced by Brad Garrett). The CGI for Krang is impressive and it’s pitched at such a juvenile level that it makes you wish the movie went all-out and was rated G instead of its current PG-13. Currently, the movie is toeing the line between being for little kids, older kids, teenagers or adults. The film is well-paced even though it’s an excessive 112 minutes and the animated closing credits sequence is awesome and worth sneaking into the theater for.

I’ll also give the movie props a bit for not being "dull bad" but instead "laughably bad." For example, the character of Donatello is hilarious to me. He’s saddled with a lot of expository science jargon and it’s so nonsensical that he reminded me of Damon Wayans’ Oswald Bates character in In Living Color. I also loved a sequence with Beebop and Rocksteady early in the movie, where they’re at a bar and they tell the bartender that they need untraceable burner phones. The bartender gives them the phones and B&R give the bartender a bill fold which looks like it holds thousands of dollars. Later in the movie, Casey Jones (played by Stephen Amell from Arrow) goes into the same bar and asks the bartender for information on Beebop and Rocksteady. The bartender at first tells him to piss off. Casey Jones then breaks the jukebox and smashes a Vanilla Ice CD followed by a couple of beer mugs. After that the bartender is like “Ok. Ok. I’ll tell you whatever you want.” So stupid.
Based on early reports, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows is tracking to make half of what the original reboot (I can’t believe I just wrote that) earned at the domestic box office. Barring foreign audiences really clamoring to this, it will likely mean a premature end to this Turtle run or a third entry with a drastically cut budget. If there’s a movie god that will mean Michael Bay and the folks at Platinum Dunes will ease the reigns and let their director really do their thing. But we know that won’t happen. This isn’t Blumhouse, after all. Turtles is an IP. It will go dormant and come back in less than 10 years, ready to make the same mistakes all over again.

Oh yeah, Megan Fox is in this movie too. Don’t ask me how she is. You know the answer already.

19 comments:

  1. Nothing in this review is wrong. But I still had a fun time watching this one.

    Except for that "want to be human" subplot. That was the worst.

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    1. Why not make one of them human even for just a short time?

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    2. I hated it because I knew exactly how it would end up as soon as it was introduced. "No we accept ourselves for who we are!" haha Thanks for the deep message TMNT2.

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    3. I assume the "wanting to be human" stuff is just Michael Bay projecting?

      Great review, Adam, brought my expectations back down to earth!

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  2. Raphael is almost human when he puts on that trench coat. I was fooled!

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  3. Thanks for this review, Adam. I'm a huge fan of the Turtles, but not really the movies beyond the original 1990 version and about half of the 2007 animated film. I'm bummed about this whole situation, because Michael Bay and friends have squandered this revival to the point where it may hurt other aspects of the franchise. Nickelodeon has done a decent job with their current series - it's definitely a kids show, but at least it understands it's a story about ninjas and not bulletproof monstrosities. Ratings, though, have never been great, but I guess it probably all depends on how well the toys sell.

    There's also an excellent comic book series currently published by IDW that's just as good as the original comics, in my opinion. They introduced Bebop and Rocksteady a few years back and made them credible, dangerous threats while also retaining the personalities people remember liking from the original cartoon.

    Overall, Bay and his team have a fundamental misunderstanding about what to deliver in a Turtles movie. Yes, people loved the old cartoon, but it's not a show that holds up particularly well when you revisit it. Staking an entire film on broad nostalgia only works if you can do it within the context of a good story. "Out of the Shadows" does a few "fan service" things right but still fumbles all the things important to a good movie.

    I think you pegged this one pretty well, Adam.

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  4. Great review Adam. Pretty much sums up what I already had in mind for this movie. Like someone above said, its difficult to be enthused much by any of the movies beyond the original 1990 version. That movie is a classic(yes I said classic) and will always have a special place in my heart. If only folks weren't satisfied with stuff like "out of the shaadows" when it hits theaters.

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    Replies
    1. I love the 1990 version so much. It feels like the finishing bookend to the 80s Jim Henson creature movies.

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  5. The names Bebop and Rocksteady are kind of adorable.

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    Replies
    1. They kind of are, aren't they?

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    2. Kind of cute, kind of culturally charged :)

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  6. If you are not sure if you are a TMNT fan watch the current Nickelodeon animates series. It blows away whatever Michael Bay thinks is a good movie. It's got great voice talent, it's funny, cleverly written and has great oddball references and jokes. The show embraces the weirdness of it's premise and the writers are clearly fans of horror films and John Carpenter, including a Christine episode, Invasion of the Body Snatchers and a Big Trouble in Little China episode. I'm not as excited about the current season-long outer-space plot, but it does feature the Turtles in Space, space-dinosaurs and a mutant shark in a metal shark suit.

    I watched the movie like my 8 year old self and enjoyed Turtles 2. For some reason the turtle design seemed less creepy than part 1, the jokes are funnier and there are some amusing scenes. Although I admit the plot was an exact photocopy of Turtles 1, minus the creepy Megan Fox fetish. So that's a bonus.

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    1. My kids too, said they didn't like the outer-space season as much. That being said, they still want to watch it again and again!

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  7. Just had to chime in that The Nickelodeon show is awesome. Adult, kid, it doesn't matter. It's fun without being patronizing or condescending. The movies should take notes.

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    Replies
    1. I'm curious enough to give the show a shot.

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    2. I just want to back you up on this one, Heath. That show is great. The creators really know how to balance appealing to both kids and adults who grew up with the turtles.

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    3. Yeah, my kids really love the newest TV show. The animation style is good looking, and from the bits and pieces I've seen, it seems well made.
      My kids want nothing to do with the live-action Turtles movies, although that's kind of a default on their part...animation >> real people...every time.

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  8. I know this is beating a dead horse, but I still really, really hate their designs. Way, way too busy. They're like organic versions of Michael Bay's Transformer designs.

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