Do you remember that scene in Crocodile Dundee where Mick sees a TV in his hotel room and tells his companion that he’s only seen television once? He then turns on the set and sees “I Love Lucy” and says “Yup, that’s what I saw.” That’s how I feel about Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows. I only saw the cartoon show a few times but what I see in the movie is exactly what I saw on television, no more, no less.
What I saw here, I saw on TV: There are four mutated turtles – Leonardo, Raphael, Donatello and Michelangelo. There’s an Asian killer named Shredder. There are two irritating over-caffeinated morons, Bebop and Rocksteady. There’s a street vigilante who models his shtick on a hockey fetish. There’s a babalious reporter that the boys use to get information. There is a five-foot rat that gives the turtles sage advice. There’s an alien brain hooked to a mechanical body. And there’s a plot by the brain to rule the world via a sky fortress called The Technodrome. It’s all here, the toy box is open and all the toys are on display. If you recognize the pieces, you’ll probably get more from this movie then I did. Then again, I recognize all the pieces and I couldn’t care less.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows is the fourth comic book adaptation that I’ve seen in the past three months. At best, I can say that it’s probably the least sour of these four films, but in terms of its story, it’s the least substantial. It’s more of an exercise in fan gratification then a narrative. Actually, it’s less an adaptation of the Eastman and Laird underground comic book then on the early-90s TV show that followed. That show, restructured for the kid market, threw out the comic’s dark tone in favor of something more colorful. Actually it worked. The show had a cheeky charm and a sense of humor that was refreshing in an age when most animated action shows were as dull as a doorknob.
The script here by Josh Appelbaum and Andre Nemec – who both cut their teeth writing for television – tries to match the tone of the old cartoon show, but there’s something unsettling in their approach. They are trying to make a live-action cartoon but in translating animation to the gravity and weight of live-action, the material comes off as overbearing. The world in which the turtles live is the real world. We see the real New York, with real people and real cars and the contrast between the two feels all wrong. With the turtles and their mutated enemies, the movie should have a palette that allows the textures to be more than just dingy brick and concrete? For a world that contains teenage mutant ninja turtles, couldn’t you imagine a world that looks colorful and more artificial?
You’ll notice I’ve avoided discussing the plot. That’s because there isn’t much to talk about. The movie has two thread-bare plots running concurrently and neither have much to do with each other. The turtles, just like the other recent comic book characters, are experiencing an inner-conflict. After saving New York two years ago, the boys are frustrated at having to remain in the shadows. The group leader Leonardo reminds the boys that they have to move like the night, like ninjas. YET, this doesn’t keep the the turtles from driving around in a giant green flame-throwing van that shoots manhole covers!! No points for subtlety.
The other plot is more or less superfluous. It’s a half-written conflict involving a giant alien brain named Krang (voiced by Brad Garrett) who wants to open a portal to his dimension through which he will bring his flying fortress. His ally is Shredder (Brian Tee), a boring, humorless Asian assassin that breaks out of prison to find the lost pieces of Krang’s teleportation device. And for whatever reason, he employs a pair of escaped convicts to help in his mission, and for whatever reason turns them into a warthog and a rhinoceros.
And . . . pause!
Let’s talk about this for a second. Shredder’s underlings are named Bebop and Rocksteady. Shredder turns one into a rhino and the other into a pig, to which the movie explains that the reason they turn into these two animals is because each human being has the genes of a certain animal inside of them. When harnessed, an individual can be transformed into that animal. I’m not a geneticist but I’M PRETTY SURE THAT’S NOT HOW EVOLUTION WORKS!!
It doesn’t really matter anyway, the point of the movie is to employ an inventory of Ninja Turtles supporting players for the gratification of the fans. Along with Shredder, Krang, Bebop and Rocksteady, there’s also April O’Neil, played for all the sexual posing by Megan Fox; and Casey Jones, a dishonored former cop played by a woefully miscast Stephen Amell. In truth, this character that could have been excised from this movie without altering a thing.
I was fairly bored during this movie, then again I’m not a superfan, and I’m not a 12 year-old. Will your kids enjoy it? Well, it depends on your kids. It depends on how willing they are to sit through a lot of hyper action and noise. It’s probably harmless, but I will say please, oh, please, oh, please take them to see The Jungle Book first. That movie is one of the nicest surprises of 2016, a lively and highly entertaining fairy tale, and one that has been crafted with loving care by filmmakers who wanted to make something special. With Ninja Turtles they’ll likely remember what they’ve seen on TV and walk away from this movie saying to themselves, “Yup . . . that’s what I saw.”