Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2016): Bring it Out of the Shadows, or Dump it in an Alley?

Nostalgia seems like a wonderful thing, but sometimes, it leads you to make really stupid decisions. Maybe like paying to watch Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows (2016). But hey, luckily the movie is available at no-extra-charge on Amazon Prime, so the real question you need to ask yourself; is this worth my time? The answer depends on what your tastes are, and how much suffering you can take for your childhood heroes.

The latest Turtles movie gives us a new origin story for Bebop and Rocksteady, who are inmates sharing a prison transport with Shredder. They earn a bit of favor from good ol’ Chrome Dome by stopping Casey Jones, one of the officers on the transport (Stephen Amell, from Arrow), from doing much to prevent Shredder’s escape, which was coordinated by none other than pre-mutation Baxter Stockman (Tyler Perry), who is already being tailed by April O’Neil (Megan Fox). Oh, we also get a taste of Krang (Brad Garret), who is trying to bring his Technodrome to earth. They try to make him the bad guy, but admit it, if you had a Technodrome, you’d try to bring it to Earth, too. But, because they’re jerks who want all the toys to themselves, of course the “heroes” in a half shell set out to foil Shredders plan to use ooze from Krang to make more mutants, and Krang’s plan to bring the Technodrome to our planet.

The film was directed by Dave Green, whose only other significant directorial experience is Earth to Echo, which didn’t seem to score too well with audiences, either. Given his lack of experience, he probably leaned heavily on Michael Bay, executive producer for both of the recent Turtles movies, as well as director of the Transformers movies. Don’t be surprised when you discover the humor and style here seem similar enough to the Transformers movies.

If you’re looking for plenty of action and explosions, Michael Bay rarely disappoints. But then again, there’s a big difference between rarely and never. The first scene opens with an incredibly beautiful and dramatic shot of the New York skyline at night, with the sweeping score setting the stage as we move in on the Chrysler Building (my personal favorite in NYC). I’d say this scene is probably the litmus test for the whole movie…if you can get past this scene without hating life, then you can probably get through the rest of the movie…it was touch and go there for a while. The fearsome foursome leap into action and within a few seconds, the first dumb joke of the movie falls flat (pun intended), as Mikey mishears Turtle formation, and causes them to end up piled in a heap of failure and shame. Perhaps this was a metaphor implanted within the first moments of the movie by some kindhearted soul to warn people to flee and salvage the next two hours of their lives.

And their mission: pick up a pizza, play keep-away from Mikey, and then go watch the Knicks play at Madison Square Garden. Not quite the action laden scene we were expecting, but hey, I guess it set up the next sub-plot of the movie, as they ham-fistedly talk about how they want to be able to live normal lives and be seen in public…which is immediately followed by Vern (Will Arnett) getting credit for all of the Turtles’ hard work from the last movie.

So I’ll get to my main issue with this movie, without getting into spoilers. With any movie like this (sourced from material originally targeted towards children), the writers and the director have to decide whether they’re going to do a movie for kids, for adults, or some sort of mix. Marvel and DC have both focused on adult audiences, while generally making it relatively safe for parents to bring older children along for the ride. That’s worked amazingly for Marvel, and we’re hoping it DC eventually gets it right on the big screen, too. But hey, they’ve done a solid job with their TV series, so we have to give them credit for that, at least.

They could have also tried something designed for kids (like the original series), but tried to make it witty enough to cleverly appeal to older audiences, too. Animaniacs was the first show I remember doing this (I’m sure there were others before), with plenty of references that a lot of their main audience wouldn’t understand, but teens and adults could. Pixar has practically mastered that strategy.

But the powers that be decided to make a movie that seems geared towards adults, and then went on to dumb it down with third grade humor and writing. It’s like Michael Bay knows we’ve all grown up, but doesn’t realize we’re adults. I’d say that the first Transformers movie did an admirable job of that general tactic, but I’m personally hard-pressed to find another movie that uses this model and comes out with something that’s not entirely cringe-worthy. For me, that is the near-fatal flaw in this movie, and too many others like it.

You’ll notice that I said it was a near-fatal flaw, however. You see, I’m still a fanboy. And try as he might, Michael Bay still hasn’t entirely killed my childlike hope for quality adaptations of my beloved franchises. Maybe the fact that I didn’t pay to see the movie also helped, but for a fan, I don’t regret watching the film. I regret the missed opportunities, absolutely. And honestly, I missed some of the charm from the previous film (Will Arnett may have single-handedly made that one enjoyable), but yeah, if you loved the turtles as a kid, or if you can stomach an action-driven movie without demanding character development, plot, or quality dialogue, then this might be worth your time, too.

Yes, that’s not a ringing endorsement for this film. It’s not for everyone. I’m not sure I’d even say that it’s good. But for some of us, if you can watch it on Amazon Prime, or borrow it from your poor friend who grabbed the wrong box from the bargain bin, it might be worth it to see Krang and the Technodrome, Baxter Stockman, another cool version of Casey Jones, and at least a visually faithful version of Bebop and Rocksteady. If nothing else, at least you can check it off your list, and not have to wonder whether or not you’re missing anything.

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