Tuesday, June 7, 2016

"Teenage Mutant Ninja Turles: Out of the Shadows" Review: This Sequel Has Got Turtle Power

The history of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in both TV and Film is a long and complicated one. There has been an 80's cartoon, three live action films from the 90's, another animated series in the 2000's, an animated movie in 2007 and now the Michael Bay produced live action reboot from 2014. The one take away from all those different iterations of the popular franchise is that nobody ever seems to be on the same page as how to handle it to the point where almost none of those series or movies feel cohesive with one another. Well for the first time in TMNT history we have a film that not only feels pleasantly familiar but also pays a staggering amount of tribute to the legacy of the turtles themselves. Read the full review after the break.

Review Vital Stats:   
Projector Type: 2D Digital           
Film Rating: PG-13
Film Runtime:  1 hr 52 min
Studio: Paramount Pictures
Release Date: June 3, 2016

Loves: TMNT movie (1990), TMNT 80's cartoon series
Likes: That we finally got Krang!
Neutral: TMNT: Secret of the Ooze, TMNT movie (2014)
Hates: TMNT 3 (1993)
Laura Linney?: What the hell is she doing in a TMNT movie?

The turtles try to figure out why Casey Jones is a cop instead of a vigilante.

At the end of the last film the turtles had vanquished Shredder (Brian Tee) and saved the city from certain doom but as we soon discover here were unable to take credit for their heroic deeds instead being forced to stay hidden from a fearful New York population that might not understand or accept who they are. While they languish in the shadows however April O'Neil (Megan Fox) is doing some undercover investigative journalism when she uncovers a plot by renowned scientist Baxter Stockman (Tyler Perry) to rescue Shredder from his imprisonment and allow him to take control of the Foot Clan once again. April and the turtles attempt to thwart the jail break but during the chaos things go wrong and Shredder ends up being transported to another dimension where he comes face to...uh, face with an alien life form known as Krang (voiced by Brad Garrett) who instructs him to return to Earth and piece together a device that will allow him and his ultimate weapon called the Technodrome to enter our dimension and then proceed to take over the planet.

The one thing most adaptations get wrong be it television to movie, book to movie, video game to movie or comic to movie is that for some reason the writers/filmmakers are generally afraid to embrace the story as it has already been written. Sometimes changing things up can result in an amazing film (see The Lord of the Rings) but most of the time we end up with something like the Doom movie where for absolutely no apparent reason they change the demons from the video game for aliens in the movie. Does it make the movie any better or worse by making that change, not really but then why risk it? Even if your movie sucks at least there are the fans of the original property from which it is being adapted whom will likely love it regardless of its flaws.

It's the friggin turtle van! Does that mean the turtle blimp isn't far behind?

That isn't likely the sort of reaction audiences will have to Out of the Shadows (henceforth known as OOTS). While all the elements from the cartoon are represented to near perfection the film itself isn't exactly going to set the world on fire. For all intents and purposes, OOTS is a serviceable action film with some good humor, good effects and is relatively harmless in the grand scheme of things. But that is usually a recipe for mediocrity which can result in some major indifference relegating the film to obscurity. That will not be the case of OOTS though thanks in most part to the level of nostalgia evoked from the inclusion of so many elements that made fans fall in love with the turtles in the first place.

That is mainly due to director Dave Green going far above and beyond all expectations by incorporating not only many familiar characters from that beloved 80's animated series but in a real shocking move has actually kept their origins somewhat intact with only a couple of minor exceptions. While it isn't the first time we have seen a feature film use popular characters from their respective properties this may well be the very first time (this is including all the Marvel films as well) we have seen it done to this level of detail and this amount of respect for the fans. Truly, this isn't so much a sequel to that ho-hum 2014 film as it is a love letter to all the adults out there who grew up watching the 80's TMNT every Saturday morning on their televisions.

Making their feature film debut, Bebop and Rocksteady don't disappoint.

The turtles, Leonardo (Pete Ploszek), Donatello (Jeremy Howard), Raphael (Alan Ritchson) and Michelangleo (Noel Fisher) each have distinct personalities that seems more focused than the last film giving them some individual motivations which was nice. Shredder is shown as being sort of an idiot but not a buffoon which is in keeping with his cartoon counterpart. Bebop (Gary Anthony Williams) and Rocksteady (Sheamus) are appropriately airheaded but not exactly idiots. Krang is deceptive, intelligent and powerful but succumbs to his own arrogance. If you watched the cartoon then all of these characterizations will ring true for you and it is sort of amazing that after over 25 or so years we finally have an accurate live action representation of the cartoon series. However, while those characters were nailed for the most part there are always exceptions to every rule.

Just about the only thing fans could complain are the returning characters (who were already bad) April O'Neil, Vern (Will Arnett) and the two newcomers, Baxter Stockman and Casey Jones (Stephen Amell). Megan Fox continues to be horrible at being a news journalist and must resort to dressing like a striper schoolgirl to do anything useful and this series continues to find new ways to make Will Arnett not funny. While those two were sadly expected to underwhelm it is Tyler Perry and Stephen Amell who hurt the most. Probably the biggest offender in the whole film (and that is saying something with this crowd) is Tyler Perry as Baxter whose overacting is beyond ridiculous. Baxter was never really hyperactive nor mad scientest-y and Perry plays him as if he were a special needs case most of the time which comes off more annoying than anything else. Perry can be a good actor (see Gone Girl) but he clearly needs someone to reel him in from time to time.

The Shredder is kind of useless this time around, but somehow that seems fitting.

As for Amell's Casey Jones, as far as how he fits the part he is just OK. He really doesn't make an impression either good or bad which may be the most damning thing one can say about an actor. The real tragedy is how the film uses him which is the only character in the film that feels like the writers never watched the show or read the comics. Instead of being a hardened vigilante out for justice he is a cop looking to become a detective which is the complete opposite of what that character should be. Luckily it isn't too offensive as Casey Jones has sort of always been a rather uninteresting part of the TMNT universe so if they were gonna mess one of them up it might as well have been him.

Alas, nostalgia only gets you so far (no matter how well done it is) and eventually you have to look at the film as a whole and in that case OOTS comes in as only competent. The story isn't very engaging, just your usual bad guys trying to dominate the world plotline and despite most of the characters being fairly well represented from the cartoon they are mostly one dimensional (as they were on the cartoon as well). But as far as overall production it is a good looking film and the special effects are up to date and look fine, this is a Michael Bay produced film after all so don't be surprised if it looks stylistically like some of his other films...cough...Transformers...cough. The one area that probably could have used some improvement though is in the editing department as on more than one occasion characters just magically transport from one side of the world to the other with no clear way of traveling (how did Bebop and Rocksteady make it back home so quickly after their plane crashed in the middle of the jungle?)

More important than having Krang in the movie is that they actually got him right.

As with all films though it comes down to whether or not it was entertaining. Aside from some glaring plotholes, some unfortunate casting and destroying the origin of Casey Jones, I liked it. OOTS is a huge improvement over the 2014 film and in many ways is more accurate to the 80's cartoon than the original TMNT movie. That last statement may be blasphemy to many but hey, go back and watch that film and try to identify anything in it that paid tribute to either the animated series or comic, I dare you. Anyway, if you are a TMNT purist chances are you will still hate OOTS simply because that is your duty, but if you are willing to look past its flaws you might just come away surprised at just how good the film is.


The impossible has happened, we got ourselves a TMNT movie that is (mostly) faithful to the 80's cartoon series that even features Krang of all things, the one character nobody ever thought would make an appearance in a live action turtle movie. But here he is and done fairly well (Brad Garrett's voiced acting was on point as well capturing all those little nuances to the character's odd pronunciations). If you are writing this sequel off simply because the 2014 movie wasn't all that great or that it has Michael Bay's name attached to it then you are doing yourself a disservice, especially if you are a turtle fan.


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