From the moment Bebop and Rocksteady were announced, it was clear that this could either finally be the movie that loyal Ninja Turtle fans have always wanted, or a desecration of their most beloved characters. So which is it?
The world of the turtles has only just opened up to us. After saving the city from the Shredder and giving away all of the credit, the turtles are called on again as the Shredder is broken out of prison, along with the mischievous Bebop and Rocksteady, introducing terrors not only of the mutation variety, but of intergalactic origin. From that point, the movie is a massive blast of fun gags, one-liners, and impressive CGI.
The entire first act of the film is very on point. On point should not be confused with perfect. Movies like these are almost always primarily meant as a fun sort of escapism, and this one, being an action movie about mutated turtles, warthogs, and rhinos, is no exception. But it takes what relatively little worked in the first film – the pure heroism of the turtles and the ’80s fun vibe – and magnified it. Then, they added the characters that the fans really wanted and picked a relatively simple “seek and assemble” story, and just let the characters have a massively fun time, all while adding the first meaningful character development the rebooted franchise has seen.
Bebop and Rocksteady, undoubtedly the most anticipated piece of this film, are as near perfect as a cartoon-to-screen translation can be. They’re stupid and hilarious in a way that perfectly captures the slap-happy spirit of the ’80s cartoon, and balances well off of the seriousness of the Shredder, showing that the franchise is not a one-trick pony. They provide the film’s funniest moments unilaterally and relentlessly (though parents reading this should be advised that it’s with a solid helping of crude humor, as well). Wonderfully cast and unleashed for all the ludicrousness you can pack into this two-hour flick, they are without a doubt the best part of this movie.
But this is also a film that expounds on the turtles themselves in a more meaningful way than the previous installment. In more specific terms, the heroism of the turtles has already been established. That’s not in question. But the struggles of being an unrecognized hero is. Raphael hates watching a schmuck take all of their credit. Mikey and Donnie want a sense of belonging in a city where they can’t even show their faces, lest they be outed as freaks. Leo struggles through the balance of leadership and control. And as much as I can’t believe I’m saying this, it actually works. And while Leo’s struggle doesn’t quite have the satisfying conclusion that the others do, it mostly unifies under the idea of belonging and acceptance. That provides an opportunity to talk about around what we fix our identities, especially for teenagers who are just figuring that out. The turtles learn not to place their core sense of worth in social standards. Many Christians could use to do the same.
As it progresses, though, the film nearly loses its footing. The initial slow build of conflict is disrupted by an almost dizzying quickening of the pace, and a far too rushed introduction of Krang, which launches the viewer into the more bizarre comic book world of the turtles, rather than the slow unveiling of the first act (this was, by the way, a pacing problem in the previous film as well). More writing issues ensue, with excessive internal explanations that approach patronizing, and a climactic fight scene that feels nearly move for move in step with the previous installment.
The thing that holds it together, really, is the aforementioned character development with the turtles. April takes a back seat in this film’s focus. That doesn’t mean she’s only sex appeal (the film’s only real sexual content is a short segment of scant dress that’s shown in the trailer), just that she’s not the main point of the movie. That’s unfortunate to a certain degree, as it includes by association newcomer Casey Jones, but was ultimately the right focus to move forward with. And while I can’t help but criticize the film’s writing and pacing issues, the movie ultimately comes ahead by focusing on unified themes of character development while bringing out faithful adaptations of characters the fans really want to see.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows is rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence