In today’s world it’s not enough to simply be a hero. Now you must be a superhero. Unlike the old days when square-jawed movie stars rescued damsels in distress or battled cold-hearted landlords, today’s champions won’t get out of bed for anything less than the threat of complete world annihilation. Liberating a cat from a tree or performing the Heimlich Maneuver is considered HeroLite™, the work of lesser lifesavers.
Today it’s all about averting the apocalypse. In Captain America: Civil War the idea of how to police and ultimately save the world is at the heart of the action and X-Men: Apocalypse’s bad guy has grandiose plans to “cleanse mankind and create a new world order.”
This weekend the heroes of Independence Day: Resurgence join Mystique, Quicksilver, Leonardo, Raphael, Michelangelo, Donatello, Captain America and legendary do-gooders Batman and Superman in some good, old fashioned world saving.
The twenty-years-in-the-making sequel to Will Smith’s mega-hit sees aliens from outside the Solar System attack our planet. It’s life and death on a planetary scale, a premise that has become increasingly popular in recent years.
It’s not a surprise the stories are getting larger and louder. Audiences want a big bang for their buck and Hollywood is pleased to oblige with high stakes situations that provide frenetic action and happy endings (unless, of course you’re rooting for the bad guy). These days Hollywood also looks to overseas markets for mega-revenue and presenting globe-spanning stories helps to attract crowds in other countries.
Business aside, why have audiences embraced world-on-the-brink movies?
Films, says Dr. Norman Holland, Marston-Milbauer Eminent Scholar Emeritus at the University of Florida, work on different parts of your brain.
“The parts that turn off are the parts that plan action because you’re not going to act on what you see on the screen in front of you,” he says. “You turn off the systems that plan, that look ahead that evaluate futures. That explains the phenomenon of the willing suspension of disbelief. You accept the most improbable things, like Stars Wars or Spider-Man or whatever. At the same time the lower centres of your brain are generating emotions like mad in response to what you’re seeing. This is the peculiar phenomenon that you can feel and care about these people on the screen while at the same time knowing they are nothing but a fiction.”
In other words, it’s what legendary purveyor of thrills Alfred Hitchcock said. “People like to be scared when they feel safe.”
We live in unsettling and troubled times and going to the movies can provide an escape. In these heroic tales good almost always wins out, a comforting antidote to the nightly news where stories often don’t have happy endings. It makes us feel good, but, as Dr. Holland notes, it’s also restful.
“As you know they are redesigning movie theatres with recliner chairs so you can sleep through the movie,” he says. “Yes, it is relaxing. This is the part of your brain that worries, that plans for the future, that is concerned about the state of your body. All that shuts down. It’s restful, no question.”
Going to the movies is restful? Good for us? Seems like in our busy, stressful world it’s the films that are the heroes, not the characters.
Welcome to the House of Crouse. There’s something for everyone on today’s show. If you’re an indie movie fan check out my chat with Maggie’s Plan director Rebecca Miller. Find out why she had to shoot her new movie in NYC. If your taste in films runs more toward the superhero side, listen in on my talk with “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows” star Stephen Amell. Cowabunga!
After twelves years of regular “Canada AM” movie reviews, Richard and host Beverly Thomson get together one last time to talk about the weekend’s four big releases, “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows,” “Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping,” “Me Before You,” and “Into the Forest.”
Richard andCP24 anchor Nneka Elliot talk about the weekend’s four big releases, “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows,” “Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping,” “Me Before You,” and “Into the Forest.”
In the cold-blooded world of turtles, Yertle, Gamera, Koopa Troopa and Fastback are hot names. But the most famous testudines of all time have to be the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
Stars of movies, comic books, television and video games, the four anthropomorphic turtle brothers even had action figures and breakfast cereals as part of their reptilian empire.
They were 20th-century pop-culture icons, which ain’t too bad for four hard-shelled crime fighters named after Renaissance artists.
Stephen Amell, who plays hockey-mask wearing hero Casey Jones in this weekend’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out Of The Shadows, says he grew up with Leonardo, Raphael, Michelangelo and Donatello.
“The live-action films did it for me,” says the actor, who was just nine when the turtles hit the big screen for the first time. “I’ve always ingested superheroes, especially comic book superheroes, via feature films. Like Superman, Batman, Christopher Reeve, Michael Keaton, all that stuff. When they did the live-action turtle movie I remember my brain not being able to fully comprehend how they were going to do this. Those were seminal moments from my childhood.”
The story of four pet turtles transformed by radioactive ooze into sewer-dwelling, crime-fighting ninja warriors appealed to kids, but the original 1984 black-and-white comics were dark, gritty and violent, a subversive homage to popular books like Daredevil, Cerebus and Ronin. Sharp-eyed readers of the second issue of TMNT will notice old issues of Cerebus and Ronin discarded on the floor of the Turtles’ sewer home.
They sliced and diced bad guys and even uttered the odd PG-13 word.
Turtlemania really began in 1987 with an animated series aimed at younger viewers. They quickly became something of a sensation, but with popularity came an erosion of the rebellious aspects of the story. In short, they became the thing they once poked fun at.
The turtles went mainstream, and soon there were arcade games, action figures, clothing, movies and more.
Kids were taken with the turtle soup of gags, colourful characters and pizza obsession, but Amell says there is more than that to their appeal.
“At the baseline of this entire experience, we are talking about the relationship of four brothers — the relationship as they struggle through adolescence,” he says. “I feel like whether you have brothers, sisters, close friends, any type of family, everyone can relate to that.
“It’s this unique idea. It’s so unique it tends to be universal. I don’t know what the secret sauce is, otherwise I would create my own Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and just sit back and collect the royalties.”
For many, including the crowds that will no doubt flock to Out Of The Shadows this week, the allure of the turtles is at least partly nostalgic, a return to a simpler time.
I get the feeling that for the Toronto-born Amell, the appeal is partly sentimental, partly professional.
“It’s pretty cool,” he says. “It’s a really great franchise to be part of. It’s amazing to play a character like Casey Jones. I was just at Yonge and Dundas Square [in Toronto] and it is overrun with Turtles’ posters. It’s a dream come true.”
I never thought I would miss the first wave of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle movies. The foam rubber-suited lead characters and tongue-in-cheek humour were very much of their time, almost a time capsule of 1990s genre cheese. Just as “The Secret of the Ooze” et al are emblematic of their day, the CGI fest “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out Of The Shadows” is symbolic of its time. Trouble is, I have no nostalgia for pixels and bytes no matter how artfully arranged on the screen.
The action begins one year after the events of the last film. The turtles—leader Leonardo (Pete Ploszek), the rebellious Raphael (Alan Ritchson), good-time turtle Michelangelo (Noel Fisher) and the brains of the outfit, Donatello (Jeremy Howard)—saved the world by bringing super duper bad guy Shredder (Brian Tee) to justice. News cameraman Vernon Fenwick (Will Arnett) got all the credit, and is now a media darling. The turtles, however, are content to stay in the shadows, afraid that people won’t accept them because they are all turtlely. And ninja-esque.
Now trouble has come back to town as Shredder escapes police custody and forms an alliance with inventor Dr. Baxter Stockman (Tyler Perry), two mutants named Bebop (Gary Anthony Williams) and Rocksteady (WWE Superstar Stephen “Sheamus” Farrelly) and Kraang (Fred Armisen), a slimy alien octopus with a robotic shell. “Together we can bring the people of your planet to their knees,” crows the mucus covered ET.
The heroes on the half shell, along with their old sidekicks April O’Neil (Megan Fox), Splinter (Tony Shalhoub) and hockey stick wielding newcomer Casey Jones (Stephen Amell), spring into action to prevent—what else?—the end of the world as we know it.
Ladled into this turtle soup of action, comedy and crazy science—“Inside every human there is a gene that connects us to our animal ancestors!”—are good messages of T’N’T—tolerance ‘n teamwork—but despite the explosive nature of the movie there are no real fireworks here. Maybe it’s because our eyes are so accustomed to CGI spectacle. Turtles can literally fly, but who cares? In a film where anything is possible, nothing is terribly exciting. The computer-generated images bring the turtles, rhinos and warthogs to vivid life but the artificial nature of the main characters do nothing to breathe life into this story.
I’m not saying I expect anything approaching realism in a movie about talking turtles. I’m suggesting that the quirky appeal of Leonardo, Raphael, Michelangelo and Donatello isn’t well suited by CGI that looks interchangeable with every other superhero flick. It’s as if the very things that made the turtles unique—there’s only one “Cowabunga!” in the whole film and it isn’t even Michelangelo who says it—have been downplayed in the hopes of turning them into generic, franchise building heroes. I say let their freak flags fly. We liked them because they were subversive. We liked them because, like Godzilla, they were more fun when you could see the zipper on the back of their rubber suits. Smoothing out their edges sands off the stuff that made them unique.
Kraang, the sadly underused villain, is as over-the-top as you might hope and a nice counterpart to the bland Tee as Shredder. As cool as Kraang is, though, this is really the turtle show. They are given more screen time than anyone else, and other than Bebop and Rocksteady, who morph into a rhino and warthog, dominate the proceedings. In the background are Laura Linney and Perry. Linney steps out of the art-house to do a forgettable turn as a justice department honcho and Perry adds little to the flick other than name value.
“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out Of The Shadows” is a CGI orgy that left me (half) shell shocked and nostalgic for a time when four wisecracking, world-saving turtles were something unique and not simply another entry in the superhero sweepstakes.