I admit, I did not grow up on the Ninja Turtles. I was in my teens when they were at their peak in popularity in the nineties, which put me just out of the target demographic. I did manage to check in with them from time to time, though. I’d stop on the cartoon occasionally, and I did see the original 1990 film in the theaters, but that was the extent of my TMNT experience (my four year and a half year old son has grown fond of the newest animated incarnation on Nickelodeon, so I’m still checking in on them occasionally). I say this because while I’m fairly familiar with the franchise, I’m not what one would consider a fan. I would say I’m part of a fairly sized part of the population that are familiar enough with the franchise to want to check out the spectacle.
2014’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles left a lot of people feeling just a bit luke warm about the Turtles. It was a fine effort to relaunch the film franchise, but it was just a bit off target. As we learned on the set of Out of the Shadows last year, the creative team behind the film freely admit they had difficulty finding the right tone for the movie. Out of the Shadows was their opportunity to make up for that, and make a Turtles film that the fans really wanted, and I think they’ve succeeded in their efforts.
While the last film concentrated heavily on the human actors, specifically Megan Fox, Will Arnet and William Fichtner, Out of the Shadows is almost all Turtles. Fans who felt deprived of Turtle time should be very happy this time around. Not only are the Turtles given considerably more screen time, they are also given a lot more to work with. There is conflict amongst the four brothers, and we’re treated to some really nice motion capture acting from the four actors portraying the Turtles (Alan Ritchson, Noel Fisher, Jeremy Howard, and Pete Ploszek). It’s not on the level of Andy Serkis, mind you, but still nice work none the less.
Because the film is so Turtle heavy, the humans actors are demoted to co-starring roles. Megan Fox returns to her April O’Neil role (and is once again a big bucket of OK), but this time around she’s joined by the vigilante (and fan favorite) Casey Jones, played by Arrow’s Stephen Amell. Despite April’s role as the Turtle’s human confidant, the movie belongs to Casey Jones as far as human actors are concerned. Jones is given a back story as corrections officer dissatisfied with the system, so Amell is given a bit more to work with than the traditional one dimension Casey Jones fans are used to. It’s very clear watching the film that Amell is having a blast in the role, particularly playing a character that’s not quite as brooding as Green Arrow. Sadly, because most of Fox’s scenes are with Amell, Will Arnett is reduced to more of a glorified cameo than a co-staring role, though he does manage to steal every scene he’s in. Paycheck aside, I wouldn’t be surprised if we don’t see him in a third film, as he’s fairly wasted here. Despite the small amount of screen time, he still manages to have a bit of a story arc, which is nice, but really not enough.
The addition of Casey Jones isn’t the only reason Arnett takes back seat here. There is an influx of new characters, including the mad scientist Baxter Stockman (Tyler Perry), the anthropomorphic warthog and rhino duo of Bebop and Rocksteady (Gary Anthony Williams and WWE’s Stephen “Seamus” Farrelly), Police Chief Rebecca Vincent (Laura Linney), and the alien Krang (voiced by Brad Garrett). If you think this seems like a lot, then you’re right. Like many genre films before it, the film is bogged down by too many characters, particularly villains. Spider-man 3, Batman Returns, Batman Forever, Batman and Robin, and The Dark Knight (to name a few) suffered from the same over saturation. Sometimes less is more. I will say, though, that like Amell, Perry, Williams and Farrelly all seem to be having a lot of fun in their roles, and each chew up the scenery. Linney’s role is rather thankless, however, and really didn’t require someone of her caliber to play it.
The Turtles main nemesis Shredder (played this time by Brian Tee) returns, but he has to compete with his underlings Bebop, Rocksteady, and Stockman for screen time, though he’s at least bit more fleshed out here than we’ve seen before. He also has to compete with Krang, whose appearance in the film might have been just one step too far in the fandom direction. While the tone of the film is pretty on point as far as what fans expect from a TMNT movie, the addition of Krang may have pushed the “believability” of the Turtles world a bit too far for its second outing. The character might have been better saved for a third film. As it is, we’re shown the origins of Bebop and Rocksteady, which, in any other superhero movie, would have been treated as quite tragic, but here is regarded as almost comical. While it’s appropriate for the tone of the film, it took away from the credibility the film tries to establish.
The addition of Krang also brings some fairly cartoonish logic in the film’s plot points. If this were an animated version of the Turtles, this would probably go unnoticed, or at least unmentioned, but in a live action film, it’s pretty glaring. The concept of the Turtles alone is pretty fantastical, not to mention an alien like Krang, so there needs to be a bit more grounding to counter balance that, which is sorely missing here.
If you’re looking for a deep, dynamic action thriller, you’re not going to find it here. But you will find a film that, despite it’s flaws, is pretty fun to watch. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows won’t disappoint the hardcore TMNT fans, and should entertain those just looking to enjoy a summer popcorn movie.