In preparation for the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows movie, I re-watched the earlier Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles from 2014 and was reminded of just how awful that first film was. A sloppy mess, the story was incoherent and the effects were generally so cartoonish it might as well have been a direct-to-video-game release. Surprisingly, though, the box office results were decent, with the first film taking in just under $500 million against a production budget of $125 million.
To my surprise, TMNT: Out of the Shadows was a distinctly better film than its predecessor, with none of the daft animated backstory sequences (thank goodness, a superhero sequel that doesn’t waste time on its backstory!) and a faster paced story, coupled with improved visual effects and the trademark sibling rivalry of the turtle boys, set to lightning fast ninja moves. Indeed, just about the entire cast reprises their roles, including Megan Fox as intrepid TV reporter April O’Neil, Will Arnett as dorky cameraman turned vigilante hero Vern “The Falcon” Fenwick, Brian Tee as Shredder and Brittany Ishibashi as Karai.
New to this film were some great additions, most notably Stephen Arnell as the hockey playing renegade cop Casey Jones, Tyler Perry darn amusing as the genius bad guy Baxter Stockman and Laura Linney as the cold-as-ice head cop Chief Vincent. Oh, and Shredders two bad guy sidekicks, the dumb-as-rocks Rocksteady (Stephen Farrely) and Bebop (Gary Anthony Williams), who are hardened cons who get their freedom as part of the plot to break Shredder out of jail. Problem is, when the Ooze shows up, they’re the unsuspecting guinea pigs and turn into monstrous Rhino and Warthog creatures. Both of whom are still off the charts dumb, but now they’re super strong too!
There’s a storyline somewhere in the film too, trying to stop Shredder’s escape with a rather spectacular action sequence where the Turtles pit their ferocious garbage truck against the Foot Clan vehicles. Lots of signature explosions, guns blazing and lots of people likely getting killed in the process, but, hey, it’s a kid’s movie so it’s best not to tally up the body count.
No surprise, Shredder does escape and it turns out that he’s been secretly working with Dr. Stockman on opening up an extradimensional tunnel to another dimension where evil baddie Krang (voice of Brad Garrett) is planning on attack Earth. To create the tunnel he needs three pieces, one of which Stockman already has, one of which is in the New York Museum of Science and the third of which is deep in the Amazonian jungle.
Each location offers another venue for an action set piece with our favorite turtles, an increasingly domineering Leo (Pete Ploszek), an increasingly frustrated and angry Raph (Alan Ritchson), geek scientist and inventor Donnie (Jeremy Howard) and the comic relief Mikey (Noel Fisher). Notice I didn’t say “Leonardo”, “Raphael”, etc. In the new movie it’s noticeable that the Turtles are almost always called by their shorter nicknames, to the point where it begs the question of whether the origin story isn’t particularly important this time around.
Fact is, this is a children’s movie and Nickelodeon features prominently on the opening production credits, setting expectations. This isn’t Jason Bourne on the Half Shell, this isn’t even Teenage Transformers (tho there are definite similarities), it’s just good fun, a silly little movie that offers up the action sequences and special effects of a solid summer PG-13 action film with the laughs and goofiness of a teen film.
There’s tension between the siblings, a question of whether it’s better to be different but true to yourself or change to be popular and “normal”, a suggested romance between April and Casey Jones (I mean, let’s face it, they’re both beautiful people), a moment when Vern has to face that his popularity is built upon a lie, and more human story, but it’s really a mostly mindless action film about four wise-cracking turtles kicking butt and eating pizza.
And it’s surprisingly entertaining. Cowabunga!