Movie Review: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows

Back in 2014, I walked out of the theater after watching Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles disappointed and disgusted. After that abomination of a film, I swore off future installments of the series, refusing to give them any more of my money.

Fast forward a year and the announcement that Stephen Amell had been cast as Casey Jones, I decided to lift that self-imposed ban. I would be willing to sit through a movie just to see how Amell would handle the role. But that's not to say I had any expectations of the movie as a whole.

The Nerdy Pumpkin and I finally got around to seeing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows and I really must say, it was a ridiculously fun movie.

Like, "buy a bunch of action figures", fun.
As I stated earlier, I didn't have much hope for TMNT 2, what with the shoddy track record they placed early on in the series. However, it seems like, from the beginning, the filmmakers worked hard to appeal to fans. From the aforementioned Casey Jones to the inclusion of Bebop and Rocksteady, and even going so far as to work Krang and his giant, robotic body into the mix, they pulled out all of the stops to try and bring people back into the seats. And shockingly, it works.

Out of the Shadows takes place one year after the events of the first movie. The turtles continue to live in hiding, afraid of what would happen if people discovered their existence. That kind of life takes a toll on them, and Michelangelo most especially, who longs for a life outside of the sewers.

The movie spent the first twenty minutes (or so it felt) checking in with the cast, reacquainting us with everyone. We see the turtles right out of the gate. Vernon Fenwick is the hero of New York after taking the credit for bringing the Shredder to justice. April O'Neil is doing deep-cover reporting, following Baxter Stockman, a scientist she believes works for the Shredder.

It's not until we meet Casey Jones does the movie really kick in as the Foot Clan moves to bust Shredder out of jail.

Oh, be wary, there are SPOILERS ahead so consider yourself warned.

Without exaggeration, the movie is 100% fan service. Is that a drawback? Maybe, because the fans they are catering to are fans of the early-90s animated series. Sure, they manage to sprinkle a few references to other media in there, like a Stan Lee-style cameo by TMNT co-creator Kevin Eastman and a jukebox playing a Vanilla Ice song, but really they're just capitalizing on the nostalgia of the original cartoon. Having Shredder, Krang, Bebop, and Rocksteady all provide the antagonism for the turtles is classic, and luckily for everyone director Dave Green made it work.

Unfortunately, much of the characterization is over-the-top, especially in the case of Bebop and Rocksteady. These two are played as complete nitwits, the kind of criminals that would get themselves killed in the first heist they ever took part in because they don't know their right from left. In a cartoon, it makes sense. Here, it often became just barely tolerable to borderline annoying. Did it fit with the characters, though? Yeah, pretty much.

Unlike the first movie, April O'Neil plays a much smaller part, being relegated to true supporting star, but she at least still has a role to play. Almost every scene Megan Fox is in is a scene in which April becomes necessary, and what I liked most about her was that she never played the damsel. She wasn't just some chick who got herself into trouble and needed the turtles to bail her out. If there's one positive thing the new movies do it's show April in a strong role, able to take care of herself.

Like this, but with more slapping Karai in the face with a laptop.
So what about the new characters? Stephen Amell was perfect as Casey Jones. Having the experience of playing a vigilante on Arrow, Amell has perfected the broody-yet-charismatic hero archetype. I also loved how they worked Casey into the story, giving him an updated origin. Instead of the face-less nighttime vigilante he played in the cartoon, Casey was a wannabe cop in charge of the Shredder's prison transport who gets disgraced after his breakout. His desire to clear his name sets him on the path to find a pre-rhino and -warthog Bebop and Rocksteady, and his turn as a hero is really just a moment of necessity. And again, it works out well.

Also, they gave a nice nod to the original film (the 1990 one, the one we all give a shit about) by keeping the animosity between Casey and Raphael when the pair first meet.

Unfortunately the cricket joke doesn't return.
The biggest surprise, however, was Tyler Perry as Baxter Stockman. Fans of the cartoon know Stockman as the Fly but here he plays a brilliant scientist who wants to make a name for himself in the annals of history. Perry portrays Stockman as a quiet, power hungry nerd and the quiet social awkwardness and self esteem issues Perry imbues Stockman with really drive the character's motivations so that it's not untoward that this genius of a man would align himself with a wicked cult leader like the Shredder. I'm not too much of a fan of Tyler Perry's movies but as an actor he really knows what the hell he's doing.

And looking very much like Neil Degrasse Tyson while he does it.
Rounding out the main supporting cast is Laura Linney, who plays a police chief who's name I wouldn't know if not for the help of IMDB (it's Vincent, which I assume is her last name). As a talented actress, Linney brings the necessary authority to the role. She carries herself well on screen, most notably in the interrogation room scene. Though the character doesn't really add much to the movie itself, at least Linney was able to garner more screen time that Whoopi Goldberg did in the first film (what a waste of money that casting choice was, huh) and it's really a joy to see her play off Stephen Amell the way she does (I'm a big fan of Stephen Amell, in case you couldn't tell).

Pictured: Pointless. (Also, not in this movie)
I know, I know. You're wondering about Krang. Well, he was mostly ridiculous. His first appearance on-screen did little more than set the events into motion but it felt more like an NPC in a video game giving a player their quest than it did the motivations for a major motion picture. We don't really see him again until the final scene when he faces off against the turtles for the first time but by then we really understand he's the big bad guy that everyone in Dimension X (never named in the film so don't get your hopes up) lives in fear of. Also, he's voiced by Brad Garrett of "Everybody Loves Raymond" fame and admittedly I wasn't sure if it would work out for me but in the end, Garrett did a pretty good job with it.

All in all, the strength of the movie lay on the cast. The cinematography, on the other hand, was shaky at best. Though there are a few truly outrageous shots, most of the movie is comprised of quick cuts, especially during the many action sequences, and gets dizzying to no end. With most of these big action movies, I go to a 3D or IMAX showing but opted instead to see TMNT 2 in 2D. I'm glad I did because if I had to deal with this frenetic mess in 3D I probably would have thrown up in my popcorn bucket.

But the real saving grace is the humor. You probably think I'm insane but hear me out. Whereas the first movie was filled with juvenile, puerile humor, the jokes in Out of the Shadows land almost every time. Maybe it's nostalgia-glasses making me more susceptible to the comedy, but I can't even remember when I laughed more often in a movie theater. So I'm definitely grateful for that.

Granted, Out of the Shadows is not a perfect film. In most people's eyes, it's not even a good film, and I won't fault them for thinking that. It is a loud, bright, obnoxious action flick that is aimed toward children and man-children alike. Much of the plot is moved forward by characters making inferred guesses at what needs to happen, not to mention how quickly they're able to fly to the Amazon rain forest and back (according to Google, a flight to Brazil from NYC is between 9 and 11 hours, yet they get there and back what seems like an afternoon). I could, of course, nitpick very many things in the movie but considering they at least tried to appeal to fans like me instead of blazing their own trail and ignore what made TMNT fun, I'd rather just sit back and enjoy the movie.

Oh, and did I mention the Technodrome? Because they put the fucking Technodrome into this thing. If that's not fan service, I don't know what is.

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