In a summer filled with disappointments, TMNT 2 might not stand out as a gem, but can at least live up to its predecessor, delivering what it promises.
Shredder (Brian Tee) is back with a vengeance, after he escaped prison with the help of a teleportation device created by the evil Dr. Baxter Stockman (Tyler Perry). The resulting rift in space attracts the evil alien Krang though, who convinces Shredder to join a pact that should result in shared world dominance, if Shredder’s minions can trace and re-assemble a bigger teleportation machine which is able to create a wormhole big enough so Krang’s armada can pass through. Inevitably, the Turtles, April O’ Neill (Megan Fox) and prison guard/hockey fan Casey Jones (Stephen Amell) are the only ones who can stop him.
There is also a subplot involving “The Ooze”, a mysterious serum that allows humans to mutate into human-animal hybrids and vice versa. Is this a chance for the Turtles to become human and live among us as regular people?
The first TMNT was a pleasant surprise and ranks among my top guilty pleasures of the last decade.
This sequel is, coming back to what I said in the intro, pretty much a large refill package of the first one: A lot of elements improved, some stayed the same and a few things got worse.
Let’s start with the things that got better.
First, the story is, if simplistic, definitely more coherent now. If you enjoyed the action beats from the original, be assured you will get more of that, amped up and improved. Sure, 80% of those scenes are CGI, but they are impressively realized and quite engaging. Now that the origin story is out of the way, the individual Turtles -who are, subtly redesigned, looking better than ever before- are fleshed out more properly.
What stayed the same is the rogue gallery that is still a little bland. Krang’s new design rocks, but he is as one-dimensional and expendable as poor Shredder.
But what’s really baffling about this movie is the occasional dissonance in tone. While all the parts with the Turtles or other CGI characters (Bebop and Rocksteady make an appearance) interacting work effortlessly, the scenes that only involve live-action actors bring the movie’s flow to a screeching halt.
The Turtles’ story hits all the right notes, from the characterization to the humour to the kid-appropriate, uplifting humanist message. The live-action cast parts on the other hand are not just outright awkward, they also reflect the fact that the production company Platinum Dunes is a brainchild of the infamous reactionist director and producer “ol’ blue eyes” Michael Bay after all, in terms of style as well as regarding the wonky world view.
Platinum Dunes is notorious for shooting every movie of any genre in a way so it looks like a generic action movie, be it an actual action movie or one of their loveless horror film remakes. The live-action part of TMNT 2 is no exception, all trademarks are there, from the martial soundtrack (Steve Jablonsky, who already committed, uh, composed the Transformers scores) to the steely fashion in which it is edited and framed. A little more off-putting is the caricature-like depiction of the human characters that stands in stark contrast to the warmth and lovable eccentricity the Turtles are exuding.
I never thought the day would come when I would defend Megan Fox, but here it is. Casting her as April O’ Neill might have not been the greatest decision in the predecessor, but at least she got something to do in the first one. Her only achievement in this movie is dressing up in a “sexy school girl” outfit to distract a bad guy. Yep, they found another creative way to justify her appearance as eye candy for 13 yo boys.
Tyler Perry’s performance as a scientist who is obviously an evil “mirror universe” -spoof of real-life scientist Neil deGrasse Tyson, is repugnant due to its awfulness and an underlying mean-spirited streak that hints at jockish anti-nerd tendencies (that are thankfully absent from the positive portrayal of the “nerdy” Turtle Donnie), which I would not put behind Bay. Also, both the depiction of Casey and the performance by Amell are disappointing. Elias Koteas’ interpretation of the character as free-spirited slacker beats this version of Casey by a mile, as he is now portrayed as a prison guard who is riddled with self-esteem issues because he has not passed the test to become a police officer. Ugh.
As it’s a Bay production, there traditionally has to be one over-qualified and underused thespian on the cast list, which would be Laura Linney this time, in a nondescript turn as police chief.
The only somewhat interesting non-CGI character: Brittany Ishibashi as the deadly/determined/cute “Karai” (Japanese for “spicy”, ahem).
If Platinum Dunes was a company that makes smart movies, I would say this was intended. Because when the anarchic, hedonistic yet morally steadfast Turtles choose to remain mutants over becoming humans (oops, was that a spoiler) in the end, it’s almost as if they came to that decision after looking at the shitty lives of their repressed co-humans whose main goal in life is to live up to societal expectations. This is just confirmed when Rocksteady and Bepop seem to have and be more fun when they turn into ugly mutants. But Platinum Dunes is not a company that makes smart movies, so this subtext might probably be just an interesting, unintended by-product.Or did actually someone manage to let a subversive message slip by Bay’s merciless popcorn-propaganda machinery?
In any case, what we learn at the end of the day, is that it’s fun to be a hybrid mutant. Depending on your temperamental disposition, this might or might not make you feel shitty about your real life, so be warned.