Reviewer: Philip Price
Director: Dave Green
Stars: Alan Ritchson, Brad Garrett, Brian Tee, Gary Anthony Williams, Jeremy Howard, Laura Linney, Megan Fox, Noel Fisher, Pete Ploszek, Stephen Amell, Stephen Farrelly, Tony Shalhoub, Tyler Perry, Will Arnett
Released: May 30th, 2016
From the opening cityscape shot of New York City accompanied by Steve Jablonsky’s pulsing score new director Dave Green (Earth to Echo) establishes a fresh, but familiar tone with this sequel to 2014’s “surprisingly” successful reboot of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle live action series. With Michael Bay producing, a hired hand director, and a string of production issues it is something of a wonder that first film came off as well as it did. In more or less accomplishing what it intended to be for the audience it intended to target Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles qualified as a success. And if that opinion is to be shared it is also highly likely one would agree with the fact this sequel, subtitled Out of the Shadows, is even more successful in its end goals as the story is more coherent, the characters more in tune with their distinctive personalities, and the whole affair in general being a lot more fun. That isn’t to say Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows is a great film as it certainly has no aspirations to be groundbreaking and seems to only hope to fall in line with the rules rather than to be an exception, but in doing little more than fully embracing its source material in the most cartoony and goofy of ways it gets so many things right it parlays itself into a pleasantly entertaining time at the movies. It would be easy to pick apart a film such as this for the gaps in logic, the idea that Megan Fox’s April O’Neil could so easily break into as high profile a lab as Dr. Baxter Stockman’s (Tyler Perry), or that Hollywood should be ashamed of itself for wasting the talent of actors like Laura Linney in this type of disposable entertainment, but what would be the point? TMNT has been around long enough at this point that there is some respect due to the series for being as endearing as it has continued to be. The fact that it centers around four genetically mutated reptiles who listen to a giant rat and have a sexy news reporter and a guy with a hockey mask on their team is easy ammo if one cares to criticize such openly ridiculous material, but that Green and screenwriters Josh Appelbaum and André Nemec choose to embrace such absurdities rather than attempt to play them down (ahem...Fantastic Four) makes it easier for the audience to do the same.
When we last left the Turtles, comprised of leader Leonardo (Pete Ploszek pulling double duty this time around as they’ve ditched Johnny Knoxville’s voice work), the brain Donatello (Jeremy Howard), the attitude Raphael (Alan Ritchson), and the party dude in Michelangelo (Noel Fisher), they were just coming together and better figuring out their team dynamic in order to take down the Shredder (Tohoru Masamune last time, Brian Tee this time). In the wake of these events the Turtles have made a pact with former cameraman Vernon Fenwick (Will Arnett) that he be the face of the savior of the city while they, the Turtles, hide in the wings. Within the opening sequence it becomes clear each of the four turtles are getting more and more restless in their having to operate at night and not be able to receive the credit due to them. These internal struggles are all pushed to the side when Shredder is being transported from his high security prison to what we can only assume is an even higher security prison and the aforementioned Dr. Stockman as well as Shredder’s henchmen, The Footclan, attempt to set the Sensei free from his chains. Enter police officer Casey Jones (Stephen Amell of CW’s Arrow) who is escorting the infamous villain from one point to another and add in the likes of common criminals Bebop (Gary Anthony Williams) and Rocksteady (Stephen Farrelly) and one has the formula for a rather outstanding opening chase sequence that puts all of these players effectively in place. Furthermore, this escape plan opens the audience up to the fact Perry’s mad scientist character has been included because he’s found a piece of the evil Krang’s (voice of Brad Garrett) teleportation device that has fallen through a portal to earth. When Shredder comes into contact with the brain-like organism that resides within the torso of a large, mechanical body and is informed of Krang’s plan to dominate the earth with his Technodrome (a powerful battle fortress) the two fall in league with one another as Shredder pledges to help Krang dominate our planet as long as Krang agrees to help him get rid of the Turtles. Cue the theme song (or “Spirit in the Sky”) as we’re off and running as the film mixes in this basic world domination plot with actual character development between the brothers and enough action to keep our human cast active to the point they don’t feel wasted.
People found much to complain about with the first film in this re-booted series due largely to the design of the characters (which I like) and the seeming attempt to ground the characters in a more realistic tone (I guess?), but they must have been watching a different movie as the Jonathan Liebesman directed film I experienced was an experiment of sorts that tried its best to incorporate the look and feel of what super hero movies have become today while still recognizing the more outlandish qualities of the source material. The biggest downfall of the first film was that, while it felt the responsibility of having to re-introduce all of the core characters, it never felt as if it was fully immersed or invested in this world it was trying to build. With Green’s sequel it feels as if we’ve officially been welcomed into the New York City where these subterranean turtles move through the shadows and hide out in the jumbotron to watch the Knicks play ball while they eat some pizza. Green, who loves his dutch tilt, gives us small touches throughout the film both in terms of fan service, small character moments, and in something as seemingly simple, but absolutely critical as keeping the pacing at an energetic enough level that the film never becomes bogged down in the details of the story. It is critical to accept that this is a story where we’re going to see the likes of Megan Fox dress in ridiculous disguises and have Tyler Perry create an intentionally dorky laugh so as to play up the camp element of these situations and if you’re okay with that-you’ll likely be happy with what Out of the Shadows has to offer. As a child of the nineties, as someone who grew up with the animated Turtles series there is certainly the chance a haze of nostalgia clouds my judgment, but having had such a consistently and genuinely fun time throughout this unexpectedly good sequel it has made the faults and generally silly nature of what is happening on screen seem minor. At the script level Appelbaum and Nemec have really dug into further developing the individual personalities of the Turtles and integrating those dynamics into the story naturally. That Michelanelo is given plenty of room to shine here is also a plus. On a filmmaking level Green allows for moments to breathe such as when he shows us Mikey stepping back to chuckle at the extent of Raph’s badassery in a way that gives this Turtles fan flashbacks to what made these characters so appealing in the first place.
While there has clearly been a kind of fresh, clean slate approach to this sequel as a number of lessons were obviously learned on the first film the biggest leg up this sequel has on its predecessor (besides the fact it fully immerses us in this outlandish reality) is that it is a better structured movie. There is a clearly defined beginning, middle, and end with large action set pieces occurring every half hour or so in order to keep that aforementioned pacing in check and never allowing the nearly two hour film to drag. Speaking of the action sequences, each is accomplished in a fluent and clear way from how the Turtles take their tricked out garbage truck and attempt to dismantle the hijacking of Shredder’s convoy to the hand to hand combat that takes place between the Turtles and the Footclan at police headquarters where our heroes in a half shell come face to face with humans outside of April and Casey for the first time and onto a skydiving sequence that begins as a comedy sketch, transitions into a large piece of fan service as we finally get to see Leonardo, Donatello, Raphael, and Michelangelo face off against classic foes Bebop and Rocksteady for the first time on the big screen, before finally being dropped into an exotic location that allows for the animation of the Turtles to truly have a moment to bask in the glory of just how far technology has come before they are washed down a gorgeously rendered waterfall. This, of course, all leading to the final battle between the Turtles and Krang where they must stop the Technodrome from being completed in earth’s dimension. This last act would be slightly underwhelming were it only focused on the titular heroes facing Krang, but that there are segments of April and Vernon on a mission to destroy the machine allowing Krang’s battle station through the portal as well as Casey Jones roller-blading his way through Bebop and Rocksteady before eventually grabbing a hockey stick (no lie, more Casey Jones would have been a plus) allows for the climactic final battle to feel just big enough to justify the price of 3D ticket. One could easily pick this thing apart and if it leaves a bad taste in your mouth, go ahead and complain, but Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows is so unabashedly fun I’d have to imagine there’s more going wrong in your life than just a bad TMNT movie if you find this playful piece of entertainment disappointing.