Sunday, September 11, 2016

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2: Out of the Shadows

   The 2014 Ninja Turtles was kind of a big deal for me, not that I gave a crap about it when it came out. It looked ugly and excessive in every imaginable way, but I eventually had a change of heart and decided to at least give it a shot. If it sucked, it sucked, but at least I found out for myself. Lo and behold, it didn't suck. It was deeply flawed, sure, but it didn't suck. It was fun! Much to my surprise, I really, genuinely enjoyed it. It was stupid and silly, but it also managed to capture what I loved best about the franchise. So how would it's sequel fare? Well, to be honest, it fared a bit better.

   The filmmakers and the powers that be realized that a serious vocal majority of the fanbase were exclusively fans of the cartoon. There's a smaller subset of fans that dislike pretty much everything but the original comic book, which in no way would be appropriate for little kids. So, Paramount (I guess) decided to add more elements of the 80's cartoon to the mix. Namely, Baxter Stockman, Rocksteady, Bebop, and commander Krang. Bonus points for the fact the climax of the movie revolved around the Technodrome. Extra bonus points for them keeping the little eye thingy on top. Which is more than that Fantastic Four movie ever did for Galactus. Keep that in mind, yo.

   But, as we all well know, nostalgia and nerdy details do not a good movie make, but Out of the Shadows manages to shine regardless. The movie is carried by the core camaraderie of the eponymous four brothers. They're just as great as last time, if not more so. The voice actors all do a commendable job in these thankless roles, trapped in a thankless movie. On top of that, the CG models feel better this time. Like they were slightly re-proportioned and tweaked here and there. The turtles look better, and their outfits and gear have been subsequently simplified. I know for a lot of fans, and moviegoers in general, that lots of CGI is a big point of contention, but if you're gonna go nuts, why not go nuts in a Ninja Turtles movie? Right?

   On that note, Bebop and Rocksteady were fantastic. My grown up sensibilities found their humor a bit grating at times, but they're faithful to the cartoon, while also providing a physical match for our heroes in a half-shell. The fights between the turtles and the dumb duo are pretty great. But, this does bring me to my first complaint: Casey Jones. He felt completely shoehorned into the film at every turn. The previous movie had already built up Vern as April's sidekick, so to speak, but in this movie the lion's share of that role to be filled, went to Casey- who's nothing like anyone remembers him, or ever wanted to see him.

   Stephen Amell is clearly having fun in the role, but nothing about it seemed like Casey Jones. First of all, Casey Jones worked in the original movie because he seemed like a regular New Yorker, who just A. happened to be fed up with the crime in his city, and B. was a frickin' savant when it came to beating up people with hockey sticks, golf clubs, baseball bats and the like. Jones in this movie is neither of those things, not really. He's not a vigilante either. He's a prison guard who wants to be a cop, and just happens to drive around with hockey gear in his trunk? Okay... whatever. The problem is, he's an underwhelming presence in the movie who's only good for a few laughs here and there. He's goofy and seems kinda naive, nothing like the jaded Casey Jones from the original movie, what with the one-liners and snappy comebacks. Amell's Casey Jones is just... a non-entity in the movie.

   Made all the worse by the fact he's the one tasked with defeating Rocksteady and Bebop in the climax of the movie. In my opinion, he should've been left out of the script. I would've been find with April and Vern taking those two on in the climax, but this Casey feels... generic. Like they plucked him out of a binder labeled "How To Reboot Popular Characters". He is by far the laziest and oddest part of the movie, and I was sincerely hoping he'd have been a highlight. Also, if I recall right, he only dons his iconic mask like... once in the movie. For maybe five minutes, and worse yet, there's no reason for it either. The moment someone asks him who he is, he just takes the mask off and tells them his name. Okay... moving on.

   Shredder is not really any better or worse in this movie than he was in the previous, but the script sidelines him towards the end in the lamest way possible. But at least he didn't look like a giant chrome swiss army knife this time, right? I don't mean that sarcastically either, I genuinely am glad he looked pretty cool. Krang is pretty cool, but HOLY CRAP was his introduction rushed. He gets maybe a thirty second intro scene, brief as all can be, and JAM PACKED with exposition that comes out of left field. And, let me be clear about this, it doesn't just come out of left field, it's the left field of a DIFFERENT ball park. It's not even in the same town. Damn!

   So, the idea is, Baxter has been working on some teleportation tech that the foot clan found, in order to spring Shredder from jail. Okay, that's fine, keeping in mind this is a movie about giant talking turtles... who are also ninjas. But, when the plan is executed, and Stockman tries to teleport Shredder, ginsu-head ends up in another dimension, and is IMMEDIATELY face-to-face with Krang. Who just about assaults him with information. "OH YEAH YOU'RE SHREDDER I KNOW YOU! LEMME RUB YOUR FACE WITH MY TENTACLES. HAH. YOU'RE A LOSER. YOU'RE GONNA WORK FOR ME NOW, WE'RE GONNA RULE THE WORLD. OH AND BY THE WAY, HERE'S SOME PURPLE STUFF YOU CAN USE TO STOP THE TURTLES. I KNOW ABOUT THEM, YEAH. NO NEED TO TELL YOU WHY, I JUST DO. K THX BAI."

   It probably took you longer to read that than the actual scene lasts in the movie. So what does Shredder do with this information? He's like "Cool." Basically! With no questions asked, he decides to help Krang take over the world. And, worse yet, he's totally sincere about it too. I don't even consider it a spoiler that Krang double-crosses Shredder in the end, because obviously he'd do that, but I was disappointed that Shredder was so shocked about it. Just... baaaad writing bro. Krang himself is cool though, brought to life as well as can be hoped for. I really liked his design and his onscreen presence. He even bows out of the movie with one of those classic "I'll be back next time!" exits. It's pretty great.

   Once you get past the movie's problem with extremely hurried exposition, it's story isn't awful. But where the previous film had a magic blood storyline, like almost EVERY summer blockbuster in the past five years before it, the inter-dimensional story in this one feels ripped straight from the Avengers. I'm reminded of a line from Suicide Squad, “Let me guess. We’re going to the swirling ring of trash in the sky now. When does this end?” Yeah, my sentiment exactly. I really am starting to miss the low key drama-centric showdown from the original movie. Alas, I digress, despite how overly familiar the climax feels, there's an irrepressible charm to this movie, and I liked it.

   It's fast, colorful, funny, full of nifty little gadgets, and bursting with well-crafted action set pieces. It's also full of heart, and the acting from the turtles and splinter is pretty great. Despite being massive hunks of overly-designed CGI, the turtles emote really well. When there's conflict between them, it feels real and it feels familiar in the best way possible. The filmmakers understood the core of this property, and they stuck to it. At the end of the day, this movie and it's predecessor are better than both of the original sequels, and I'm okay with that. Unless I'm hit with a massive wave of nostalgia, I probably don't have much reason to revisit Secret of the Ooze at this point. Not since there's a completely serviceable movie with Bebop and Rocksteady actually in it.

   At the end of the day, the movie might be a bit rushed and haphazard, but it was tons of fun. I enjoyed it, and on the level of a simplistic, rollicking Saturday morning cartoon- it really works. The CGI is top shelf stuff, the movie is visually slick and well polished.The acting from everyone involved is pretty serviceable and although some peripheral characters are kinda stunted, Tyler Perry as Baxter Stockman was great. He chewed as much scenery as humanly possible. I didn't even mind Megan Fox as April this time. She had much more to do, and was a pretty entertaining presence in the movie. If you weren't a fan of the previous one, this one isn't going to do much for you, but it worked just fine for me. I had a good time, and I'd watch it again. Like I said in my review of the first one, it made me feel like a kid again. I'm two steps away from a sugar buzz and blasting Vanilla Ice's Ninja Rap. Now if only I had it on cassette the 80's/90's nostalgia trip would be complete.

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