Thursday 22 December 2016

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out Of The Shadows (2016) - Movie Review
At the beginning of last year, I briefly talked about the 2014 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie… and how I honestly liked it while the rest of the world seemingly didn’t. And you know what, after watching it again fairly recent in preparation for this review, I stand by it. I don’t have the greatest personal connection with the franchise, only watching a couple episodes of the original cartoon and the Kevin Munroe TMNT film, but from what I understand of the series ethos, this seemed alright. It’s not great, don’t get me wrong; there are plenty of comedic dead spots, the CGI takes a bit of getting used to (although, again, I have no real issue with it) and there is a very definite feeling that the filmmakers weren’t sure of how seriously to take the idea of large humanoid turtles as the main characters. But, considering how badly Platinum Dunes had done up to that point with pre-existing material, it was a decent watch. Hell, I am probably one of the few people on Earth who honestly wanted this sequel to happen. All aboard the karma train.

The plot: A year after the Turtles (Pete Ploszek, Alan Ritchson, Noel Fisher and Jeremy Howard) defeated Shredder (Brian Tee), it seems that his plans for domination are far from over. With the aid of scientist Baxter Stockman (Tyler Perry), thugs-turned-mutants Bebop (Gary Anthony Williams) and Rocksteady (Sheamus), and interdimensional despot Krang (Brad Garrett), he plans to assemble a device that will rip a hole in the fabric of space-time and allow Krang and his war machine to come through and turn the world to a cinder. It’s up to our Turtles, their reporter confidante April O’Neil (Megan Fox) and security guard-turned-masked vigilante Casey Jones (Stephen Amell) to save the day once again.

No matter how much leniency I have shown these films, one thing remains indisputable: The cast sucks. Sure, the Turtles themselves are well-acted (no Johnny Knoxville this time around, because he already has one terrible sci-fi comic-book-related sequel under his belt with Men In Black 2), along with Tony Shalhoub in a disappointingly reduced role as Splinter, and Noel Fisher once again makes his rather abrasive comic relief surprisingly palatable. The humans, on the other hand? Not so much. Megan Fox as April O’Kneel And Take It is just another performance meant solely for eye candy, which is still the only range she happens to have as an actor, Will Arnett is still obnoxious, Brian Tee is given a chance to actually be the Shredder but is still reduced to being second fiddle, Tyler Perry is… well, Tyler Perry and I continue to be thankful that we don’t get the Madea films over here because his antics here are bad enough, Gary Anthony Williams and Sheamus have decent chemistry but are incredibly exasperating together and not in any way fun, and Amell is somehow even more annoying than all three of them combined. I’m going to be charitable and assume that Casey Jones isn’t meant to be this obnoxious, but he is an absolute pain to see on screen and a complete failure to do sarcastic wit both as a performance and as a written character.

Probably one of the most fundamental tenets when it comes to writing fiction is to show some level of seriousness. Not exactly in terms of its content, but more in its execution: Believe in what you’re selling so that the audience is willing to buy it. Of the few genuine gripes I had with the first film, it’s near-constant need to point out its own ludicrousness was probably the biggest one for me. And unfortunately, that in no way has changed. Sure, the kitschy tone of the film can lead to some fun moments during the action scenes, but for the most part, it spends too much time picking itself apart to make sure that the audience doesn’t spend the whole film doing the same.

And yet, for a series that is still having trouble taking its own premise seriously, it sure is forcing as much into this as it can. Rather than being confident enough to take its time with introducing characters into the universe, this film just blazes through them with little to no context outside of “Hey, remember these guys?” Not only that, like when Bebop and Rocksteady are transformed, it’s actually presented dumber than in the original cartoon. That’s quite an accomplishment, considering how fundamentally screwy that show could get.

Then there’s the “oh, the people hate us even though we protect them” mentality of the Turtles, which even as a casual observer of the franchise feels wrong for these characters. A group this happy-go-lucky shouldn’t have to delve into standard masked superhero fare in order to work, which would explain why this doesn’t in that regard. This ends up being taken to an extreme that only seems to further emphasise how uncomfortable everyone here seems to be with the material where Raphael wants to use the purple Ooze to become human. Don’t really need to be a fanboy to see the betrayal at work here, and no, the fact that it ultimately goes nowhere doesn’t excuse that: This shouldn’t be here in any capacity, plain and simple. I get that this sort of discomfort with their line of work is a common trope of the more supposedly-mature comic book superhero films, but it doesn’t fit with what is ultimately the most light-hearted characters to come out of the self-serious morbidity that populated the 80’s and early 90’s. It’s a sad state of affairs where the endlessly moody DC Extended Universe, as of Suicide Squad, is more willing to have fun than the film series about mutant reptiles fighting mad scientists and ninja cheese graters.

All in all, I deeply regret ever saying that I wanted a sequel to the 2014 film because this sequel? It’s not good. The acting from the human characters is incredibly irritating, the effects work is decent but ends up devolving into a straight-up Playstation game during the finale, the writing is too focused on bringing in fan favourite characters and not enough on making audiences connect with the ones we already have, and the overall direction seems unable to make the main concept plausible. Jesus, even Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 3 was able to do that; better than this at the very least.

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