Fox beats turtle. Every. Single. Time.
Despite little in the way of positive reviews, Michael Bay’s first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was a serious moneymaker, so a sequel was a mere formality. Less than two years later we have it in the form of TMNT: Out of the Shadows, which further eschews the Eastman and Laird vision by introducing the likes of Bebop and Rocksteady to the film series. Say what you will about it, at least this sequel will be free of Vanilla Ice.
A year after saving the city, Leonardo, Donatello, Raphael and Michelangelo continue to live out their lives in the shadows while Vern Fenwick
(Will Arnett) takes the credit. This arrangement, and the turtles’ continued inability to leave the sewers during daylight hours, has become a source of contention within the group with Raphael and Michelangelo wishing for more freedom.
Meanwhile, Shredder, in police custody after being defeated by the turtles, has concocted a plan along with Baxter Stockman (Tyler Perry) to bust Shredder out while he’s being transported. To do this he employs some mysterious tech that sends Shredder to another world where he encounters Krang, who provides instructions on how to bring Krang to Earth. Once there, he’ll take control and share power with Shredder.
As part of this arrangement, Krang provides a mutagen that is used to turn a pair of street thugs that had shared Shredder’s police transport into Bebop and Rocksteady. Now able to combat the turtles on equal ground, it becomes a race to gather the necessary components to summon Krang as the turtles must come together to stop the invasion.
Although there are still plenty of moments when Out of the Shadows seems fake — particularly those involving Bebop and Rocksteady — the CGI has improved since the original, and if Bay and company would just dial back a little bit of the absurdity (like dropping a pizza slice from the rafters at MSG) the turtles would be among the top all-CGI characters out there. Just stick with actions that make them look cool and ditch the rest of the stuff.
It also feels like the filmmakers found a better balance this time out, both in the plot and the amount of screen time characters received. Arnett’s involvement is dialed back, which is good since a little of his character goes a long way, and in his place is Stephen Amell of Arrow fame as Casey Jones, who’s more physically capable of fitting into a story about ninjas saving the world. The story is also more focused and personal, further developing the turtles’ personalities.
Two words: Megan Fox.
As noted, Bebop and Rocksteady don’t come across as real, which is a problem since they take over as the main physical foils for the turtles. Sure, the Foot Clan are glorified punching bags, but at least they’re real people in ninja garb to ground fights in some semblance of reality. As iffy as the interminable escape sequence in the original was, the river scene here is every bit as unrealistic.
We weren’t big fans of the new casting. Perry is a big, physically imposing man, which makes him an odd choice for Baxter Stockman, who is supposed to be a scrawny nerd. Perry is sheepish enough, but it’s still a strange fit. Also, despite being a better match for the overall story, Amell isn’t particularly likable as Jones, and the reimagining of his origin story is questionable.
For a summer popcorn flick built around a team of highly trained ninjas, Out of the Shadows doesn’t have all that much dynamic hand-to-hand combat. The bigger fights are purely CGI affairs, which inevitably lead to wonky moments, and they’re ninjas vs. brawlers or ninjas vs. robots. There’s no tightly choreographed meeting of martial arts masters to sink your teeth into.
THE BONUS FEATURES
Out of the Shadows leads its featurettes with deleted scenes. There’s nothing particularly memorable about them, though they do mean more screen time for April O’Neill (Fox). Most of the other bonuses are behind the scenes tours of some of the film’s signature locations, such as the turtles’ home and their converted garbage truck.
A feature about hidden Easter Eggs sounds intriguing, but rather than point them out it’s more like, “Hey, keep an eye out for stuff we threw in there.” That’s an opportunity missed as those steeped in turtle lore would’ve enjoyed being shown the references.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows does a better job than its predecessor of striking a balance in how much action, plot and silly/serious stuff to provide. It’s still not a great film, but fans should find it more enjoyable.