Looking back on the 2014 reboot of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the problems begin and end with the idea that April O’Neil is the Chosen One. Before the Turtles were Mutant Ninjas, she befriended them in her father’s lab, named them, and set them free when they were in danger, and it was only through her that the Turtles were able to learn about their true selves and achieve their destiny. Fortunately, the sequel adjusts itself. Out of the Shadows put more emphasis on “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” as opposed to “April O’Neil and the…” And it’s all the better for it. Not great, but definitely not Secret of the Ooze territory.
If there’s a positive to be found in Out of the Shadows it’s that is seems as though director Dave Green (Earth to Echo) inhaled every episode of the 80s Saturday morning cartoon and set himself the goal of cramming every last bit of Turtles lore he possibly could into the film. He get Bebop (Gary Anthony Williams) and Rocksteady (Stephen Farrelly), Casey Jones (Stephen Amell), Baxter Stockman (Tyler Perry), and Krang (voice of Brad Garrett) and the Technodrome. None of this is serviced particularly well, and if anything their introduction is sloppy and occasionally silly, but the film so franticly leaps from one set piece to another that you’re hard pressed to find the time to start deconstructing the plot there in the middle of the theatre.
Green’s other positive development is that he put emphasis on the Turtles themselves, which meant that all the other ancillary – old and new – take a back seat, but at least the emphasis is properly placed. The film opens with the Turtles flying across the New York skyline from the Chrysler Building to Madison Square Gardens where they enjoy a Knicks game from behind the jumbotron. Aside from feeling the necessity to reintroduce the Turtles – seriously, even my mother can name all the Turtles and she lamented my childhood fascination with them – it was an epic tone to begin the movie on. It was action-packed, funny, and gave each Turtle a strong sense of characterization. The first movie didn’t allow much time for the Turtles to be the Turtles, but Green put that all upfront, which was rather delightful.
Another criticism of the 2014 Turtles was the weirdness of the Turtles, how they looked bizarre and creepy. Perhaps the animation is better this time, or perhaps I was just now used to how they looked, but these mo-cap Turtles seemed like an improvement over the visual effects in the first film. Perhaps producer Michael Bay learned a valuable lesson from his Transformers movies, fans are more interested in the characters the movies are named after, rather than the bland humans they’re surrounded by.
The plot, such as it is, finds the Shredder (Brian Tee) sprung from police custody by the Foot Clan and Stockman, who somehow has an alien transportation device. The device, naturally, belongs to Krang, who wants Shredder to go on a scavenger hunt to find two more pieces of tech that will allow Krang to bring the Technodrome to Earth. Why, we never know. Why Shredder goes along with it with a blasé “Sure, why not?” attitude, is also never explained. Krang also gives Shredder some purple ooze that allows him to creature mutant animals of his own, and he’s got just the two in mind: the pair of yahoos that he was in the back of a police van with, Bebop and Rocksteady.
The stage is set when Casey Jones, here a prison guard, is in the van with the Shredder and Co. when the Foot Clan executes its great escape. Casey’s got ambition, he wants to be a police detective, which I guess represents a more civic-minded Casey Jones who’s normally just a nut in a hockey mask. Here he’s a wannabe cop with a hockey hobby, a message to the kids that costumed vigilantism is not okay and being a wacko in a hockey mask is best reserved for camp councillor stalking freaks in the woods. Unfortunately, Casey Jones is terribly superfluous here, and Amell, although physically skilled, plays the part more happy-go-lucky than slightly disturbed and menacing like Elias Koteas in the 1990 movie.
Farrelly and Williams are MVPs though. The script doesn’t give them a lot to do, but when they’re asked to perform, they attack the roles of the two mutant henchmen with aplomb. In Out of the Shadows, Bebop and Rocksteady are every inch the dumb, useless, and careless brutes you remember from the cartoon, and the actors clearly revel in their camaraderie. It’s always nice to see monsters enjoy being monsters, especially when there’s a whole pointless subplot about internal strife amongst the Turtles arguing over taking the purple ooze to make themselves human. Alienation is part of any storyline involving mutants, but I don’t recall at any time, in any iteration, the Turtles lamenting their turtleness, and I don’t think that’s an oversight.
The original movie’s two human heroes get the short shrift though. Will Arnett channels Gob Bluth yet again, as Vern has become a sanctimonious blowhard since the first film after the Turtles let him take credit for saving the city from Shredder. How that makes sense, is never explained. April too seems like an after thought, and Megan Fox is left to hang out to dry doing what she apparently does best, exploit her assets. It’s too bad because I thought she wasn’t terrible as April in part one, but in Out of the Shadows all of April’s scenes feel like something out of Alias. Is she a spy, or is she a TV news reporter? Or is she a spy pretending to be a TV news reporter? Who can say?
But really none of that matters as you enjoy the film. Do you think about the logic of a Saturday morning cartoon while you’re watching it? Do you think: Hey, where do the Turtles get the money to buy all that tech, or wouldn’t someone notice all those missing manhole covers that the Turtles arm their van with? The film even wraps with a new cover of the 80s cartoon’s theme song to drive the point home. Yes, Out of the Shadows is big, loud, stupid fun aimed directly and squarely at the kids, but at least there’s an appreciation on the part of the filmmakers that that’s all it needs to be. Those who want complexity from the Turtles are left hanging, but those looking for a colourful and energetic action will see all their expectations met.