I had a friend who told me a story once, and it might be the best anecdote anyone ever shared with me. Not only because of how amazing and mindblowing the story is, but how deadpan it was in the delivery. I won’t go into too many details, but the story was about learning torture techniques in order to extract information from someone who just doesn’t want to talk. He walked me through the different steps they went through—a heinous process known as a “brain punch.” It’s so terrible it makes the brain swell and contract, causing the unfortunate victim to simultaneously void their bowels, empty their bladder and vomit like a pledge at their first frat party. After watching “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows,” I feel like I understand a brain punch better.
My brain hurt after watching this movie. It was like a theme park ride where the goal was to see how many of the riders’ senses would feel like they had been scrubbed with pipe cleaners. Or perhaps it’s akin to a water-park slide made of unfinished wood that deposits its victims into a pool of lemon juice and Sriracha. I’m fine with the occasional piece of mindless entertainment, but “mindless” implies our brains drift into a catatonic-like state. This movie is more like a barrage of punches to the central nervous system.
This second attempt at creating a new Mutant Turtle franchise feels even more painful than the tone-deaf original. We once again meet the turtles who whip through New York City in a nausea-inducing sequence that, once again, proves how capable special effects have become. Much of the action attempts to attain a sense of lucidity, as we see virtual tracking shots that attempt cinematic fluidity but just come across as super annoying. The turtles are still lurking in the shadows as they try to save the good people of New York, while enjoying plain cheese pizza and occasionally pine to walk among normal people on the streets. Before we can delve any deeper into an existential crisis, their arch nemesis, Shredder, is broken out of jail faster than you can say, “El Chapo.”
There are more things to worry about than a crazed, knife-happy samurai. This time around there’s an inter-dimensional world conqueror, Krang, who wants to open a portal above New York to assemble a massive Death Star-like battle station to take over the world—because that’s what villains do in these brainless comic-book movies. They open portals and try to invade New York, even though every piece of empirical evidence has proven New York is the last place to stage such a conquest. How many more films do I need to watch decide the best place to stage an invasion is our most populated city? There are so many villains that could have actually conquered the Earth if they just decided to stage their invasion in El Paso, Texas, or Bismarck, South Dakota. Here’s a hint: All the superheroes are in New York?
So our turtles go on a quest to take down Shredder as he attempts to open the standard inter-dimensional villain portal. Of course, it involves recovering special items at different locations to assemble the device, because the universe’s most advanced technology always requires assembly. This gets our plucky heroes into a number of action-y scenarios required for a lazy summer blockbuster.
What transforms this movie from a painfully average summer blockbuster to an agonizing, excruciating ordeal is its execution. The turtles are horribly unlikable and annoying. I suppose that’s all part of the shtick with them being teenagers, but there have been some decent movies made with these characters. The original “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” (filmed right here in Wilmington) was charming and managed to capture the spirit of the comic books with lo-fi effects work and likable characters. This new incarnation takes the source material and filters it through a lethal dose of crystal meth, to turn it into a blinding, loud disaster of constant momentum. It’s the cinematic equivalent of a shark: If it stops moving, it will die. So the movie just continues to foolishly jump from scene to scene in a story so incoherent it could have been written by paint-huffing junkies using their feet to type out the script on an old typewriter where the space bar no longer works.
This movie is bad. B-A-D! Run, don’t walk, away from the theater. Everyone forced to watch it should close their eyes like “Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark” and pray that it doesn’t melt their faces like silly putty.