‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows’ Embraces the Absurd

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If there is anything that is truly remarkable about the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, it would have to be the simple fact that it has endured across various media platforms for over three decades. The most recent incarnation of these heroes in a half shell was the 2014 film directed by Jonathan Liebesman and produced by Michael Bay that exactly didn’t win over critics or the hardcore fans of the series, though it did prove profitable enough to warrant a sequel. This time with Dave Green directing, the quartet of mutated reptiles return in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows, a sequel that is superior that its predecessor and embraces the inherent absurdity of its premise.

In the time since the previous film’s conclusion, Leonardo (Pete Ploszek), Donatello (Jeremy Howard), Michelangelo (Noel Fisher), and Raphael (Alan Ritchson) have grown rather tireless living underground, with Vernon Fenwick (Will Arnett) having taken all of the fame and glory for saving New York City from the threat of the Shredder (Brian Tee). Meanwhile, intrepid reporter April O’Neil (Megan Fox) is following the famed scientist Baxter Stockman (Tyler Perry), suspecting that he may be aiding the nefarious Foot Clan in breaking the Shredder out of prison. She’s right, of course, and the supervillain is freed from his shackles in a daring escape that leaves NYPD Officer Casey Jones (Stephen Amell) on the hot seat with his boss Police Chief Vincent (Laura Linney).

During the escape, Shredder was transported to a different dimension where he meets Krang (voiced by Brad Garrett), a slithery brain that resides in a robotic body. Krang gives Shredder directions where to find other pieces that will transport the creature to Earth and provides the bladed villain with some ooze to transform some underlings, Bebop (Gary Anthony Williams) and Rocksteady (Sheamus), into a warthog and rhino, respectively. (The explanation as to how each person has a certain kind of animal DNA buried in their genes is woefully absurd, but is played as the silliness that it is.) With the help of Casey Jones and April O’Neil, the turtles will have to unravel Shredder’s plans and prevent Krang from assembling his Technodrome which will lay waste to all of humanity.

After the previous film, which carried with it some problematic and unimaginative elements in its rather rote origin story, it’s understandable that expectations might be muted for Out of the Shadows, but director Dave Green and screenwriters Josh Appelbaum and André Nemec do a fairly good job at diminishing the tics of Michael Bay, especially towards the film’s leading lady in Megan Fox. Never exactly a robust acting talent, Fox isn’t nearly as objectified as she was in the last film with the exclusion of an early scene that sees the actress stripping down in order to steal a bit of information from a male courier. The character’s reporting abilities are to be called into question, as it’s not until the very end of the film that we’re reminded that the character is, in fact, a television news reporter. I had honestly forgotten if she was fired or not in the last film and just assumed that she worked as a freelance investigator for her sewer-dwelling turtle buddies.

Where the film really excels is in just the manner with which it embraces the absurdity of its source material. For the first third of the film, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows is somewhat breezy in setting up all of its moving parts and features a pretty solid action piece in Shredder’s escape. Where it falters is by following this all by having Krang’s appearance basically provide Shredder with a roadmap for the film’s MacGuffins that will eventually lead to a big battle between our heroes and the robot encased brain. Just when it seemed that Out of the Shadows was ready to go all-in, it pulls back and that’s what leads to the film’s most lackluster moments.

The fact is that none of the character in Out of the Shadows have their own character arcs. Collectively, the turtles have an arc about seeking acceptance and learning how to work together as a team, but that’s about it. Casey Jones is just a semi-embarrassed cop looking for a bit of redemption by apprehending the crooks that escaped on his watch. (And if you’re expecting the character to be donning his hockey mask for more than one scene you’re going to be sorely disappointed.) Shredder maybe has five lines of dialogue and his arc is nothing more than a quest for more power. Oddly enough, it would seem that Arnett’s Vernon Fenwick has much more of a character arc in less screen time than the prominently featured April O’Neil. The vast majority of the actors appearing as these characters are pretty much wasted, as Fox and Amell just goes through the motions while a talent like Laura Linney is nothing more than a sideline player in a thankless role. The best performance in the movie belongs to Tyler Perry, who seems to be having the most fun in whole movie as the nefarious scientist.

It’s the brisk pace that Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows (whew, what a title) employs that allows these obvious flaws not to fully detract from the experience. By no means is this a perfect movie, or one that I would necessarily call good, but for what it is Out of the Shadows mostly works. There’s really something that should be said for a sequel of a reboot that refuses to go dark and gritty for the sake of dark and gritty. Out of the Shadows is very much a movie that is aimed at a younger crowd, though it doesn’t pander to the younger set at the expense of its entertainment value (although doing character introductions twice for the eponymous turtles was a bit much). Following an underwhelming inaugural entry, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows at the very least finds a bit of fun in its CGI-slathered action even if it doesn’t always click on every level. Considering that this is a film produced by Michael Bay’s Platinum Dunes, adequacy seems like a remarkable feat.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows
  • Overall Score
3

Summary

Not without its faults but entertaining enough, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows is sequel superior to its predecessor that wholly embraces the absurdity of its source material.

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