For a film not directed by Michael Bay, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows somehow manages to showcase all the director’s myriad deficiencies and misguided proclivities. Exploitation of an intellectual property beloved by children 30 years ago? Check. Underdeveloped characters and blunt exposition? Check. Excessive explosions and incomprehensible spatial geography? Check and check. Egregious oversexualization of Megan Fox in the first 10 minutes? Well, you see where this is going.
For characters with three decades of history, our protagonists are woefully underdeveloped here, despite the extra attention they’re granted over the first film in this series. The original independent comic books that spawned the Turtles were created by Peter Laird and Kevin Eastman to be a tongue-in-cheek take on Frank Miller’s gritty reimagining of Marvel Comics’ Daredevil. While a blind lawyer beating up ninjas with his cane would seem to be an easy target for satire, the early TMNT books proved to be something far more personal, a deeply considered examination on adolescent ostracization and brotherhood. This film is not an adaptation of those stories. This isn’t even an adaptation of the popular late ’80s cartoon/pizza commercial. Instead, TMNT:OOTS feels more like an attempt to bring the action figure line based on the cartoon to the big screen, and if I wanted to watch someone act out an ill-conceived story with brightly colored toys, I would’ve spent more time with my nephew when he was growing up.
That said, this film and its 2014 predecessor were not conceived with me in mind — they were built for tweens. And therein lies the problem, because the film is too mature for its intended audience and too juvenile for anyone else. The language, sexuality and violence are all decidedly PG-13, but the lack of coherent narrative building would be more appropriate to a film aimed at audiences 8 and younger. Modern kids fare has become a delicate balancing act, engineered to appeal to young and old alike while offending no one in a quest for the fabled four-quadrant film. TMNT:OOTS fails to walk this razor’s edge and falls into the abyss of purposelessness. If Somerset Maugham had been responsible for writing this version of Leonardo and Donatello instead of Larry Darrell, his titular razor would’ve referred not to a verse from the Upanishads, but to the one he would’ve been compelled to employ in the slashing of his own wrists.
While the script is often offensively nonsensical, the cast can’t escape its share of the responsibility for a film this bad. Megan Fox is every bit as soulless and vapid as ever, Will Arnett is utterly wasted, and how poor Laura Linney wound up in this film is anybody’s guess. Stephen Amell delivers a particularly weak performance but looks positively Brandoesque next to Fox’s flaccid attempt to sound like an officious TV news reporter in one of her character’s few noncheesecake scenes. Tyler Perry and pro wrestler Sheamus at least seem to be in on the joke, but their relentless hamming is too infrequently featured to provide a healthy distraction from two hours of turtle tedium. The voice and motion-capture actors portraying the central cast are competent but underwhelming and never imbue their CG avatars with anything remotely resembling personality or pathos. Fred Armisen, initially cast as Krang, was replaced at the last minute by Brad Garrett, and apparently Johnny Knoxville did not return to play Leonardo in this sequel, but in all honesty, I was too busy looking at my watch to take much notice. If we truly live in a world where Johnny Knoxville and Fred Armisen can afford to turn down roles while Laura Linney cannot, something has gone terribly wrong.
It’s difficult to determine who deserves the blame for this abomination, but there’s plenty to go around. Director Dave Green clearly favors spectacle over sensibility and, with only the similarly dismal Earth to Echo under his belt as a feature director, lacks the experience to express anything beyond the confines of Bay’s stylistic shadow. Returning writers Josh Applebaum and André Nemec clearly have their formula hammered out, if the aim of that formula is to do as little writing as possible before handing the script off to the animation team to have them fill in the blanks with action set-pieces. A brief scene in which Bay’s Transformers films were referenced left me quaking in terror that I might be looking at the inception of a “Michael Bay Shared Cinematic Universe,” a prospect that sent me into a cold sweat. When all’s said and done, a film is only as good as the sum of its parts, and this one is a Frankenstein’s Monster composed of gangrenous limbs and a murderous intent to drown small children, not in a pond, but in a sea of stupidity. Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence.
Playing at Epic of Hendersonville, Regal Biltmore Grande.