I was not a fan of the 2014 reboot of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Even if nostalgia had factored in, it’s still a film that is a shockingly derivative in its plotting, basically applying every modern blockbuster trope wherever it deemed fit. And not only that, Jonathan Liebesman managed to make one of the most aesthetically ugliest tentpoles in recent memory, which combined poorly designed and integrated VFX with a gritty and dimly-lit portrayal of New York that looked like something out of the 70s. It was an utter mess that couldn’t hide the production problems that it faced, and offered no charm or likability to soften the blow. It wasn’t my cup of tea is what I’m saying.
To say Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows is an improvement might be an understatement. I say might because it’s by no means a great movie, or even really good movie for that matter, but at the very least, it feels like a film by people who have a clear idea as to what they want to do and committed themselves to going all the way. Bringing to mind films like The Amazing Spider-Man 2 or even the recent Batman v Superman (not a great crowd, I know), Out of the Shadows (which I’ll now just refer to as TMNT 2) can be considered a soft reboot, meaning it is continuing a specific iteration from the previous installment, but has clearly undergone changes in tone and aesthetics. The 2014 TMNT was very confused and took inspiration from far too many versions of the characters, leading to a film that no appeal to any particular demographic.
One of the reasons TMNT 2 even kind of works is because of the addition of new director, Dave Green, whose only major outing was Earth to Echo. While the writing team (Josh Appelbaum and André Nemec) have returned from the first film, Dave Green brings in a vibrant and gleeful energy to the film that just wasn’t present in the last film, aside from a few moments. Granted, this results in a film that is ultimately a two hour long exercise in fan service to people who grew up on the 80s cartoon full of nods and references, as well as the much awaited “live-action” debut of characters like Krang, Bebop and Rocksteady. It is very much a cartoon, tonally and logically, and that alone is guaranteed to turn people off. However, I’d argue that the sheer commitment to unabashed silliness is the strong suit of the film, even if it does very little to elevate itself over superficial entertainment.
Not everything works though. For something that is so obviously in love with the franchise, the old cartoon show, especially, it’s strange seeing just how poorly executed Casey Jones is. Portrayed by Stephen Amell, Casey Jones barely resembles the character that most would recognize. The fact that he only wears the hockey mask for one scene is really the least of his problems, as his backstory and attitude simply do not reflect what most liked about the character in the first place. Had they substituted it for something interesting, this wouldn’t be a problem, but given how little the character really mattered and how little personality Amell throws into the character, there just didn’t seem to be much of a need for him at all.
Another problem is that the film is so littered with references that it becomes very easy to get lost. Krang (voiced by Brad Garrett) appears very suddenly in the film, with no real intro or buildup. A lot of the film relies on the audience knowing who Krang is and what a Technodrome is, and on a storytelling level, it’s easily the sloppiest element. Strange leaps and gaps in logic can mostly be forgivable as they generally serve the overall committed goofiness that the film is striving for, using any and all excuses to make the kids in the audience go, “woah!”
The chemistry with the Turtles (performed by Jeremy Howard, Pete Ploszek, Alan Ritchson and Noel Fisher) are solid, Megan Fox is a competent enough April O’Neil (though she doesn’t do a whole lot of reporting in this one) and the designs for the Turtles and Master Splinter are no longer complete nightmare fuel. However, Shredder (this time played by Brian Tee) isn’t much of a presence at all, and Krang just isn’t given enough to make him a fun villain. The movie does end up being a big mishmash of VFX as it climbs toward the climax, to which it kind of becomes a bit of an exhausting sit. Moments that don’t seem to payoff add to some of the tediousness as well. For example, the whole “the formula might make us human” thing in the trailer is forgotten almost as quickly as it’s brought up. The plotting is very scatterbrained, and while it most definitely isn’t what everyone is coming for, it does come off sloppy.
There has only ever been one good Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie and the rest have been somewhere between bad to straight up garbage, Out of the Shadows is the closest to a good film that this franchise has come to since 1990 and even then, it’s average at best. While I always try to champion children’s entertainment that actually pushes creative and thematic boundaries, I think it is also important to recognize the good trash from the bad trash just like we do for adult-oriented films as well. Out of the Shadows keeps its ambitions fairly low and it hits the beats that it wants to hit with just enough energy and pizzazz to keep things light and fun, and despite several narrative and character-related missteps (as well as the overabundance of fan service), it mostly works just fine. Also, props to Tyler Perry, who is pretty much the best part of the movie. 55/100