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“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows” Has a Long Title and is Also Terrible

Don’t let’s try to pretend that the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have ever been the patron saints of verisimilitude.  Even in their original medium of the comics of Peter Laird and Kevin Eastman, there is a tongue-in-cheek flavor that is comfortable with the idea of anthropomorphized turtles who study the art of ninjitsu.  But, there’s a distinction between embracing absurdity for stylistic purposes and simply abandoning logic when telling your story, and the second TNMT film, Out of the Shadows, is embarrassingly guilty of the latter.  There are still moments that you can kick up your feet and enjoy some of the teenagers’ interactions and feats, but most of the time watching the latest Turtles is spent scoffing, laughing, and quizzically squinting at the screen in a vain attempt to understand why.

The easiest part of the film to ridicule is the plot.  Not only is it fraught with foolish motivations for both heroes and villains, but it suffers from Multiple MacGuffin Syndrome and introduces characters and crucial plot elements almost by coincidence.  As a simple example, the mutagen responsible for the creation of Bebop and Rocksteady is obtained from the alien Krang when Shredder accidentally teleports to his dimension.  The big third act fight is not only mostly unintelligible, but completely lacks any real climax . . . it just sort of ends eventually.  This is the kind of film that encourages heavy drinking during the daytime – both in an effort to numb the pain and to lighten spirits as you and some friends crack wise at the avalanche of absurdities.

Fortunately, Out of the Shadows does a lot right with its characters (though not all of them).  Of the returning characters, the turtles themselves are all great again, and this CGI-heavy style of portraying the turtles has definitely grown on me since the first film.  I actually like how they are not just carbon copies of each other with different colored bandanas, but actually have distinct faces, physiques, and personalities.  Most of their characteristics carry over from the original, and again their primary arc involves learning to fight together as a team.  It is disappointing that the creators couldn’t come up with anything more interesting for the turtles, but the characters themselves are strong.

Speaking of uninteresting, Megan Fox reprises her role as April O’Neal and turtle friend, and is just as cloying as before.  This is true for Will Arnett’s character as well, although he has a few funny moments.  Mercifully, these characters’ screen time is far-reduced in this film.  So, at least it understands that the point of a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle movie is not to follow around the idiot humans.    And as far as idiot humans go, The Shredder has finally hit rock-bottom.  I think if you were to go through this screenplay and just black out everything involving “The Shredder” then you would end up with a better film.  It is simply astonishing how little he does and how easily he is dispensed.

Concerning the new characters, two are a hit and three are absurdly off-target and ridiculous.  Bebop and Rocksteady are almost perfect in this iteration, though their shtick may wear on your nerves by the third act.  In their human forms they are ridiculous in the perfect way, and it only becomes more clear once they mutate (though the less said about the science behind the mutagen, the better).  The best scene in the film features these two interacting with the turtles, and sadly they only meet for a single scene.  But, overall, these two characters are hits, even when they are being stupid and annoying.

Baxter Stockman (Tyler Perry), Krang, and Casey Jones are the polar opposite:  each one has a particular quirk or idiocy about them that completely invalidates any interest I have in the character.  Baxter is supposedly a genius yet doesn’t understand that he is being wantonly exploited by Shredder (who in turn is being wantonly exploited by Krang – more on that in a moment).  Plus, the germination of their relationship is never explained at all, it is just taken at face value.

Krang is introduced in the most haphazard way imaginable:  Baxter teleports Shredder using an alien technology.  But, instead of going to the proper destination, he randomly ends up in Krang’s Technodrome for some reason.  There, Krang exposits about two separate MacGuffins before pratfalling and yelling at his robot-body as it punches him into the little stomach cavity.  It is a confusing mess of slapstick, bad CGI, and lazy writing.  Again – I understand that the idea of an alien brain in a large human-shaped robot suit is absurd.  But why is he a long-lost Marx brother?  Actually, that would be a marked improvement.  Let’s make that movie.

And finally, we come to Casey Jones, who is a police officer in this film.  A police officer.  He isn’t a street-level maniac who likes beating up on lowlifes with his cricket bat and hockey stick, he’s just a cop who “will make detective someday!”.  His love of hockey is shoe-horned into his character and results in some truly absurd sequences later in the film, like when he fabricates his own rollerblades in an attempt to escape the rampaging Bebop and Rocksteady.  Baxster and Krang are kind of stupid and fit poorly into the story, but Casey Jones is just shit.

The teenage mutant ninja turtles are and always have been ridiculous, and this is coming from someone who grew up loving them.  But, the best versions of their stories simply insist on a single suspension of disbelief (the power of the ooze to anthropomorphize various animals, and then maybe the alien Krang stuff, too).  From there, a logical plot progression driven by characters with realistic motivations creates a relatable story with relevant themes.  This is especially true in the first live-action adaptation of TNMT, which remains the very best.

These new Turtles films fail by assuming that since their subject is ridiculous then their style and technique can be similarly ridiculous.  Instead of instilling absurd characters with genuine heart and compelling storylines, these iterations loose absurd characters on a Snipe Hunt through plot holes, banality, and schlock.  The result is a cartoon (sometimes literally) pretending to discover value in its flailings.

Was anyone out there interested in seeing this latest Turtles flick, and did you enjoy it?  Am I being too hard on a movie made for six-year-olds, or should we still hold these kinds of movies to some kind of logical standard?  What about other Turtles movies – which is your favorite, and which ones do you hate?

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Derek Jacobs

Chicago,IL 60606

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