When Jonathan Liebesman and Michael Bay’s Platinum Dunes production company took to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the 2014 reboot of the franchise of the same name, expectations were low. But the project was fun in its own way, despite ringing seriousness. The sequel, 2016’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows, is an improvement.
Directed by Dave Green from a screenplay by Josh Appelbaum and André Nemec, this vision of Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird’s comic book heroes packs an amusing wallop despite some serious issues with basic cinematic components like pacing and plot. It is almost defiantly eager to please and it builds better characters than its predecessor.
Leonardo (Pete Ploszek), Raphael (Alan Ritchson), Donatello (Jeremy Howard), and Michelangelo (Noel Fisher) are living it up after the defeat of the evil Shredder (Brian Tee), while Vern Fenwick (Will Arnett) has been taking credit for the success as per the arrangement. Things take a turn when April O’Neil (Megan Fox) discovers that scientist Baxter Stockman (Tyler Perry) is working for the Foot.
Before anyone can say pepperoni pizza, the Foot breaks Shredder out of the slammer and gets to work on the usual evil schemes. This involves a trip to another dimension, where he encounters the brainy Krang (Brad Garrett) and develops a plan for world domination. Shredder creates other mutants, while corrections officer Casey Jones (Stephen Amell) joins the fray.
As is apparent from the outset, Bay’s aura roars through this picture. But there’s more character, oddly enough, and the motion capture work on the turtles and Bebop (Gary Anthony Williams) and Rocksteady (Sheamus) is quite something.
The design of the turtles is still kind of an issue, but the voice acting and facial expressions make up for any inherent distancing. What the turtles do, say and argue about matters. When there’s a schism over a desire to be normal, both sides of the argument are brought to the table with surprising care for a clanging blockbuster.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the human element suffers. Fox phones it in and her character never appreciates the gravity of a world-ending situation, while Amell’s Jones lacks substance. Only Arnett’s Vern plays to anything considerable, as he’s basking in the celebrity glow and has a blast dating models and meeting basketball players.
The plot comes together like a pile-up of episodes from the 1987 cartoon series, except with less consistency and more disseminated parts than the Technodrome from Dimension X. Out of the Shadows generates the spherical base in pieces, but there’s too little connective tissue to make Krang’s plan land.
The action is more precise, with Lula Carvalho shifting away from the cumbersome and tepid sequences that populated Liebesman’s film. In Green’s hands, there’s more joy and eccentric tension – even when things take off for an absurd sequence on a cockpit-less plane.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows is a step in the right direction for the updated and rebooted franchise. While it lacks the colour and character of the 1990s movies or the cartoon TV shows, it does enough legwork to make the turtles, rhinos, rats, and warthogs resonate. And that is no small feat.