I went into this film having not seen the first one, and to the film’s credit I wasn’t lost and could follow the story clearly. I also thought the characterizations of Bebop and Rocksteady, played respectively by Gary Anthony Williams and WWE superstar Sheamus, were fun. They were immature, steeped in hyper-masculine “bro” culture and thick as the twin bricks that fell on them at birth. This actually made them fairly entertaining to watch. And that’s it. I looked for other nice things to say about Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2 but alas, ’tis poo.
The plot is that Shredder (Brian Tee) has escaped from prison and struck a deal with an alien brain tumor (also known as Krang) to find the pieces of his portal device and assemble them. This will allow him to transport his war-machine the Technodrome so they can conquer and enslave Earth together. Only the turtles can stop them, but they are having an identity crisis and some team issues so the Earth can go suck a fat one.
As far as superhero films go that’s about as standard a plot as you can get. The apocalyptic, city destroying threat that only our heroes can defeat via sky battle is business as usual for the genre nowadays. Avengers Assemble did it in 2012. Man of Steel took the time from its busy schedule of shitting on my dreams to do it. Thor 2: The Dark World did it. Captain America: Winter Soldier did it. Guardians of the Galaxy did it. Avengers Assemble: Age of Ultron did it. Impressively, Batman vs. Superman did it without having to interrupt its dream shitting schedule. Most recently, X-Men: Apocalypse also joined the ranks. Suffice to say, it is a well trodden path that I had little interest going down again.
This brings up the issue that if all, or at least most, superhero movies have apocalyptic, Earth destroying stakes then the Earth begins to mean nothing. Indeed in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2 it’s added almost as an after thought that if the Technodrome gets through all life on Earth will end. I could feel the collective, apathetic shrug of my audience when they said it. But the thing is, although this plot is standard I still like certain movies that have used it. Either because they had strong characters (Guardians of the Galaxy), solid exploration of a theme (Captain America: Winter Soldier), really good action (Avengers Assemble), or a mixture of all three (Avengers Assemble: Age of Ultron). This film has none of those things going for it.
90% of the moving parts in this movie are functional without being entertaining. Krang, who I will remind you is the big bad of this film, has two scenes. The first is his introduction which is entirely expository with no deeper interplay between him and Shredder. The second is the climax where he fights the turtles and curses them for defeating him. Riveting. The fact that there is no interaction between the main antagonist and the protagonists means that the fight for Earth’s survival, which as we’ve discussed is already meaningless, is rendered even more so because there is no personal weight to it.
This isn’t the end of character problems in this film however. Stephen Amell plays Casey Jones and it does not go well at all. He is stripped of his New Yorker tough guy vigilante persona and isn’t really given anything to replace it. Megan Fox returns as April O’ Neill and while on paper the character maintains some of her intelligence, she is largely reduced to the hot sidekick, particularly in a scene near the start where she dresses like a schoolgirl. Shredder is almost unrecognizable as the character we’ve seen in other iterations of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, not even wearing his trademark helmet for most of the film. There is no ferocity in him, nothing to make him feel like a threat. Like almost every character in this film they have been de-clawed. I am a firm believer that adaptations of materials should make changes. If they were to copy everything exactly what would be the point of the adaptation? However, that is not to say that the film makers are beyond reproach if they make changes to a character or story. Far from it in fact. It means that the changes they make need to be justifiable and taking the teeth out of the characters becomes an unforgivable sin.
You’re probably wondering at this point if the action is any good. The word “ninja” is in the title so we should see some pretty amazing martial arts sequences. That fight in the trailer between Bebop, Rocksteady and the turtles looked like it had potential, right? Wrong. There aren’t so much fight scenes as there are set pieces so we don’t really get to see any good fighting. I could hear Michael Bay tapping his foot impatiently, demanding the turtles to go skydiving or white water river rafting or punching sharks.
Let’s go back to that word “ninja” for a second. Aside from the implicit promise of some good martial arts scenes, there is also the more stealthy aspects of it to play with. Surely such an important aspect of the ninja way won’t be neglec- One scene. That’s all it gets. And I would almost be fine with that if they actually played it quiet. No. They blast music over the scene because God forbid the audience has a moment to experience what it’s like to be these characters or to be ninjas. They’d develop emotional connections to them and actually become interested in their lives. Damnation lies at the end of that road. So does good film making but who the fuck wants that?
In an effort to stop you thinking about all these terrible things, the director, David Green, makes sure the camera never stays still for more than a split second. The camera feels like it moves without thought because of it. There are few instances in this film where I thought there was any craft going on in the composition of the shots. Cinematography is the prose of film. It sets the scene and the conflict and should communicate to us on a visual level what is going on in the story. But like everything else in this film it is reduced to being functional. Some times it even fails at being functional with a lot of the action becoming incomprehensible. The erratic camera and cuts make this the cinematic equivalent of jangling keys to keep the baby quiet.
Basically, I didn’t care for it much.