One of the many, many aspects of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows that was a massive improvement on the not-very-good first film was Michelangelo. To put it bluntly, in the first movie Michelangelo came across as a budding sex offender – pretty much every single line he uttered revolved around his extremely sexual obsession with April O’Neil, often in very tonally inappropriate places. It was, to put it simply, creepy.
And yes, I know previous iterations of Michelangelo (the 1990 and 2003 versions) have asked “Can we keep her?” about April as well…. but that seemed a lot less sexual and lot more childlike.
Well, thankfully they dialed that back to a single joke line in the sequel (which he is immediately tased for), and Mikey even seems completely cool with the idea of April dating Casey Jones. Instead, he’s rewritten to be more in line with many other depictions of Michelangelo – a pop-culture-loving, skateboarding, soft-hearted sometimes-cloudcuckoolander, the most childlike and most loving of the four Turtles.
And they definitely made him a cloudcuckoolander, at least some of the time. In fact, it initially seems a little inconsistent – sometimes he’s just a little flaky and sweet, and sometimes he’s absolutely spaced out of what is going on around him and has no idea what people are talking about. Take the scene where Raph is running his master plan past April and Casey – Mikey’s only contribution is a strange, staring-eyed declaration of “You’re right,” and then he spends the entire scene eating pizza and not noticing what anyone else is saying.
And after rewatching the movie a few times, I think I’ve nailed down why. Mikey becomes a cloudcuckoolander and detaches from what is happening around him when he’s suffering some kind of emotional distress.
About halfway through the movie, Mikey overhears Leonardo and Donatello secretly discussing a purple alien goo that might be able to turn them into humans, or at least make them look human externally (the movie is little vague). Mikey then goes to Raphael and tells him everything – not because he actually wants Raphael to do anything, but because he just needs to vent his feelings. When Raphael predictably blows up and goes off to confront Leo, Mikey physically tries to stop him because he desperately doesn’t want his brothers to fight. It’s played for laughs, but his distress is very obvious.
Unsurprisingly, Leo and Raph end up angry at each other, having a fight, and eventually Leo and Donnie leave on a mission without Raph and Mikey. When Raphael rages about how he’s going to get his hands on the purple goo without Leo, Mikey… well, he agrees with Raph, but emphasizes repeatedly that he does not understand what Raph is doing.
This seems to be the first of the two situations in which Mikey goes cloudcuckoolander: strife in his family. He’s always at his best when he and his brothers are united, and when they work together, he seems fairly sharp mentally. But he seems to actively withdraw from the world around him when his brothers are fighting, because he cannot cope with it, and he cannot fix it by himself.
This also applies to taking part in Raph’s plan. Mikey goes along with Raph’s plan because… well, he’s kind of a people-pleaser. But he withdraws from the conversation when Raph is scheming behind Leo’s back, and drawing Casey and April into his plan. This is clearly not something Leo will put up with, so Mikey withdraws rather than taking an active role.
The other situation is after Raph and Mikey’s plan to infiltrate police headquarters goes boobies-up, and the brothers are all exposed to the eyes of the entire NYPD. Exposure is less upsetting to Mikey, however, than the reactions of some of the cops: they’re called “monsters” and treated with fear, horror and hate. This visibly hurts Mikey from the very moment it happens, even though it’s coming from total strangers.
When they return to the lair, Mikey reveals his hurt and misery to his father Splinter, who tries to reassure him, but obviously nothing your parents say is going to overcome rejection by the entire human race. And about a minute later, when Donatello identifies where Bebop and Rocksteady are, Mikey has become a cloudcuckoolander once again, giving a silly answer that doesn’t make any sense. Once again, he’s withdrawing from a situation that is hurting him, and only reemerges in subsequent scenes, where he and his brothers are more or less getting along and there are no non-villainous humans to hurt him.
I don’t know if this pattern was deliberately placed in the script by the writers, but it definitely does exist, and it honestly makes Mikey feel like a much more vulnerable and sweet-natured person. He just hates conflict among people he loves, and he wants to be loved and accepted for who he is rather than what he is. And who can dislike that?
All meditations on Mikey aside, I recommend Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows very highly. It’s not what you’d call a very good movie, or a particularly smart one, and it bungles the character of Casey Jones. But it does have a lot of love for the franchise and characters in general, and it makes you really like and feel the connection between the brothers.
And it enjoys throwing in over-the-top spectacle, such as the Turtles battling Rocksteady and Bebop on a crashing plane… using a tank. It’s wonderful. It’s just a fun popcorn movie, and no, you don’t need to have seen the first Bayverse movie to understand it.