By 1993, Robocop had turned from a Christ allegory with a vicious blood streak to a bonafide kids’ mascot who was appearing on lunch boxes and Saturday morning cartoons. Thus was the weird period of the eighties and nineties where even folks like Conan, Rambo, Chuck Norris, and heck, even Freddy Krueger became kiddie fodder. The official final go around for Robocop is a tame and pretty dull 1993 film that director Fred Dekker is saddled with, that takes Robocop in to more family friendly territory right down to having a spunky child sidekick. Not much has happened for Robocop and Detroit since the first two films, as the city is still very much under the death grip of crime, while OCP still controls every going on. Dekker has a lot of catching up to do and sadly doesn’t deliver much in the way of a great sequel, as “Robocop 3” essentially repeats a lot of the same beats from the first two films.
When last we saw Sean Davidson, he was a martial arts competitor thrust in to a plot involving a secret organization engineering a huge virus. Now he’s in the military as a top secret enforcer—for some reason. I guess Curtis Jackson had some connections and hooked Sean up over the course of a year? David Bradley is back as pseudo-American Ninja Sean, a man who is by no means a ninja. But he can recognized types of ninjas, so that counts. I think. Thankfully, Michael Dudikoff returns as Joe Armstrong, the original American Ninja who is now a peace corps officer and has turned down all efforts to be turned in to a covert military officer.
It’s out with Michael Dudikoff and in with David Bradley. After a rumored spat on set with Steve James and the director for “Blood Hunt,” David Bradley was brought on as the new American Ninja. His name is Sean Davidson and he’s not so much an American Ninja, as he is a kung fu fighter who fights ninjas a lot in “Blood Hunt.” Despite Bradley’s best efforts to steal the movie as the new charismatic hero, “Blood Hunt” is boring, confusing, and unnecessarily convoluted. I had such a hard time following the plot, and David Bradley doesn’t quite stack up to Dudikoff. Bradley’s character is a hodge podge of action clichés with a tragic back story that is never quite realized well in the film. He shambles through the movie getting in to battles with ninjas while Steve James returns doing his best to inject some fun in the movie.
Someone must have gotten a whiff of “Lethal Weapon” because while “American Ninja” was about lone wolf Joe Armstrong, “American Ninja 2” is a buddy action film with Joe Armstrong and pal Curtis Armstrong teaming up to kick some ninja ass. Steve James is given a much larger role this time around with Dudikoff also being allowed to speak more often for the role of Joe. If you look closely, he also manages to crack a smile and tell a few jokes here and there. The good thing about “Confrontation” is that James and Dudikoff have great chemistry together with a very “Power Man and Iron Fist” vibe evident throughout this latest action adventure. Their dynamic allows the series to open up more and give Dudikoff a chance to play off of someone while kicking ass.
Golan-Globus’s “American Ninja” from 1985 is the perfect Regan Era action movie cum franchise starter that offers up the right amount of camp and action, along with the ninja glorification that dominated the eighties. Directed well by Sam Firstenberg, “American Ninja” is the introduction of action star Michael Dudikoff whose debut is rather memorable and dynamic. Despite the fact Dudikoff has about ten lines of dialogue in the entirety of “American Ninja,” he is pretty much the ideal American action hero. He looks like James Dean, he fights like Bruce Lee, and he’s a one man army from the military like John Rambo. The icing on the cake is that his name is Joe. Joe Armstrong. Get it? He’s an American Joe with the skills of the ancient Ninja.
I know that this is grounds for getting my “90’s Kid” membership card stripped from my hands, but the more I see “TMNT II,” the more I dislike it. Yes, it has camp value thanks to Vanilla Ice, but nostalgia lens aside, it’s a pretty crummy follow up to the 1990 movie. It’s basically the “Batman Forever” of the original TMNT movie series, a movie that waters down the formula of the Ninja Turtles. Hell, even like “Batman Forever,” the turtles are no longer urban legends working in the shadows, and become virtual celebrities by the climax. Much to the shock of everyone involved, 1990’s “TMNT” movie was a film for all ages that took violence seriously, and depicted actual consequences to actions and decisions.
While 2014’s “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” was a watered down remake of the 1990 Jim Henson production, “Out of the Shadows” is a larger and sillier remake of “Secret of the Ooze” taking a lot of the ideas from the aforementioned film and realizing them to a more “TMNT” accurate vision. “Secret of the Ooze” had all the implications of the Krang, Baxter Stockman and the like, but “Out of the Shadows” takes that and re-introduces it to make about as much sense as it can. Rather than Tokka and Rahzar, we finally have Bebop and Rocksteady in their full disgusting glory, battling the Ninja Turtles, and playing stooges to the Shredder. “Out of the Shadows” isn’t a masterpiece by any means, but it’s ten times better than its 2014 predecessor.
That might be because it comes up with a radical new idea and focuses the majority of the sequel on the titular Ninja Turtles. April O’Neil is still a major character but is pushed to the sidelines more and more, allowing the characters we came to see a bigger spotlight and more of a chance to grow and blossom. The Platinum Dumbs version of the turtles is still wildly imperfect and stupid, but “Out of the Shadows” is at least fun, and tries to give us as many elements from the canon as possible. After Shredder’s plans from the first film are thwarted, he’s taken to jail and sent to a maximum security prison, supervised by Officer Casey Jones. When Shredder is broken free by his foot clan, he brings along thugs Bebop and Rocksteady to set off a plan to take over the world alongside a new alien ally.
Armed with mad scientist Baxter Stockman, Shredder plans to build a mutant army, and use his alien allies to help him rule. When the Turtles, with the help of April, learn of the mutagen, they learn the ooze has potential to turn them in to humans. With the turtles still pariahs of the city, Raphael is tempted to become human, while Leonardo tries to convince them to stay true to themselves. This time around there’s a larger focus on the dynamics of the brothers, as Leo and Raph bicker and fight for command over this current development, while Michelangelo is no longer making erection jokes, and is now the party dude we know and love, making cracks, fawning over pizza, and approaching every challenge with a chuckle worthy of Spiccoli. Stephen Amell is also a fun addition to the cast, providing a charismatic take on Casey Jones.
“Out of the Shadows” is a really good time and about as close to great as can be expected from something starring Megan Fox. I wish she’d drop out and allow an actress with actual ability and chemistry with her co-stars to take the reins as April. “Out of the Shadows” also has no idea how to handle so many elements of the narrative as there’s so much going on for a hundred minute movie. A lot of conflicts are tacked on, sub-plots go nowhere, and Splinter being retconned to have no connection to Shredder makes him a virtually pointless addition to the team. He literally does nothing but meditates in the background and offer convenient pearls of wisdom to his sons, with no actual emotional investment in their battle. You could have cut Splinter out of this movie, and it would have had no effect on the overall production.
Meanwhile there is the gaping wide hole of the new mutagen presented from Dimension X and the Krang. If the mutagen turns Bebop and Rocksteady from humans to animals, why can the mutagen possibly turn the turtles in to humans? They weren’t humans before they became teenage turtles. The implication of being mutants is that they’re anthropomorphic and human like, so wouldn’t they revert back to normal everyday turtles if given the mutagen? Also, I’m not a science wiz, but since when do the turtles have human DNA in them? Wouldn’t becoming human being a mutation be very redundant to the narrative? That said, if you can forgive the canyon wide plot hole, “Out of the Shadows” is an entertaining diversion that improves on a lot of the glaring flaws from the 2014 reboot.
In 1990, just two days after TMNT 1990 premiered in theaters, my dad took my brother and me to see it in theaters in Manhattan one afternoon. It was just the three of us in what felt like a humongous theater, draped in the dark as the Turtles my brother and I worshipped finally jumped on to the screen after saving April O’Neil from being killed by the Foot Clan.
While I don’t particularly love the current cinematic incarnations of the TMNT, I hope there are kids out there getting the same awe inducing experience with “TMNT: Out of the Shadows” as I did when I was seven. “TMNT ‘90” still holds up very well today, with some excellent action set pieces, great humor, and so many quotable moments. Here are only five of my favorite moments in a movie filled with some banner scenes.