For their sixth cinematic adventure, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have brought with them some of the most iconic characters from their history who have never before made the leap to the big screen. Anyone who grew up on the cartoon TV series that began in the late 80s and ran all the way past the midpoint of the 90s has likely noticed the absence of Shredder’s oddball animal/human hybrid henchmen Bebop and Rocksteady or the tentacle brain alien Krang from any Turtles movies, but director Dave Green is clearly so enamoured with the zanier elements of Turtles lore that he eagerly invites them all to join his silly sequel.
About time, right? Except if there’s any element of satisfaction in finally seeing these characters rub elbows with the Turtles in a pricey blockbuster movie, it’s quickly eclipsed by the soul-sucking stupidity of the whole lumbering affair. So, uh, be careful what you wish for? That seems to be the prevailing message here, a reminder that while big budget comic/cartoon adaptations are hewing closer to the once-shunned iconic elements of their source material, they’re also getting duller, dumber, and less inspired.
So humanoid warthog Bebop (Gary Anthony Williams) and humanoid rhino Rocksteady (Stephen Farrelly) look exactly like they did in cartoons and as toys of yesteryear, complete with Bebop’s purple mohawk and stylized shades, but they only require a two-second introduction before Bebop stretches out the waistband of his pants so he can admire his apparently large pig penis. Huh. Don’t remember that from your Saturday morning cartoon viewings, do ya? After that, more scenes and more scatological humour follow, making their presence immediately off-putting. Can we just have stand-ins Tokka and Rahzar from the 1991 movie back instead?
Those two guys seemed like lame Bebop and Rocksteady replacements back when the cartoon was a staple of syndication, but now their primitive foolishness, near lack of dialogue, and tangible puppet designs courtesy of Jim Henson’s Creature Shop feel like emblems of the good ol’ days. Rahzar certainly didn’t peek excitedly at his crotch, that’s for sure.
For the most part, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows appears to operate as an attempt to slightly steer the franchise away from the pathetically depraved depths of the disastrous 2014 reboot that had all of producer Michael Bay’s offensive trademark tics and none of his dazzling visual control. Green’s sequel at least seems genuinely interested in its characters and their history and it’s better paced than the previous one directed by Jonathan Liebesman, but the problems mainly persist.
Visually, this remains a mess of often shoddy CGI pieces haphazardly assembled to create a collage of indistinguishable textures. Everything gleams with that generically shiny look that plagues heartless applications of digital effects. The Turtles themselves at least have a convincing physical presence when they’re standing around and interacting with the human characters, but they quickly become a bland blur when set in motion.
Long shots of the reptilian brothers leaping around New York both above and below ground are hideous headache-inducing indulgences. CGI can capture the more acrobatic aspects of their actions in ways that the bulky costumes and animatronic head pieces of the early 90s movies could not even attempt, but the technology requires better execution than this to even come close to reaching its potential.
Bay’s fascination with Megan Fox as a cardboard sex object has seeped further into this franchise as well. So while Green occasionally appears committed to restoring the innocence and juvenile charm of the Turtles cartoon to this big screen franchise, he can’t help but barely burn two minutes of Fox’s reintroduction as reporter April O’Neill before having her don a schoolgirl outfit and proceed to strut in slow-motion. All in a day’s work for Bay’s version of the professional woman.
Fox doesn’t have much else to do after that early scene, but neither do any of the flesh-and-blood actors. The cast includes, oddly enough, Laura Linney as a stern police chief skeptical about who to trust. It’s nice that Linney gets to cash a presumably large cheque after decades of thespian duty on the indie circuit, but she probably couldn’t have picked a less interesting role in a more embarrassing movie.
Out of the Shadows is blatantly built on nostalgia, mostly for the 80s, but also for the 90s. A Vanilla Ice song plays on a jukebox at one point, which extends beyond broad nostalgia for the decade and instead specifically references the rapper’s cameo in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze. And Stephen Amell, who plays hockey equipment-sporting vigilante Casey Jones, contributes to the 90s nostalgia by looking and sounding exactly like a Chris O’Donnell clone.
Nostalgia only gets Green and his movie so far, though. It’s all fun and games at first, neat to see certain characters brought to big screen life, but eventually, you’re just staring down Bebop’s pants. The path of nostalgia also pushes past Turtles movies to the front of our mind and makes us consider the differences of old and new.
While the martial artists in heavy rubber suits from the early 90s pics struggled at times to give the fight sequences a fluidity of movement, the effect of watching actual physical clashes greatly outclasses the eye-straining jumble of pixels on display here. Out of the Shadow’s finale involves CGI Turtles battling a CGI Krang inside a CGI robot on board a floating CGI platform as tons of CGI metal pieces float around the platform. If it’s possible to make much sense of what’s going on in this big bash, the opportunity certainly eluded this viewer.
So here it is, another bad Turtles movie, but one that actually tries to please the fans by including several of the franchise’s more eccentric elements that the big screen releases have ignored for decades. Meaning, of course, that some of us actually asked for this. You can’t always get what you want and if you do, you might end up with a flatulent rhino and a proudly well-endowed warthog. Yup, that sounds like precisely the kind of message that a movie of this calibre would muster. Leave the Turtles to their pizza. This latest take on the famed sewer-dwelling heroes is all about the meat and cheese.