There are three things about the movie Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows that are not aesthetically or morally reprehensible. They are Tyler Perry as Baxter Stockman, Will Arnett as Vernon Fenwick, and Megan Fox as April O’Neil. Despite being given virtually nothing to do (Fox isn’t even provided the slightest of character arcs and is in fact used degradingly more often than once), the three prove magnetic when on screen, turning a noxious trash fire…well, a noxious trash fire that at least doesn’t insult me as a human being. A noxious trash fire that asks to be something more than a noxious trash fire.
But the rest? To call it a contended piece of garbage almost sells it too highly. Somehow even worse than its previous installment, TMNT 2 consists of frantic, incoherent action scenes, a convoluted overstuffed plot with three separate ugly McGuffins (and a poorly explained, arguably fourth and fifth McGuffin in the climax), potty humor that I wouldn’t even want a child to acquiesce to, and gallingly inappropriate sexuality and violence that gave this its PG-13 rating despite being pitched aggressively at children. It’s the whole package, if by that you mean it’s a self-contained grotesquerie with every bad choice you could desire all put into one place. I had to watch it on a bet, and this has made me reconsider the entire nature of gambling (more so than the very existence of Las Vegas).
But what is it about? Well, you see, there’s these turtles. And get this: they’re mutants. What’s more? They’re ninjas! But here’s the humdinger: they’re also teenagers! And they have to stop Shredder, a guy with lots of blades all over his body, Krang, a brain in a robot body from Dimension X, and Bebop and Rocksteady, two former criminals turned mutated rhinocerous and warthog, from destroying the entire world. How do they do this? Well, mostly they putz around and fail, continuously, at every mission they’re given, until a climactic fight scene where everything just… kinda… ends. There’s an inter-dimensional portal being built by super-genius Baxter Stockman, which requires those aforementioned McGuffins to work, as well as a vigilante cop named Casey Jones who is out to get Bebop and Rocksteady, and of course April O’Neil is there doing more work than all the turtles combined. Those turtles though? They got angst. A whole bucket full of it. And they have the same conflicts they had and resolved in the first movie, because it takes a lot of effort to write a new script, and this is Hollywood! No jacket required.
It’s just exhausting the whole way through trying to keep up with what the movie wants me to care about. Oh, so Mikey suddenly wants to be part of the human world? Why? And now Raphael feels the same way? At one point, Leo tells the brothers that they’re not a team, and then at another point they agree that they are, really, a team. Nothing happens between these two points that would indicate a change of heart took place, nor does something resembling a reason show up. Oh, and you know how Raphael wishes he were human? Spoiler alert: now he doesn’t, even though it would expedite their plan to save the city. I don’t know why either. It’s not that I’m expecting a Cassavetes-like interpersonal drama; it’s that I’m expecting when a character expresses a feeling or motivation, that this feeling or motivation will remain constant until something happens to change it. These aren’t character arcs so much as character continental shelves; everything heads along a straight-line path until suddenly the whole thing gets thrown off the deep end.
This character incoherency is matched and raised by the action directing, which takes all the franticness of Michael Bay but strips it of meaning, rhythm, beauty, and expression. It’s easy enough to say that it has no idea how to place the viewer in a space and how its lack of organization creates confusion and insults attempts at comprehension. That’s all fine and good, but what’s worse is that it acts without knowing what those actions means. The Michael Bay style of action directing–like it or love it–aims to impart a visceral feeling that doesn’t ask for you to literally follow what’s going on. The rhythms speed up or slow down, the editing gets tighter or looser, the movement uses all the space between close-up and wide shot to give an impressionistic view of the events. We can tell, just from how things look, when the good guys are winning and when the bad guys are, when the tide of the battle turns, how these characters feel in that moment. TMNT 2 director Dave Green has all the flash with none of the restraint or artistry. He (or his editor, or his cinematographer) has got no eye for the stuff. There’s no beauty in the violence, it’s just a tired, self-obsessed thrashing about.
And about it being a kids movie: sure, it’s rated PG-13, but there’s no doubting it’s pitched at kids. The entire look and humor are designed to appeal to kids (fart jokes and all), the toys will be marketed to kids, the theater I was in was at least half children under 10–this is a kid’s movie, through and through. So, not to be crass, but what the fuck is up with the scene where Megan Fox strips out of her business attire and puts on an absolutely fetishistic schoolgirl outfit in order to blend in with a crowd of other women dressed in fetish schoolgirl outfits for all of five seconds? More to the point: what’s with the slow, leering pans up her bare midriff and fetishized tits that happens not just once, but twice in a ten second period? If this was pornography that would be foreplay overkill; as a kid’s movie it’s an absolute embarrassment, somehow even worse than Michael Bay’s similar objectification of her in the Transformers movies. There’s a time and a place for sleaze, and it is absolutely not here.
Sigh, and I didn’t even get to the part where Bebop and Rocksteady, after being transformed into mutants, look at their dicks and give each other a fist-bump (presumably because now they have massive animal penises jutting out into their cool-ass jorts). Or the part where Raphael, for some reason, suddenly has a fear of heights that he has literally never expressed before. Or the part where Casey Jones builds make-shift rollerblades so he can take on Bebop and Rocksteady like the coolest superhero of 1993. Megan, Tyler, Will, I’m glad you all got paid. Everyone else needs to sit in their room for a while and think about what they’ve done.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows is currently playing.
Directed by Dave Green; written by Josh Appelbaum, André Nemac, Peter Laird, and Kevin Eastman; starring Megan Fox, Will Arnett, Laura Linney, Stephen Amell, Noel Fisher, Jeremy Howard, Pete Ploszek, Alan Ritchson, Tyler Perry, and Brian Tee; 112 minutes.