At the end of the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie, after saving New York once again, the turtles are honored by the NYPD for their outstanding valor and uncompromising cooperation.
Their uncompromising cooperation.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows picks up right where the previous movie left off, with Shredder (Brian Tee) freshly behind bars after being apprehended by the turtles. With Leonardo (Pete Ploszek) still unwilling to reveal to the world they exist, they’ve cut a deal with Vern Fenwick (Will Arnett) to take credit for their heroics, though Raphael (Alan Ritchson) and Michaelangelo (Noel Fischer) dissent and long for the spotlight. April O’Neal (Megan Fox) and Donatello (Jeremy Howard) discover a Foot Clan plot to free Shredder early in the movie — one that is successful despite the turtles’ best efforts. By operating exclusively during daylight hours, Shredder enacts several plans the turtles could otherwise easily thwart, such as turning Bebop (Gary Anthony Williams) and Rocksteady (Stephen Farrelly) into gigantic beasts who can stand toe-to-toe with the turtles and collecting the scattered beacon to summon Krang’s (Brad Garrett) apocalyptic warship.
This movie is bad. There’s no getting around that. The CGI is awful, the slapstick elements are awful, the tone fits the general vibe of the franchise but that vibe was never going to translate well to film. There’s a certain level of believability that’s always expected with a live-action production — even if it’s a surrealist movie, that surrealism is expected to be believable. If you simply throw as much crap on the screen and into the script as you can, advertise for it and tell yourself people who aren’t in your target audience can just not come to the theater, you’re not going to end up with a critical or commercial success, and this movie fits that pattern. Out of the Shadows is sits at 37 percent on Rotten Tomatoes — a sharp increase from just before release, when it was hovering around 20 percent — and it’s tracking for a modest at best $34.2 million opening.
Tone is the movie’s biggest problem. The creative team seemed to have already given up on making a decent movie from the start, and that’s a shame because there are some great individual elements here. The story structure is strangely balanced and risky for a major release, but it works really well. The action choreography is fantastic, but the scenes are shot for maximum cheese. The whole movie is like that, really — anything that could have been impressive is shot with the distinct goal of not being.
The best example is an early scene when O’Neal is getting information on Shredder’s prison break. O’Neal has a cool automatic wireless hacking device Donatello made her, but has to be within three feet of a device for an extended time period to hack it. In disguise, she saddles up to Baxter Stockholm (Tyler Perry) to hack his laptop, using her feminine wiles to distract him. However, he hands the laptop off to another Foot Clan member before the hack is complete. O’Neal follows him out of the restaurant into public and sees some cosplayers he’s about to cross paths with taking selfies. All while maintaining distance from her quarry, O’Neal removes her wig and glasses, switches up her blouse, steals a miniskirt and puts it on, then closes distance, catches him and tangles him up with the cosplayers long enough to finish the hack. It’s a seriously badass bit of espionage, but instead of playing it like the dramatic effort that it is, the movie stops to stroke itself over Fox, putting everything she does in slow motion, fetishizing her and setting the whole thing to shitty, sexualized synth pop.
The step from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to this movie reminds me of the step from Transformers to Transformers 2. Though mostly poorly received, the first movies in each franchise have strong focuses on the central human characters who drive the plot and allow the audience to really connect to the story and the wonder of what’s happening in a way a lot of CGI-heavy movies don’t. Both movies pop because of that strong protagonist anchoring everything to what viewers can understand.
In the second movies, it’s all about the schlock. That character connection is pigeonholed and the former protagonists are made into joke side characters. The end result are movies you don’t really remember seeing because you didn’t connect with anything in them.
Leopold Knopp is a formerly professional film critic, licensed massage therapist and journalism student at the University of North Texas. Like Reel Entropy on Facebook, follow it on Twitter @reelentropy, and shoot questions to reelentropy@.