The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles reboot movie of 2014 was probably one of the most contested movies of that year, having a subset of ‘old-school’ fans that denounced the movie at every turn, while certain other moviegoers said that the movie received an unfair bad reputation that it didn’t really deserve. I fell a bit more into the latter camp in that year, feeling that Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2014 isn’t brilliant by any means, but it’s fine. It’s competent. It’s entertaining, if you’re willing to meet it halfway, and accept the fact that it’s not your preferred iteration of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles from whatever previous point.
Regardless, the movie did well enough to get a sequel, and thus, we now have Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows, not to be confused with the 2013 video game of the same name and no relation (which I also reviewed that year, go figure). Most of the main cast from the 2014 reboot reprises their roles, between the Turtles and the human personalities, with a handful of recasts and tweaks (most conspicuously, William Fichtner’s Eric Sachs is now gone), and a whole bunch of recognizable new character additions, making their proper debut in a live-action Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie for the first time.
As you can imagine, Out of the Shadows is not an enormous leap in quality over its predecessor. The problems with storyline contrivances and shallow characters still remain, and this franchise still exists purely in the realm of brain-off entertainment. On that note however, it’s also true that Out of the Shadows is ultimately a superior sequel, if just by a bit, something that this Summer movie season has been great for so far, and is surprisingly the best Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie since the original live-action movie from 1990. It’s still silly, and still doesn’t make much sense, but then again, if you’re looking for sense, you obviously didn’t read the title.
As with the previous movie from 2014, a huge strength with the cast of Out of the Shadows is the Turtles themselves. While it’s frustrating that the whole team unification struggle has been recycled from the first movie, the Turtles still have a great rapport and very well-defined personalities that play off of each other very well. They’re genuinely believable as brothers and outcasts, and all four Turtles still have lots of lovable character behind them. As before, they aren’t very sneaky in this iteration of the franchise, but they’re appealing in both action scenes and character-driven moments, and for franchise fans especially, they’re just very enjoyable to watch together in this movie.
There’s even a bit more character given to Megan Fox’s April O’Neil and Will Arnett’s Vernon Fenwick, even if just barely. There’s a bit more resourcefulness and bravery behind April’s character this time, and while some of Vern’s humour is kind of hit-or-miss once again, the whole idea of having him humourously take credit for Shredder’s defeat at the end of the first movie lends itself to some fun material. The human heroes are also bolstered by the introduction of Stephen Amell’s Casey Jones, a hockey-themed vigilante who also happens to be a cop in this universe, one that is pursuing Shredder’s new lackeys. Amell’s Jones has a handful of fun moments, and while he’s pretty unstable and ridiculous, that does tie in to his portrayal in prior Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles media. Amell’s performance is pretty intentionally silly, and his regular gig on Arrow definitely has more dramatic chops, amazingly, but in the spirit of fun, it’s entertaining to see Casey Jones make his debut in this canon.
Another surprising strength of Out of the Shadows is that it surprisingly doesn’t feel over-stuffed, despite its large helping of villains. This could be a testament to how goofy and disposable this movie’s storyline is, but then, this is Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, a franchise that is full of goofy and disposable storylines. As with Casey Jones, the introductions of iconic villains from this franchise like Bebop and Rocksteady, Baxter Stockman and Krang don’t come with much in the way of depth, but the characters are entertaining, and reasonably true to their counterparts from most other Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles media. Perry’s Stockman might be a bit on the unreasonably goofy side for avid fans, and he does largely exist to move between being a plot device and sequel bait, but at least Perry’s performance is solid, if just as hammy as Amell’s.
Two of the most enjoyable characters in the movie are definitely Bebop and Rocksteady, played by Gary Anthony Williams and Stephen “Sheamus” Farrelly, respectively. It’s about time that these characters appeared in a live-action Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie, and while they’re obnoxious idiots, that still fits with their portrayal in prior media. Some of the humour between these two is a little juvenile and very obviously aimed at young kids, but there’s still enough entertainment value behind their boneheaded double act to appeal to adults too. They only get one real battle with the Turtles in this movie, disappointingly, but it’s a pretty neat one, and the closest that this sequel comes to replicating the standout downhill fight from the previous movie.
That just leaves Krang, and the returning (and re-tooled/re-cast) Shredder, who is now played by Brian Tee. The movie doing away with the big, robot-style Shredder might be something that’s appreciated by fans (I didn’t mind it, though many people understandably did), but on the negative side, Shredder doesn’t really do anything in this movie, beyond serve as a plot device for the eventual coming of Krang in the climax, something that isn’t a spoiler, as the trailers already liberally gave this plot turn away. Maybe Shredder not doing much also fits with the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon, odd as that sounds to those who have never seen it, but it also means that Shredder might as well have not been here, and a more competent Baxter Stockman might as well have just been this movie’s villain. Krang, meanwhile, is pure climax fodder, and doesn’t make much of an impression, beyond his fairly neat visual revamp for live-action. The movie never really knows what to do with Krang outside of the big climactic fight, and he does feel kind of shoehorned in, especially since his placement ends up frustratingly up-staging Shredder, something that should never be the case in these movies.
Again, if you were hoping for the characters to somehow become deep and immensely interesting in this sequel, they obviously don’t. It’s hard to fault Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for a lack of depth in any form though, since this franchise was always meant to be a silly parody of melodramatic 1980’s comics. Thus, while the acting is intentionally pretty hokey, and the characters still don’t really have depth beyond their simplistic personalities, you should probably adjust your expectations, since this franchise was never trying to be taken seriously.
Out of the Shadows features a pretty boilerplate Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles storyline, which is to say, a storyline that feels like it was ripped right out of a dopey childrens’ cartoon. I suppose the shoe fits then.
Still, to its credit, Out of the Shadows does make an effort to do something new and interesting, and not just recycle the same storyline as its predecessor, in a slightly different package. Alright, the climax and the conflicts between the Turtles themselves are slightly recycled in a different package, but that aside, the rest of the movie’s storyline is a fairly good hook for a follow-up movie. This is because a big part of the storyline involves the Turtles dealing with having to work in the shadows, despite ironically not really doing any true Ninjitsu in this movie, and not being able to reveal themselves to the public of New York City. This has them torn between their personal desires and duties to the city, and while this conflict is never terribly deep, at least it’s a new direction for this new series of movies.
Everything boils down to a new plan by Shredder, and the Turtles having to overcome their personal doubts to save the day again, after Shredder, with the help of Baxter Stockman, discovers a mutagen that lets him build some new enforcers. After the Turtles inadvertently help Shredder get into contact with Krang, they have to race against the clock to try and beat Shredder’s forces to some alien technology that will allow Krang to come to Earth, and use his powerful warship, the Technodrome (another recognizable element from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles lore) to enslave the planet.
Like I said, it’s a boilerplate Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles storyline, and often doesn’t follow sense or logic, even by the standards of this franchise. If you can swallow the contrivances, and remember exactly which franchise you’re dealing with though, the storyline in this sequel is fun, and definitely more entertaining than the storyline from the first movie, if nothing else. It comes apart when you really think about it, but that’s true of many Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles storylines. There is something to be said about effective brain-off entertainment in the end, even if deep thinkers are probably going to be infuriated by this movie’s silly, hole-filled plot.
Dave Green replaces Jonathan Liebesman as the director of Out of the Shadows, with Green only helming one feature film beforehand, the family-friendly sci-fi flick, Earth to Echo. As you can imagine, Nickelodeon took to heart some of the feedback from the original 2014 reboot, and seems to have commissioned Green to make a movie that is more light-hearted and fun, rather than trying in any respect to be taken seriously.
It’s refreshing to get rid of the dark pretense this time, and Out of the Shadows does benefit from throwing fan expectation and critical analysis to the wind, and simply celebrating what it is. Green makes the personalities pretty silly in this movie, but also fairly charming, even if they never truly go into dark or serious territory. I suppose it’s fair to say that Out of the Shadows is a lot less ashamed of being a kids’ movie then, though it’s also one that’s entertaining and cool enough that even adults who love Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles can still get an amusing kick out of it, if they’re not determined to hate it.
For older viewers who don’t have a stake in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Green’s direction will be too hammy and ridiculous to really get behind, despite his respectable efforts to give this sequel its own sense of credible, action-packed, yet still family-friendly style. Still, Green does seem to grasp the fundamental ideas of what makes Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles so enjoyable to those willing to appreciate it, perhaps better than Liebesman did in 2014, and while Green is pretty happy to accept the franchise for what it is, it also means that his sequel is a little more faithful and fun than its predecessor was.
The score of Out of the Shadows was composed by Steve Jablonsky, a composer that seems to have been supplied by producer, Michael Bay, given their frequent collaborations. Jablonsky’s original compositions are pretty forgettable here, and consist of generic superhero-style tracks that don’t really fit with the more silly, outlandish style of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. More effective is some of Jablonsky’s use of the classic Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles songs, particularly the classic 1980’s/1990’s cartoon theme that kicks off the end credits, even being mashed up with Vanilla Ice’s infamous, “Ninja Rap” from 1991 movie, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: Secret of the Ooze. I must also admit that Jablonsky slipping 90’s-era songs, namely those of Vanilla Ice, here and there in the movie, is also an amusing inside joke to longtime adult Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles fans.
Similarly, the rest of the movie’s sound design is pretty boilerplate. The audio work is definitely less imposing and more cartoon-ish in contrast to the first movie, which works to mixed effect. There are still some more impressive-sounding destructive scenes here and there, but they’re not all that common. Even the big climactic battle with Krang sounds like it has strangely flaccid audio. You can boost some of the audio shortcomings in an IMAX 3D showing, which actually does make the audio a bit more appropriately powerful, though that also means that the noises are now more likely to frighten children, when they otherwise wouldn’t be with the kid-friendly consideration throughout most of the production.
True to its subtitle, Out of the Shadows is a brighter and more colourful movie than its predecessor was, echoing the sensibilities of the classic cartoons most of all. It felt like the original 2014 reboot was trying to work in the darker style of the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comics and blend that with the style of the old cartoons that the comics eventually spawned, but in this sequel, any comic inspiration has been thrown out for pure cartoon-style emphasis. Maybe that’s for the best, since most longtime Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles fans were introduced to the franchise from the original cartoon of the 80’s/90’s, and for what it’s worth, the blend between live-action and cartoon sensibilities is better realized here than it was in the previous movie.
Like I said, fans will also appreciate some of the visual designs being tweaked to certain returning characters. The Turtles do look like they’ve been shrunk a bit (though not by much), to make them less imposing, and Shredder now being a more grounded human character is a design that probably works better than his massive robot-style armour from the first movie. Bebop and Rocksteady also look great for the most part, and nicely blend styles from both the comics and the cartoon, which is the one point where Out of the Shadows does acknowledge the comics in its character design. Krang’s design is also pretty cool, even if some may lament that he’s a pure CG effect, rather than the mo-cap/CG combo that the transformed Bebop and Rocksteady seem to be, and the Turtles always were in these movies. Still, considering how hard it is to nail the look of Krang in live-action, this movie actually did a pretty solid job of realizing the character in a neat, yet fitting new way, even purely in CG.
That brings me to the 3D presentation, which is nothing special, but it’s not bad. There’s a few silly 3D gags here and there, and the odd action beat will have projectiles and debris and such appearing to fly out at the audience, which work well enough, even if they’re pretty distracting and noticeable for those who are just watching the movie flat in 2D. The rest of the 3D doesn’t do all that much to enhance the movie, though if you enjoy 3D movies, you might as well spring for a 3D ticket and have some fun with the handful of silly 3D effects. Similarly, the IMAX 3D cut doesn’t add too much to the movie’s atmosphere or action, and is pretty much a pure audio enhancer for older, more hardcore Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles fans. The movie doesn’t seem optimized for IMAX though, so unless you have plenty of disposable income and are pretty easygoing, you’re better off skipping the IMAX 3D cut in this case, and sticking with a regular 3D or 2D digital showing.
Ultimately, the CG-heavy presentation throughout the movie looks respectable, and will at least keep children easily entertained. Adults will probably be a little more discerning, and may feel that the action scenes are too CG-heavy to truly invest in, but at least there’s a good amount of polish put behind Out of the Shadows. The brighter and more vibrant colour palette is also appreciated, and helps this sequel shed the feeling of being ashamed of what it is, and where it mostly came from.
Out of the Shadows is a pretty juvenile and illogical movie when taken on its own merits by the uninitiated, but in terms of being faithful to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise and what it does best, this is a pretty strong sequel, and one that fans will have a harder time hating than the original 2014 reboot. Obviously, if you’re determined to hate Out of the Shadows for one reason or another though, then nothing that I, nor anyone else says will change your mind.
If you’re willing to meet this movie halfway though, it’s a good, pure and faithful representation of the source material, for better or for worse. All of the goofy silliness, lovable camaraderie and exciting, but fairly lightweight action that defines the famous Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoons (the darker and more violent comics have less bearing here), is all present and accounted for in Out of the Shadows, a movie that doesn’t apologize for its franchise’s original rise to prominence nearly thirty years ago in the slightest.
If you’re not a fan of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and don’t have any kids around that may enjoy it, then you might as well skip this movie, since it’s pretty unapologetically made for fans, whether young or old. If you do enjoy Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles though, you’ll have fun with Out of the Shadows, a movie that ups the entertainment value in contrast to its predecessor, and is arguably one of the best live-action Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movies to date, even if that’s kind of a low bar at this point.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was never about being a masterpiece, so it’s definitely not fair to expect that when going into this sequel. What can be appreciated though is an uptick in fun and charm compared to the previous movie. Maybe, at this rate, the seemingly inevitable third installment in this series can become the fully undisputed champion of this franchise’s live-action offerings.
- Turtles' rapport continues to be fun and credible
- New villains are enjoyable additions to the story
- Story feels more faithful to the classic TMNT media
- Ridiculous, contrived story won't be appreciated by non-fans
- Some forced humour tries too hard to appeal to kids
- Disappointing, recycled climax