I’ve been watching Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt recently and one of the funniest jokes is when Kimmy lists a number of franchises popular when she was a child before being told that it is the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles that is still popular, leaving her in shock. Because seriously, that was the one that lasted? While TMNT is certainly nostalgic now, it’s never had a dip in popularity since being introduced in the late 1980s with a string of popular shows and movies. So it’s no surprise that the live action reboot back in 2014 was successful at the box office and it got this sequel, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows.
A year after the turtles first defeated Shredder (Brian Tee, Jurassic World), the world is at threat once again. Renowned scientist Dr. Baxter Stockman (Tyler Perry, Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counsellor) breaks Shredder out of prison and then is able to use purple ooze he gets to make two new henchman, Rocksteady (Sheamus, WWE Raw) and Bebop (Gary Anthony Williams, The Boondocks).
So the refreshing thing about Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is that someone has obviously been listening to our complaints and have addressed that in this film. For a film about four man-sized turtles who know ninjitsu, the first film was very serious and dark and the times when the film succeeded was when it went in the other way, such as the chase down the snowy mountain. And obviously inspired by Guardians of the Galaxy, the director Dave Green (Earth to Echo) has set out to make a more fun film. And yeah, the GotG influence certainly shows as the film is packed with licensed music and sees the turtles play off with each other a lot more, which means this film is certainly more fun than the original.
And the characters have certainly improved as well. In the first film, Michelangelo (Noel Fisher, Battle Los Angeles) was essentially a pervert with how much he was hitting on April O’Neil, (Megan Fox, Transformers), but he has been much toned down and is actually capable of a few funny lines. The other three also get more screen time and their characters are much more obvious, with Donatello (Jeremy Howard, Mighty Med) being shown more to be obviously geeky, Raphael’s (Alan Ritchson, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire) anger and aggression is played up and Leonardo (Pete Ploszek, Outage: WME) actually gets to be a leader in this one. It’s a massive improvement and you can engage with these characters a lot more, even if they are still pretty simply.
However that’s where the compliments have to stop because while the voice acting is very good for the turtles, most of the other performances are not. the only enjoyable live action performance is surprisingly Tyler Perry, who goes so over the top his character is rather fun to watch. Stephen Amell (Arrow) as Casey Jones does struggle as he isn’t given much to work with and Brian Tee as Shredder never really gets any time to shine because of the lack of screen time. Worst of all though is Megan Fox, who continues to show that she’s make a better table than an actor as she’s completely wooden. Either she’s forcibly happy like you have to be when you get a bad present on Christmas, or just completely emotionless that you think there might be a secret subplot where April has been replaced by a robot. But no, she’s actually just that bad.
And in terms of the action, I’d be lying if I said it was all bad. The much trailed scene in the Amazon where the turtles battle Bebop and Rocksteady is as fun as it looks because any time there’s a tank sailing on the Amazon river someone has made the correct decision creatively. And a lot of the other action scenes are perfectly fine, with Casey Jones saving April through the power of hockey being a fun diversion and a nice change from the usual sort of action scene. However the ending action scene where the turtles battle the main villain Krang (Brad Garrett, Everybody Loves Raymond) is a travesty. Everything is computer generated, from the turtles to Krang to the environment they are battling in. I don’t mind CGI, but this final scene had nothing tangible to latch onto, so you end up completely disconnecting and just tuning out. And when that’s at the end of the film, it leaves a bad taste in the mouth.
The most irritating part though is a subplot designed to make the turtles bicker for a bit. Basically the purple ooze that made Bebop and Rocksteady could also be used to turn the turtles into humans so they can live in open society. This is an interesting idea that could end up adding more depth to the turtles, but it’s only used to make Leonardo and Raphael hate each other for a bit. Right, directors of the world, bickering isn’t fun to watch. We know you just want to pad your film out a bit and do it rather cheaply, but this is not the way to do it. It makes the characters more annoying and makes our seat that bit more uncomfortable. Cut it out, we want to see the turtles fight Krang, Bebop and Rocksteady and Shredder. That’s it.
Despite all this, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows is a massive improvement on the first film. There’s a lighter tone to it where it seemed like the people behind the film get why this became a craze and things do feel closer to the original cartoon which is so fondly remembered. However it still has a number of critical flaws which stop it from rising into a truly great film such as the poor acting from the live action characters and moments which just slow the entire thing down and make it all less enjoyable. There’s still potential here, it’s just not been realised yet. Maybe in the next Teenage movie.