I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows

tn_ninjaturtles2TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES: OUT OF THE SHADOWS takes the world of photorealistic animated humanoid amphibian vigilantes established in part 1 off in more fantastical directions. “The Shadows” of the subtitle are the levels of secrecy they require, fighting New York City ninja crime from their secret sewer home, hiding their existence by giving credit for part 1’s heroics to local news cameraman Vern (no relation) (Will Arnett, announcer voice for the DON’T trailer in GRINDHOUSE). But they get alot of teenage mutant ninja angst about having to watch the Knicks game from inside the Jumbotron like a bunch of lepers.

(note: it actually looks like amazing seats)

The turtles’ armored ninja ringleader arch-nemesis Shredder (now played by Brian Tee from TOKYO DRIFT) gets busted out during a prison transfer in a cool vehicle stunt sequence that totally would’ve existed without DARK KNIGHT, it’s only a coincidence. But the beauty of it is that

1) It’s arranged by a scientist in goofy “nerd” glasses and bow tie played by Tyler Perry (ALEX CROSS)

2) Shredder accidentally gets teleported to another dimension and is assigned a mission by a talking brain monster with robot body

Looking back on my review of the first one, I’m reminded that they went 20 minutes before showing the turtles, and wasted a bunch of the plot on the human characters trying to explain to other human characters that you gotta believe me there are these turtles. Part 2 starts with all that shit out of the way and the special effects already figured out and now we already got a talking brain with tentacle hands right here at the beginning. This is clearly a way better movie!

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You know something else? You know the Paramount studio logo, with the stars skidding across the water and going up around the mountain? They redid that with throwing stars. So obviously I saw that and I was in a good mood right from the beginning.

They also add two other colorful cartoon villains named Bebop (Gary Anthony Williams, aka Uncle Ruckus from The Boondocks) and Rocksteady (WWE Superstar Sheamus) who get turned into a warthog and a rhino. They are forever transformed, but they do not experience the pangs of body horror. They immediately think it’s awesome because they can headbutt things and they have big animal dicks now (they checked). I think it’s awesome because this is one of the only movies with a warthog sporting wrist spikes, a purple mohawk and sunglasses. They’re bikers but also punks, created by people who didn’t care if there was a difference, resurrected in a time when colorful hair no longer signals alley rapist. Echoes of misused signifiers from a previous era.

mp_ninjaturtles2On the good guy side they added hockey fan cop Casey Jones (Stephen Amell from Arrow), but he’s not a cool special effect, he’s just some dude that wears a strange goalie mask during one fight scene. Not a great addition – at best he’s a human love interest for ace reporter April O’Neil (Megan Fox) to block the turtles from sexually harassing her.

As the turtles try to stop Shredder from stealing the parts to a machine that will open a portal or whatever there is some in-fighting. Leonardo always broods about their teamwork being subpar, while Raphael roid rages about not being allowed to kick ass on his own terms, or sneaks off and lies about it. The theme of the movie is they wish they could come “out of the shadows” and even consider using a chemical that for some reason would turn them into humans. Ultimately they decide to (SPOILER) stay turtles but also to stay hidden, so the status quo is pretty much the same at the end, except that now they have a relationship with the police department. Which brings up ethical questions for the police in my opinion. I guess maybe they’d just consider them informants from within the mutant ninja community.

There are a few comical vignettes with the human characters for padding (April creates a sexy schoolgirl outfit on the fly to get information out of somebody – long story) but there’s a high concentration of these sophisticated FX depicting ridiculous, cartoonish scenes, and for the most part they look spectacular. They got me thinking that it wasn’t a lie when AVATAR came out and everybody called it a “game changer,” because here we are in a world with this incredible technological craftsmanship in a lowbrow kid’s movie, and nobody bats an eye.

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These are literally surface pleasures – I like how real it looks when they’re standing in a river, water dripping off of them, sun shining on them. Being a Michael Bay production they have his signature overly-detailed aesthetic, but while all the crap all over his Transformers made them hard to make out, the turtles have visible expressions and poses, and unlike the other Ninja Turtles movies they have different body types to distinguish them from each other, not just color coding. So all the little details – the gadgets and weapons attached to their shells, the scars, the tape on Donatello’s broken glasses – add to the realism instead of getting in the way of the animation. And there’s something fascinating about watching these guys zipping around using unique transportation methods that usually involve flipping, sliding, bouncing, swinging and a rocket propelled skateboard (though sometimes just driving a souped up, manhole-cover-firing garbage truck).

The only letdown really is that the climactic battle, for reasons I couldn’t quite put my finger on, looks like you’re watching someone play a video game. I know it’s partly the way the camera moves and the fact that it’s turtles jumping around on a floating platform shooting things at a monster, but I think maybe there’s something changed in the frame rate or something that gives it a different look from the rest. I don’t know. But it’s the only part that took me out of the world of the movie.

The rest of the time they look like they’re really standing there, and seeing such fantastical creatures in normal live action situations and visual styles is fun. My second favorite part is when they’re caught breaking into police headquarters and held at gunpoint by completely astounded cops. My first favorite part is when they later team with the cops and there’s a brief handheld sequence of them walking in New York City streets with a SWAT team. Like, let’s get a little bit of a gritty police procedural but with some turtle monsters in the cast.

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I didn’t like the first movie, but I do have a bit of a soft spot for it because of an absolutely incredible chase scene down a mountain by second unit director Dan Bradley. This one credits David Leitch (co-director of JOHN WICK) and Spiro Razatos (stunt coordinator for the MANIAC COP series and many of the FAST AND FURIOUSes) as second unit directors (something they also did for CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR) and while I can’t say they topped the snow chase I do think they have multiple very good action sequences. The biggest showstopper is when they jump from one jet to another, and I wonder what kind of reference or motion capture you use to create such a believable, photorealistic skydiving turtle?

When Bebop or Rocksteady (I forget which) fires a big gun at them from inside and blows the front of the plane off, Donatello has to perform an emergency water landing. I doubt Clint would’ve bothered making SULLY if he’d seen this. The visual detail on the blown apart plane, the sky and the land that they’re plummeting toward is so real I actually found this sequence scary.

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It also delights me that Laura Linney (YOU CAN COUNT ON ME, CONGO, ABSOLUTE POWER) plays the chief of police and that she treats the role completely seriously. I don’t know if she has kids who like the cartoon, or if she only did this as a companion piece to SULLY. Whatever made her agree to the gig she treats it like a respectable movie, even during a scene where she tries to be encouraging to turtles about their place in society. It’s an admirable work ethic and it adds to the movie.

Perry is not as good as Linney, because he seems like he’s trying to be funny some of the time. His character is a little bit like Kanye in that he’s obsessed with being legendary and keeps comparing himself to Steve Jobs and Galileo. He has a better claim to it though because he’s a mad scientist from cartoons who discovered interdimensional travel. Anyway, it was cool to see him in a movie yelling “Get them out of there! Eliminate those turtles!”

Dave Green (EARTH TO ECHO) takes over for part 1 director Jonathan Liebesman, with the same writers, Josh Appelbaum & Andre Nemec (MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – GHOST PROTOCOL). This time I think they found a much better tone, less obnoxious, more fun. I even found myself laughing at some of the jokes! Like the part where one of them psyched himself up to skydive by talking to himself about Vin Diesel.

I’ll just have to face the fact that I kind of liked this movie. It’s certainly the best of the four ninja turtle movies I’ve seen.

I didn’t pay any attention to this when it came out, so I just assumed it was a hit like the first one and I was actually excited for the next one. Apparently Tyler Perry’s character would turn into a giant fly who still wears clothes. But I looked it up and it looks like this one didn’t make back its gigantic budget. Sorry turtle people. You gave it your best and we let you down.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, October 4th, 2016 at 10:17 am and is filed under Action, Comic strips/Super heroes, Family, Martial Arts, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

19 Responses to “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows”

  1. Made my opinion known in the prior movie’s thread, I thought it was dumb fun greatly enhanced by very low expectations. I disagree with you on Tyler Perry though, I got a kick out of his camp performance and felt he was a (human) highlight. On opposite side, it is nice that Laura Linney was a total pro as well, too many times you see these talented actors appearing in big movies (or genre movies) and they just phone it in.

    I too was surprised that the movie didn’t do very good, this the movie fans have been asking for, for a long time (also I figured the Turtles were still popular with the kids thanks to the current cartoon). They just wanted a movie that adapted the original cartoon instead of trying to be like the original comic. Either they were a very vocal minority or despite their demanding fan-entitlement they ended up deciding to not support the movie they’ve been asking for, for years.

  2. This might be my favourite film of the year and it even was a year, where I somehow managed to watch more new releases than usual. Yes, I admit, watching it while being in a far away country, with my girl by my side and being stoned from travel sickness pills, might have something to do with it, but it’s hard to not watch this compilation of super goofy can-you-believe-they-spent-a-shitton-of-money-on-THAT live action (?) cartoon moments without a dumb smile on your face. This movie transformed me into the 10-ish years old boy, who dreamt of a true movie version of his favourite cartoon!

    I kinda have to disagree with your view on the FX, though. Maybe they look better on TV, but on a theatrical screen, they often looked kinda dodgy at times. Especially one moment, where the Rhino was just standing there talking, but moved like a stop motion character, made me wonder if they had enough time in post production.

    And I really don’t like their version of Casey Jones, who is here more a sunnyboy who is scared of sucking at his day job, instead of the slightly deranged vigilante that he normally is.

    I still hope that they make another movie and the budget will be high enough to bring Bebop and Rocksteady back. As much as I like the movie, I FUCKING LOVED it, whenever these two guys were on screen and I wanted to high-five my girlfriend, when we learn, that they survive at the end (mild spoiler).

  3. geoffrey, I think the bad box office was more a case of “fool me once”. Even if the marketing focused on the goofy fun aspects, the first one might have scared too many fans away. But it should become a fan favourite over the next few years.

  4. Yeah, I was shocked that I kinda liked this. It would be nice if they ever wrote another story for between the action scenes than than Leo & Raph Clash About Leadership -> Everyone Realizes They Have To Work Together As A Team -> Victory By Combined Turtle Power … But on the plus side, it was goofy and fun and both way less serious and filled with way less HOO BOY I’D SURE LIKE TO STICK MY MUTATED TURTLE DICK IN THAT FINE-LOOKING MEGAN FOX Bayisms than the first one. Also thought it looked like they worked on the character design for this to make them distinguishable by more than their headbands.

    Apart from ruining Casey Jones this was like my best-case scenario for a fun Bay-produced TNMT movie.

    And with Krang on the scene maybe we’ll fucking finally get to the part where they’re fighting robot ninjas in the next one. :)

  5. I agree with the “fool me once” attitude. Also, this movie inherited the horrific/grotesque design of the Turtles, which — aside from being so overly muscled and roided out that it actively works against the ‘teenage’ aspect of the characters — is visually unappealing as hell. You put that on a poster and you expect people to want to see it? The movie sounds like a fun time, so it’s a shame that the filmmakers were stuck with all this leftover crap that dragged it down, box-office-wise.

  6. * I meant ‘theory’, not ‘atittude’

  7. * and I misspelled ‘attitude’

    What the hell is wrong with me

  8. “aside from being so overly muscled and roided out that it actively works against the ‘teenage’ aspect of the characters”

    Like I said, I thought that was one of the biggest improvements over the first one where they actually did all look the same. Raph still looks roided out as hell but it makes sense because he’s the meathead of the group. Leo’s also pretty cut because he’s the leader but slightly less so. Compare Those two to Donnie who looks way scrawnier because he’s the nerdy one. Mikey is somewhere between Raph / Leo and Donnie body-wise but also on the thinner side and the smallest, because he’s their resident dumb teenager and gets to ride his dumb rocketboard around.

    It’s a small thing but while I was watching it I really appreciated the attention given to separating them by more than just the colors of their headbands this time.

  9. Whoops, here’s that group screenshot again.

    Imgur: The most awesome images on the Internet

    Imgur: The most awesome images on the Internet.

  10. I honestly had no idea this even existed. And I saw the ads for it. Lots of ads. I didn’t realize it was a part 2, though. I thought it was still the first one. But, I’m not the target audience, so you can’t go by my experience as to why people didn’t go see it.

  11. Finally saw this recently against my wishes, and it totally blew me away. I loved it, although it could do with a bit more Arnett.

  12. I actually rather enjoyed the first one. I have no idea why. Well, I kinda do. I was expecting pure crap and I felt it had some genuine-ness to it, and great action.
    I hated the cartoon back in the day, but loved the Palladium RPG and the Mirage comics. When the 1990 movie came out I avoided it with my teenage snootiness that it wasn’t “trve” to the Mirage comics and therefore worthless. I hadn’t seen anything TMNT in so long, the 2014 movie was a delight. So I ought to see this.

  13. No mention of the clear-as-day massive production problems? The guarantee the first Krang scene was not his original first scene.

    I think this is another Suicide Squad situation. It’s so weird that they aged the movie down so much. It doesn’t even play to 12-year-olds, it plays to 7 or 8-year-olds. But it doesn’t look like it was originally shot with that target audience in mind.

  14. Are you saying 7-8 year olds get better movies than the 12 year olds?

  15. What about 9 year olds?

  16. The odd thing about this film and its predecessor is that I saw both films in theaters when they were totally on their last legs and I mean to the point when there was only one showing for the film that day which implied that after that week it would be pulled. With that being said, I have to say that I found myself enjoying this one more than the first film, even though the first film had some decent action. I liked how there was more focus on the turtles this time around in comparison to the first one. I actually liked how they had the other characters like Bebop and Rocksteady in it, along with Krang. However, I felt that there should have been more of Krang in it so that we could see him as more of a threat.

    I am slowly trying to get myself back into the Ninja Turtles whether it’s through the cartoons or comics. I remember I used to watch the 1980s/1990s cartoon when I was a kid so I was part of that craze myself.

    As for that last part, I wonder if Blu Ray and DVD sales might warrant a third film. I was at Sam’s Club yesterday and they were almost sold out of copies.

  17. Apparently there is an interview with the producer over at Collider where he says the new film series is dead due to poor box office. I’ve already read a lot of chatter about how the sequel didn’t fix any of the issues of the first one which leads me to believe that CJ was right and the fans decided on a once burned attitude with this one. Which is funny because I’m historically used to fans hemming and hawwing and still going to go see these things.

  18. This was the year of sure-thing sequels/prequels/remakes underperforming, wasn’t it?

    I saw this one at the theater and while I liked that it seemed less embarrassed of it’s premise than the first one, it still wasn’t exactly a good movie. Something about the busy, overdesigned characters and weightless action just makes me tune out after a while. I guess if I hadn’t already grown up with the cartoon then the craziness of a punk/new wave warthog man and a brain tentacle monster from another dimension might have made more of an impression on me. I realize that the original version of Casey Jones, an over-the-top parody of comic-book vigilante antiheroes, probably wouldn’t fly with modern audiences, but why even bother if he’s going to be such a forgettable, weak-sauce character.

  19. I’d agree with that, in fact I think I kind of went through what some of you guys went through with THE EXPENDABLESes. I certainly always wanted the TRANSFORMERSes. and to a lesser extent the previous TURTLES film and the second G.I. JOE to have more of the goofy innovation and, dare I say it, wit of the 80s cartoons, but watching this while I enjoyed the first half of the film my interest palled and it became clear to me that similar to a mega-cast not being enough to make EXPENDABLES a classic, nostalgia and fidelity certainly aren’t enough to make TURTLES 2-2 a genuinely good film. It’s interesting to see the perspective of someone like Vern though, who did not grow up on or have much knowledge of the cartoon and just enjoyed seeing ridiculous but creative shit like a walking brain or a mutant punk warthog.

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