Starring Megan Fox, Will Arnett, Tyler Perry, Laura Linney and Stephen Amell
Directed by Dave Green
My Rating: ****½:5
In August 2014, a reboot of the “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” franchise was released, with Michael Bay acting as producer. Despite the film being panned by critics and polarizing among fans of the source material, the film did perform surprisingly well at the box office. Now, we have the inevitable 2016 sequel, “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows.”
While the first film divided fans for trying to “Nolanize” a decidedly silly property, this film manages to dive headfirst into the insanity of its lineage while also providing its own dose of over-the-top “Bayhem.” In essence, the film draws heavily from the animated TV series that ran from 1987 to 1996. Thus, it builds a world where conventional logic no longer applies as a $135 million fever dream doused in radioactive mutagen.
One year has passed since the defeat of the Shredder (Brian Tee). While the turtles still defend New York City from evil, they are often dismayed they have to stay out of sight. Their personality types are familiar to anyone who knows prior versions of the characters: brave leader Leonardo (voice of Pete Plozek), surly but snarky Raphael (voice of Alan Ritchson), gadgeteer genius Donatello (voice of Jeremy Howard) and fun-loving Michelangelo (voice of Noel Fisher).
Then, a new threat emerges as Shredder is broken out of prison by scientist Baxter Stockman (Perry) with the help of alien warlord Krang (voice of Brad Garrett). Using a mysterious vial of ooze, he enlists the help of mercenaries Bebop (Gary Anthony Williams) and Rocksteady (Sheamus of the WWE); then has them mutated into a warthog and rhinoceros in order to steal artifacts needed to bring Krang’s battle station, the Technodrome, to our world. So, it falls to the turtles to save the day as they clash over their own divided brotherhood.
If that premise reads like a bunch of gobbledygook, you’d be right. Much like how the original comics by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird parodied the superhero tropes and animal teams of their time, the film plays incredibly well as a sort of parody of the TMNT franchise. While the first film often poked fun at its source material, it’s not hard to imagine the story of “Out of the Shadows” being the product of a small child watching the cartoons and playing with the associated merchandise. It may have some holdovers from more “serious” superhero films such as The Dark Knight Trilogy and the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but is ultimately more concerned with just being a fun action film more than anything.
Even so, the film is not without its flaws. Stephen Amell’s portrayal of Casey Jones lacks the edgier nature that’s often associated with the character. As a police officer that goes against the orders of his superior (Linney), he seems less like a rugged vigilante and more like an effeminate male model with a performance that makes one yearn for Hayden Christensen. Shredder’s second-in-command Karai (Brittany Ishibashi) is also significantly less powerful than in prior adaptations, to the point where she’s defeated in an anticlimactic fashion by April O’Neil (Fox) in the film’s final battle. Yet, while it’s a stretch to call the film a masterpiece, it still provides a fun piece of escapism for 112 minutes in a time where we could all use something to feel good about. Will Arnett’s rendition of Vern Fenwick provides some great levity in between the turtles’ battles against the Foot clan.
In a time where the world has seemingly gone totally crazy, “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows” is the ideal movie to embody that craziness. It may not have the surprising level of emotional depth the first two films from the 1990s had, but as a way to kill a couple hours, it’s the ideal marriage of hot, messy pizza and effects-driven action that’s every bit as cheesy. Turtle power!
Story by Steven Pryor