I’ll preface this review with an admission: I am not nor have ever been amongst the Ninja Turtles fandom. If that disqualifies me from passing judgement on this film (fact: it does not) then please, be on your way. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out. I have however eaten my fare share of Kraft Mac ’n’ Cheese out of a Donatello or Leonardo-fixtured bowl throughout my day – probably more recently than I would care to admit – and that ought to prove credential enough to talk about this mouthful of a dazzlingly busy kiddie sequel, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows.
Descriptors like cluttered, noisy and grating can be applied with ease to this follow-up to the 2014 Michael Bay-produced iteration of the Ninja Turtles. A CGI whirlwind of blurry action and stomach-churning 3D spectacle mix with a ear-battering cacophony of sword clangs, improbably lame quips and ear-splitting gun reports, resulting in a runny ooze of intolerable cognitive dissonance that’s guaranteed to make your head spin and your brain to temporarily malfunction. (That I sound like a grandmother describing it makes me dislike the film all the more.) But, speaking on behalf of those of us who don’t like our eardrums didgeridooed and our eyes pried apart Clockwork Orange-style and sprinkled with computer animated glitter, Out of the Shadows somehow achieves the should-be impossible task of being visually noisy and audibly beastly. It is often so heinously overwhelming on an audio/visual level, it literally alters the way one’s senses work. This ought to speak to the kind of experience one will encounter if they are unfortunate enough to stumble into this decidedly not radical headache of a movie but for those not already convinced, let’s talk a bit about this “plot” for a wee bit shall we?
Returning to the franchise is Megan Fox as April O’Neil, a character billed as a talented reporter who instead spends the movie flitting between ninja battles and flirting her way into information, like from nefarious mad scientist Baxter Stockman (played with gleeful delight by Tyler Perry). If you can believe it, Fox’s acting has taken a turn for the worse in this Turtley redux. Her glances to the side of the camera suggest that some poor stagehand is omnipresent, holding mondo-print cue cards somewhere nearby for Fox to stagger through. She’s flanked by newcomer Stephen Amell, Arrow star and Chris O’Donnell lookalike contestant, whose perfectly proportioned grin and ridiculous competence with a hockey stick reminds us that the human characters in these movies are arguably less realistic than the computer animated anthropomorphized battle turtles they hang with.
In Out of the Shadows, April has inexplicably uncovered that Stockman has joined the ranks of super-evil and super-asian Shredder (Brian Tee, i.e. not the same Shredder as Ninja Turtles Round One) because… OTHER DIMENSIONS!?! Like pretty much the entirety of the film, the logic involved here remains, to put it lightly, unclear. So in an effort to make this early encounter a representation of the endless logic gaps at play in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Oh My God This Title Is So Loonnnggg, I’m going to break down the flow of events into what ought to be bite-sized pieces.
Following the events of the first movie (which myself and my fellow critics present at this screening failed to remember in even the barest detail), Shredder is imprisoned. Stockman is enlisted to synthesize a teleportation device to free Shredder. They plan to extricate him from a transport vehicle hauling him to a new facility a FULL YEAR AFTER HIS ARREST because…the story demands he be set free and so be it. With the help of the dreaded foot clan (here not on foot but rather riding motorcycles and weird mini-topless-Ferrari-things cuz…toys!!) Shredder is loosed. After being freed from the transport, he jumps to the safety of a helicopter but instead finds himself teleported by Baxter, back at the lab. Things go funky and Shredder is sent to another dimension. Here he meets with Commander Krang (Brad Garrett) and they bro out about destroying and/or conquering Earth for a sec (seriously Shredder is so evil, he don’t even need to think about that offer yo! He in!). Shortly after, Shredder returns to Earth with some goo (fine, ooze). Cue Stockman celebrating about how he’s going to be the most famous scientist, like, ever (“Newton and Einstein will be but a footnote!” he cackles with an only-Tyler-Perry hippo hiccup/laugh).
Do you see what I see here? Look closely. If you have a teleportation device, why bother breaking someone out of a 15-vehicle transport? Isn’t that a pretty unnecessary task considering the equipment you’ve got? Equipment that is designed to move people from one place to another as if by magic. Just like, you know, teleport them. Job done. Even stranger, Shredder had already escaped the 40-odd police officer task force and was literally in the act of jumping to safety when he is finally teleported. Again, why bother at this point? Because the screenplay needed him to meet with Krang and writers Josh Appelbaum and André Nemec needed to jam some more mindless action down our gullets to get us to finally just surrender our minds. I do recognize that I’ve detoured into a hefty tangent with this but Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Triumph of CGI Over Storytelling is just so recklessly stupid and unbreakdownable that if you take but just a moment to actually account for the logic, everything just melts into one big hot soupy mess of sour blah. And I hate sour blah.
Anyone paying attention to the opening credits will notice Alibaba Pictures, a Chinese Production Company, earn the right to run their title card and the film, for all intents and purposes, feels designed by and for people with only an ESL-level understanding of English. The jokes, most often courtesy of Mikey (Noel Fisher) and new additions/franchise mainstays Bebop (Gary Anthony Williams) and Rocksteady (Stephen Farrelly), function more as sounds than actual words. It’s screenwriting as onomatopoeia. A lot of “Boom”s and “Ughs” and “Omph!” and “Moan”s. There’s literally a moment in the film where one character farts (audibly I should add), grabs the fart out of the air and throws it in the face of another character. I would pay good money to see how that’s written on the page and how much cocaine confidence it took for two grown men to actually write that down.
Like Jonathan Liebesman‘s not-to-distant Turtles flick, Out of the Shadows – this super deep title refers to the turtles mounting dissatisfaction with not being able to show themselves…out of the shadows – has its own somewhat redeeming intricately-staged set piece plopped in the middle of the film. This time, rather than perched atop a snowy mountain, the Michael Bay-approved ballet of destruction starts in the sky before crashing down into an Amazonian river, all in one twisted metal grind of hard rock and goofy gut punches. This sequence – and yes, it does feature a tank driven by a beefy rhinoceros down a waterfall – is the perfect epitome of director Dave Green’s roided-out eye candy in that it’s almost miraculous how substanceless it all is. And yet! the choreography actually makes it somewhat appealing, on a very primitive, picking-and-eating-the-lice, gonad-shaking level.
Capturing something somewhat similar to the poetry in motion that is ninja-hood – much moreso I will add than the absolutely dizzying third act set piece (in which shots appear not fully rendered, as if the production ran out of money halfway through clean up and just settled for a direct-to-DVD-level splurge of motion and color) – this onslaught of digital craftsmanship is meticulously staged. Because of that fact alone, we’re finally able to digest and comprehend what is happening. In many other accounts of turtle on pig/rhino/ninja/chewed-up-gumball action, this is just not the case. Green (assuming that he and not the army of special effects coordinators is more responsible for the final result) doesn’t learn from his successes and lets the final 30 minutes drown in a hodgepodge of senseless sensation sure to mush the mind. But this seven-minute, jungle-bound flirtation with half-decentness proves an easy highlight in a film that otherwise aggresses its audience at every given turn.
CONCLUSION: A generally unpleasant experience from start to finish, ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows’ applies an early stranglehold on the audience, smashing and bashing them with strobing lights, swirlies of color and noisy noogies. Those not ingratiated with the fandom may find the narrative elements of the affair mostly insufferable even though there are a few admittedly well-staged action sequences (but just as many legitimately terrible ones.)