Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows (2016) – Movie Review

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows
Directed by: Dave Green
Written by: Josh Appelbaum & André Nemec
Starring: Pete Ploszek, Alan Ritchson, Noel Fisher, Jeremy Howard, Megan Fox, Stephen Amell, Brian Tee, Tyler Perry & Brad Garrett
Music: Steve Jablonsky
Certificate: PG
Release Date: May 30th 2016

In an age of nostalgia-based corporate filmmaking, it was no surprise when 2014’s ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles‘ was announced. Riding the wave of Michael Bay’s ‘Transformers‘ and coming from his own Platinum Dunes company, the film managed to make a profit for the studio in the face of negative reviews (including one from this critic on this site’s very first review) and fan-backlash.

However, the film wasn’t a runaway smash-hit like Bay’s “Transformers” films to the extent where he can ignore all criticism and concerns from the fans in order to win them over next time. As a result Platinum Dunes and Nickelodeon Movies have spent most of the promotional campaign for ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows‘ trying to address the problems with the first film as there’s a new director on board, Shredder is now played by a Japanese actor from the start and there’s more inspiration taken from the 1980s beloved cartoon. Is this enough to improve from the first or can this studio simply not make this slightly dated concept work in this day and age?
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One year after the events of the last movie, the crime-lord known as “The Shredder” (Tee) is locked away and the four Turtle Brothers Leonardo (Ploszek), Raphael (Ritchson), Donatello (Howard) and Michelangelo (Fisher) are protecting New York City. However, a creature from another dimension known as Krang (Garrett) helps Shredder to escape and the two forge a new plan to take over the world. It’s up to the Turtles to save the day, but tensions start to run high as Donatello discovers a potential serum which could turn the Turtles into humans and allow them to come out of the shadows and live a normal life.

Whilst the first movie seemed to try everything it could to differentiate itself from the original source material in order to be grim, gritty and “realistic”, ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows‘ goes in the exact opposite direction and wholeheartedly embraces its goofy, crazy cartoon origins. It almost feels like a straight-up reboot in that respect. The main source of inspiration clearly comes from the cartoon series as we get the first live-action appearance of Krang, his warship the Technodrome, henchmen Bebop and Rocksteady, mad-scientist Baxter Stockman, the Turtlevan and while this isn’t his first film appearance we do get vigilante Casey Jones taking up his own sub-plot.
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That’s a lot of characters and I’d be lying if I said the movie hangs together well because of how crowded it becomes. This isn’t like a movie such as ‘The Dark Knight‘ where multiple villains can work because of it’s one central protagonist because with a TMNT movie, you have four protagonists, five if you count their Master Splinter, six if you could their friend April O’Neil and seven if you also count Casey Jones. It means the decks are stacked on both moral sides and inevitably something is going to fall flat. Fortunately, the four Turtles come across very well as their simplistic though well-defined personalities shine through and they feel more like a team here then they did in the first one.

They’re a fun quartet to be around and enough time is given throughout the film to make them feel like a family, like a funny scene where Casey Jones comes into the sewers for the first time and they pull a prank on him involving Splinter. It’s a great moment and something the first movie was sorely lacking. But when it comes to giving the characters more depth and throwing in some conflict then the film goes a bit limp in that regard. It’s apparent that Michelangelo wants to be a part of the human-world and he doesn’t want to live in the sewers forever so when Donatello discovers a way to turn the Turtles into humans then it creates a divide amongst the gang…that doesn’t really impact the story, throws in some lacklustre drama and the way this arc resolves itself doesn’t feel half-baked so much as not even reaching the oven in the first place.
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Still, at least the filmmakers tried to give the Turtles more to do then just fight and that sub-plot is a helluva lot better than anything Casey Jones gets to do throughout the entirety of this film because…and let’s face facts here…Casey Jones is terrible in this movie. Now, Stephen Amell is a solid actor, but the character he’s saddled with in this film just fails in every way. Amell is in his mid-30s but Casey Jones is written like some annoying, mid-teens frat-boy pretending to be a grown-up. He says “I want to be a detective some day!”…well, you’re in your mid-30s, mate. You’re a bit behind the curve there.

There’s a reason he didn’t get mentioned in this review’s plot synopsis earlier on and that’s because he literally has zero bearing on the plot other than “sneaking characters into the police station” one time and serving as fodder for action sequences. We have an annoying character that serves no function played by an actor too old for this role and it’s clear he’s only in the film to pay homage to the source material. A much better inclusion from the source material is Bebop and Rocksteady who mainly serve as the muscle for the villains and comic-relief but instead of being grating they genuinely are entertaining. The effects work on them is really impressive and actors Gary Anthony Williams and Sheamus from the WWE are having so much fun here.
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Also, despite Krang getting very little screen-time and basically serving as an end-boss the exact same way “Shredder” did in the first movie, the few moments he’s on screen were also pretty fun and despite the deeper voice than the 80s cartoon was pretty much was I was hoping for with the character. His robot suit was also really cool and inventive with its weapon-replacement system. Shredder feels more in-keeping with the character here than the first movie, but he needed a bit more to do and the same goes for Splinter, though Tyler Perry as Baxter Stockman is fully aware that he’s in a live-action cartoon and just runs with it. Same goes for Will Arnett as Vern who, while not serving much function to the story, is on the level with the movie in terms of tone and does get some pretty funny moments.

And that’s the kind of mind-set you need to be in for this movie. It’s not Shakespeare, it might not even be the original series but it’s a live-action cartoon and should be treated as such. It’s a much more honest movie than its predecessor and if you can get past the cartoon logic of two gang-members getting turned into a Rhino and a Warthog and there’s a brain-creature with a round war machine fighting four Turtles named after renaissance painters…this is a movie that you should be able to enjoy as opposed to the first film which felt manufactured. The jokes hit more, the plot makes more sense (to an extent), April O’Neil actually has something of substance to do (even if Megan Fox just…cannot act) and there are moments of legitimate drama like when the Turtles get seen by the police for the first time. No, it ain’t high-art but it’s a live-action cartoon that I’m sure younger audiences will enjoy a lot.
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If there’s one thing the first movie did better than this one it’s the action scenes. Really, most of the set-pieces are comprised of either chases or the Turtles travelling by elaborate means. There’s very little Ninja-action despite the title and minimal use of their weapons which feels like a missed opportunity. While there are solid set-pieces like the Turtles having to jump from one airborne plane to another there’s nothing on the level of the brilliant mountain-sequence in the first film.

However, the effects are definitely an improvement on the first where the motion-captured performances across the board are great and the Turtles look better than they ever have before. Krang, Bebop, Rocksteady and the Shredder all look like they came straight off the 80s TV screens and the camerawork around them feels more controlled with better-planned cinematography than its predecessor. Though, while it’s a small gripe, while we do see the Technodrome in the movie, we never actually get a wide-shot to see how big it actually is. The menace from the TV series feels lost when the audience aren’t given a basic sense of scale but it’s absent here. The Steve Jablonsky score feels a bit generic but when the credits roll and the Lorre and Brown “Heroes in a Half Shell” theme song from the original series kicks in…it’s hard to not feel like a kid again when watching this fun ride.
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And that’s exactly what ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows‘ is; a fun ride. It has just enough internal consistency to hold together as a story, the effects are strong, the gags are funny and it just feels like an honest attempt to take what worked in the 80s and transfer it into live-action. But it does still feel like the definitive version of this source material has yet to be made as this film is light on action, Casey Jones is just the worst and the key villains Shredder and Krang do feel like afterthoughts despite them carrying the plot. But this is a movie where what you see is what you get and if you like what you see then you should be in for a fun time at the movies. Turtle Power, indeed.

I give ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows‘ 3 stars out of 5.

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Posted In: 2016 Reviews Current Reviews Reviews

Author: Trilbee

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Posted: 31st Jul 16