Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows (Cinema Review)

12A – 112mins – 2016 – 3D


 

… AND INTO THE FIGHT

Surfing high on tides of turtle power thanks to my furious franchise refresh, you may wonder why I went to the effort of rushing out my reviews of the five previous big screen anthropomorphized amphibian adventures quicker than Splinter up a drainpipe only to stall when it came to giving my verdict on the theatrical release of this Platinum Dunes follow-up to their blockbuster 2014 reboot?

The truth is, I was in the cinema on opening day (May 30th), pepperoni pizza in hand (seriously) and mind ready to be blown by the belated big screen bow of “jacked up disco ball” Krang (Brad Garrett) and mutant goofballs Rocksteady (WWE’s Sheamus) and Bebop (Gary Anthony Williams), and… Out of the Shadows left me disappointed.

While the second half of Dave Earth to Echo Green’s Michael Bay-produced sewer sequel improves by focusing on Shredder’s (Brian Tee) attempts to locate the fragmented components of an ancient portal-ripping machine in order to open a dimensional rift and bring the Technodrome through to invade Earth, I was still reeling from the Secret of the Ooze-riffing opening half which felt like a chaotic, hyperactive mess of CG-clowning from far too many characters with too few clear-cut motives.

As well as bringing back the turtle’s defeated arch nemesis, his daughter Karai (Brittany Ishibashi) and the faceless Foot soldiers, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2 also squeezes eye candy Megan Fox as human confidant April O’Neil and Will Arnett as comic relief everyman Vern Fenwick into the story. While I was initially concerned that “The Falcon” was receiving short shrift, his change of fortune is worked into the plot well.

The toy chest is further raided to bring anxious scientist Baxter Stockman (Tyler “Madea” Perry) and hockey-loving vigilante Casey Jones (Stephen Arrow Amell) out to play alongside the ninjitsu-trained shellbacks and their furry mentor (Tony Shaloub) in bringing down the “chewed up piece of gum” and the rhino and piggy-shaped hench-mutants. It’s no wonder that next to this veritable menagerie of kooky characters, Laura Linney struggles to stand out as the sole straight player in the thankless role of NYC’s Police Chief.

Josh Appelbaum and André Nemec’s script is also rammed full of fan-servicing callbacks (the manhole-projecting Turtle Van; the cartoon theme song as a car horn; Donnie’s ‘toon chops on April’s data-nabbing watch) and effervescent catchphrase-forcing banter (“My man!”). If you’re prepared, it’s a high-energy blast, but if not it’s nearly two draining hours of insufferable, overblown, try-hard map-cappery with the ugliest alien eyesores this side of John Carpenter’s The Thing.

While Out of the Shadows has had its detractors (The Guardian gifted it just one star, while I overheard a Radio 5 Live discussion which was determined to discourage people from seeing this box office hit), I was downcast at the mondo notion that I was among them. However, a raft of positive film blog reviews reaffirmed my faith in the franchise I will always cherish from my childhood. A return trip to the cinema was planned…

And second time was a charm for this busy-but-nostalgic fun-fest. Maybe because my expectations were lowered, or because my mind was more attuned to the frenzied rate of play (the opening five minutes, in particular, gives the impression that everything from prison breakouts to undercover espionage missions, NBA basketball games, celebrity interviews and Halloween parades all take place on one ‘average’ night in the city), but I legitimately found my opinion raised.

I still accept that it has its flaws (the Brazilian rapids rumble is as indecipherably-choreographed and hard to follow as 2014’s downhill slalom, while Stephen Amell is neither cool or rebellious enough to convince as Casey), but it is a baby-step up from Jonathan Liebesman’s antecedent. Nullify your noggin and Out of the Shadows delivers a tongue-in-cheek, pizza-brained barrage of banter and blockbusting bangs for your buck.

While the current Nickelodeon TV series goes from strength-to-strength on the small screen, I still acknowledge that we are yet to hit gold with a fully consistent TMNT movie. But if things continue to improve film-on-film then maybe the all-but-announced trilogy closer will be a real “Cowabunga” classic? My claws are crossed…

CR@B Verdict: 3 stars

TMNT (Blu-ray Review)

PG – 87mins – 2007


 

DISBAND OF BROTHERS

14 years (and numerous TV incarnations) after their time travel adventure in Feudal Japan (Turtles in Time reviewed HERE), the lean, green, turtle teens returned to the silver screen with a space-saving, text-friendly, lousy noughties buzzword of an acronym – and a sharply-rendered CG makeover, courtesy of Imagi Animated Studios.

But while the half-shell heroes might look and sound different, a sneak peak at Master Splinter’s (Mako Iwamatsu) trophy cabinet confirms they are still the same pizza loving, freedom fighting foursome from the live action early 90s trilogy who defeated Shredder, rapped with Vanilla Ice and fought in a 17th century Samurai civil war – even if the years have not been kind to them.

“This place used to be fun…”

As we return to the action, leader Leo (James Arnold Taylor) is on a skill-sharpening sojourn in South America, leaving Donnie (Mitchell Whitfield) and Mikey (Mikey Kelley) to get personality-appropriate day jobs in I.T. Customer Care and Party Entertainment, respectively. Rebel Raph (Nolan North), meanwhile, is angrier at the world than ever before, taking out his frustrations on NYC’s scum as the metal-suited vigilante Nightwatcher.

Reporter and eyes on the street, April O’Neil (Sarah Michelle Gellar), meanwhile, is now shacked up with Casey Jones (Chris “Captain America” Evans) and out of the News field. Her new cargo delivery company provides the catalyst for this wild ancient-statues-brought-to-life plot which in scope and scale is the most outrageous and fantastical quest yet.

In my review of Platinum Dunes’ 2014 reboot (reviewed HERE) I dismissed TMNT as a “dud” because the first and only time I had previously seen it – in the cinema NINE years ago – I had felt thoroughly fazed and frustrated by this uncharacteristic misstep. However, given a second chance on blu-ray during my pre-Out of the Shadows franchise refresh, I found far more to love than to fret over.

I still insist that Max Winters’ (Patrick Stewart) immortal warrior king aspect is messy as shell and unnecessarily convoluted in sci-fi mumbo-jumbo (“Stars of Kikan”, “Legend of Yaotl”?!!), however the disparate characterisation is still remarkably solid and the quip-heavy banter still popping (even if the pop-culture references have been toned down – save for Splinter’s Gilmore Girls adoration), while the slick animation allows for livelier and more dynamic action than ever before.

The impassioned character drama is moodier and more nourish than it has been since 1990’s theatrical bow (reviewed HERE), while the fan-servicing inclusion of Karai (Zhang Ziyi) and the remnants of Shredder’s Foot Clan (even if it is as little more than masked bodyguards) are welcome nods to the golden days. It’s just a shame the sheen is scuffed by an epic fail of a fantasy conceit which requires far too much expositional explanation (courtesy of Laurence Fishburne’s narration) to make a jot of sense.

CR@B Verdict: 3 stars