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

To say that 'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows' is better than its 2014 predecessor isn’t exactly abundant praise. Alas, it’s just about all the praise there is to give.
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Of the many—many, many—problems with Paramount’s 2014 reboot of ’90s childhood staple Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the most damning was the fact that it just plain didn’t know what it was or who it was for. It had all-too-rare glimmers of the goofiness that defined its source material paired with Michael Bay-esque action spectacle (Bay produced both Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles reboot films, and it shows) and a weirdly sexual vibe exemplified by a frankly horrifying moment where surfer bro turtle Michelangelo comments under his breath that April O’Neil gives him an erection.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows knows what it is, and what it is is stupid. So hey, kudos for settling on something.

A year after defeating criminal overlord Shredder (Brian Tee), the heroes in a half shell are back living in the sewers of New York, the impetuous Raphael (Alan Ritchson) and Michelangelo (Noel Fisher) chafing at how they have to hide from humanity and cannot take credit for their city-saving deeds. Escalating tension between the constantly bickering brothers makes it more difficult to fight Shredder yet again when the super-genius scientist Baxter Stockman (Tyler Perry, playing it up as essentially an evil version of Neil deGrasse Tyson) busts him out of a prison convoy in order to…

Look. The plot of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows is needlessly convoluted and riddled with plot holes, pointless asides and a detour to Brazil. For all that, it’s also fairly generic: Shredder, devoid of the barest shred of menace or even a personality, teams with a talking brain from another dimension named Krang (voiced by Brad Garrett) to open a portal over New York City, bring a weapon through it, and destroy the world. Like The Avengers, or for that matter any number of other summer movie spectacles. Everything is loud and busy and exhausting.

It’s also, occasionally, fun. Another bit of course correction from the first film is that Out of the Shadows wisely focuses more on the high-energy turtles and less on Megan Fox’s intrepid reporter April O’Neil, who here exists to be pretty and drive the plodding plot forward. (And also, at one point, to dress up like a schoolgirl in a tartan miniskirt and midriff-bearing top. So we’re not entirely free of the first movie’s blatant, awkward-for-a-kids’-movie sexuality.) New characters Bebop (Gary Anthony Williams) and Rocksteady (Stephen “Sheamus” Farrelly), criminal lackeys dosed by Shredder with a serum that turns them into a hybrid warthog and rhinoceros, respectively, are legitimately enjoyable. The same can’t be said for Casey Jones (“Arrow”’s Stephen Amell), a nasal-voiced, bland, “golly gee!” addition to the turtle crew who brings absolutely nothing of substance to the entire movie. Laura Linney, playing Police Chief Rebecca Vincent, does bring something, and that something is me cringing that Laura Linney is in this movie.

Out of the Shadows’ biggest problem—aside from the lack of originality, the convoluted plot and the clunky dialogue (“Wow! The American Museum of Natural History! I always wanted to come here!”)—is the fact that it treats its audience like they’re stupid. Various characters constantly explain the action as it’s happening, as it’s just happened, or as it’s about to happen. Casey Jones, hunting for Bebop and Rocksteady, takes a look at their police file; a close-up of the last page tells us they have a known hangout. Cut to Casey Jones going to the bar, right? Nope. “So you two idiots have a favorite bar,” Jones muses. Surely—surely—they would not be stupid enough go to back there? As if we do not already know that they do, and they are, and Jesus Christ, get on with it.

There’s no more egregious example, though, of what Out of the Shadows thinks of its viewers than an early scene where the turtles are introduced with onscreen titles labeling them “The Leader” (Leonardo), “The Muscle” (Raphael), “The Brains” (Donatello) and “The Pizza Lover” (Michelangelo).  Do they think people—children or adults—can’t figure that out through the entire rest of the movie? The turtle dynamic isn’t so complicated that it needs to literally be spelled out, people!

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