Movie Review: ‘TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES: OUT OF THE SHADOWS’ oozes with more turtle power

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Jared McMillan // Film Critic

TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES: OUT OF THE SHADOWS | 112 min | PG-13
Director: Dave Green
Cast: Megan FoxNoel FisherJeremy HowardPete PloszekAlan RitchsonWill ArnettLaura LinneyStephen Amell and Tyler Perry

Through three decades, a constant in everyone’s childhood has been the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Originating as a comic book by Eastman and Laird, it would spawn an 80s cartoon, an NES game, three movies, different cartoons, different video games, and countless merchandising that is still going strong.

Then came the two dreaded words that no movie fan wants to hear: Michael Bay.

When it was announced that Michael Bay had acquired the TMNT film rights to reboot the live-action movies, it became clear that his latest project would be blowing up our nostalgia as loud as possible, with no clear reason. Case in point, the first installment that was 2014’s disaster TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES.

It took all of the kid out of a kid’s movie. The Foot Clan didn’t really do any martial arts, just shot guns; April O’Neal didn’t have any charm; the tone was too serious, and the jokes varied from ok to downright insulting (ex: April is coming to after fainting, and you hear Michelangelo say something like “She’s so hot I can feel my shell grow tighter.”). Other than that, it was capped off by terrible direction and obvious filters that changed the look from scene to scene.

So, of course families went to see it, and it made money. But audiences knew it wasn’t the same turtles that they or their kids loved; they wanted more fun. Luckily, the producers took note, as TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES: OUT OF THE SHADOWS still has plenty of flaws, it is a lot more fun and a lot funnier.

When we’re reintroduced to Leonardo, Donatello, Raphael, and Michelangelo, there seems to be a bit of an existential crisis, as they are tired of living in obscurity, traversing the city only at night in order to be unseen…you know, ninjas. April (Megan Fox) is hot on the trail of scientist Baxter Stockman (Tyler Perry), who is plotting to break Shredder (Brian Tee) out of prison. The turtles try to stop it but Shredder escapes, along with two other felons, Bebop (Gary T. Williams) and Rocksteady (WWE’s Sheamus).

Stephen Amell and Megan Fox star in TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES: OUT OF THE SHADOWS. Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures.

Stephen Amell and Megan Fox star in TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES: OUT OF THE SHADOWS. Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures.

While Bebop and Rocksteady flee the scene, Stockman had teleported Shredder, only to be intercepted by Commander Krang. He has plans to take over the world, and needs his help. They form an alliance, under the condition that Shredder gets help getting rid of our heroes. To make a long story short, Shredder finds pieces to put together a machine that will bring Krang’s Technodrome to Earth, while using Krang’s solution to create the animal manifestations of Bebop the Warthog and Rocksteady the Rhino. The turtles are our only hope.

The movie is something of two different moods, divided by our CGI characters and our human characters. When it’s either Turtle Power or Bebop & Rocksteady, the movie has a lot of fun, making it feel like it did when we as kids watched the cartoons. There’s a sense of adventure and a lot of personality; even Krang has a lot of personality. All of their scenes together evoke that sense of nostalgia and the audience soaks it up.

On the flipside, we have the human characters, who are extremely flat and are just sort of there to divert any other conflict that could derail our heroes’ quest. April, Shredder, Casey Jones (Stephen Amell), and others all have action-oriented moments, but they’re incredibly serious. The most welcome addition is Tyler Perry as Dr. Baxter Stockman, a scientist who never really fit in except for when it involved science. He may be helping Shredder, but he’s just an incredible nerd, complete with awkward laugh that is genuinely hysterical.

But the dichotomous tones make way for the core problem of the first TMNT, in that it tries to still be a kids’ movie without being a kids’ movie. In other words, using characters meant to reach children, but adding the adult world. There’s no way a kids’ movie should be PG-13, for one. But when you have destruction/mayhem, death threats, and gratuitous male fantasy (seriously, that April O’Neal schoolgirl disguise sequence is a joke), it’s going to ruin the mood.

All in all, OUT OF THE SHADOWS is a vast improvement from its predecessor, but still has a way to go. Directed by Dave Green (EARTH TO ECHO), there is better technique behind the camera, using longer takes and letting the humor and timing develop; no need to rush everything and leave the audience behind. The movie just needs to realize an identity. The next go-around should at least stay the kid-friendly course and stop worrying about the human adult element. Then maybe this version of TMNT can step out of the shadows of the originals.

TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES: OUT OF THE SHADOWS opens everywhere this weekend, in both 2D and 3D versions.

About author

Preston Barta

I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.