(In French, On Cable TV, February 2019) Nobody expected a classic from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze, but the result is such that it will confound even those who thought they knew what to expect. Maximizing the jokey aspects of the first film and toning down much of whatever possible seriousness one could imagine from its silly premise, this entry in the series is dull until it gets silly enough to get a reaction. Whether this reaction is amusement or mockery is up to the viewer. Plotwise, the titular oozy premise of the film works as both backstory and pretext to introduce new villains. If it does feel partly more interesting than its prequel, it’s that we’re finally done with the origins story and on to something else. (Even if that “something else” is not that new either from the TV series or the later movie reboot.) Alas, there’s a long way from premise to execution: once you accept the idea of skilled martial artists fighting in bulky turtle suits, the film’s numerous fight scenes will be meaningless for anyone over twelve. The core of the series does remain the turtles, however, and the efforts required to suspend disbelief in the pre-digital era. There’s a heroic quality to portraying kung fu fighting turtles in live action, and the special effects for the entire film are both impressive and silly throughout. This sequel’s overall jokey tone reinforces the unreality of the film. Even if you somehow manage to suspend your disbelief and get over the film’s insistent absurdity, you will inevitably come to the moment where the turtles ham it up on a nightclub scene with none other than Vanilla Ice (“T-U-R-T-L-E Power!”) Maybe your brain will survive the experience. If it does, maybe it will be because of the inherent time-capsule aspect of a film self-consciously designed to appeal to early-1990s teenagers.
(Netflix Streaming, August 2018) It’s actually amazing, these days, how much effort and resources can go in making movies that barely make a blip on the cultural radar. We’re told that Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows cost $135M, a reasonable amount for a live-action film featuring CGI characters on-screen for nearly its entire duration, and dynamic action sequences—including one in the Amazon River. The film made nearly twice its budget back, which today means that it’s not nearly enough to offset marketing and other expenses. As a result, this is likely the end of the road for this third Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle movie series—a reboot is likely to follow at some point. And yet, and yet, Out of the Shadows itself is often too uninteresting to be memorable. While it’s slightly better than the original—at least in terms of presenting a halfway-intriguing premise—, the film is practically a case study in 2010s blockbuster cinema and how, once the shouting and the explosions are over, it can be instantly forgotten. Out of the Shadows, like its predecessor, really comes alive during its action sequences: The highway chase sequence, the Brazilian river sequence and the Technodrome ending sequence are director Dave Green’s three claims to viewer enjoyment and excitement. When the film stumbles is in what’s probably a too-gross antagonist in a PG-13 film: Krang is executed as a Lovecraftian nightmare of exposed viscera and tentacles, which is in-keeping with the source material but executed too vividly to be purely enjoyable without a side order of nausea. But Out of the Shadows doesn’t, in the end, amount to much—if you’re a Turtles fan, you got your sequel. Otherwise, you got yet another CGI-heavy spectacle forgotten a week later. Such is the norm today.