Friday, June 10, 2016

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows

** out of ****

I can’t claim that seeing the sequel to 2014’s disappointing reboot of one of my favorite things from childhood (which really wasn’t that good in the first place) had any guarantee in lifting my spirits through a nostalgia high, but characters such as Bebop, Rocksteady and Krang were all due to make their first cinematic appearances and I couldn’t deny whatever remains of a Turtles fan in me, that there might be some dumb gratification in that.

I was right about the dumb part. The newly added characters typically known from the cartoon series resemble their original looks pretty well, but in a pandering way. Bebop and Rocksteady also somehow mutate into their animal forms with an explanation that would have had me calling bullshit when I was a child. Hell, the plot to The Lobster would have worked better! 

The Turtles are still spending a lot of time on the tops of famous well-lit prime real estate skyscrapers, rather than dark alleys in bad neighborhoods. I am among few people from my generation who doesn't mind the way they look in their CGI incarnations, but I still prefer men in suits and animatronic masks.

Still, the special effects and color aesthetics in these new movies continue to be somewhat exciting (even though they are displayed with the kind of physics-defying simulated cinematography that reminds you that what you're seeing can't be real) but the movie continues to get simple things wrong. The epic-sounding orchestral score is, once again, very unfitting for the material.

Making simple characters who don't require much description also continues to be a challenge for the people running the show. First, April O'Neil was downgraded from a professional news woman to Megan Fox's girly Maxim pinup; This time Casey Jones is deprived of his grungy unkempt persona to being... a cop. 

Not kidding, that vigilante known as Casey Jones is now a young cop played by Green Arrow himself: Stephen Ammell. They ought to call him Straight Arrow in this movie. After being put on suspension by an unrealistically demeaning superior played by Laura Linney (yes, she's in this), Jones fights crime his own way but seems eager to be polite to all non-criminals.

Tyler Perry as Baxter Stockman is an interesting choice, given that his character was black in the original comic before he was whitewashed for the cartoon series. I still prefer his character to be a cowardly scientist forced into crime rather than Perry's portrayal as one filled with glee in his amoral endeavors.

Oddly, Shredder has been recast from Tohoru Masamune in old-age makeup to young-looking Brian Tee with no makeup. I don't know what happened except for the further surrender of the attempted whitewashing of his character in the last movie, which only cast Masamune during reshoots to correct the identity of The Shredder when fans found out what was happening.  

As expected, the story is overstuffed with bad exposition that leads from one major set piece to the next including the now-standard trope of a portal opening up in the sky above a major city and a bunch of jargon about how to stop it. The loud cluttered Michael Bay-approved action storytelling naturally makes the movie longer than it needs to be. The change in directors doesn't make much of a difference either. I'm still thankful that Bay hasn't directed either one.

This franchise’s inability to grow along with its fans is still there, but its new incarnation should still manage to entertain kids in the way that the older version once entertained me as a fourth grade boy.

The lean, green fighting machines deserve a grungier New York, a score with a beat, and a story that comes from a gifted thirty-something writer who wants his -or her childhood heroes to work better from an adult perspective. This is how Batman and so many other icons came to have better incarnations. Sadly, it's not looking like that will happen anytime soon.

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