I was split when I saw the previews for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles sequel. Truly it seemed to be even dumber than its predecessor, but almost in a way that embraced the dumbness and had much more of a non-serious tongue-in-cheek approach to it. I wasn’t certain if this was gonna make the finished film any better, but I did know that it’s about time the Turtles got a movie based on their adventures that features Krang and Bebop & Rocksteady. We’ve seen quite enough of Shredder and are certainly not missing those evil statue-things from 2007’s TMNT or that guy with the birdcage from Turtles in Time.
In Out of the Shadows, the four main turtles – Leonardo (Pete Ploszek), Donatello (Jeremy Howard), Michelangelo (Noel Fisher), and Raphael (Alan Ritchson) – are back in action but still hidden from the human world along with their sage master Splinter (Tony Shalhoub) in the New York sewers. All credit for their last victory has been publicly given to Will Arnett‘s character (hah!), yet they maintain a friendship with the humans via new characters like vigilante Casey Jones (Stephen Amell) and old ones like spunky reporter April O’Neill, who’s not really “played” by Megan Fox so much as Fox said words while a camera was pointed at her. You can guess from that one “sexy” shot in the trailer how dignified the portrayal of Fox’ character is in this film compared to the last.
The story, as those of you in-the-know can tell, includes many aspects and characters of the Turtles mythology that have become classic by now. There is an alien dimension, a Technodrome, and a mutagen capable of making the Ninja Turtles human. This plot point leads to exactly nothing.
In spite of what I said earlier, Shredder does make an appearance in this film, now played by Brian Tee and more accurate to the source material than the bulking swiss army Transformer from movie 1. His plan involves the creation of Bebop and Rocksteady (Gary Anthony Williams and “Sheamus”), the iconic evil henchmen from the cartoons who are basically a mix between man-and-rhino and man-and-hog respectively. Two monstrous colossi of science gone wrong with one brain between them, they’re some of the more entertaining characters in the film. For a while.
I should mention that the scientist who aids Shredder in creating his henchmen is played by Tyler Perry, just so you know how careful you should be when deciding whether to see this movie.
Shredder, even so, isn’t the film’s main antagonist. The highly fan-anticipated warlord Krang (Brad Garrett) pulls the strings from the safety his poorly lit home dimension, which Shredder enters early on and receives the aforementioned mutagen that can make people “revert” to animalistic states and turn the Turtles into humans. Somehow this all feels like a creationist’s failed attempt at a joke about
the science of evolution “evolutionism”, hence my sudden urge to rewatch A Matter of Faith and laugh my way to an early damnation. I’m not going to comment so much on the science in general since this is, well, a Michael Bay film about turtle mutants and an alien brain, but I will point that all the technobabble in the world cannot hide the fact that you don’t know the difference between a black hole and a wormhole.
Speaking of Krang, he looks about as sickening as you’d expect, given the design choices that the Turtles movies already have on their track record. People who continue to defend these films on the grounds that they’re “just kids movies”, in spite of the main stars being abominable CGI ogres as opposed to funny-looking cartoon turtles, will have even more to answer for now that the sequel features a towering garbage robot that has a throbbing tentacle-tumor with a Kuato face bursting out of its stomach. My brother accurately compared him to a Doom 4 enemy that really wants to die.
As I’ve already admitted, this installment is going for a higher fun factor than the previous movie and it embraces its ridiculousness more lovingly, but that only makes the freakish imagery all the more jarring. In some shots, the turtles are more colorful and non-frightening than in the original film, which matters very little when you get a load of the reanimated roadkill that is Master Splinter or the Lovecraft-Giger love child that is Krang. I wasn’t a large fan of all the wide-angle close-ups of the Turtles’ slimey faces as presented with immensely obnoxious 3D either.
In fact, most of the camera work in this movie can be compared to a roller coaster you really wanna get off after not too long. In the dialogue scenes, where there’s less computer-generated visuals and sets, it isn’t too bad; it’s very grounded and almost immersive to watch. But then when the Turtles spring into action and start jumping/sliding all over the place, so too does the camera begin zipping around everything and follow Leonardo and friends wherever they manage to go in spite of what physical and gravitational laws still operate within this movie’s universe.
The camera is very rarely anchored to anything; it may have worked better if you, the audience member, could feel as though you were watching the ensuing action from a physically plausible vantage point. But who cares about meaningful stuff like that when there’s another over-the-top 3D tunnel chase to render, right?
There are some intriguing action scenarios in the film (it has a river chase that somehow manages to look nicer and be less idiotic than the one in The Desolation of Smaug), some of the sound design is spectacular, and I enjoyed the character interactions between especially the Turtles better this time around – as well as their arcs. I also felt like Brad Garett, no matter how repulsive Krang will be to some, was the voice actor that tried the hardest to give a truly interesting vocal performance. I know that Gary Anthony Williams is a trained voice actor as well, but most of Bebop’s voice seems to have been achieved via post-production audio editing of some sort.
The effects, while well-made and skillfully shaded, are composed of the same old regurgitated Michael Bay visuals with CG’d hunks of junk fighting each other semi-comprehensibly and overly detailed mechanical stuff flying about everywhere. Then you have the climax, which is basically Transformers 3 all over again, with a tiny dash of The Avengers, Fant4stic, Man of Steel and whatever other recent movies involve a villain who shoots a ray at the sky to form a portal to somewhere else and destroy the Earth.
I will confess that comparing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows to its predecessor makes it seem like a breath of fresh, pizza-scented air – it even plays the theme song over the end credits. Be that as it may, it still has more stupid jokes than good ones (some of them are punctuated by honest-to-God cricket noises), plenty of nonsensical plot developments, even more recycled Bay tropes I’ve yet to mentioned (Laura Linney‘s character is essentially Charlotte Mearing reborn), enough bemusingly edited together subplots to go around, and several performances that will make you convinced you’re truly watching the film’s porno spoof. I’m beginning to wonder what Megan Fox has agreed to star in next.