It won’t surprise me if the overall consensus on TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES: OUT OF THE SHADOWS (just TMNT 2 from here out, okay?) is that it’s an improvement on the first film. It is – but only in the sense that the bar is already set so painfully low. The first film was a full-blown piece of shit – badly directed, badly scripted, poorly acted, edited into a clusterfuck to fix story problems that never should’ve made it that far to begin with and ugly to look at from top to bottom – this is seriously one of the worst production-designed series ever.

The sequel carries over all the pre-existing problems, but this time things are marginally better directed (however much of it was actually directed, since so much of it is so obviously comprised of bog-standard pre-viz) and they’ve imported a bunch of fanservice aimed squarely at the first-wave Millennial entertainment bloggers most likely to get assigned to review it by their Russian and/or Chinese owned traffic farm – er.. I mean, Perfectly Legitimate News Outlet so… yeah, the reviews will be better.

It’s still pretty fucking bad.

Yes, they clearly had more time to work on this one so it’s not quite as clunky and thrown-together as the original felt throughout, but an overriding sense of laziness and half-effort is still the name of the game. The plot (such as it is – see below) is an afterthought, the characterizations are basic to the point of parody (almost everyone introduces themselves with a description of their own personality and expected “arc”) and none of it ever manages to have any weight or feel like it’s supposed to matter – which I understand is a weird complaint to have about what’s ostensibly a kids movie, but like I said last time: Kids deserve better than this.

I mean, he first time they made this shit into a movie I was the kid and it was every bit as much of a cynical grab for my or rather my mother’s money for more licensed plastic Turtle crap; but at least they had enough respect for my hypothetical intelligence to slow the fuck down in Act 2 and have that quiet stretch at the farmhouse to develop the characters into something resembling depth. OR they figured that establishing emotional connection to the characters would generate even more devotion to the product line, but… look, the point is, “it’s just for kids” is not an excuse not to do your goddamn jobs – that kind of thinking is how you end up with tainted baby food.

Case in point: You might’ve been under the impression that there’s a new Shredder is this one… but it’s just a new actor supposedly playing the same part. Wasn’t Shredder a really old guy in the last one? Who fucking cares, right? And the Foot Clan are Ninjas again even though they were clearly black-ops mercenary guys in the last one because… okay, even I don’t care about that one at this point.

Anyway, the plot this time is that the Foot Clan wants to break Shredder out of prison by using an alien teleporter rebuilt by Tyler Perry’s mad scientist Baxter Stockman. But instead of sending Shredder where it’s supposed to, it drops him into another dimension where the cyborg dictator Krang tells him that the teleporter is actually part of a bigger teleporter whose pieces are scattered on Earth and if reunited will let him beam in and conquer the place, which Shredder agrees to do in exchange for help with his Turtle problem. Believe it or not, I’m pretty sure that ENTIRE goddamn setup plays out in less time onscreen than it just took me to describe it – and yet somehow the rest of the movie is still almost 2 hours long.

What passes for a “theme” intrudes on the proceedings when Shredder uses a serum from Krang to turn henchmen Bebop and Rocksteady into their cartoon selves, which apparently occurs by “regressing human DNA to its animal ancestry” which is not how that works but… whatever. The point is that for some reason this means the same serum could turn the Turtles into full-blown humans, the prospect of which divides the team ideologically because hey, if you’re going to steal a storyline from the fucking X-MEN movies, you might as well steal from the worst one… I guess?

It all feels phoned in and lifeless, save for the bizarre obsession the film has with reminding us that Bebop & Rocksteady really are BFF’s for life – in a movie that’s already much too long, it’s just bizarre that so much screentime is given over to two lumpy, farting CGI monstrousities engaging in endless Judd Apatow “bromance” improv. The rest of it is just mechanical as shit, a Mother Goose simple plot interrupted for scheduled interludes that feel dreamed up by a seven year-old who knows that a narrative needs character conflict to give it structure but doesn’t understand what any of that entails beyond cliches he’s seen in other movies.

The action scenes, once again, are a big fat letdown considering how much money got spent on the FX. I can’t for the life of me figure out why they decided to use motion-capture to create the Turtles or any of the shitty new villains since every big setpiece is the same bullshit mishmash of the characters flinging themselves through the air in weightless theme-park choreography designed to show off the 3D and not much else. The keep hammering the point home that these characters are ninja-master, but there’s almost zero martial-arts in either of these films so far – the fucking KUNG-FU PANDA movies have better hand-to-hand combat sequences, and their both basically cartoons.

Speaking of which, the garish aesthetic mismatch between the design and the narrative isn’t doing it any goddamn favors either: The story and characters are all pitched at the level of an audience that’s still shitting it’s Huggies, but the cinematography and editing make everything look so much like a faux-gritty cop show you expect the Dick Wolf logo to come up at any minute and the Turtles are all still overdesigned hulking brutes I can’t imagine NOT terrifying a small child in person, forget being embraced as a children’s merchandising icon – the resulting dissonance feeling like somebody dubbed a vocal track from BANANAS IN PAJAMAS over a particularly Ramsay-heavy episode of GAME OF THRONES.

Giving the dialogue some snap might’ve mitigated some of this, but the writing is uniformly bland and explanatory in a way that suggests everyone involved knows that the main function of this tossed-off kleenex full of turtle jizz (and every other third-tier tentpole franchise like it) is to suck up dollars from undiscerning overseas 4D “ride theater” audiences and figured they might as well make life easy for the poor souls who have to dub it all into Mandarin.

Oh yeah, Meagan Fox is also in this. I… once upon a time had some fucking douchey, not at all nice things to say about Meagan Fox early on in my criticism career that I’d pretty much take all the way back if I could. She’s not GOOD in this, don’t get me wrong, but it sometimes feels like she’s trying just a little bit harder than everyone else is. She almost certainly deserves a lot better than this… but, then, so don’t we all.

This review made possible in part by generous contributions to The MovieBob Patreon.

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