Stars: Megan Fox, Will Arnett, Tyler Perry, Laura Linney, Stephen Amell, Noel Fisher, Jeremy Howard, Pete Ploszek, Alan Ritchson, Brian Tee, Gary Anthony Williams, Stephen Farrelly, Tony Shalhoub, Brad Garrett | Written by Josh Appelbaum, André Nemec | Directed by Dave Green
In the wake of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles hitting the big screen back in 2014, very few critics were asking for more where it came from. General audiences, however, made the film a smash hit success at the box office, so it was only a matter of time before those heroes in a half shell returned to do battle with villains much more outlandish than The Shredder. In the interest of full disclosure, I’m one of those few critics who was asking for more back in 2014. And I sure am glad we got it.
Directed by Dave Green, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows kicks off with Shredder escaping from prison and teaming with mad scientist Baxter Stockman to create two henchmen in an effort to put an end to the turtles once and for all – I’m of course referring to the warthog known as Bebop and the rhinoceros known as Rocksteady. Meanwhile, Shredder has also made an unholy pact with alien creature Krang, whose master plan is to, you know, conquer the world and stuff.
The strength of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014) was that it knew what it was supposed to be and celebrated being precisely that: goofy, nostalgia-inducing, make-you-feel-like-a-kid-again FUN. Staying equally true to the brand that began with a toy line and a children’s cartoon series, Out of the Shadows has much the same sensibility, but it’s perhaps even more refreshing this time around. At a time when many properties we loved as children are being rebooted as self-serious and oddly cynical films, a summer blockbuster like this one feels like a necessary antidote to current Hollywood trends.
Playing out like wacky fan-service for true TMNT diehards, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows brings iconic characters Bebop, Rocksteady, Baxter Stockman and yes, even Krang, to the world of live-action for the very first time, and it also adds Casey Jones in with the roster of human characters introduced in the 2014 film – those being Megan Fox’s April O’Neil and Will Arnett’s Vern Fenwick. Throw a returning Shredder into the mix and you’ve got what may sound like the recipe for almost too much at once, but it all meshes quite well. And besides, just seeing these characters come to life is nothing if not a treat.
Admittedly, and it’s through no fault on the part of actor Stephen Amell, Casey Jones kind of gets lost in the mix, but that’s mostly because an ordinary human can’t possibly wish to be as interesting as four ass-kicking turtles, a farting rhino and a wise-cracking warthog. It doesn’t help that Jones only wears his trademark hockey mask in one sequence, but I have no doubt that the idea was more to set the stage for Jones to shine in future installments than to have him distract from all the craziness here and now. Similarly, a perfectly giddy Tyler Perry is a delight as Baxter Stockman, though he doesn’t get all that much to do – in the next film, Perry promises, he’ll become the Stockman we know and love.
As for Bebop and Rocksteady, they’re as obnoxious and fun as you’d hope, and a wonderfully over-the-top Brad Garrett is another highlight as the voice of chewed-up-bubblegum monster Krang. Also a standout worthy of praise is the design of the Dimension X inhabitant, which is appropriately ooey, gooey, and totally awesome. There was a time when I was pretty sure we’d never see a live-action Krang on the big screen, and I feel nothing but joy over the fact that his arrival was well worth the wait.
Like the previous film, the CGI in Out of the Shadows is pretty fantastic, to the point that I often found myself forgetting that the turtles and their fellow inhumanoids weren’t played by actors in suits. The line between CGI and the real world is often so blurry that it’s hard to tell where the real stuff ends and the computer work begins, so kudos to the FX team for once again knocking that ball clean out of the park. And you know what. At this point, I think I’ve officially warmed up to the new turtle designs.
When it comes to these movies, most things of course take a back seat to the fun and silliness of it all, but like the first film, there’s a nice layer of heart running underneath Out of the Shadows. It’s never given too much attention, and that’s probably for the best, but there’s a subplot involving a mutagen that offers the turtles the chance to become human, and it allows for some positive commentary to be made about embracing who/what you are and not desiring to be anything different. It’s quite a fitting theme for the film as a whole, as the filmmakers embrace that as much as the turtles themselves do.
There’s one sequence in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows wherein the turtles do battle with Bebop and Rocksteady first aboard a plane and then down a river, and it’s hands down the most fun spectacle in the entire film. I bring it up because that one scene, which literally sees Bebop and Rocksteady riding a tank down the river and blasting away everything in their path, easily represents the franchise’s leap to the big screen at its absolute best. It feels, by design, like watching an animated sequence that’s somehow been converted to live-action, and I’m almost sure I played out a very similar scene in my bathtub as a kid.
I guess what I’m saying, in a roundabout way, is that the property is finally being done proper justice in the world of live-action, and that makes me happy not just for myself, but perhaps even moreso for the kids of today. That we’ve been able to share in that fun, well, those are movie theater memories I’ll always cherish. I wish I had these movies at my disposal growing up, but I’m glad I have them now.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows is just plain fun. It’s exactly what it needed to be.