Brainless, but fun: 'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows'
I didn't see the last Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie from 2014, but can you blame me? The film came out to terrible reviews, the new "Shrek" Turtle designs looked ugly, and it was produced by Michael Bay. Though I have childhood nostalgia for the Turtles (although I was born too late for the late 80s TMNT phenomenon), I had no interest in seeing it.
Then the first trailer for the sequel, Out of the Shadows, appeared late last year and it looked like it could be good fun. After the first film got criticised for not being faithful to the original cartoon or comics, the fan-service was clearly jacked up in this new movie by giving us Bebop and Rocksteady, Baxter Stockman and Krang to look forward to. Then there was that fantastic final shot of the tank on the rapids; the kind of over-the-top moment that we need more of in action films. So does this movie live up to the promise of cartoon characters and brainless fun? For the most part, yes.
The basic premise of Out of the Shadows (no big spoilers) is that the first movie's villain, Shredder, is met by the alien general, Krang, who tasks him to find two pieces of an alien teleporter so that Krang can enter Earth's dimension and conquer it. Krang gives Shredder a mutagen (the "Ooze") that allows him to make his new henchmen, Bebop and Rocksteady. The Turtles get a hold of the mutagen through their mutual friend, April O'Neill, and discover they could use it to turn human, something that Michelangelo and Raphael want to do, but Leonardo does not want to consider.
The first twenty minutes or so of the movie create a pretty terrible first impression. The banter between the Turtles was annoying and full of moments where it felt like the writers were trying too hard to make the Turtles look cool for the kids, and so they ended up making them look childish and lame instead. You also get a scuzzy scene where Megan Fox dresses in a skimpy outfit just to pander to the 12-year old boys in the audience (because Michael Bay made this), and overall the dialogue and exposition is just flat-out awful.
Shortly after we get introduced to Krang, the film picks up across the board. I mean, it's still mostly brainless, but it at least feels like there's a base level of polish to the script that wasn't in the first twenty minutes. For one thing, the Turtles stop trying to act cool and start developing as characters. You get a real sense that they have distinctive personalities as they fight over the mutagen and the decision to turn human. That said, most everything else is your standard comic book "save the world" plot and unmemorable in the long run.
What makes Out of the Shadows entertaining are the performances, both from the live actors and the CGI characters. Almost everyone looks like they're having fun making this film and run with the absurd premise. Tyler Perry hams up his role as scientist Baxter Stockman, giggling over the technology he gets to play with. Laura Linney is great as the police chief who looks incredulous as she can't quite believe she exists in a world with ninjas and giant anthropomorphic turtles.
But it's Bebop and Rocksteady who steal the show. They are pitch-perfect recreations of the characters we know and love from the cartoon, happy to revel in their own vulgar stupidity. Krang is a perfect recreation of the cartoon character, although he doesn't have much presence here. He exists only to be the film's final boss, which is fair enough; the final fight scene is good fun.
Out of the Shadows has a colourful aesthetic that really feels like a cartoon or comic book come to life on the big screen, which is perfect for a TMNT movie. However, the visuals are marred by a directing style that constantly overuses extreme close-ups to the point that it's jarring and occasionally makes action hard to follow. Thankfully the two big action set pieces are still fun to watch, due to the filmmakers getting creative with the fights.
I saw this film in 3D, and while there's some pretty terrible ghost images during the nighttime scenes (common when there's a contrast between bright lights and dark backgrounds), those two big set pieces I mentioned look fantastic. Not much actually flies directly into the audience, but there's a lot of depth that makes the 3D pop on the big screen. Overall I'd recommend the 3D experience just for that.
As for how the film presents a furry aesthetic, the Turtles themselves mostly look just okay. They're not particularly appealing, but I don't think they look that ugly. Except for Michelangelo, who still looks like a rejected Shrek character design. Bebop and Rocksteady, on the other hand, look fantastic as furry characters. If your fursona happens to be a pig or a rhino, I think this film will make you very happy. But you don't need to take my word for that – you can see them quite well in the trailers. I don't know if Krang counts as furry, but he looks great as well.
To conclude, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows was a fun movie that delivers on its potential. Thanks to great performances and action set pieces, the film delivers probably the best Turtles experience since the original movie way back in 1990 (which holds up decently). That said, the story is still disposable. Whether this is a film you'd want to watch again depends on how much of a Ninja Turtles fan you are.
My assessment upon seeing the movie was largely the same. Donald-Trump-Voter levels of dumb, but fun in it's own way and the characterizations seemed to fit very well -- especially BeBop and Rocksteady. My biggest complaint? For as important a character as I know him to be, Splinter was criminally under-utilized. True, he looked better than in the last movie (as did the Turtles), but he literally Did Nothing. Just sat around in the lair dishing out "sage advice". (More like obvious platitudes, actually.)
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