4-Color to 35-Millimeter: The Great Superhero Movie Rewatch

“Stupid reptiles!” — Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows

Despite critical drubbings and despite the huge fan controversies surrounding it, the 2014 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles did very well at the box office, and so Nickelodeon and Paramount green-lighting a sequel was pretty much a foregone conclusion. In addition to bringing back Shredder and Karai (both played by different actors), this sequel brought in several other familiar characters from the comics and previous screen versions.

For the first time in live-action, Out of the Shadows featured the bad guys created for the 1987 animated series, the alien Krang and two dim-bulbed hench-thugs Bebop and Rocksteady. The latter two were done the same way the Turtles were, with motion-capture and CGI, played by voiceover actor Gary Anthony Williams (Bebop), and Irish wrestler Sheamus (Rocksteady), who also play the roles as humans before Shredder mutates them into, respectively, a warthog and a rhino. Brad Garrett provides the voice of Krang, who is a completely CGI alien creature. In addition, after being cut from the early drafts of the 2014 film, the Turtles’ ally Casey Jones was included in this film, played by the Green Arrow his own self, Stephen Amell.

While they were but two of the plenitude of screenwriters involved in the 2014 movie, Josh Appelbaum & André Nemec were brought back to write this one, also serving as executive producers. Pete Ploszek (Leonardo), Jeremy Howard (Donatello), Alan Ritchson (Raphael), and Noel Fisher (Michelangelo) all came back to do motion-capture and voice for the Turtles (Ploszek got to actually voice Leonardo, as Johnny Knoxville did not return), while Peter D. Badalamenti replaced Danny Woodburn as Splinter’s motion-capture actor, with Tony Shalhoub again providing the voice.

The returning villains were both re-cast, with Brian Tee replacing Tohoru Masamune as Shredder and Brittany Ishibashi replacing Minae Noji as Karai. This film also gives us the first live-action version of Baxter Stockman, played by Tyler Perry, plus Laura Linney as the NYPD police chief. Megan Fox and Will Arnett return as April O’Neill and Vernon Fenwick, respectively. In addition, model Alessandra Ambrosio and NBA players Carmelo Anthony, DeAndre Jordan, Jonathan Redick, Matt Barnes, Austin Rivers, Langston Arnold Galloway, Shane Larkin, and Lou Amundson all make appearances as themselves.

 

“Giant rat 1, new guy 0”

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows
Written by Josh Appelbaum & André Nemec
Directed by Dave Green
Produced by Michael Bay, Andrew Form, Brad Fuller, Galen Walker, & Scott Mednick
Original release date: June 3, 2016

Screenshot: Paramount Pictures

The Turtles are on the Chrysler Building and then gad their way across the rooftops and through the sewers. They stop at a street corner where a pizza delivery guy (who looks just like TMNT co-creator Kevin Eastman) has a pizza for them. They proceed to Madison Square Garden, hiding out in the jumbotron over center court for a bird’s eye view of a Knicks game. During haltime, Vern Fenwick is interviewed, introduced as the person who saved the city from Shredder, with the never-explained nickname of “the Falcon.” The Turtles, April O’Neill, and Fenwick agreed to let Fenwick get the credit for stopping Shredder so the Turtles could remain secret.

Michelangelo accidentally drops a slice of pizza onto the court, which causes an accident in the game, and the Turtles beat a hasty retreat before they’re seen.

O’Neill uses one of Donatello’s gadgets to hack the e-mail of Dr. Baxter Stockman, a former Sacks Industries employee, now in charge of TCRI, and whom O’Neill is convinced is working for the Shredder. The e-mails erase themselves in short order, but O’Neill saw enough to know that he’s planning to spring Shredder from incarceration while he’s being transferred to a prison upstate.

Shredder’s transfer is being handled by two corrections officers, one of whom is named Casey Jones. Shredder is sharing the back of the truck with two other prisoners, a couple of not-too-bright thugs nicknamed Bebop and Rocksteady. A bunch of Foot Clan ninjas attack the transport’s escorts, blowing them up, then go after the transport truck.

The Turtles arrive in their tricked out van, using the various gadgets to try to stop the Foot, but ultimately they’re done in by the fact that Stockman is just using the helicopter and Foot Clan soldiers as distractions to get Shredder into the sky so he can use a teleporter to retrieve him.

The teleporter is alien technology that Stockman scavenged and has doped out enough to use to spring Shredder. However, Shredder doesn’t wind up where Stockman expected—instead, he was whisked away by the owner of that tech, an amorphous blob of an alien named Krang, who travels inside a giant robot. Krang wants to invade and destroy Earth, and enlists Shredder to aid him in this, which Shredder will happily do in exchange for access to more of this technology. Krang needs three pieces of his tech that were left on Earth; Stockman has one, and Shredder agrees to get the other two. Krang gives Shredder a mutagen that he can use to create footsoldiers.

Jones is fired from his job as a corrections officer, as neither his boss nor Bureau Chief Rebecca Vincent, now in charge of retrieving the three prisoners, are impressed with his story of a James Bond van and people disappearing and stuff. Frustrated, Jones goes to Bebop and Rocksteady’s favorite bar, figuring they’re stupid enough to go to a place they’re known to patronize when they’re fugitives.

He’s right, but Shredder got to them first. After he returns to TCRI’s offices in New York (to Stockman’s relief), he recruits Bebop and Rocksteady, using the mutagen to transform them into animalistic creatures. O’Neill has broken into TCRI to find out more about Stockman, and sees the transformation, making off with the mutagen. The Foot Clan go after her, but she is saved by Jones (wearing a hockey mask and using a hockey stick and puck to fight off the Foot) and later the Turtles. However, the mutagen winds up in police custody.

The Turtles take O’Neill and Jones to their lair. (Jones is a bit freaked out, even more so by Splinter.) Donatello figures out that the mutagen could change the Turtles into humans. Leonardo says not to tell the others about that, but Michelangelo overhears and tells Raphael. This leads to a massive argument among the Turtles, leading to Leonardo benching Raphael and Michelangelo while he and Donatello go off on a mission.

By the time they arrive at the American Museum of Natural History’s Rose Center for Space, they’re too late, as Bebop and Rocksteady have stolen the alien tech from inside a meteorite that’s on display. Raphael, still pissed off, recruits O’Neill and Jones to help them break into police headquarters to steal the mutagen back. O’Neill recruits Fenwick to distract the cops for them, and it almost works—but the Foot Clan got there first. A big fight breaks out, with the Turtles being seen by the cops. The disgust with which they react to the ambulatory Turtles is palpable. Jones and O’Neill cover for their escape with the mutagen, but they’re arrested by Vincent, who has (edited) footage provided by TCRI that shows O’Neill breaking in and stealing the mutagen in the first place.

Donatello figures out how to track Bebop and Rocksteady, and they’re flying to Brazil to retrieve the third piece of Krang’s tech. By the time the Turtles stow away in a cargo hold to fly down, the two idiots have already driven a tank through the jungle and retrieved the item and are flying back north. So the Turtles jump out of their plane and land on the other plane.

In the ensuing tussle, Rocksteady gets into the tank in the cargo hold of the plane and starts firing, which damages the plane beyond repair—kind of a problem, as they’re still 30,000 feet in the air. Donatello manages to land the plane semi-safely, and the Turtles and the thugs fight while trying to retrieve the mutagen, with Bebop and Rocksteady eventually getting it while the Turtles go over a waterfall.

Despondent, the Turtles sneak into another cargo hold to get home. Jones and O’Neill are held without being allowed a phone call, but Jones managed to snatch Vincent’s phone. O’Neill calls Fenwick, asking him to find the unedited footage from TCRI, which he manages using a combination of his fame to get in and his skills as a camera operator to find the hidden camera. He provides the footage, and Jones and O’Neill are freed, with Vincent just thrilled to know that there’s a human-sized warthog and rhino wandering around town.

Shredder and Stockman use the alien tech to open a portal. Pieces of Krang’s Technodrome start coming through the portal and begin to assemble. The Turtles decide to go public and offer to help the cops, especially since the Technodrome is beyond all their ken. Vincent reluctantly agrees.

Shredder has Stockman taken away to Tokyo. Stockman is stunned to learn that he’s just a flunky—he thought of himself as Shredder’s partner—and he promises to be back even as the Foot Clan carries him off. Shredder then teleports to the Technodrome only to have Krang tell him that he’s just a flunky. From his newly placed position on his own petard, Shredder finds himself frozen by Krang, who puts him away deep in the bowels of the Technodrome.

The Turtles jump from the Chrysler Building onto the Technodrome to confront Krang, while Fenwick, Jones, and O’Neill go into the TCRI building.

Using teamwork, the Turtles are able to short-circuit Krang’s robotic conveyance, leaving him physically helpless. At TCRI, Jones faces off against Bebop and Rocksteady, eventually trapping them in a shipping container, while O’Neill and Fenwick fend off Karai and turn off the portal. That enables Donatello to reverse the Technodrome’s progress, and it zips back through the portal, along with Krang, who vows to return.

The city is saved. Vincent gives the Turtles the key to the city in a non-public ceremony at night at the Statue of Liberty, with only cops present. They prefer to remain anonymous, but at least NYPD knows who they are now. Bebop and Rocksteady are in custody again, though both Stockman and Shredder are at large.

 

“She has a sword—we have a hubcap”

Screenshot: Paramount Pictures

This movie is considerably more fun than the last one, mostly because it feels like a live-action version of an episode of the 1987 cartoon, with Krang being OTT evil, Bebop and Rocksteady being dumb as posts, and Shredder being mean while the Turtles banter while fighting for justice, aided by O’Neill.

One thing I particularly like about this iteration of the Turtles, which I meant to mention last week, is that they also embrace being New Yorkers. From little touches like the old token symbol on Leonardo’s bandolier (sadly missing from this sequel) to actually filming in the Big Apple rather than just doing some second-unit establishing shots and filming elsewhere, making up locations and buildings as such. Just in this movie, there are whole scenes on the spire of the Chrysler Building, inside Madison Square Garden during a Knicks game, inside the Rose Center for Space at the American Museum of Natural History, inside Grand Central Terminal, and at the foot of the Statue of Liberty. And the Turtles love the city and want to save it because it’s their home.

The movie also benefits from strong performances from Tyler Perry as the very nerdy, but still dangerous Stockman and by Brad Garrett, leaving no piece of scenery unchewed as Krang’s voice. And I like the fact that Shredder, after casually betraying Stockman, finds himself betrayed in the exact same way by Krang. (I particularly love the dialogue exchange between them. “You betrayed me!” “Actually, I barely even thought about you.”) While Stephen Amell isn’t quite as batshit as Elias Koteas was as Casey Jones, he still inhabits the role quite well, and he actually has chemistry with Megan Fox (who remains mostly harmless as O’Neill). More to the point, he sells Jones’s desire to bring the criminals to justice, as he has something at stake here. Laura Linney also does well as the cynical police chief.

Where the movie falls most short, unfortunately, is with the title characters. The crisis of teamwork rings hollow, both in general—the Turtles had been around for more than three decades at this point—and in this set of movies in particular, as they showed pretty solid teamwork when they took down Shredder atop the Sacks Tower in the previous film. It’s a manufactured conflict and it falls pretty flat.

The story is pretty standard stuff, but it’s a fun action-adventure story, a good intro to Jones, and there’s the usual conflict among the Turtles, for all that it’s constructed. Basically, it’s a fun little movie. It also put the pieces in place for a third film—Krang was set up to come back, obviously, and Stockman’s still out there—but this sequel did less well than its predecessor and the third film never happened, though there is noise now about a third live-action movie set…

 

Next week, we return to the X-Men Franchise, Absurdist Division, as we take a gander at Deadpool.

Keith R.A. DeCandido‘s latest novel is A Furnace Sealed, the debut of his new Bronx-based urban fantasy series “The Adventures of Bram Gold.” Ordering information and an excerpt can be found here.

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