‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows’ Un-Ruined My Childhood
I had gotten so used to watching my childhood icons get dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century that I had almost forgotten what it was like to enjoy them in the first place. Captain America is a Nazi now, apparently. Batman mutilates criminals so they’ll get murdered in prison, when he’s not straight-up murdering them himself. Everywhere you look it seems as though your inner child is getting a harsh and unwanted dose of contemporary cynicism.
Look, I can handle these developments. Whether we like to admit it to ourselves or not, we all can. Our most beloved stories and characters can’t withstand the test of time unless they are actually tested through regular reinterpretation. Change is healthy. It either exposes us to new and better ways to tell the same tales, or it reminds us why the old ways were so damned good in the first place.
Which brings me to my point: after years of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movies actively trying NOT to adapt the events and characters of the classic cartoon series, we now have Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows, a film that is more or less exactly what I always wanted. It’s big, it’s crazy, it has a lot of heart, and it kicks a lot of butt.
Make no mistake, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows panders to the nostalgia freak in all of us, incorporating popular characters like Casey Jones, Bebop, Rocksteady and Krang the Conquerer and even sneaking in a couple of Vanilla Ice references just for giggles. Most of these characters come across the way we remember them, but if this was just a point-and-click movie (“Hey look, it’s [blank]!”) it would be a soulless enterprise, unworthy of praise.
Instead, director Dave Green (Earth to Echo) keeps the story centered around the Turtles themselves. When we catch up with them at the beginning of the movie they have recently saved New York and received none of the credit. They long to be a part of the city they so diligently protect, and they are starting to resent their monstrous appearances for preventing them from having a “normal” life.
Despite the absolute insanity of their very existence, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have won the affection of multiple generations of fans, and it’s because on some level we are able see a piece of ourselves in them. It’s because their interactions are, at their best, rather genuine, and similar to the childish relationships we have all had with our siblings and/or peers. Dave Green keeps that dynamic at the forefront of his sequel, so that even when the stupidest possible thing is happening, you still give a damn who it’s happening to.
The plot is dumb and the movie knows it. Shredder escapes from police custody and accidentally winds up meeting an extra-dimensional despot called Krang. (It’s a sequence that is easily the dumbest in the film, since Shredder leaves Earth and confronts a brain with a face on it that lives inside of a giant android, and he has no follow-up questions.) Krang enlists Shredder to repair a teleportation device on Earth, so that they can open a portal that will bring Krang’s all-powerful “Technodrome” into New York City, so they can then conquer the planet.
Like I said, pretty dumb. Fortunately the film never lingers on the mechanics of all this nonsense and instead uses the broad strokes of the plot to put our heroes in exciting situations and leave them plenty of room to bicker. There’s a sequence involving a free-fall from one airplane to another that’s actually kind of breathtaking, and a climactic battle with Krang that is basically all of your action figure fantasies come to life.
It does have problems. Stephen Amell just doesn’t have much to work with as the vigilante Casey Jones, so he doesn’t make nearly as much of an impression as Elias Koteas did in the first movie. Krang’s voice is also frustratingly generic compared to all of the earlier, weirder interpretations, especially considering just how much effort went into making the rest of this movie play like the old show. But worst of all, Shredder still just isn’t a very interesting villain in this version of the franchise. He’s just some bad guy who wants bad things right now. Fortunately, Tyler Perry steals a lot of his scenes as the mad scientist Baxter Stockman, although his subplot doesn’t go nearly as far as you’re expecting it to.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows doesn’t overcome its Saturday morning contrivances. It doesn’t improve upon the plot of the original animated series, nor does it have the realistic and substantive quality of the first live-action film. Instead, Dave Green’s film recreates a sense of childlike wonder that is simply intoxicating. It’s like this movie has a strange kind of power… a “turtle power” if you will… that annihilates all of the cynicism in its path.
Thank goodness for that.
William Bibbiani (everyone calls him ‘Bibbs’) is Crave’s film content editor and critic. You can hear him every week on The B-Movies Podcast and Canceled Too Soon, and watch him on the weekly YouTube series Most Craved, Rapid Reviews and What the Flick. Follow his rantings on Twitter at @WilliamBibbiani.