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Monday, July 3, 2017

Summer Not-Busters: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows (2016)

Director: Dave Green
Starring: Megan Fox, Stephen Amell
Domestic Box Office: $82,051,601

The fact that Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows failed hard enough to be considered one of the biggest bombs of 2016 ever so slightly restores my faith in humanity. This movie is garbage, and I say that having come into it with expectations low enough that it should have been difficult not to meet them. It's crass, visually ugly, and will leave you feeling approximately 5% dumber than you were before you saw it. In an era when kid-friendly entertainment is continuously pushing the boundaries of ambition and creating films that are intelligent and emotionally resonant for people of all ages, the existence of Out of the Shadows feels particularly egregious.

Although a film like this and its 2014 predecessor exists, in part, to appeal to the nostalgia of people who were kids in the '80s and '90s, it's pitched at a level that all but ensures that it can't be enjoyed by anyone born after, say, 2005. It's juvenile in its sensibility, in its dialogue and its humor, and in its narrative, and it's the fact that it's targeted so exclusively towards the very young that makes it such a troubling film to watch. I'm not a pearl-clutcher who believes that children need to be shielded from things at all costs, but I do wonder what messages a kid would take away from this film. What does it say about the value of women when the film uses its first ten minutes to excessively sexualize Megan Fox, putting her in a barely there private school uniform that's designed to make her look like jailbait while simultaneously providing the implied reassurance that it's somehow not gross because Fox isn't actually a teenager, and all but saying out loud that her surface charms are all she's capable of bringing to the table? What does it say about being a hero when the film has Casey Jones (Stephen Amell) walk into a bar to demand answers from someone and when they aren't forthcoming, he starts smashing everything until he gets what he was looking for? With the exception of the precocious, kids aren't yet complex thinkers, so to have a character that you're meant to root for use intimidation and unprovoked force when he's not getting his way (to act like a bully, essentially) seems at best misguided in a film made for children.

But what of the plot? Honestly, I don't even know. Shredder (Brian Tee) is in jail, but scientist Baxter Stockman (Tyler Perry) breaks him out using a teleportation device which results in him being taken to another dimension, where he meets Krang, an alien that gets around in a giant robot body and wants to invade/destroy Earth. For some reason, Stockman believes that helping Krang will make him the most famous scientist in history, even though the goal of Krang's plan is to eliminate humanity. As part of the plan Stockman turns two idiots named Beebop and Rocksteady into mutants, one becoming a human-rhino hybrid, the other becoming a a human-warthog hybrid because, according to Stockman, every human has some small fraction of animal DNA in them and by using the mutagen passed on from Krang the ancient animal ancestor of any human can be brought out and made dominant (like I said, you end up 5% dumber). Only the four turtles - Leonardo, Donatello, Raphael, and Michelangelo - stand in the way of Krang's plan and can stop it from coming to fruition.

Also, for some reason Laura Linney is on hand to play the role of the hard-nosed police chief who threatens to take Casey's badge and assumes that the turtles are enemies instead of friendlies until being won over and convinced otherwise. Now, I assume that the makers of the film hired Linney because Naomi Watts' agent had already committed her to several other terrible movies (seriously Naomi, what's going on lately?), but I'm not sure why Linney would agree to be in this movie and am left to assume that she killed someone and Michael Bay, the film's producer, knows where to find the body. Nothing else makes sense and Linney, a great actress capable of raising just about any material, spends most of her time on screen looking as if she's trying to communicate with just her eyes that she's being held hostage and could somebody please send help.

The perception of Out of the Shadows being a bomb derives largely from two facts. The first is that its domestic total after 14 weeks in theaters amounted to only $17 million more than its predecessor made in its opening weekend alone. The second is that it earned just over $50 million dollars less domestically than it cost to make. That's a pretty bad return, especially when you take into account how terrible the film looks. When a movie costs a lot of money to make but you can see where the money went onscreen, the cost is easier to justify. A good comparison I think, given the level of CGI and motion-capture involved in both, is the recent Planet of the Apes movies. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes has great looking effects that bring its non-human characters vividly to life. Out of the Shadows has cheap looking effects (this is especially true of an extended sequence which finds the film's six CGI created characters doing battle in a river) that makes its turtle protagonists look repulsive. Out of the Shadows isn't just a waste of time to watch, it was a waste of all that money it took to make it, too.

Should It Have Been a Blockbuster?: Dear God, no

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