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Review - "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows"

I'm an apologist for the 2014 reboot of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Yes, the one with... what, 20-ish percent on Rotten Tomatoes? See, as a fan of the series, I really think that it was onto something. Yeah, the first half sucked, the new designs weren't great, the plot was a mess, and practically everything else critics said about it was right on the money. But watching it again the other night, well, it really did some stuff right. The Turtles' personalities, the dialogue, the retooled April O'Neil, the stellar action in the second half... there was potential there. Potential for a better movie to exist.

Out of the Shadows is the realization of that potential. It is that better movie. And hot damn, is it ever a good one.

I will get this out of the way up front: if you go into this sequel expecting some genius, George Miller-esque opus of modern cinema, you'll be leaving disappointed. It's still a big, dumb loud movie with a cubic assload of CGI and a potpourri of patently stupid humor. This is not a thinking person's movie. This is a movie you go watch, cram some popcorn in your eager gullet, and just let the spirit take you.

It's the cinematic equivalent of one of those Universal Studios rides where the action and laughs are densely packed as cheese on a pizza, and don't let up until you get off. Or in this case, walk out of the theater.

The thing is? Unlike what a lot of other, snobbier people will tell you, those sorts of movies can often be fun... if they let themselves be. And that's the problem with movies cut from the Michael Bay cloth: they expect you to take it all seriously. Sure, Transformers and its cavalcade of sequels have some jokes, but they still feel gritty, self-serious, self-important. Bay and his cronies want you to forget that you're watching a movie about fucking talking robot cars and take it seriously. But you can't. Because, really, man, they're fucking talking robot cars.

Thank the gods, then, that Out of the Shadows doesn't ever want you to treat it like anything but a Saturday morning cartoon come to life. From the get-go, there's no mysterious intrigue, no gritty origin, no terrifying primordial threat. It's about four dumb talking turtles who eat pizza and do martial arts. That's it. That's all there is to it. Oh, yeah, there are villains, but they're not edgy, grimdark murderers. They're a big bad samurai, a talking warthog and rhino, and a brain with fucking eyeballs. Sure, there's a plot to destroy the world, but it's treated with the total opposite of gravity. An interdimensional rift is going to be opened, and the turtles are still making jokes, riding skateboards, and self-referentially poking fun at themselves and the situation.

This goes a long fucking way in the age of self-important comic movies and toy adaptations. Quite often, these movies forget their source material, and end up turning into bloated garbage heaps where the stakes are so super high and nothing will ever be the same. I hate it. Out of the Shadows actually has bigger stakes than most recent superhero flicks, but don't tell that to the writers. Why? Because they're too busy actually making a fun, compelling film instead of constantly reminding you of how big and bad the big bad threat is. It doesn't want to be cool or hip or serious. It doesn't even seemed concerned at actually being a good film. It just wants to be a cartoon brought to life, and it succeeds in spades.

And it's because of not being a pretentious snorefest that the movie manages to cram so much fun stuff into its two-hour runtime. The setpieces are all patently absurd in the best way possible, and seeing it on a giant screen is nothing short of sheer joy. There's something to be said for a scene in which talking turtles dive from a plane onto another plane, then crash that plane into a river, then fight a rhino in a tank on that river, and then go over a fucking waterfall because why the fuck not?!

It's this kind of gonzo, shark-jumping, fast-and-loose idiocy that makes Out of the Shadows work so well. Everything that happens is so far removed from the realm of reality, and unlike the first film, there are no attempts to portray a slightly more realistic, more grounded take on the turtles. Because... come on. They're talking turtles that are fucking ninjas. How grounded can you even make that? You can't, and because there are absolutely no attempts at it here, the whole thing works.

I know this review is more fast and loose, less professional, and possibly less coherent than my usual stuff. But then, I guess it fits. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows is a movie that's a relentless assault on the senses in the best way possible. The performances are all top-notch, the writing is surprisingly stellar, the action is fast and furious, the score is pitch-perfect. It ain't a masterpiece, but it was never trying to be. It was trying to be a fun popcorn flick, and it succeeded.

It succeeded because it's the most genuine, honest fun I've had at the movies since Deadpool. And I daresay that, behind that, it's the second-best comic flick of 2016.

Turtle Power indeed.

Grade: B+


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