“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows” Movie Review
The idea of mutant reptile ninjas living beneath the streets of New York with their rodent caretaker is a crazy one. Yet it’s an concept that’s become a phenomenon. The names Leonardo, Donatello, Raphael, and Michelangelo are cemented in pop culture, and their personalities have shone through the pages of comic books and television screens. And while I was never really into the TMNT world as a kid, I thoroughly enjoyed the feature films that came out in the early nineties. The 2014 version gave us a darker, more modern interpretation of the Turtles, and it was a perspective that I surprisingly enjoyed. The sentiment cannot be shared, however, for Out of the Shadows, a lighter yet watered-down sequel that’ll please die-hard fans, but offers little for those unfamiliar with the franchise.
A year has passed since the Turtles’ battle with robo-Shredder. The brothers continue to live in secrecy, while Vern Fenwick (Will Arnett) has taken the credit for Shredder’s defeat and is adored as a hero. But the city’s gratitude for his “heroism” leaves a bitter taste in the Turtles’ mouths. They’ve grown tired of hiding, and believe that if the truth is revealed, they will be accepted by the public. Meanwhile, Shredder (Brian Tee) escapes from prison along with criminals Bebop (Gary Anthony Williams) and Rocksteady (Stephen Farrelly), and comes in contact with an alien warlord named Kraang (Brad Garrett), who’s hell-bent on world domination. So it’s up to Leonardo (Pete Ploszek), Donatello (Jeremy Howard), Raphael (Alan Ritchson), and Michelangelo (Noel Fisher) to emerge from the shadows and save the day.
Since I didn’t grow up as a TMNT super fan, I won’t let childhood nostalgia cloud my judgment. The film is a cluttered mess from start to finish. When the movie begins, the narrative gets straight to the point, seeming as though the plot is focused. But as it trudges along with character after character being introduced and idea after idea being set up but not explored, the film falls apart very quickly. What we’re left with is a second act that drags a bit and a finale that’s rushed. The screenplay is written by Josh Appelbaum and Andre Nemec, the same duo who wrote the 2014 version. The writing for Out of the Shadows is pretty weak. A lot of the humor doesn’t stick, and simple plot points are constantly spelled out for us as though we’re unable to put the pieces together ourselves.
It’s clear that this film was made primarily for true followers of the Ninja Turtles. The film requires you to know automatically who the new characters are and what they’re fighting for. Besides the turtles, there isn’t a character with a fully understood backstory. I’m not saying that I need some super deep, emotional exposition, but I would’ve liked to know a little more in order to care more about them. But the actors try to work with what they’ve got. Tyler Perry is surprisingly fun and likable as the kooky mad scientist Baxter Stockman, and although he’s portraying a villain, he does so with buzzing excitement that put a smile on my face every time he was on screen. Brian Tee is trying his hardest to bring something to the table, but Shredder just isn’t menacing and doesn’t have a threatening presence. That’s probably because he didn’t have much to do overall. Bebop and Rocksteady have really cool designs, and I was excited to see them in action. They were entertaining at first and had some decent jokes here and there. But the novelty soon wore off, and towards the end they we as annoying as a pair of drunken college jocks who like to fart in each other’s faces and constantly call each other “Bro!”
Megan Fox returns as April O’Neill, but once again she is just another pretty face. Besides an awkward slew of investigative reporting in the first act and one scene of strutting as a sexy schoolgirl, she doesn’t have anything to do for the rest of the story. Stephen Amell gives a very poor performance as Casey Jones. This masked fighter doesn’t have a complete personality, and whatever personality Amell attempts to give to the character is awkward and bland. The supposed friendship that forms between him and April is extremely forced, and the actors have little to no chemistry. Kraang is an interesting opponent for the Turtles. He looks and sounds cool, but he literally comes out of nowhere and I felt he was only shoved into the story as fan service.
The Turtles are by far the best aspect of the film. Each of their personalities is distinct and well-developed. The voice actors do phenomenal jobs bringing heart and spirit to these CGI characters. Their brotherhood felt genuine, and they were a ton of fun to watch. The action scenes were entertaining overall, but some sequences, namely at the end, were rushed and underwhelming. The CGI is rendered well, and the film is visually brighter and more kid-friendly this time around.
And that’s the keyword here- kid friendly. Out of the Shadows is structured as an extended episode of a Saturday-morning cartoon. From what I’ve read, the tone closely reflects that of the original television show. So if you’re a fan of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, then you’ll probably like this film more than I did. It has its heart in the right place, and brings to life the unique characters that the fans grew up with. And despite all the flaws, I appreciate that the film does focus on the most important aspect of the franchise- the Turtles.
Cosmic Grade: 2.3/5 stars