I gave Jonathan Liebesman’s 2014 film, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, a pretty definitive thumbs-down:
“I wish someone had regarded this movie as something more than an opportunity to sell action figures and create product placement opportunities for Pizza Hut and Orange Crush. I wish someone involved would’ve given at least one shit – but of course we’re talking about the same people who churn out brain-dead Transformers movies filled with racist stereotypes and giant robots with wrecking balls for testicles.”
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows does something its predecessor didn’t. It tries. Is it successful? Not entirely, but at least Paramount Pictures and Platinum Dunes are making an effort to deliver an experience fans of Peter Laird and Kevin Eastman‘s beloved characters can appreciate.
After Shredder (Brian Tee) escapes police custody, he enlists mad scientist Baxter Stockman (Tyler Perry) and two dimwitted henchmen, Bebop (Gary Anthony Williams) and Rocksteady (Stephen Farrelly), to conquer the world. Michelangelo (Noel Fisher), Raphael (Alan Ritchson), Leonardo (Pete Ploszek), and Donatello (Jeremy Howard) must work as a team to stop them.
Shredder teams up with Commander Krang, a talking brain with tentacles voiced by Brad Garrett, and sets about opening a portal to Dimension X. Waiting on the other side is the warlord’s ultimate weapon, the Technodrome, a giant LEGO Death Star that threatens to annihilate New York City. Upon Krang’s Invasion, the Turtles are joined in the fight by their friends April O’Neil (Megan Fox) and Casey Jones (Stephen Amell).
As it turns out, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows is the TMNT I asked for in my 2014 review:
“Perhaps with a different director and a better script this could have been a solid, fun summer movie – but it’s not. It’s just a careless, generic rehash of what we’ve already seen done better on screen. Why not introduce some of the more “out-there” elements of the franchise like Bebop and Rocksteady, Krang, the Technodrome, Dimension X – just get as crazy and weird as possible and build a legit TMNT universe that’s fresh and unique!”
Better director? Check. Better script? Sure, I guess. Bebop and Rocksteady? Oh yeah. Krang? You bet. Technodrome and Dimension X? Yup. It’s encouraging to know that, after their first film scored a 22% on Rotten Tomatoes, Platinum Dunes and Paramount Pictures listened to fans and used their feedback to course-correct the series.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows embraces the silliness of the franchise and offers up a mindless, candy-colored adventure for kids. There’s still plenty of things to dislike, like the character designs. We’re talking about bipedal turtles that eat pizza and train in ninjutsu, they don’t need to wear their personality on their shells. Donnie doesn’t need to be slathered in gadgets for us to understand he’s a genius. Likewise, Raphael doesn’t need to look like the Hulk and brood like Batman for us to understand that he’s the muscle of the group. These guys have more flair on than a T.G.I. Friday’s waitress.
And then there are the humans, who are utterly worthless. Megan Fox is miscast as April O’Neil, and while Stephen Amell makes a good Arrow, he doesn’t have the roguish charm that Casey Jones should possess. Shredder is a non-issue, considering he does absolutely nothing the whole movie. It’s Tyler Perry who steals the show with his gleefully mad take on Baxter Stockman. If there’s anything I’m looking forward to in the inevitable TMNT 3, it’s watching Madea mutate into a giant, humanoid fly-creature.
Of course, all of this – the terrible character designs and useless human characters – is the result of executive producer Michael Bay’s influence. The film’s third act is also problematic, because it’s a shot-by-shot remake of The Avengers‘ climax, with the Turtles trying to close a portal to stop an alien invasion. And after X-Men: Apocalypse, I’m exhausted by these end-of-the-world scenarios.
Still, if your dream is to see Bebop and Rocksteady smash stuff, Out of the Shadows is a significant improvement over Liebesman’s abysmal film. Green spends more time getting to know the Turtles individually, delving into their kinship with one another. Had he the opportunity to start from scratch, with some classic character designs and without Bay’s Transformers-lite approach, Green might have made a TMNT movie every bit as energetic and fun-loving as the original 1990 film. We’ll never know, but at least we have an entirely innocuous sequel that makes the most of its damaged goods.