Anyone who knows me is very aware that my affinity for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise runs very deep. And now those of you don’t know me are aware of that as well! I watched the cartoon obsessively, owned tons of the action figures, read the comics, dressed up as one of them for Halloween, watched the first 2 movies over and over (even child me had to admit the third one was pretty bad) and bought all of the video games. I even recently stood in line for about an hour to meet co-creator of the franchise, Kevin Eastman, who is an incredibly nice guy for the record. So I was in deep.
When the reboot of the franchise came out in 2014, I seemed to be one of the few people who enjoyed it. I didn’t jump on board with the whole “they look different! This isn’t my Ninja Turtles!” bandwagon. No it’s not ruining your childhood. Your childhood is fine. The old shit is still there, stop saying that. The 2014 film was silly fun with a stand-out action sequence in the descent down the mountain. The second one had me from the first trailer. As a huge fan of the cartoon, they were hitting all of the key notes for me. Rocksteady and Bebop looking nearly identical to their cartoon counterparts. Casey Jones. Krang. Baxter Stockman. Even though I enjoyed those first two movies back in the day, I distinctly remember my disappointment that we got Tokka and Rahzar instead of Rocksteady and Bebop and that Krang never showed up at all. This is a movie that 10-year-old me would have adored, and hey, adult me got a lot of enjoyment out of as well.
The Ninja Turtles continue to live in the shadows after the events of the last movie. They chose to let Vern (Will Arnett) take all of the credit for stopping Shredder, those it’s clear they have some resentment about having to do so. The underlying theme of the movie, which I guess I should mention is subtitled “Out of the Shadows”, is the turtles’ longing for a more normal life, being able to go out of the sewers and be amongst people. Also a whole bunch of the original cartoon villains are tossed at us as Shredder is broken out of police custody, along with Rocksteady and Bebop who are then transformed into a rhinoceros and a warthog by Baxter Stockman (Tyler Perry). Also Krang is happening in the background. Also Technodrome. Also Casey Jones. There’s a lot happening but it never quite passes into the realm of feeling overstuffed.
Now, I’m not familiar with the Ninja Turtles cartoon that is currently running, but I can’t imagine this falls too closely in line with it right? I just googled some images from it and while these characters are there, their designs in the movie definitely seem to fall much closer in line with the original cartoon/maybe comics (my memories of the latter are insanely hazy). There does seem to be a consistent attempt to make this appeal to everyone, sometimes making for some jarring shifts in tone.
Much of the humour is 100% targeted at children. Rocksteady farts, there’s a whole lot of slapstick and cheesy one-liners, etc. Nothing terribly eye-rolling, outside of some of the Vern side plot stuff, which is a damn shame considering how funny Will Arnett was in Popstar which I watched just before this. I will admit a handful of jokes got a smile out of me, even though some of the stuff aimed at adults (Rocksteady and Bebop being psyched about the size of their new animal penises) feels forced.
While the humour is primarily directed at kids, I’m surprised just how “action movie-y” the action is here. The first big action sequence, a car chase that sees ninjas breaking Shredder out of a police transport vehicle while the turtles pursue in a big garbage truck, would fit perfectly into your standard action movie fare, except there just happen to be four mutant turtles involved. I mean that in the sense that it’s not all cartoon sound effects and goofy nonsense. The first thing that happens is a bunch of cars being blown up and flipped over and kids, make no mistake about it, the people in those cars are hecka dead. That’s murder children! All sorts of murder happening! This scene is particularly strange because it has a surprisingly large amount of cursing. Nothing too insane. Casey Jones drops a son of a bitch, a shit, maybe a couple others. Donatello refers to a magnet as a “big ass magnet”, which I quite enjoyed. What’s odd though is that after this scene, I don’t think anyone utters anything close to a curse word for the rest of the movie. It’s all front loaded here. You have to spread the wealth movie. It set a tone for the movie that is never realized. As I said, odd.
While I don’t think any of the action tops the mountain descent from the first film, there is some solid stuff here. The whole sequence with the tank and the cargo plane is probably the highlight, and while the final battle with Krang is fun if only to see a well-realized live action version of Krang, it does feel like a typical blockbuster movie conclusion with New York under siege by a bunch of CGI floating around in the sky.
The action is solid and the humour is hit and miss, but what does it for me is the characters. I just can’t help but enjoy the interaction between the four turtles. I’ve always loved these characters and what we have here, outside of a few quibbles with their appearance that I can’t quite get past (Raph is so roided up looking!) these are still the characters I want to see when I watch a Ninja Turtles movie. I thought Stephen Amell was great as Casey Jones, though that may have been lowered expectations as I was expecting him to be incredibly bland. Megan Fox as April O’Neil does not fare as well, once again coming off as cold and distant, which is unfortunate as I thought Fox showed a lot of comedic potential on this season of New Girl. I did think Perry was enjoyably goofy as Stockman and hope that we get to see his natural progression play out in future movies.
There are some story elements I wish they explored deeper. There’s a lot that can be done with the idea of the Turtles wanting to get out of the sewers and be up amongst the rest of New York, but they don’t scrape too far beneath the surface of the concept. There’s an effective character beat for Michelangelo where his spirits are broken after seeing the hate in peoples’ eyes when they are caught above ground. However, it’s hardly expanded upon and he is back in a chipper state in the next scene. Kid’s movie or not, I wish they had dug more into this as it would have made the pay-off a lot more effective.
Can a great movie be made about mutant turtles fighting ninjas and eating pizza? Absolutely. Is this it? No, it is not. But I had a lot of fun watching it and once again look forward to being one of the sole human beings defending it!