I won’t lie – wasn’t the biggest fan in the world of the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film from 2014. The Turtles didn’t look right; Megan Fox and Will Arnett didn’t do much to fit in; and the only highlight was an action scene taking place in a snow bank. Plus, Michelangelo’s longing for Megan (“I can feel my shell tightening”) really didn’t work at all.
So, with that, we can only go up from here, right? Or so it seems. That’s what’s happening with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows, which tries to be more akin to the Saturday morning cartoon series, and under the direction of Dave Green, who previously worked on Earth To Echo. It pays off to a certain extent, although the film’s flaws are still glaringly seen from a mile away.
The film opens with the Turtles once again pursuing Shredder (Brian Tee), as he attempts to make an escape from custody – he was jailed following the events of the first movie. However, he makes a rather odd escape, and soon comes across a plan to not only create his own mutants from Bebop (Gary Anthony Williams) and Rocksteady (Stephen “Sheamus” Farrelly) with some help from Baxter Stockman (Tyler Perry), but also hopes to clear the way for a new party crasher – the intergalactic commander Krang (voiced by, wait for it, Brad Garrett – yes, Everybody Loves Raymond’s Brad Garrett).
The story’s a little tough to come by, but it manages to breeze by, thanks to moderately good direction from Green (not nearly as jumbled as what happened with the first movie) and a script that’s…okay. The problem is, the film really lets some characters fall by the wayside.
April O’Neil, once again played by Megan Fox, is just there to look pretty, for the most part. Her transformation into a schoolgirl outfit feels a bit awkward at the beginning of the film, and may have some parents questioning why it belongs in a Ninja Turtle film. (Of course, the men probably don’t mind as much.)
For that matter, Will Arnett is back for some reason as Vernon, taking the credit for what happened in the first film and trying to act like some form of superhero. He tries to play goofball, to little effect, although there is a fun little scene in the film where he tries to deal with a security camera in the worst way possible.
Stephen Amell makes his debut as Casey Jones, but isn’t given much to do outside of a couple of fistfights. Still, he proves capable against the Foot Clan, and his mix-up with Rocksteady and Bebop in a parking garage is more fun than expected. Amell does a good job here, even if he’s very anti-Arrow.
The rest of the cast is a mixed bag. Laura Linney is wasted as a police chief trying to figure out what’s going on with Shredder, while Perry is having a field day as Stockman, giggling like a madman as he helps transform the thugs and calling himself as famous as Steve Jobs. Uh-huh.
But it’s Bebop and Rocksteady that steal the show. Sheamus is great as Rocksteady, with a great scene-stealing moment where he tries to lay waste to the Turtles, and inadvertently trashes the plane they’re riding on. Meanwhile, Williams is a solid fit as Bebop, even if his pink Mohawk does look slightly ridiculous at times. (But, hey, that’s the nature of the character, can’t fault it.)
As for the Turtles themselves, they aren’t too annoying like they were in the first film. There’s some good conflict between the brothers here that comes up from time to time, especially when they learn what the retro-mutagen they pick up is capable of. Still, when they bicker, it does slow down the film quite a bit, and you’d kinda wish they would just shut up and fight – and they eventually do.
Then there’s Krang. On the one hand, he’s represented well on the screen, complete with a loyal recreation of the Technodrome and his robotic sentry. On the other, Garrett tries a little too hard for his own good in voicing the character, coming across more as whiny than quirky. That’s not to say he’s awful, but you can feel he didn’t quite dial in the character as much as you’d like. He’s certainly more capable a villain than Shredder, who barely does anything here. Seriously.
The film does plod along at points – hinting at the romance between O’Neil and Jones, making Chief Vincent understand what the Turtles are about, and the all too soon disappearance of Stockman just when things were getting good – and there could’ve been more action scenes. However, the ones here are fun, from an all-out brawl in Brazil (including a tank) to a final set piece that’s better than expected, thanks to Krang’s surprising maneuverability. Think of it as one heck of a boss battle.
As I said, the film is up and down when it comes to its quality, but overall, it is a step in the right direction from the somewhat disappointing original. Michael Bay still has his stamp all over this, and it’s hard to miss (note: schoolgirl scene), but at least Out of the Shadows makes for some fun entertainment – especially for fans of the series that will go looking for, and find, some great Easter eggs. Sure, this movie could’ve nailed it out of the park with a little more focus.
But, then again, it could’ve just meandered like the original.