5 June 2016

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows review

It would be very easy to dismiss Teenage Mutant Ninja Turles: Out of the Shadows as little more than visual noise, and in truth not entirely unfair. From it's opening moments it's clear that it's a film aimed firmly at a younger audience, and anyone older than that won't find anything here that they haven't seen done better before. But to do so would be to ignore the fact that Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows is also a surprisingly competent movie, one that still feels like it's trying despite the easily entertained nature of it's target audience.

The story this time sees the titular turtles trying to stop another of Shredder's plans after he succesfully escapes from prison with the help of Dr Baxter Stuckman, a scientist who has been trying to create mutants of his own for some time now. With the help of Bebop and Rocksteady, a couple of lowlife criminals who Dr Stuckman has mutated, Shredder plans to bring an alien invader from another dimension to Earth in order to take over the world.

It's a simple enough plot that basically just results in us watching the turtles race to a series of different MacGuffin's in order to try to stop Shredder from getting his hands on them, but let's face it - no one is watching this film for the story anyway. Instead, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows lives or dies based on it's characters and it's action sequences, and for a Michael Bay produced kids film about a group of anthropomorphic reptiles that know martial arts, both are better than you might expect. That isn't to say that they're good, mind, it's just that they aren't all that bad.

The turtles have never been anything more than broad archetypes - the leader, the brains, the brawn and the goofball, summed up as such by the theme tune from the Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles cartoon - but there is a reason those archetypes can so often be found grouped together. The dynamic the turtles share may not be a particularly original one, but the film does a reasonably good job of using it, adding a fairly consistent level of humour to the movie and some much needed character beats to it's action scenes. Bebop and Rocksteady benefit the film in much the same way - again, neither of them are what you might describe as three-dimensional characters, but the strength of their friendship is the films best recurring joke, and in truth every scene they are in is made more enjoyable by their presence.

And ignoring the bland, lumbering finale (the only part of the film that I actively disliked, it should be noted) it's hard to fault the action on display in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows, which unlike many other movies aimed at this age range is both coherent and - amazingly - somewhat restrained. That might seem like an odd word to apply to a film in which the vast majority of all the action is just pure CGI, but it's true - I can't remember seeing anything in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows that could be described as "destruction porn", and the relatively well-framed, measured fight scenes are a far cry from the excessive, confused action on display in the Transformers franchise.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows even has a theme, Donatello's discovery of a formula that will turn them into humans splitting the team before they come to accept that the thing that makes them different to everyone else is also the thing that makes them who they are. As with the rest of the film, there's nothing groundbreaking about this and you've definitely seen it done better before, but it's yet another aspect of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows that helps make it feel as if it's a film genuinely trying to be more than what it could get away with.

And yes, I know what you're thinking, and you're right. Definable characters, coherent action and an attempt at a theme are some of the most rudimentary building blocks of any competently made movie, and praising this for having that which should be expected from it might seem strange. But the fact that I was impressed with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows for clearing that very low bar says more about the state of action films aimed exclusively at an pre-teen audience than I ever could.

Overall, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows is nothing nothing more than a purely functional movie, but at the same time I'm finding it hard to really criticise a film that I know I would have loved as a ten year old, one that I still found vaguely enjoyable (albeit very forgettable) even now. Ultimately, the chances of anyone older than about twelve finding it to be a worthwhile use of their time and money are slim to say the least - but there is nothing wrong with a film being tailor-made for a younger audience, and the fact that Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows is still a fundamentally capable movie is worth something. Not much, maybe, but still something.

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