Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows

I was thinking…

…the 3D film format has definitely seen its years in the domain of fad-dom. It saw its first boom way back in the 1950’s, rose again in brief popularity in the 1980’s and infested a smattering of films almost everywhere in between. The two main problems with many of those films was the quality of the perceived dimension of depth was not always the greatest, and, worse still, many studios milked the technology in the most campy ways imaginable.

The 1953 Vincent Price horror film, House of Wax, utilized 3D in some great ways that really took advantage of the format. Unfortunately, for no reason whatsoever, the picture included a man on the street playing with a paddle ball. As he smacks the little rubber sphere toward the camera to take unabashed advantage of the format, he even breaks the fourth wall and completely removes one from the state of dread and suspense the first part of the movie tries to set up.

If you have an old pair of 3D glasses, you can see it for yourself here:

Yes, this is in an otherwise super creepy horror picture. Well, creepy for the 1950’s, that is.

The sad thing is, not many filmmakers have matured beyond this state–even now that the technology has improved leaps and bounds beyond the red/blue cellophane glasses those of us old enough to remember recall with nostalgic chortling.

Fortunately, there are some films well-suited for the format. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows proves, in its first few moments, it is one of these.

Still hiding from humanity since they saved New York in the last film, the four mutant turtle brothers–Leonardo, Michelangelo, Raphael and Donatello–have to sit idly by as Vern Fenwick (Will ArnettThe Lego Movie) continuously takes credit for originally apprehending the Shredder (Brian TeeJurassic World, The Wolverine).

Shredder, while being transported under the care of one Officer Casey Jones (Stephen AmellArrow), is sprung by his scientist cohort, Baxter Stockman (Tyler Perry–all those damn Madea films). Instead of being transported to his headquarters in the TCRI building, however, Shredder finds himself in Dimension X, under the gaze of a massive brain creature called Krang.

Before Krang returns the Shredder to his lair, he gives him a new form of mutagen. Our villain then uses said ooze on his two new thugs, Bebop (Gary Anthony WilliamsMalcolm in the Middle) and Rocksteady (WWE wrestler Sheamus).

Once Bebop and Rocksteady are mutated into a warthog and rhinoceros respectively, Shredder sends them to carry out the Krang’s wishes: to locate the pieces of a machine that will open a portal to Krang’s dimension, allowing him to come through and subjugate the earth. In return, Krang promises to let Shredder rule with him.

April O’Neil (Megan FoxTransformers), having witnessed the evil mutants’ transformation, steals the mutagen container. After April is rescued by Casey and the turtles, Donatello discovers the ooze has the capability of granting the turtles a more human appearance.

While the reptile brothers argue over the possibilities of the mutagen, they attempt to put a stop to Shredder’s acquisition of Krang’s portal device.

Man, it sounds utterly insane when I write it all out, doesn’t it?

I’ve been a fan of the heroes in a halfshell since their first incarnation back in the 1980’s. I still remember the first time my older brother came home from the Turning Page comic book store in Milwaukee with Mirage Studios’ TMNT issue #10. It was the first time I saw a black-and-white, independently published comic book. It’s something I would not have risked spending my precious little dimes on at that ripe old age of nearly ten, but I am forever grateful my brother had been willing to.

I don’t remember if it was the artwork, the story or–and this is most likely–the characters, that got me interested, but I was hooked. When the cartoon mini-series surfaced on TV at the end of that same year, it felt like kismet my brother had brought home that comic in the first place. After all, it had taken Eastman and Laird, the creators of TMNT, three years to make ten issues of their comic; so for my brother to see that issue when he did was just luck.

Within the next two or three years, I collected nearly every issue of the original Mirage studios series, played with the Playmates toy versions of the green machine and even bought the movie soundtrack (on audio cassette) for my birthday.

So, when the first Michael Bay produced turtle flick came out in 2014, it was a no-brainer for me to go see it. Although it was not received all that well by other diehard fans and the characters’ redesign was generally panned by everyone, I still enjoyed the movie overall.

Its sequel, though, I feel is far better than its predecessor. Three words: no Whoopi Goldberg.

Anyway, yes, Out of the Shadows does still suffer from the occasional bad script choice and some of the acting is lackluster. I was originally on board with TV’s Arrow, Stephen Amell, filling the role of Casey Jones. Although fair haired and clean cut, I thought he could aptly fill the retold role of the character.

But Amell must be far too used to the cheesiness of his show, because I felt he was transferring that aspect into this film. Rather than drawing from the darkness of the DC character, which would have worked extraordinarily well for Casey, he turned the brooding, borderline psychopathic vigilante into a plucky, gee-willickers character reminiscent of Chris O’Donnell’s Robin from the universally despised Schumacher Batman films. For shame.

The weak explanation on how Rocksteady and Bebop became, specifically, a rhino and warthog, is also so lame it should be using a wheelchair.

Recasting was also a slight issue. While Brian Tee replacing Tohoru Masamune as Shredder made some sense considering the character’s absorption of the mutagen at the conclusion of the first film, there is no viable reason for his right-hand woman, Karai, to be portrayed by someone else. Irksome.

Fortunately, the rest of the picture makes up for those flaws. The quality of the motion capture CGI–for the turtles, in particular–looks better than in the first film. Every nuance and subtle micro-expression is caught in realistic perfection; it is almost unnerving how believable the mutant turtles are as living, breathing entities.

Some of the credit can, of course, go to the actors who had to wear those motion capture suits and walk around all day with cameras on their heads. Noel Fisher‘s (Battle Los Angeles) portrayal of Michelangelo is a memorable one and it could be said he steals the show from his three green brothers, although Alan Ritchson (Blue Mountain State: Rise of Thadland, Hunger Games: Catching Fire) does his best to steal some of it right back.

A lot of Mikey’s charm comes from his humor, of which there is plenty in this film. Not so much one would classify it as a comedy, per se, but it definitely carries the same humorous feel of the original films and the television series while, at the same time, updating some of it.

An action film at its core, Out of the Shadows does not disappoint in that aspect. The South American mission is perhaps the best sequence in the film, beginning with some insane skydiving and ending with a fracas in a river. While the laws of physics are bent considerably at times (it is a comic book movie, after all), it barely distracts from the sheer fun of the fights.

Said sequences are made all the more impressive and stomach-dropping when viewed in 3D. The use of depth is phenomenally well executed. From the opening moments atop the Chrysler building to the denouement on Liberty Island, the format is used to incorporate the viewer in the world, not to knock paddle balls into the viewer’s face.

Halfway through TMNT: Out of the Shadows I felt a big dumb smile creeping across my face. It took a little while for me to figure out why, but by the end of the film I understood: watching this film had been the most fun experience at the movies I had had in a long time. That big dumb smile had been the same one on the face of that ten-year-old boy, poring over the pages of TMNT #10 all those years ago.

Ammo Dump rating: 7 out of 10 shuriken (they’re throwing stars, get it?)

I’ll talk more about this film and others during my radio show every Friday afternoon at 4:10 pm. Listen in on WJBC-AM1230 in Central Illinois. For the rest of the world, listen on WJBC.com. And don’t forget to follow me on Twitter @ALphaEXray.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows
Rated PG-13
Run time: 112 minutes (1 hours 52 minutes)

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