When I reviewed 2014’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, I said I’d like to see the Turtles in a better movie. The sequel, Out of the Shadows, isn’t it.
The plot to this mess is completely nonsensical, but I’ll try and lay it out. The Ninja Turtles—Leonardo (Pete Ploszek), Donatello (Jeremy Howard), Raphael (Alan Ritchson), and Michelangelo (Noel Fisher)—are feeling a little left out after saving the city in the last film, but still having to remain underground away from a human world that captivates them. They’re also still having problems working as a team, a point that I seem to remember being beaten to death in the last film. While the Turtles stay underground, their friend, Vern Fenwick (Will Arnett), has been the public face of their victory in the last film. However, when April O’Neil (Megan Fox) discovers that Shredder (Brian Tee) is working with scientist Baxter Stockman (Tyler Perry) and is planning to escape police custody during a prison transfer, the Turtles jump back into action. Shredder is being transferred by corrections officer Casey Jones (Stephen Amell), who is also transferring two knuckleheaded criminals, Bebop (Gary Anthony Williams) and Rocksteady (Stephen “Sheamus” Farrelly). When Shredder’s Foot Clan strikes, Shredder is, literally, teleported away, leaving the Turtles empty-handed and Casey holding the bag for Rocksteady and Bebop’s escape. While Shredder was teleported by Stockman, he is intercepted by Krang (Brad Garrett), a talking alien brain in a robot body. Krang orders Shredder to find the three components of his teleporter so that he can bring his Technodrome through a portal and conquer the Earth. Shredder agrees and with Krang’s help, he mutates Rocksteady and Bebop into a rhino and warthog, which they’re totally cool with. It’s up to the Turtles to work together to defeat Krang, while toying with the idea of using his mutagen on themselves to turn human. Parts of this may sound cool, but in the execution, it’s really very, very stupid.
The biggest issue I had with Out of the Shadows was the fact that it was so aggressively stupid. Things just kind of happen in this movie and their explanations are way too easy. For example, while Donatello has always been the “smart” Turtle, in the film he comes across as a super genius who knows everything about anything, because that’s what the script calls for. It’s a very childish approach to characterization: “He’s smart, so he knows everything.” This also comes across in explaining Bebop and Rocksteady’s mutations. The explanation is just so lazy that it feels like the filmmakers are saying, “It is that way, because we need it to be. Don’t worry if it makes zero sense.” I know that the Ninja Turtles cartoons are geared toward little kids whose parents don’t mind a ton of violence, but this movie is rated PG-13 with a script aimed at five-year-olds. Think about that for a minute. A PG-13 movie is supposed to be for ages thirteen and up, so the filmmakers have written a dumbed-down script for kids who technically shouldn’t be in the theater. I know young kids probably go see a lot of PG-13 films, but remember, Out of the Shadows has the same rating as The Dark Knight, a film that without a few key edits probably would have ended up as R-rated. If Out of the Shadows had been rated PG, I might have been a bit more forgiving, but with PG-13 films, I expect a little more maturity in the screenplay, not one that is so obviously written for little kids. And on top of that, the script isn’t even that good. Every character here is written as a “wacky” cartoon character, even Splinter (Peter Donald Badalamenti II / Tony Shalhoub). I know these films aren’t meant to be serious on any level, but I do expect the characters to be true to what’s gone before and Splinter isn’t a jokey character. Now there will be some that say this movie is just a “dumb and fun” movie and people shouldn’t judge it too harshly, but there are plenty of fun films that are well-written—this is not one of those. The point of live-action adaptations of cartoons and comic books is to make these fantastic characters and situations feel real, but nothing in Out of the Shadows feels real, from the way the characters act to everything they say. The filmmakers don’t understand that just because the source material is a cartoon, that doesn’t mean the adaptation needs to be insipid.
The whole thing isn’t all bad, though. There are a few humorous scenes that I enjoyed—the Turtles’ truck is pretty fun—but they’re few and far between because everything else is just so dumbed-down that it makes what’s supposed to be a fun film, boring. I will also say that the action scenes are filmed and framed much better in this film than in the last one. Credit for that may go to Director Dave Green, but he may also be responsible for the childish tone of the film as well—he also directed one of the worst films of the last few years, Earth to Echo. Kudos to him though for cleaning up the fight scenes. I will say, though, that the Foot Clan are the most inept ninjas I’ve ever seen. When untrained civilians are getting in shots against trained ninjas, I think it’s time for a new sensei.
The cast is…not that great here, but I can’t tell if it’s due to lousy performances or the lousy script from Josh Appelbaum and André Nemec. In fact, the two screenwriters should receive the majority of the blame since they also wrote the last terrible film. You don’t take the team that screwed up the last one and then expect a different result when you have them write the sequel. Anyway, while Megan Fox was the focus of the first film, she’s relegated to more of a supporting role here and in a Michael Bay-produced film that means she becomes solely a sex object in some scenes—in a film with a script aimed at five-year-olds. Stephen Amell is terrible in this movie, he comes across as more of a teenager than the Turtles. Tee is barely in this as Shredder, so it’s hard to make a call on his performance. Perry, Williams, and Farrelly are straight up caricatures and can’t even be taken as real functioning human beings. Once Bebop and Rocksteady are mutated – against their will, mind you – their ridiculous characterizations work better, but it was a bit disconcerting to watch two men get transformed into a warthog and a rhino and have zero qualms with that. They could have fallen in line with Shredder later, but just a moment of at least being freaked out would have made that scene go down more smoothly. Arnett is all right in his scenes, but serves as comic relief in a movie with no seriousness, so his function is redundant. Somehow, Laura Linney also shows up in this turd. She and William Fichtner must have the same agent. In the last film, I complained that the Turtles were not the focal point of their own film, but that I liked them for the most part. Now that they are the focal point in Out of the Shadows, I like them a whole lot less. The Turtles don’t feel like real characters at all. They certainly don’t sound like real teenagers and each of them is simply boiled down to their defining traits – Leo is the stern leader, Don is smart, Raph is the hot head, and Mikey is fun. It’s a cruel betrayal for characters that actually had depth in their original comic book incarnations. Don’t even get me started on how unwatchable Krang is. He’s not too disgusting, he’s just an eye-rollingly terrible character.
Overall, while many critics are hailing Out of the Shadows as a better movie than Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – while still admitting it’s pretty terrible – I just can’t make that leap. While the last film was garbage, it didn’t feel like as much wasted potential as this one, because the trailers actually looked decent. Out of the Shadows is easy and stupid and not a good movie at all.