By Matthew McKibben | June 3, 2016
Director: Dave Green
Writers: Josh Appelbaum, Andre Nemec
Starring: Megan Fox, Will Arnett, Laura Linney, Stephen Amell, Noel Fisher, Jeremy Howard, Alan Ritchson, Pete Ploszek, Tyler Perry, Brian Tee, Stephen Farrelly/Sheamus, Gary Anthony Williams, Peter Donald Badalamenti II, Brad Garrett, and Tony Shalhoub
Let’s keep this simple, okay? I see no need for a 3,000 word deep dive into the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles mythology and history, where every nook and cranny of this movie gets a full-on analysis. There’s no reason to contemplate why Johnny Knoxville isn’t voicing Leonardo anymore, or what the hell Laura Linney has going on in her personal or professional life that would lead her to taking a substantial part in a movie like this. Dave Green’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows is not a good movie, but it is a good Ninja Turtles movie. That may sound like faint praise or a backhanded compliment, but I don’t intend it to be. I kind of love this movie. It’s not a deep, burning a hole in my soul kind of love, but damn if I didn’t have a great time watching this movie. Perhaps my judgement is clouded by how much my kids laughed while watching this movie, but I have to think this is the Ninja Turtles movie I’ve been waiting decades to see. If you’ve ever enjoyed the Ninja Turtles or if you have an inner-13 year old who kind of likes dumb things in spite of them being dumb, this is the movie for you. When I say this is a “good” Ninja Turtles movie, I fully mean that.
I gave the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2014 reboot a passing grade and ended up seeing that movie (for a variety of reasons) numerous times both in the theater and at home. But even as a fan of that movie, I can acknowledge it had some issues, specifically in its tone. It felt like it wanted to be a Christopher Nolan style reboot that bypassed the more campy elements of the various source materials in place of the kind of pseudo-realism, “this is what it’d actually be like” made famous by Nolan’s Dark Knight movies. And yet, it also at times felt like there were other voices in the creative process who wanted to tether that movie to its more kid-friendly source materials. So it felt like a mishmash of tones and sensibilities. Despite it being a box office hit, the fan response was mostly a shrug-worthy “it’s okay.”
The folks at Nickelodeon and Platinum Dunes (Michael Bay’s production company) seem to have heard the message loud and clear and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows is more aware of what it is and of what fans wanted the first time around. Because everyone seemed to be on the same page and moving in the same direction, the film delivers. It ditches any semblance of grit and darkness and instead fully embraces all of the pizza chomping, butt-kicking comedic hi-jinks that made people fall in love with these characters in the first place.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows takes the best elements from the late 80’s animated series, the 2012 animated series, and the feature length live action movies, and merges them into a feature length movie that has no real purpose other than to give you a good time at the movies. Again, I don’t mean that to be a backhanded compliment. There’s a skill involved in making well done “fun” movies. With only 2014’s Earth to Echo under his belt, Dave Green is, for lack of a better word, green as a director. But he has a pretty decent eye for action, both in its framing and in its pacing/editing. There are various long action set pieces that are enjoyable as you’re watching them and then memorable after you’ve seen them. When you’ve seen enough of these movies, you can spot hacks a mile away. I look forward to seeing what he does going forward.
All of that said, because I’m 38 and not 8, I have to acknowledge that the movie has some substantial faults. Stephen Amell’s Casey Jones seems shoehorned into the movie. You have next to zero understanding of why he is in the movie or what his motivations are for helping the Turtles out. While the Turtles operate in shadow the entire movie, the notion that Raphael and Michelangelo would contemplate taking the purple ooze to turn human seems to come out of nowhere. Also, Shredder is reduced to being a side villain and has nothing to do beyond acting tough. Krang (who looks really amazing, actually) kind of comes out of nowhere and then disappears without having done all that much. Because this movie almost works best as a soft-reboot instead of a full-on sequel, there’s a ton of set up for future stories here, which also makes for a movie that feels a tad undercooked. There’s a lot of “I’ll get you next time” style shenanigans in this.
And yet, somehow the movie just kind of works despite its faults that would normally bother me. It keeps feeling like I’m damning this movie with faint praise, but the Ninja Turtles have always been a property that seems to defy normal critical conventions. I was first introduced to the Ninja Turtles via the late 80’s animated series. I was born in 1977, so by the time the Ninja Turtles came around, I was young enough to enjoy them, but old enough to realize how lacking they seemed to be. So for me, being able to square the questionable quality of what I was seeing with the undeniable enjoyment I was getting from it was built in from day one. Perhaps there will be a day when someone makes a Ninja Turtles movie where the two sides merge more cohesively and we’ll have a timeless Ninja Turtles movie that transcends the medium, but this is not that movie. Instead, this is just a fun Ninja Turtles story with some kick-ass action set pieces and numerous humorous moments, and is easily one of the more fun movies I’ve seen in 2016.