ComicsAlliance Reviews ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret Of The Ooze’ (1991), Part Two
Chris Sims: Welcome back to ComicsAlliance's series of in-depth reviews of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles films! Today, we're tackling the second half of TMNT II: The Secret of the Ooze. When we last left off, I'm pretty sure the secrets had already been revealed (there is ooze, it was made by a company), and Shredder had made his own mutants to battle our heroes.
Matt Wilson: The secret no one seems to care about is what happened to Casey Jones. Poor fella.Chris: I have a theory on that.
Matt: Let's hear it!
Chris: Well, you know how there was an outcry from anti-violence people that kept the Turtles from using their weapons in the fight scenes?
Matt: I do.
Chris: Obviously, the Pro-Punker lobby called for the removal of Casey Jones.
Matt: Punkers! Those guys have so much pull! But they must have lost some juice in the intervening years, because he's in the third movie.
Chris: The Punker movement burned bright and burned fast, my friend. Anyway, we're picking up this week with what remains my favorite part of this movie: Keno's infiltration of the new Foot Clan.
Matt: Keno shows up on the side of a street with some other guys and basically just joins up. I'm reminded of that scene from The Venture Bros. where 21 and 24 recruit gang members to be The Monarch's new henchmen.
Chris: Ah, but did the Monarch make his potential henchmen (potenchmen) undergo strict ninja testing? Because that's what happens here, as Keno goes through a series of trials, secretly chaperoned by Actual Ninja Raphael.
Matt: It's a little more than supervision. Raphael flat-out helps him cheat. I mean, the Foot make it pretty easy, by hiding the actual test in a big cloud of smoke.
Chris: Hey, be fair: The first test is sparring, and for a sinister criminal organization run by harsh masters who tend to wear actual knives as clothing, it's pretty surprising that the Foot Clan provided pads for everyone. Unsurprisingly, Keno - who's been kickboxing dudes since Red Sonja - breezes through that section pretty easily. This was the first time I'd ever seen an enzuigiri counter to having your foot caught when you tried to kick someone, and at the age of 8, that move blew my mind.
Matt: Ernie Reyes Jr. is pretty dadgum impressive. And yet, with all his and Raphael's ninja prowess, they aren't in the Foot's HQ for 30 seconds before Tatsu slides over and spots them colluding. It's basically instant.
Chris: I like how the headquarters is just the junkyard, but with tires and wrecked cars piled up to make walls. That's a pretty huge step down from their underground neon skatepark arcade paradise in the last movie.
Matt: It makes me wonder why all the secret infiltration was necessary. It doesn't seem like a place that's all that hard to break into. I suppose they needed to figure out just where it was. So in that regard, mission accomplished.
Chris: How ironic that throwing Shredder into a garbage truck really just gave him a free ride back to headquarters. I mean, yes, Casey also tried to crush him to death, but that didn't really stick, now did it?
Matt: They don't make compactors like they used to. Raph and Keno fight off the Foot for a while, but the numbers eventually get the best of Raph, who comes face-to-face with Shredder. Keno manages to escape to April's.
Chris: If there's one thing you can say about this movie, it's that this part is pretty brisk: The next scene is the rest of the turtles showing up in the junkyard, without bothering to show us Keno's explanation, so good job trimming some of the boring stuff there. Instead, we get yet another dumb line I love: Leonardo saying "It's quiet... a little too quiet!" followed a minute later by Michaelangelo saying "It's Raph! A little too Raph."
Matt: There's some snappy dialogue here and there. One exchange near the end is the main one I remember. Shredder springs the inevitable trap on the turtles with a net, which leads to a pretty decent Ralph Nader joke, back form when he was known as a safety advocate rather than a fly-in-the-ointment presidential candidate.
Chris: This scene only gets more ludicrous as it goes on, with the straight up Looney Tunes reveal that Shredder is going to drop the Turtles on a bunch of sharp objects, including a pitchfork:
Matt: And then, out of nowhere, Splinter (?) shoots an arrow (?!) to cut down the net. I think someone overthought this deathtrap escape.
Chris: If only the turtles themselves had had, you know, a pair of swords that they could use in this 100% non-combat situation. Instead, we have Splinter and his bow and arrow, which is by far the fakest looking shot of the movie. It's awful.
Matt: Why does he have a bow and arrow? When has this ever been a thing Splinter has used? What does it have to do with ninjas? He couldn't throw a shuriken?
Chris: I think his action figure came with one? I know it had a sword cane, which was baller as hell.
Matt: What do you know, it did! I completely forgot he used one. According to his filecard, one of his weapons was a "ninja bow." Color me corrected.
Chris: I think it actually would've looked less fake if we'd seen some dude moving the figure around while making "twang!" noises with his mouth. Anyway, the Turtles are freed and start mopping up the Foot, until Shredder unleashes Tokka and Rahzar, tarted up like junkyard gladiators.
Matt: "Didn't we see these guys on WrestleMania?" Mikey quips, apparently referencing the Road Warriors. The turtles do not fare too well against them, but lucky for Donatello, Tokka flings him right into the shack where Professor Perry's being held.
Chris: Two things about this scene: 1) There's this really annoying recurring bit where Donatello chalks up the end of his staff like it's a pool cue. They do it like three times, and it is the worst. 2) This movie has already established that Tokka and Rahzar are, despite their fearsome appearance, babies. So this is a scene where our heroes are trying to beat babies with sticks. That's... that's pretty hard to get behind, guys.
Matt: I guess the main defense is that they don't know? And Shredder forced the situation. But it is reasonably not cool, particularly when, after Mikey finds a manhole and everyone escapes, Mikey taunts and tickles poor Tokka who is stuck in there while he cries.
Chris: Shredder continues to be Cobra Commander up on the surface, while the Turtles take a moment to explain their origin to a justifiably confused David Warner - until he starts explaining it back to them. They take him back to the Subway Station Playset and he starts telling them... The Secret of the Ooze!
Matt: So here's the secret: Some chemicals got mixed together by accident, and then it got exposed to radiation. The end.
Chris: Also they dropped one down the sewer, also by accident. Now you know the horrifying... Secret of the Ooze!
Matt: This bums Donatello out a whole bunch. He, like much of the audience, is wondering why this was the subtitle of the movie if it was all a big sadtrombone.mp3.
Chris: Making one of the characters super disappointed in how boring your big reveal is may have, once again, not been the best thing to do in a movie. I wonder how much of this plot's weird meandering was down to the scheduling that got this movie in theaters almost exactly one year after the first one. I suspect "all of them."
Matt: Well, the original plan, and I've been hinting at this, was to make Perry turn out to be a host body for one of the utrom, the brain-like alien race from the comics they ended up basing Krang on. (This would explain why he's not Baxter Stockman.) The big secret was supposed to be that they created the ooze. But it all got written out because the producers thought people would think it was actually Krang. So there was supposed to be a secret.
Chris: Back in the movie, Shredder has finally figured out how to use his mutant babies to his advantage: By taking them to the middle of the city and telling them to "have fun," which leads them to jack up an entire street.
Matt: I do like how they're portrayed as balls of unlimited energy, like how the trailer the Foot transport them in is just constantly shaking. They're like real-life toddlers.
Chris: The next morning, April shows up to grill Chief Sterns - remember Chief Sterns? - on the torn up street, suspecting that mutants were involved. She doesn't tell the cops that, though, instead realizing that they wouldn't be able to stop Shredder anyway. So she just does what April does, which is get kidnapped by the Foot.
Matt: Sterns is the same actor! Of all the people to come back for the sequel.
Chris: Character Actors: They Are Always Available.
Matt: April's kidnapping is very brief. She's only really pulled aside for a second by the Foot soldier who also works for her station (the movie does not make this point very clear in the character's two scenes) to deliver a message to the turtles: Meet us at the construction site -- the only one in the city, I guess -- or Tokka and Rahzar are gonna tear up Central Park.
Chris: I genuinely love this movie's cartoon version of New York, which has one junkyard, one construction site, a street in the middle of Manhattan that nobody's on after midnight...
Matt: Except two elderly Vaudeville characters making cracks about the destructive mutants getting their own cab.
Chris: Down in the sewer, David Warner cooks up some anti-mutagen over (what else) pizzas, and then scoops it into a Bart Simpson glass in an inescapable black hole of 90sness.
Matt: Donatello once again acts a little more like his cartoon self, helping mix up the batch. Also, Perry is now free to admit he purposely altered the ooze to make Tokka and Rahzar "intellectually inferior."
Chris: So what you're telling me is that not only are the Turtles fighting babies, but they're fighting babies with learning disabilities. Matt, this movie is awful.
Matt: I don't know if it's that Perry made them like babies, or if they were babies and he made them even dumber. I'm willing to bet the writers didn't really think too hard about it either.
Chris: Either way, it's pretty hard to root for the Turtles. You know what? I'm going full Foot Clan on this one. Take back the abandoned subway stations for the 99%, bros!
Matt: The turtles arrive at The One Construction Site in New York with the anti-mutagen in tow. Shredder comes out and kind of waves around the one remaining canister of mutagen while he calls out for Tokka and Rahzar. We haven't talked about the ooze canister props much. They sure do look like plastic tubes with some duct tape on them, don't they? And the TGRI looks like it was written on there with a Marks-a-Lot.
Chris: I think we can agree that this movie is not quite as polished as the first one, and I think we'll be seeing exactly where a good chunk of the budget went within a few minutes. Shredder has basically turned the construction site into a gladiatorial arena, with Tokka and Rahzar entering to a passable knockoff of the Kirk vs. Spock fight music from that one episode of Star Trek.
Matt: The turtles try to give them donuts with the frozen anti-mutagen inside. But even Tokka and Rahzar aren't that stupid. They find the cubes and start pounding on the turtles. This leads to the one exchange I remember from this movie: "You take the ugly one!" "No, you take the ugly one!" "I'll take the ugly one!" "Which one's the ugly one?"
Chris: I think that was in the trailer, along with the WrestleMania line that got me so excited when I was a kid. A fight scene ensues, with Michaelangelo getting thrown through a door in this construction site which leads directly into a nightclub. A nightclub... featuring Vanilla Ice.
Matt: This place is like a Saturday Night Live Stefon joke. "Located next to a generic construction site, OOZE hosts a Vanilla ice performance every night while men in turtle suits fight with weapons they never use and hold belching contests. An Arsenio Hall impersonator is also there."
Chris: As though this scene was not bizarre enough, the DJ decides to bring the beat back while a bunch of mutants karate fight on the dance floor, and Ice starts feeling it, to the point where he freestyles a rap about the Ninja Turtles, while watching them fight monsters to the death. F**k you, I love this part.
Matt: My favorite part is how Ice has to be freestyling this, but everyone already seems to know the words. And the dance!
Chris: Ice rolls with a tight crew, playa. You'd know that if you'd seen Cool As Ice on VHS like I did.
Matt: They are consummate professionals, those guys. Likewise the crowd. Perry, who I guess was just chillin' in da club while the turtles fought in the next lot over, finds Donatello so they can discuss why the anti-mutagen (which T&R did ingest some of, just not all of) isn't working so fast. It has something to do with their burps. Meanwhile, the club manager tells a lackey to call in the cops.
Chris: Meanwhile, Keno is meditating in a sewer, and is understandably upset about having to meditate in a sewer. Sorry, Master Splinter, but that is basically the opposite of fun.
Matt: So Keno rolls up out of there while the turtles add even more stuff for Stefon to work with: oil drum rolling and fire extinguisher huffing. The cops call back to see what's up and the owner says to tell them it's fine, people like the big ninja fight going on in their midst.
Chris: Tatsu, if you'll recall, spent the last movie punching children to death for disobeying his ninja orders. Here, he's bashed into dizzy-eyed unconsciousness on a dance floor before the Turtles bust out their highly choreographed dance routine and chill with Vanilla Ice.
Chris: To say that there is a tonal shift is underselling it just a shade.
Matt: Not to mention that in the last one, the turtles went out of their way to disguise or hide themselves so that people didn't see them. Now, they're just jumping right up on stage to have dramatic face-offs with Shredder while people gasp at big canisters of green goo that they don't know s**t about.
Chris: Splinter probably needs to go back to teaching that whole "art of invisibility" stuff that was so important last week.
Matt: Keno rolls in and knocks the canister of ooze out of Shredder's hand, but he's still got a little vial of the stuff he uses to threaten a club-goer. So Michelangelo uses the ancient ninjitsu technique of blowing up a speaker with a keytar to blast him out the window.
Chris: Keytar-no-Jutsu has a long and storied history in the shinobi clans, bro. The Turtles head outside and give themselves a congratulatory cowabunga, but then Shredder punches up through the dock -- they're at the docks now, did we mention that? -- and reveals that he has drank all the mutagen and transformed himself into... Big Sexy Kevin Nash.
Matt: Still with Shredder's voice, though. He starts tearing up the docks (for a club by the docks and a construction site, that place sure avoided a lot of stereotypes) to the point the turtles get scared the whole thing is going to collapse. Super-Shredder, who the turtles actually call by that name, does not give a f**k.
Chris: Can we talk for a second about how Super Shredder doesn't make any sense, even by the rules this movie sets up? Like, it doesn't mutate him into an animal or anything, it just makes him a bigger, stronger guy wearing more elaborate clothes. And they are clearly clothes.
Matt: Well, in the movie reality none of the mutate animals, even Splinter, was combined with a human, so we wouldn't really know how a person would react to it. But the clothes don't make a dang of sense. Unless the mutagen works on fabric and metal, too?
Chris: The whole dock comes down on Shredder and the Turtles remember that they can swim, so they just jump in the water and watch him get crushed to death. He punches back through the wreckage for a third time, but then his hand falls, so... I guess Big Sexy's just going by Sleeper Hold rules here? Either way, the Turtles come right out and say that he's dead, so that's that.
Matt: It takes the turtles way too long to remember that they can do just fine in the water. And when they come out, they're coughing and sputtering like it was a real ordeal.
Chris: The next day, April is on TV in a suit with amazing early '90s shoulder pads, reporting on "the disappearance of TGRI." Did the entire company disappear?!
Matt: The stockholders all called up their brokers to see what happened to their shares. "Don't know, man. Must've skipped town."
Chris: In the sewer, Splinter asks if the Turtles were seen. They say no, and then he whips out a newspaper with a truly amazing headline.
Chris: It's actually a great gag.. so naturally, the movie then immediately ruins it by having Splinter say "I made another funny!"
Matt: The movie then ends abruptly at 81 minutes with very little in the way of many ooze secrets coming to light.
Matt: The thing that holds up best for me from this one is the fight choreography. Even without the use of the turtles' weapons, there are some nice little flourishes here and there. And Ernie Reyes Jr,. which the credits make sure to note did all his own stunts, is legitimately a wonder to watch in his fight scenes.
Chris: I have always been surprised that Reyes was not a bigger star. He had a brief run around this time, doing a series on the '90s Mickey Mouse Club and a movie with the awesome title of Surf Ninjas, but for some reason he never became a huge action star. He did, however, fight the Rock in The Rundown and has a 3-0 record in mixed martial arts, though, so he's got that going for him.
Matt: There are also some snippets of well-crafted dialogue in here. That Ralph Nader joke, the bit about "the ugly one," the "too quiet" gag. It's not nearly up to the level of the "crumpet/cricket" line from the last one, but it ain't all bad.
Chris: We talked in the first bit about how the suits didn't look quite as good, but there are a couple of scenes - Michaelangelo tickling Tokka in the sewer is one - where they look really great. You almost forget that they're guys in suits for a second, as silly as that sounds. Also, I love that ninja test sequence. I'm a sucker for that stuff, and I remember reading books on ninjas in elementary school that talked about how the thing with the bells was a totally real test pickpockets and ninjas would do. In my memory, it went on forever and kind of meshed with the "Regular... or menthol" bit from the first movie.
Matt: It is a nice, but short bit. And the costumes still come from the Henson Creature Shop, so they'd have to look pretty good. They're not quite up to the level of the last one, but they're great for big, broad, cartoony expressions.
Chris: As much as the tone shift to cartoony nonsense is weird at times -- I'm sure we'll get into that in a minute -- I do really like Cobra Commander Shredder, crawling out of a pile of garbage and being frustrated that he accidentally made mutant babies. Again: I'm a sucker for that stuff.
Matt: It's amusing, and the actor who does Shredder's voice -- another holdover from the last movie, actually -- plays it with just the right amount of exasperation.
Chris: He is understandably frustrated that his life has turned into a cartoon. It's a very jarring shift from the legitimate threat that he posed at the end of the last movie, but for the most part, I enjoyed it.
Chris: So... this movie didn't make any sense, not even by the goofy cartoon logic that it sets up for itself. The Turtles beat up a pair of babies in a construction site that is also a nightclub that is also a dock.
Matt: With a keytar. And fire extinguishers. And just by being turtles. And using none of their ninja weapons or ninja techniques.
Chris: Keno earns the trust of the Turtles instantly, by stomping on Raphael's foot and being a guy who can hook them up with an employee discount at Roy's Pizza. Admittedly, that's a pretty good reason for the Turtles to befriend someone, but still.
Matt: A lot of this boils down to the movie really feeling like a rush job. It isn't just that the movie came out less than a full year after the first one, it also had tons of last-minute changes, like the removal of the actual secret touted in the title. The big thing that was supposed to be revealed turned out to be a big nothing. The plans for this to be the first of a two-part story that would become a fight with the utrom got scrapped. There's a lot of obvious writing around the changes. Now that I know all this, this movie being the way it is makes a lot more sense.
Chris: It's very obviously a movie for kids, too. It's tough to make that a complaint since, you know, that's exactly what they were trying to make, but there are places where it feels like they just shrugged and said "throw in some silly sound effects. Kids won't care." And they were right: I did not.
Matt: That mentality also seemed to set in to a lot of the production design, too. As I have noted, this movie had twice the meager budget of the first, and yet its New York feels like a series of studio lots. They managed to make their version of New York feel like a real place in the last one, even though it was largely North Carolina sets. This time, it all just feels so fake, so stagey. The only set that really wows is the abandoned subway station, and it feels like it's only good because they were planning to reuse it.
Chris: I wonder if they were planning to crank out one of these every year until the wheels fell off. It honestly wouldn't surprise me.
Matt: And since we pointed out the good lines, we should probably mention the bad ones. Keno calling those girls fat, the attempt to recreate the "bossa nova" joke from the first one, the second "I made a funny" joke.
Chris: Yeah, despite the few good zingers, the writing quality in general takes a huge nosedive in this one. Again, it feels like the product of a rush job.
Chris: I think it's safe to say that TMNT II: The Stuff You Already Kind Of Knew About The Ooze doesn't really hold up as well as its predecessor. Still, it is the movie that brought us "Ninja Rap," which will forever give it a place of honor.
Matt: It gave me my first taste of the notion that movies about stuff you love can be bad. It provided me with coping mechanisms I have needed many times in my life since. I suppose I owe it some debt of gratitude for that.
Chris: I'm not even kidding when I say that I miss the era when major movies always had their own raps. An era that began with Addams Family and ended with Wild Wild West. They did what they wanted to do, Matt. They played how they wanted to play.
Matt: Did you not love and appreciate Pitbull's Men In Black 3 rap song, "Back in Time" last summer?
Chris: There was a Men In Black 3? There was a Men In Black 2?!
Matt: I wish I shared your ignorance on that front.
Chris: You know full well that I only get to watch movies when this job makes me. And brother, is this job making us watch a movie next week, as we head into the third and final live-action TMNT movie: The One With Time Travel.
Matt: That's right, it's the arcade classic, Turtles in Time. I can't wait to talk about the fun gameplay and cool mechanic where you throw foot soldiers at the screen!
Chris: Oh, Matt. Like so many people, you have made a crucial mistake, and I don't even want to ruin it for you. Be here next week for all the time-traveling Turtle action you can stand, everybody!