Movie Review: “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows”

Megan Fox, Stephen Amell, Will Arnett, Laura Linney, Alan Ritchson, Noel Fisher, Jeremy Howard, Pete Ploszek, Tyler Perry, Brian Tee, Gary Anthony Williams, Sheamus, Brad Garrett
Dave Green

Contrary to the harshly negative reviews that it received, Jonathan Liebesman’s 2014 reboot of “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” wasn’t that bad. The product of a misguided adaptation that was course-corrected with extensive reshoots, the film doesn’t hold up as well on repeat viewings, but it’s still a better-than-average franchise-starter that got enough things right to warrant a sequel. Though “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows” isn’t necessarily better or worse, you have to hand it to the filmmakers for actually listening to the fans, because the new movie is such a nostalgia-fueled throwback to the original animated series (the holy grail for adult fans) that it atones for many of the first film’s blunders.

One year after stopping The Shredder from unleashing a deadly virus on New York City – an achievement that news cameraman Vern Fenwick (Will Arnett) has gladly taken credit for to protect the real heroes’ identities – Leonardo (Pete Ploszek), Raphael (Alan Ritchson), Donatello (Jeremy Howard) and Michelangelo (Noel Fisher) continue to watch over the city from the shadows. But when Shredder (Brian Tee) escapes police custody and teams up with mad scientist Baxter Stockman (Tyler Perry) to open a portal to Dimension X, thereby allowing the nefarious, brain-like alien General Krang (voiced by Brad Garrett) to invade Earth with his world-destroying war machine the Technodrome, April O’Neil (Megan Fox) calls in the Turtles for help. This time around, however, Shredder has enlisted a pair of dimwitted mutant henchmen named Bebop and Rocksteady (Gary Anthony Williams and WWE wrestler Sheamus, respectively) to do his dirty work for him.

For those that felt like there wasn’t enough of the titular heroes in a half shell in the 2014 movie, incoming director Dave Green (“Earth to Echo”) remedies that by not only placing a greater focus on the Turtles and their brotherhood but allowing them to further develop their distinct personalities. That means less screen time for Fox’s April O’Neil, which we can probably all agree is for the better, except perhaps producer Michael Bay, who manages to squeeze in a pointless sequence where the actress struts around in a sexy outfit that feels totally out of place in what is ostensibly a family film. To be fair, Fox isn’t to blame, but she’s so wrong for the role that they might as well have recast her along with Shredder and his right-hand woman Karai (now played by Brittany Ishibashi).

It’s amazing that anyone thought they could get away with recasting the main villains without people noticing, especially with actors who look nothing like the original performers. Nevertheless, Green tries to bury that odd decision under a heavy helping of fan service, including the introduction of classic characters like hockey-masked vigilante Casey Jones (“Arrow” star Stephen Amell), Bebop and Rocksteady, Baxter Stockman and Krang, most of whom are making their feature film debuts. Although it gives fans exactly what they wanted, the movie feels overstuffed as a result, unable to provide every character the attention they deserve. Bebop and Rocksteady fare the best of the new additions, embracing the goofiness of their cartoon counterparts, but Casey Jones and Shredder are both woefully underserved.

This influx of characters causes the already complex plot to become more convoluted, which only distracts from the stuff that does work. “Out of the Shadows” is most enjoyable when it plays to its strengths as a fun and frothy spectacle, borrowing so much from the late ’80s animated series that it’s practically a cartoon itself. One sequence in particular, an action-packed river chase through Brazil, is a technically impressive set piece that highlights the weird but wonderful spirit of the franchise. While its predecessor attempted to ground the Turtles in gritty realism, “Out of the Shadows” relies more on the outlandish elements, which is probably the way to go when dealing with a movie about teenage mutant ninja turtles. Granted, the sequel still isn’t as good as the series is capable of delivering, but it’s a mildly entertaining diversion that shows enough signs of improvement to suggest that perhaps the third time will be the charm.