Movie Review: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows
Do you know what the best part about being an adult Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles fan is in this day and age? A bunch of other adults who grew up on the ’80s cartoon are now in charge of making the new material! That love for the franchise and the four pizza-eating turtle brothers shines through in their new live action movie, Out of the Shadows. And it’s that same love that put me in the theater this weekend to enjoy another exciting film!
Movie Rating: 7/10 – Good.
Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t high art or well-constructed cinema. This isn’t a movie that particularly cares about logic. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows is a movie that only really cares about having as much fun as possible with the Ninja Turtles and their wonderful supporting cast. There are more contrivances and plot cheats than a Game Genie, but not even they could defeat the overwhelming sense of giddy energy that fuels this movie.
Plus, honestly, this was definitely a movie for kids, who aren’t going to care as much about plot contrivances as a punk frog like me. Out of the Shadows accomplishes exactly what it needs to: create a fun and enjoyable summer flick that doesn’t outstay its welcome or get bogged down in sewer garbage.
It’s a great time to be a Ninja Turtles fan! And expect FULL SPOILERS for the movie below!
There is one indisputable fact that any Ninja Turtles fan must accept: there will always be new adaptations and re-adaptations of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Some might contend that only the 1980s cartoon really matters, but that itself was an adaptation of the original comic book series (with a lot of creative liberties). It was that ’80s cartoon (and accompanying toy line) that got me hooked onto the Ninja Turtles, but I can almost guarantee that the episodes don’t hold up anymore. They were fine in my youth, but there are so many great Ninja Turtles adaptations to enjoy!
In 2016 alone, we have these live action movies, the wonderful Nickelodeon cartoon and the even more wonderful IDW comic book series. Each one revels in the nostalgia and awesomeness of the Ninja Turtles in their own little way, built by fans who embrace all aspects of the Turtles.
So if anybody is upset with these new movies for ‘changing’ the Ninja Turtles, you have to get over it. They have been changed so many times before, and will continue to change and adapt as new creative minds take control.
The one thing that Out of the Shadows hasn’t changed is the pure fun of seeing the Ninja Turtles in action. This film has that well in hand.
Following their heroic defeat of the Shredder in the first movie, the Turtles are now grappling with a greater desire to reveal themselves to the world so they can live a richer, fuller life. It’s actually a pretty solid theme for the film, giving the Turtles a real quandary to chew on between all the ninja action. The question of revealing themselves comes to a head when the Shredder escapes custody and teams up with Krang to invade Earth. He creates Bebop and Rocksteady to help him construct an alien teleporter that will bring the Technodrome into our dimension.
When a literal alien doomsday weapon starts forming over Manhattan, do the Turtles stick to the ninja way? Or do they…brace yourselves…come out of the shadows?
The story is fine. It combines a lot of cool Ninja Turtles stuff with a lot of diverse action scenes. At one point, the Turtles have to jump out of a plane and land on another plane. They get to fight Bebop and Rocksteady in one of those planes, then they ride it down into the Amazon Rainforest as it crashes. Then they battle Bebop and Rocksteady along the raging rapids of the Amazon River. It’s all really cool.
The film is surprisingly light on fight sequences or anything too highly choreographed, but it’s got a bunch of cool action scenes with the Turtles front and center.
And that’s great! I love this version of the Ninja Turtles. The designs have grown on me, and I like how the Turtles all have different looks. They all wear their iconic colored masks, but they wear different clothes and accessories, and they come in different sizes and shapes. It’s fun. And their voices and attitudes all fit the classic Turtle personas. This movie has the Ninja Turtles down perfectly, and it uses them a lot, so there’s no lack of awesome Turtle activity.
Almost everybody else is cool too. Bebop and Rocksteady, in particular, steal the show. I wish we’d seen more of this pair!
They’re funny, well-animated and actually have a really positive bromance. Despite helping the Shredder try to take over the world, Bebop and Rocksteady are really supportive of each other. Their friendship is really fun, and they play well against the Ninja Turtles — though I would have liked a few more interactions and fights. Overall, they’re a a great addition to the movie, and I hope they’re back in the threequel.
Shredder and Krang aren’t too impressive or interesting, but their designs are neat. Shredder is mostly a stern leader, without much personality beyond that. He also doesn’t even get to fight the Ninja Turtles this time. Krang’s robot body harkens back to the classic cartoon, and he’s all manner of gross brain. He serves what little purpose he has in grand fashion. And when the Technodrome revealed its giant, robotic eyeball on top, I knew I was watching a movie that loved the Ninja Turtles.
The human actors in this film are set dressing, to varying degrees of interesting. Laura Linney shows up as a police chief, and I suppose she puts in a good enough performance, considering what she’s dealing with. Kind of like Glenn Close in Guardians of the Galaxy. She just feels slightly off. Tyler Perry is pretty great as Baxter Stockman, played as an evil Neil deGrasse Tyson. I was a little disappointed that we didn’t get a teaser of him turning into a fly.
Megan Fox is…fine, I guess. This movie, more than any other I’ve seen her in, defines her as a ‘Megan Fox’ cliche. As April O’Neil, she gets into plenty of scrapes, holds her own and works well as the Turtle’s human operative. But she’s really just there to look pretty. The film opens with her in a painfully blatant eye candy scene as she dresses up like a midriff-baring school girl. And to drive home how important this moment is for the character and the movie, they reuse the image when they name Megan Fox in the closing credits.
I mean, seriously, movie. Come on.
A big deal was made about Stephen Amell making the jump to theaters to play Casey Jones, and he’s also fine. I love him on Arrow, but he doesn’t do anything particularly memorable or noteworthy as Casey Jones. He only wears the hockey mask in one scene, and he doesn’t wear any sort of memorable clothing or costume. He’s just this handsome dude who starts tagging along after April and occasionally fights with a hockey stick (and whom the Turtles accept without question or concern; more on this later).
The real standout human is Will Arnett as Vernon Fenwick, surprisingly enough.
Positioned as the comedy relief, Vern is actually pretty awesome in this movie. After the first film, the Turtles make an arrangement with Vern where he takes full credit for stopping the Shredder. This turns him into a city-wide celebrity, and you’d think that would make for a cocky comedy character who gets his comeuppance, but it doesn’t! Yes, he’s cocky, but when April and the Turtles need his help, Vern steps up and uses his celebrity to pull off a couple different high-stakes missions. He even takes on Foot Soldiers, because the movie Vern Fenwick is all kinds of awesome.
Whereas April O’Neil is just that overly-glamorous, Megan Fox-brand of eye candy who is unflinchingly on the side of the Ninja Turtles, Vern Fenwick is a real human being who has doubts, asks questions, and whose heroics are part of his own mini-plot. Vern is a character with layers. April looks like Megan Fox.
So after all that praise, there is one huge problem with this movie: it cheats. Like, all the time.
When presented with any sort of logical conflict, the movie doesn’t bother to think it’s way through. The movie just barrels through, not stopping long enough to let you think about what just happened. And it bugged the heck out of me because it just kept happening, over and over!
- When human Bebop and Rocksteady break out of custody and are trying to track down the Shredder, they pay a bartender a wad of cash to get a pair of cell phones to contact the Shredder — only for the Shredder to show up in the same bar at that exact moment to recruit them. Therefore, the phones were unnecessary, and neither character ever actually uses them.
- However, a few scenes later, Casey Jones shows up in the same bar tracking the villains. He bullies the bartender into revealing that he gave the pair phones, then Casey says something like, “A responsible businessman such as yourself wouldn’t sell someone tech without a way to track it.” And sure enough, the bartender has GPS for both phones. WHY?! Why would the bartender have GPS on a couple burner phones? And why would Casey Jones know to ask about it? Then, sure enough, Casey uses the GPS to track Bebop and Rocksteady, despite the phones never being mentioned again.
- After Casey Jones rescues April from some Foot Soldiers, the Ninja Turtles immediately reveal themselves, introduce themselves and invite Casey back to their lair. April just met this guy in an alley a couple minutes ago, but the Turtles, who have spent the movie debating whether or not they should reveal themselves to anyone, just up and reveal themselves to this complete stranger and invite him into their entire lives. Even Splinter is totally OK with this. Ostensibly, they think Casey can help them find Bebop and Rocksteady, but they don’t need him…
- After getting his hands on the mutagen, Donatello says he can use it to track Bebop and Rocksteady. With his computer, he’s somehow able to track the pair with such pinpoint accuracy as to find them flying on an airplane to Brazil. What possible satellite system has not just that level of accuracy, but also can suddenly be reworked to track tiny traces of this alien mutagen? All from Donnie’s computer?
- Speaking of that computer: when pieces of the Technodrome start coming through a portal into Manhattan, Donnie is able to ‘hack’ into one of them and learn not just that it’s called the ‘Technodrome’, but that the guy in charge is named ‘Krang’. These names are spelled out in English on his computer screen.
- Also, Krang just appears suddenly without any build up or introduction. The bad guys teleport Shredder out of police custody, but Krang hijacks the portal and delivers Shredder to his base. And Krang is just there, stomping around, barking orders to Shredder. Do they already know each other? Have they ever been in contact before? Who knows! They do now and they are now!
- When April and Casey are arrested, not only are they interrogated by Laura Linney’s police chief, but April repeatedly falls back on that busted police myth that everyone is legally entitled to one phone call. April demands her phone call with such authority that I cringed at how ridiculously it sounds.
- After the Turtles reveal themselves to the police to help stop the Technodrome, April, Casey and Vern are still part of the plan, and the police are totally cool with this. The Turtles go off to face Krang, while they leave it up to these three civilians to lead the charge to disable the teleportation device.
- No mention is made of April as a reporter until the very end of the movie, and out of nowhere. If one didn’t know she was a reporter, they would naturally assume that her ‘job’ is to go on awesome undercover missions for the Ninja Turtles. But then, all of a sudden, once the bad guys are defeated, April is speaking into a Channel 6 microphone about the mysterious, unknown heroes who saved the city. Is she on the air? Is there anybody at the other end of the microphone? Does she work for Channel 6? Who knows!
I could probably go on. There’s a definite ‘who cares, just go with it’ sort of mindset to a lot of the film. Like, rather than use the mutagen to combine Bebop and Rocksteady with a real warthog and rhino, the movie explains that they just have those genes inside of them, and that the mutagen brings out the ancient animal ancestors in all of us — yet, somehow, Donnie believes the mutagen will turn the Turtles into humans? Are their ancient animal ancestors human? All four of them?
Again, I could go on. There are a ton of cheats and quick fixes to overcome any plot contrivance that pops up in the movie. There are enough that I just couldn’t help but keep noticing them. But they don’t matter, they really don’t. They’re fun to nitpick, but they don’t detract from the overall sense of fun.
The live action movies are not the best or most accurate Ninja Turtles adaptation these days, but they are a fun celebration of the franchise, providing big budget, big screen adventures for our favorite foursome. That’s good enough for me.
And I hope today’s kids loved it as much as I did.