Saturday, June 4, 2016

"Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows" (2016)

Starring Pete Ploszek, Alan Ritchson and Noel Fisher
Written by Josh Appelbaum and Andre Nemec
Directed by Dave Green
Rated PG-13: Violence, language, frightening images
Running Time: 112 Minutes
Trailer

After saving New York City from the Shredder (Brian Tee), the ninja turtles Leonardo (Pete Ploszek), Raphael (Alan Ritchson), Michelangelo (Noel Fisher) and Donatello (Jeremy Howard) have retreated back into the sewers. Intent on remaining secret from the world above, they allow their friend human Vern (Will Arnett) take the credit for taking down Shredder. Their other human friend, journalist April O'Neil (Megan Fox) remains on the trail of Shredder's cronies and discovers a plan by scientific genius Baxter Stockman (Tyler Perry) to break Shredder out of prison.

The turtles put in a valiant effort, but are unable to keep Stockman from using an alien teleportation device from whisking Shredder out of police custody. But this miraculous escape has consequences: Shredder is transported to another dimension where he makes a deal with Commander Krang (the unrecognizable voice of Brad Garrett) to find two more pieces of the alien device that will allow Krang to transport his Technodrome war machine to Earth and subjugate its population.

To help keep the turtles off his back, Krang helps Shredder create two powerful mutants: Bebop (Gary Anthony Williams) and Rocksteady (Stephen Farrelly). But the turtles will have some help of their own: Along with the sage advice of their father Splinter (Tony Shalhoub), April and Vern, they'll be joined by enthusiastic police officer/hockey enthusiast Casey Jones (Stephen Amell) as they battle to take down the Shredder again and protect not just New York but the entire planet from Krang's forces.

For better and worse, "Out of the Shadows" is probably the closest live-action take to the 1980s "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" cartoon series that remains famous and popular to this day.

On the one hand, "Out of the Shadows" is as goofy and absurd as such a comparison suggests. It's got all the hallmarks of that series (including an updated version of the theme song over the end credits), generally updated for 2016 live-action. The turtles cruise around the city in an armored garbage truck that has giant robot nunchuck arms and can shoot manhole covers. Krang is an alien brain that lives inside the stomach of a robot battlesuit. There are multiple gags involving pizza, and even the fights generally involve a solid amount of slapstick throughout (especially any involving the enthusiastic-but-dumb Bebop and Rocksteady).

On the other hand, this means that despite the fact that this is a feature-length live-action piece, it suffers from a plot that makes no sense, paper-thin characters and production that seems more designed around selling toys and merch than making a good film. There is the occasional moment of emotional content here, especially in a couple scenes in the latter half of the movie where the turtles struggle to reconcile their roles as both crime-fighting team and family. But, these bits are, much like the first film, completely perfunctory and exist as nothing more than good ideas that the film is obviously uninterested in exploring. They exist to placate people who might be asking slightly more of their "Ninja Turtles" theatrical experience than brightly colored goofball action.

The movie rockets from action sequence to action sequence, often not even bothering to determine whether the connective tissue between them makes any sense. On the one hand, the movie has a rhythm and energy to it that makes it light and watchable, but on the other it always seems to feel like a missed opportunity. Anyone who's read some of the TMNT comics, especially the last few years by IDW publishing, can tell you that there's room in the premise for real emotion and interesting plotting... but you won't find it here.

"Out of the Shadows" also curiously pulls its punches. For a movie called "Out of the Shadows," it's remarkably unwilling to push its characters, um, out of the shadows. Indeed, by the end of the movie, the existence of the turtles is still kept a secret from the public at large — and it's the turtles themselves that don't seem to want to reveal themselves, even at the prodding of the local police, who pledge their support.

I'm not sure whether this one is an improvement over the 2014 film, but at least it doesn't suffer from the hodge-podge feel of a movie jammed together after last-second reshoots like that one. Instead, it feels like a hodge-podge collection of bubble-gum action sequences. It gets the same things right that the first film did, primarily the performances and personalities of the title characters. One of the best scenes in the movie involves the four brothers arguing about their roles on the team: Leo admonishes Mikey for bungling their mission, and Raph angrily spits at Leo that he "knows everything about strategy, but nothing about emotions." Leo sits alone looking hurt for the rest of the scene. Not long after, Splinter helps Leo realize that it's the brothers' different perspectives that make them valuable to him as a team leader. If there was more stuff like this in the movie, it would probably rate a lot higher.

The turtles themselves remain the best thing about these movies, but the human characters feel even more worthless here. Megan Fox's April O'Neil is somehow more underwritten here, and Fox's job in most scenes is to just look as pretty as possible while the plot whisks by behind her. On the upside, both Stephen Amell and Tyler Perry seem to know exactly what kind of movie they're in. Both of them are over-acting in the right ways. Amell's Casey Jones isn't the tortured loner the character is usually portrayed as, but instead an enthusiastic cop who wants more than anything to be a good cop and he really enjoys his job. Amell is clearly having fun here, often looking like he's about to break like he's on SNL. Tyler Perry is the same, playing his Baxter Stockman with a kind of nerdy malicious glee like he doesn't even care that this movie isn't good. This kind of self awareness helps make the fact that movie actually isn't good more palatable.

Ultimately, like before, if you're looking for a legitimately good "Ninja Turtles" movie you should look elsewhere. As a nostalgia piece for the animated series of the 80s, "Out of the Shadows" is probably the closest you'll get without actually revisiting that series... and all that that implies.

See Also
"Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" (2014)
"TMNT" (2007)