MUTANT NINJA TURTLES II: THE SECRET OF THE OOZE (1991)
Director: Michael Pressman
Anyone who considers themselves a child of the '80s is sure to remember a quartet of anthropomorphic tortoises known as the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Though the Ninja Turtles had the humblest of beginnings, originating as a comic book independently published by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird in 1984, the fearsome foursome would become a mainstream juggernaut later in the decade when they joined CBS's block of Saturday morning cartoons in 1987. After that, the Turtles were everywhere. Action figures, clothes, breakfast cereal, Hostess fruit pies, and even toothpaste all bore the logo of, as their theme song called them, the "heroes in a half shell." And eventually, they even got their own movie. Hitting theaters in the spring of 1990, the live-action Ninja Turtles movie was a smashing success, and prompted distributor New Line Cinema to strike while the iron was hot and release a sequel just one year later. And while it's not exactly as good as the first movie, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze still makes an excellent attempt to maintain all the fun of the original.
The Ninja Turtles Leonardo (the voice of Brian Tochi), Michelangelo (the voice of Robbie Rist), Donatello (the voice of Adam Carl), and Raphael (the voice of Laurie Faso) and their master Splinter (the voice of Kevin Clash) are in search of a new home, staying at the apartment of their one human friend, April O'Neil (Paige Turco), in the interim. I'm not really sure if it's a good idea for April to let them crash at her place, since the last time that happened, it led to a giant war that resulted in the whole building going up in flames. Was I the only one who learned anything from the first movie?
In any respect, the Turtles are still on cloud nine after their incredible defeat of the Foot Clan. Unfortunately, their battle is not quite over. Shredder (François Chau, with David McCharen's voice) has somehow survived his apparent death at the end of the first movie, and swears revenge as he reorganizes the Foot Clan and formulates a new plan of attack. He kidnaps scientist Jordan Perry (David Warner) and forces him to use the last known canister of the radioactive ooze that created the Ninja Turtles to form two new beasts: a giant snapping turtle and wolf that are named Tokka and Rahzar (both voiced by Frank Welker). The Turtles are forced into action, teaming with Perry and a pizza delivery boy named Keno (Ernie Reyes, Jr.) as they search for a way to save New York City from the rampaging monsters that Shredder has unleashed.
Well, nobody ever accused the movie of being Shakespeare. One could probably even argue that if the original movie drew the majority of its inspiration from Eastman and Laird's comics, then the sequel was greatly inspired by the cartoon. The movie truly does feel like a live-action, feature-length episode of the cartoon. Sure, there's no Krang, and Bebop and Rocksteady have been replaced with Tokka and Rahzar, but the movie definitely has the same childlike demeanor as the cartoon. I mean, a Vanilla Ice cameo would never have worked in the first movie. But here, while it's still silly beyond words, it works on some surreal level.
The screenplay penned by Todd W. Langen feels like something that was just slapped together in order to get out there for the crew to film. The movie was written, produced, edited, and released exactly twelve months after its predecessor, presumably to capitalize on the success of the first movie before kids moved on to the next fad. This sort of speed can work for some movie franchises, like the Saw series, but Langen's script seems rushed and is full of things that just don't make a whole lot of sense. Shredder going out like a punk in a totally anticlimactic ending? Weak Bebop and Rocksteady wannabes instead of the real thing? The way-too-awesome Casey Jones being replaced by the way-too-lame Keno? Come on now. Langen's script also panders way too hard to kids, as the Turtles rely far too much on quirky catchphrases instead of more witty humor, as well as a lack of any real violence. The fight scenes have been seriously toned down, almost becoming cartoony in nature. The Turtles barely even use their trademark weapons at all, with only Donatello being the only one to really get any sort of use out of his weapon.
However, the direction by Michael Pressman isn't that bad. Unfortunately, it's also incredibly generic. Considering that the movie's target demographic doesn't really care about epic cinematography or any of the other intricacies of filmmaking, I guess Pressman didn't really feel pressured to try anything more than the bare minimum in order to get the job done. I guess I shouldn't really be expecting a whole lot, since this is Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II we're talking about. But even if Pressman was just doing things simply and get it over with so they get the movie out as quick as possible, you'd think Pressman would at least try a little harder. It does help, though, that the movie once again boasts a fine music score composed by John Du Prez. I thought highly of his music for the first movie, and his music for Turtles II is no different. It's exciting and entertaining, doing what every good soundtrack should do by enhancing the visuals.
But I will say that I liked the cast a lot. The voice actors behind the Turtles and Splinter all do a great job, though I am bummed that Corey Feldman couldn't return as Donatello. David McCharen was once again fantastic as the voice of Shredder, and although he doesn't have too much dialogue, Frank Welker is entertaining as Tokka and Rahzar. Among the on-screen actors, Paige Turco replaces Judith Hoag here and I don't have any problems with the change. The role of April is more motherly here than in the previous movie, and Turco plays it with a warm, affable demeanor that makes both her and the character more endearing. David Warner is acceptable, although I don't believe this is a movie that he keeps on his résumé, and Ernie Reyes is fun, but he and his character are absolutely no substitute for Elias Koteas's Casey Jones.
And as in the previous movie, Jim Henson's Creature Shop has designed four fantastic Turtle costumes. The costumes are fantastic, looking even better than the Creature Shop's costumes from a year earlier. The lip-synching is well-done, and the costumes appear lifelike and believable. I wish I could say the same for Tokka and Rahzar's costumes, though. They look good, very good, but there's no life behind their eyes. Their eyes don't move, they don't blink, their mouths don't move much when they talk. I got the impression that the Creature Shop didn't get to finish the animatronics in Tokka and Rahzar's faces before the movie went into production, which pretty much renders them expensive Halloween costumes. But other than that, the Creature Shop did a great job.
Most sequels out there just don't cut the mustard when held up against the movie that came before it. And unfortunately, Turtles II isn't as good as the first one. That doesn't mean it's a bad movie. I actually like it a lot, even the much-maligned Vanilla Ice cameo. I only really have two problems with the movie: the general feeling of a rushed production, and the all-too-short battle with Shredder at the end of the movie. In the first movie, it took the Turtles several minutes and a garbage truck to defeat Shredder. But in Turtles II, an eight-foot-tall mutated Super-Shredder is given ninety seconds of screen time, and he goes out like a complete wuss without anything even resembling a fight. The Turtles fighting Super-Shredder would have made for an amazing finale if it had been done right, but I guess there's not a lot that can be done to change that nearly two decades after the fact. But when you get right down to it, the truth of the matter is this: this is a movie that is hard to take seriously. And that whole subtitle "The Secret of the Ooze" is just plain silly, especially since there's no secret at all. It's hard to be surprised when learning that the turtles were created by radioactive slime when that was mentioned in the first movie too. But to wrap this thing up, this movie is a simple one, seeming more like an 88-minute epilogue than a true sequel. In spite of its inadequacies, I enjoyed the movie, so I'll give Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze three stars. That's more than I can say for the third Ninja Turtles movie.
Final Rating: ***