Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows is a faithful adaptation of the fan-favorite 1987 animated series - for better and for worse.
In the aftermath of Shredder's attack on New York City, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles returned to the shadows - persuading Channel 6 cameraman Vernon Fenwick (Will Arnett) to take sole credit for saving the city. Though they long to live above ground with their fellow New Yorkers, the Turtles believe that humanity isn't ready to accept crime-fighting humanoid reptiles - so Leonardo (Pete Ploszek), Donatello (Jeremy Howard), Raphael (Alan Ritchson), and Michelangelo (Noel Fisher) spend their days training inside their sewer lair, only emerging at night to push back against evildoers and bullies (or catch a basketball game from inside the Madison Square Garden jumbotron). Thanks to the Turtles, crime in New York City has plummeted - until Shredder (Brian Tee) manages to escape from police custody, travel to an alternate dimension, and borrow advanced tech from extraterrestrial warlord, General Krang (Brad Garrett).
Armed with a mysterious purple substance and the help of a brilliant but demented scientist, Shredder transforms dimwitted criminal errand boys, Bebop (Gary Anthony Williams) and Rocksteady (Stephen Farrelly), into a mutant Warthog and Rhinoceros, respectively, to distract the Turtles, April O'Neil (Megan Fox), and corrections officer-turned-masked vigilante, Casey Jones (Stephen Amell) - while Shredder races to reopen the dimensional barrier between earth and Krang.
After a divisive response from fans and critics to the 2014 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles reboot, from director Jonathan Liebesman and producer Michael Bay, Out of the Shadows is unlikely to change any minds; though, it's a slight improvement on its predecessor, thanks to a number of smart decisions from sequel helmer, and TMNT super fan, Dave Green (Earth to Echo). Where Ninja Turtles attempted to update the series' mythology, only to overcomplicate it with a militarized foot clan, shared backstory between the Turtles, April, and Shredder, as well as a heavy reliance on human, not mutant, drama, Out of the Shadows doubles-down on the over-the-top action, one-liner gags, and cartoonish characters (both heroes and villains) that divided moviegoers the first time around. Simply put, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows is a faithful adaptation of the fan-favorite 1987 animated series - for better and for worse.
Instead of trying to make the Ninja Turtles concept "grounded" and more "believable," Green attempts to make the series "fun" again - and, in that aim, he succeeds in capturing the spirit of classic TMNT animated cartoons. The result is an amusing but toothless film, packed with one-note bad guys (who just want to conquer the world at all costs), a few life lessons (especially on the subject of acceptance), fart jokes (thanks to a fittingly disgusting depiction of Bebop and Rocksteady), as well as exciting mutant-martial arts action - not to mention a number of clever easter eggs and references for longtime TMNT fans. Viewers who enjoyed the previous installment will, once again, find that story takes a back seat to entertaining, albeit ludicrous, scenarios that play off the Turtles, their quirky personalities, and unique superhero-like abilities. Given the subject matter, it's an understandable approach - but one that will still frustrate die-hards who are still holding out for a more ambitious take on Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird's original graphic novel.
Similarly, there aren't enough major changes to the new live-action franchise formula to convert skeptics who still refuse to accept Megan Fox as April O'Neil. There is significantly less human-centric story this round, sidelining O'Neil, Jones, and Vernon to place the Turtles' story front-and-center; however, just because there's less of the humans and more Turtles, doesn't mean the non-mutant storylines or performances are particularly improved. Without having to carry Out of the Shadows as the film's star, Fox gets to be light-hearted, by comparison, poking fun at the Turtles and Jones to deliver laughs rather than drama and exposition. Like the first film, O'Neil's relationship with the Turtles (or possibly this portrayal of O'Neil in general) is still an awkward fit - but one that is more forgivable this time (thanks to Green's playful tone).
Viewers who were excited to see Casey Jones suited up for action may find Amell's hockey-loving vigilante to be a minor letdown - given that the character, while likable moment-to-moment, isn't provided much to do. The hero receives a few scenes in the spotlight but Amell doesn't get to put his own stamp on Jones; instead, the fan-favorite TMNT hero is just a less dour version of Amell's Oliver Queen in Arrow. Even less time is spent fleshing out Shredder or Karai - nor explaining how either character (who are both portrayed by new actors this round) even survived the previous entry. Krang is also thrown into the mix without much development and, like Shredder in both movies, emphasis is on the the character's updated look - rather than a memorable big screen backstory for this version of General Krang. It's an eye-catching reimagining of Krang and his exo-suit but, in the end, the ruthless alien is just a hollow obstacle for the Turtles to overcome.
After nearly three decades, Bebop and Rocksteady finally made it into a Ninja Turtles movie - and the result are live-action versions ripped right out of the 1987 animated series. They're madcap, loud, and disgusting - a reflection of everything that viewers will either love or hate about Out of the Shadows. In hindsight, the classic animated series might not be the best foundation on which to build a live-action TMNT film series but, for those who are onboard with the approach, Bebop and Rocksteady will be a highlight of the film - especially when they go head-to-head with the Turtles in Act 2.
If there's one thing that Green gets right, it's the Turtles themselves - as well as the conflicting dynamics that exist within the Turtle team and family. For moviegoers who liked the heroes in Ninja Turtles, Out of the Shadows spends a lot more time with the brothers - affording each with moments of vulnerability, fallibility, realization, and heroism. Taking a page from the best TMNT comic writers, Green gets below their colorful toy-selling personas - making each of the Turtles a character, not a caricature. Improved CGI models and motion capture, not to mention ousting of Ninja Turtles stunt-casting (read: Johnny Knoxville), translates the subtleties and choices of the four talented performers (Pete Ploszek, Jeremy Howard, Alan Ritchson, and Noel Fisher), who were cast to bring the Turtles to life. Fans can debate what a teenage mutant ninja turtle should actually look like in live-action but there's no question the actors underneath that digital makeup shine through - injecting these Turtles with relatable human expression (subsequently making the heroes' longing to be accepted by mankind all the more poignant).
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows is also playing in 3D, 4DX and IMAX 3D (in select markets) - and the choice to purchase a premium ticket will, as usual, depend on what theatergoers expect from 3D and IMAX 3D. Out of the Shadows is a much bigger film than Ninja Turtles - with several thrilling action scenes and eye-popping visuals that will benefit from 3D immersion as well as upgraded screen size and sound, where available. Nevertheless, premium format tickets are not a must - so viewers who are on the fence about TMNT 2 do not need to splurge for a higher cost ticket.
For fans of the 1987 animated series, Dave Green has produced the most faithful big screen Ninja Turtles adaptation to date. Out of the Shadows offers satisfying escapism and spectacle, mixed with the lovable heart and humor that has cemented the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles as a childhood staple for each new generation of young fans. That said, the choice to indulge longtime Turtle-lovers and bring in even more elements from the cartoons will, conversely, be off-putting to casual filmgoers who are looking for a well-rounded summer blockbuster. Ultimately, Out of the Shadows knows exactly what it wants to be and mostly succeeds in achieving its vision, even if that vision isn't one that will hold up to in-depth scrutiny by non-fans, who might want more depth or narrative ambition in a film about "teenage mutant ninja turtles."
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows runs 112 minutes and is Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence. Now playing in regular and 3D theaters.
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For an in-depth discussion of the film by the Screen Rant editors check out our Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows episode of the Total Geekall podcast.