FilAm stuntmen choreograph fight scenes in ‘Ninja Turtles’ film sequel

Reptilian quartet brings crimefighting laughs to NYC

Reptilian quartet brings crimefighting laughs to NYC

By Wendell Gaa

I enjoyed watching the “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” (TMNT) cartoon series on TV in the late 1980s when I was growing up, and although I wasn’t a passionate collector of all TMNT-related merchandise the same way my brother was, I couldn’t help but be so amused by the four talking turtle heroes with moves that would have probably made even the martial artist legend Bruce Lee jump with envy!

My enjoyment of the urban adventures of the New York-based mutant heroes extended all the way to the TMNT live action movies of the early 1990s (the first two films even featured Filipino American actor Ernie Reyes, Jr., where he played a turtle in the first film and then appeared as his true human self in the sequel). It’s good to know that the TMNT franchise is very much alive for today’s generation of film fans, and I’ve seen proof of this in the latest released installment, “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows.”

I’ll get right to the point, “Out of the Shadows,” the sequel to the TMNT reboot film released in 2014 and once again starring Hollywood starlet Megan Fox, is pure enjoyable fun. Critics and purists of the TMNT franchise will have their issues with this film, but when there is so much enjoyment out of seeing the adventures of our four turtle heroes take down bad guys with a combination of their fighting skills and laugh-in-the-face-of-danger humor, who seriously cares about artistic excellence for a popcorn movie?

The plot is as what you would expect from an action movie sequel, and very much in line with its family- friendly premise. The four pizza-loving turtle heroes, namely level-headed leader Leonardo (blue-masked), scientific genius Donatello (purple-masked), hot-headed Raphael (red-masked) and carefree Michelangelo (orange-masked) continue their daily crime-fighting adventures throughout the urban maze of Manhattan, while concurrently also having to conceal their visibility out of fear of scaring humans due to their “mutated appearance,” hence their oath of fighting crime “in the shadows.” They soon get a much higher call for duty when their evil nemesis Shredder escapes from prison, thanks to a mysterious ally connected with his infamous Foot Clan.

The turtles’ mission soon takes on an even greater urgency when Shredder uses a teleportation device to meet with a grotesque brain-like being named Krang, and forms an alliance with him in a mega-maniacal scheme to take over New York City and eventually the world. Shredder and his minions soon expand their ranks by employing two criminals, Rock Steady and Bebop, and use a mutagen to transform them into mutant creatures to serve as adversarial beastly thugs for our turtle heroes. Just when the odds seem stacked against them, the turtles find that there are still good New York citizens willing to fight the good fight on their side.

Of course returning as their loyal and faithful human best friend is news reporter April O’Neil (Megan Fox), and they all soon find a new ally in their cause for justice in the form of aspiring police detective Casey Jones, played by none other than Stephen Amell, who currently stars as the comic superhero Oliver Queen/Green Arrow on TV’s popular “Arrow” series, which also happens to currently be my favorite superhero show of all time.

There are subtle hints of life lessons in TMNT such as the value of brotherhood, teamwork, and social acceptance, all of which blend in nicely with the film’s overall light-hearted tone. It’s wonderful to know that a film such as this can evenly balance action and humor without excessive campiness, which has been a highly noticeable problem in such past superhero movie failures as “Batman and Robin.”

The actors in this film are truly enjoying themselves, and it shows. The best character development definitely comes from the interaction between the four turtles themselves, and seeing them squabble like ordinary real-life brothers would is really fun to watch. As attractive as she is, I’ve never been a huge fan of Megan Fox as an actress, but here I must say she is looking better than ever. Stephen Amell’s Casey Jones is just such a wonderful addition to the team. It’s quite nice to see him portray a character with less emotional complexity compared to his other hero persona on “Arrow” (how his character’s relationship with April O’Neal may develop in possible future sequels is anyone’s guess).

The turtles’ mentor and trainer, Master Splinter the rat, is unfortunately given less screen time here, but he’s still a scene stealer every moment he appears. And the villainous henchmen Rock Steady and Bebop are absolutely hilarious and I hope to see more of them in future films.

I was delightedly surprised that two of TMNT’s martial arts stunt coordinators happen to be Filipino-American, namely Jonathan Eusebio, who choreographed the fight scenes for the first TMNT film back in 2014, and Jon Valera. I watched on an interview of Balitang TV with Amell where he described how grateful he was to Eusebio and Valera for the stunt expertise which they consulted with him that helped to make the action scenes in the movie all the more exciting. Another incentive to go see this film!

Martial artists Jonathan Eusebio and Jon Valera. Screen grab from Balitang America

Martial artists Jonathan Eusebio and Jon Valera. Screen grab from Balitang America

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