There’s something satisfying about hearing Tyler Perry, as mad scientist Baxter Stockman, say the words “Eliminate those turtles,” but it’s not quite novel enough to bring Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows up to street level and out of the sewers.
Early on, giant squid-like brain Krang (Brad Garrett) seizes Shredder (Brian Tee) in a robot fist and demands that the NYC ninja/terrorist bring him through a wormhole to wreak havoc on humans. Krang lists off Shredder’s scavenger-hunt to-do list like an episode of Where in the World Is Carmen San Diego? — “Find the three pieces of the teleportation device in these locations and you can destroy the Earth, gumshoes!” With such a quickly discernible plot, the Turtles movie caters to the little ones, but there’s also adult fare here in the form of throwback ‘90s culture, with “Rump Shaker” now a dull children’s party anthem.
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And then there’s Megan Fox, whose April O’Neil shows signs, in her first scenes, of developing into an actual character (she kind of comes off like Working Girl–era Melanie Griffith, which, yes, is weird). But then April immediately uses her sexuality to hack a scientist’s computer and changes into a naughty schoolgirl costume while parading through a mall of some sort. Is it part of the four-quadrant family-film strategy that fathers with young children feel invited to whistle at the screen every time Megan Fox gives her signature lips-slightly-apart resting face? Having been a reporter named April, I can guarantee you that there are far more sweatpants and wine stains in that life than the movie depicts. I’ll give it a pass on account of reality not mattering, but you have to wonder what the movie could have been if April O’Neil were an ambitious, sporty reporter who maybe didn’t wear high heels to a fight.
One of the most original elements of the new string of TMNT movies is that the motion-capture technology has given actors who aren’t A-list a shot at leading a studio tentpole. The Turtles — played by Noel Fisher (Michelangelo), Jeremy Howard (Donatello), Pete Ploszek (Leonardo) and Alan Ritchson (Raphael) — are not household names. They are, however, great voices. It’s kind of a shame that the other actors aren’t just dynamic voices back in a cartoon world, because the human elements become a letdown and the special effects feel like they’ve already been done before.
At times, the slightly akimbo Dutch angles on cops and bad guys and masked crusaders too closely suggests Gotham City, like if Christopher Nolan and Tim Burton of old teamed up for a film. The landscape, the camera movements, the color palette, all of it’s vaguely familiar. Director Dave Green seems specifically chosen for his ability to imitate, not innovate. It’s a wildly privileged stance to say that artistically rendered special effects and the greatest 3D technology in existence just aren’t thrilling enough, but this is what studio filmmaking has come to: staid stories and a whole lot of sound and fury. To some extent this works — the children in the theater with me squealed at every gravity-defying pizza. But will any of them remember anything that happened? Probably not.