You might raise an eyebrow while watching the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle movie when chunks of metal hurtle through an inter-dimensional portal and reassemble piece-by-piece over New York City to build a giant war machine called the Technodrome.
At the center of it, is an evil warlord that is an over-sized talking brain, housed in the stomach of a synthetic, weaponized android. If I’m beginning to lose you, then you’re probably not indoctrinated to the insanely creative world created by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird, and if you’re still there, then chances are, you are a longtime TMNT fan, who at this point of the Out of the Shadows, will be long-wearing a grin of approval ear to ear.
That’s victory formation after the last film, which despite being an overall box office success, left too much to desire in the expected sequels after producer Michael Bay put his initial stink on the franchise. Megan Fox returns as the eye-blistering investigative reporter April O’Neil, Will Arnett is back too as April’s loathesome media rival Vernon Fenwick.
Our quartet of stealthy heroes are a little older, wiser but are still a dysfunctional, bickering family of vigilantes, led by Leonardo (Pete Ploszek), scientist/tech-head Donatello (Jeremy Howard), muscle meathead Raphael (Alan Ritchson) and life of the party Michaelangelo (Noel Fisher). Their sensei-mutant rat, Master Splinter (Tony Shaloub) still holds the fort when the turtles go above the sewers at night. So what changed in the follow up that will win back loyal fans of the comic book and cartoon franchise?
As arranged in the previous film, Vern has taken the credit for saving the city from Shredder (Brian Tee). Worried that the humans would treat them like monsters if seen, the turtles continue to hide in the sewers but are not the only citizens on patrol at night. Another vigilante named Casey Jones (Stephen Amell) is a young officer by day, but wields a big heart, a frightening hockey mask and stick to slash perpetrators.
Jones is part of a convoy to transfer Shredder to a maximum security prison when the Foot Clan ninjas, organized by unsung and under-appreciated scientist and inventor, Baxter Stockman (Tyler Perry), free him with an alien device.
Lord Krang (Brad Garrett) claims ownership of said device and introduces himself to Shredder and tells him that there are two more devices he’s planted on Earth. Find them and he could transport Krang out of Dimension X to Earth along with his Technodrome and together they could bring the Earth to its knees. He sends Shredder back with a parting gift, a vial of ooze that will help build an army of mutant soldiers.
New director Dave Green (Earth to Echo) and repeat screenwriters Josh Applebaum and Andre Nemec (who also co-wrote Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol) looked to the multiple versions of the cartoon for its inspiration, especially the first run that aired from the late 80’s through the mid-90’s, and put together a story that resembles a three-episode story arc.
The most crucial transplant was bringing Shredder’s rock and rolling henchmen, Bebop (Gary Anthony Williams) and Rocksteady (Stephen Farrelly) to life because they make every scene that they’re in better. They also takes the wind out of any seriousness in the film and puts it in a tone to a fun space that allows more over-the-top performances, like Perry’s Baxter Stockman, to ring true.
They also make Arnett’s Vernon Fenwick easier to stomach and the audience be open to the leap that’s the Dimension X story, which looks great in cartoon form. In a feature length film, the audience needs to be prepared and that’s done sufficiently in Out of the Shadows.
Meanwhile the dynamic between the turtles that was established in the present-day cartoon has been carried over, with Leonardo constantly second-guessing their ability to function as a team, Raphael choosing to trust his brawn and emotions over Donatello’s brain, while Michaelangelo is more concerned with what toppings to put on his pizza order delivery. Eventually the foursome needs to trust each other and only then can they live up to their potential.
If you’re looking for some thicker meat to their story, I suggest diving into their comics. At the end of the day, this is still a Bay production. When he took over theTransformers franchise, that strong fan base would have been universally thrilled to see the animated series honored as well as Out of the Shadows did with the Turtles.
The story isn’t a heavy work of architecture, but it really shouldn’t aim to be either. Action scenes are fun and Amell’s Casey Jones is the sidekick the turtles need. What is transparent is the attempt to lay the grid for what will be another sequel that promises to be more complex and potentially have more consequence and a bigger production. Some more focus on the turtles themselves would be nice too.
No, it doesn’t have the finesse or style of the cartoons. The voice acting in the cartoons continue to be superior too, but Out of the Shadows is a noticeable improvement. Get past the Bay aesthetics, which to put it best, are an acquired taste, Out of the Shadows nails the character beats fans hold highly and that will be enough to leave the theater with a smile and real hope that the live-action franchise is headed in the right direction. And honestly, that’s everything a fan could ask for.[yasr_overall_rating]