Film Review: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out Of The Shadows (M) (USA, 2016)

In 2014 a new live adaptation of the beloved comic and cartoon series Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles hit our screens. The reception wasn’t great, complaints aplenty from fans and mutiple Raspberry Awards made it fairly clear that the film’s producers, writers and the studio had some work to do to win back their audience.

Two years on, they now bring us a sequel but the question is whether fans will want to give the Turtles another chance. If you can bear to part with some of your hard earned cash, and are happy to check any high expectations at the door, you might be pleasantly surprised.

In Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out Of The Shadows, our four turtle brothers Leonardo (Pete Ploszek), Donatello (Jeremy Howard), Raphael (Alan Ritchson), and Michaelangelo (Noel Fisher) have been living in the shadows but still protecting the streets of New York.

Above ground, their friend April O’Neil (Megan Fox) has been investigating famous scientist Baxter Stockman (Tyler Perry) and his connections to Shredder and a mysterious teleportation device. Joining O’Neil and the turtles is former corrections officer now vigilante Casey Jones (Stephen Amell) and O’Neil’s friend and former colleague Vernon Fenwick (Will Arnett).

When the evil Shredder (Brian Tee) manages to escape police custody after using the teleportation device he has a chance meeting with alien entity Commander Krang (voiced by Brad Garrett) and they both hatch a plan for world domination. It’s now up to the turtles and their friends to stop Shredder and Krang and save the world from Krang’s destructive Technodrome war machine.

First time feature director Dave Green takes on the helm of steering TMNT2 and thanks to the help of producers Brad Fuller, Andrew Form and Michael Bay who were involved in the first film there is a noticeable improvement on its predecessor. The story written by Josh Appelbaum and Andre Nemec, albeit a little silly in premise, feels a lot more structured with noticeable beginning middle and final acts. Yes the stakes are raised, global destruction is always a good motivator to get your heroes “out of the shadows” but it’s a necessary progression.

What has also helped the film is that the focus is now on the turtles, whereas the previous felt more like it was about April O’Neil. Even though I wasn’t and still am not a fan of the design of the turtles in these films, I will say that they at least got the characterizations right. Each one of them gets a chance to show off their personality, as well as their skills in this film. It feels like it’s more about them and thematically it’s about them working together as a team even though they still struggle to be a family unit.

The best thing about this film though is that it is most definitely a nod to the fans. The inclusion of Casey Jones, Krang, his Technodrome and we also see the before and after of Bebop (Gary Anthony Williams) and Rocksteady (Stephen ‘Sheamus’ Farrelly) is what we missed having in the first film. There are also plenty of added in-jokes/easter eggs if you can catch them. Regardless of whether you enjoy the story or not, there’s plenty of fan-service at least to keep the die-hards appeased.

Another big plus for this film is the action sequences and there are quite a few of them. There’s plenty of smaller fights going on with the Foot Clan but when we get a showdown between the Turtles and Bebop and Rocksteady we get to see some real heavy lifting going on with them taking the fight to the water in a white water rapid sequence that’s like a rollercoaster. There’s also the big stunt sequences, like having the turtles jump out of an airplane or the final battle on the Technodrome. It’s in some of these big sequences that the 3D for this film comes to life and adds to the fun.

In TMNT2 we’re introduced to Casey Jones, one of the corrections officers in charge of Shredder’s transport only to lose him. It’s a diversion away from the canon story for Jones but it works well as a plot point for him to become involved with the turtles and O’Neil. His portrayal by Stephen Amell is measured, and the added bonus of having Amell on board is that all his stunts are legitimately him onscreen. I was disappointed that his character didn’t have more to do, other than become another member of Team Turtle and provide some eye candy for O’Neil. I’d like to hope that if a third film is greenlit that he has a more pivotal role and more onscreen time to develop his character as well as his relationship with the turtles.

Then there’s both Bebop and Rocksteady who are predominantly the comic relief in this film. They’re supposed to play the foils to the turtles since they’re equally as strong but they’re surprisingly likable purely because they are so dimwitted. The comedic chemistry between both Williams and Farelly is perfect in this and never feels odd or forced. Just like with Casey Jones, I’m hoping we get more of them should another installment be made because they were the real MVPs in this film.

On the flipside to this, the villains do feel a little throw-away. Particularly Shredder, who also doesn’t have much to do, but at least his suit is aesthetically a huge improvement on the first film. Krang is also a little bit ham fisted but at least he looks horrendously fantastic and gooey and proves to be an interesting physical challenge to our turtles in the final big battle. Tyler Perry’s Baxter Stockman is probably the only one with any real depth too, playing the mad scientist helping Shredder, bent on building a teleportation device.

In all seriousness though, these films aren’t out to be challenging or ground-breaking in their story-telling. They’re supposed to be light-hearted and fun and if you’re happy to go in watching something that’s a little ridiculous with lots of action sequences then this will do just fine. I appreciate that the first film probably missed the mark, but this definitely feels more redemptive and like the filmmakers have purposefully responded to the criticism and endeavoured to rectify those issues. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out Of The Shadows has more laughs, more action and brings in to the fold some of our favourite characters from the comics/cartoons of old and actually does a decent job of it. So I’m just going to quietly forget about that first movie and just pretend like this should’ve been the first TMNT live action adaptation film.

Review Score: THREE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Running Time: 112 minutes

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out Of The Shadows is out in Australian cinemas from today through Paramount Pictures Australia