A year after their victory against Shredder and the Foot Clan the four Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles still remain in the shadows unable to stand forward and claim credit for their role in saving New York, knowing that they will not be welcomed in the human world. While the brothers’ frustration with their nature grows, the Foot Clan launch an attempt to rescue their master while he is being moved to a new prison.
In the rescue attempt something goes wrong and Shredder is transported to another dimension where he meets the warlord Krang. Forming an alliance Shredder agrees to find pieces of an ancient device buried on Earth, capable of opening a wormhole to allow Krang’s forces through so they can invade and rule Earth.
Using the Foot Clan attack on the prisoner transport to free themselves two other prisoners, Bebop and Rocksteady, are recruited by Shredder who, with the help of Doctor Baxter Stockman, activates certain genes to transform them into creatures capable of fighting the Turtles, one a humanoid Warthog, the other into humanoid Rhino. The method for transformation also offers the Turtles the tempting possibility of being turned into humans and joining the world out of the shadows.
Disgraced by the escape, the prison officer held responsible for the breakout sets out to retrieve the convicts, becoming a hockey stick wielding masked vigilante in the process, but despite being the ostensible lead of the film and certainly the biggest draw given his fanbase, Green Arrow‘s Stephen Amell is never really given the chance to do much with Casey Jones.
Trapped in an underwritten role requiring him to do little more than deliver small bits of clunky dialog and hit things, Casey’s entire character is summed up in his awkward and out of place proclamation to the Laura Linney’s Police Chief Rebecca Vincent: “I’m gonna be a Detective someday.” Of course, he is also there to exchange stares with April O’Neil (Transformers‘ Megan Fox) and try and convey a sense of attraction which was clearly beyond the scope of the script as written.
Despite having spent the last year working closely with the hard-topped ninjas, April has yet to actually learn anything to protect herself, allowing director Dave Green (Earth to Echo) to place her in danger so the Turtles or Casey can show up to save her. Considering that even the 2007 digital animated TMNT movie had the progressive mentality to allow April to train as a ninja and join the fight this is a poor throwback to a damsel role.
A post-modern Penelope Pitstop devoid of any ironic subtext nor even suitable couture, Green contrives that when not in peril April must find convoluted reasons to show off her body, in one particularly nonsensical scene having her slip into what is essentially a Britney Spears style schoolgirl outfit for the most labored reasons.
As a main villain, the “brain in a robot body warlord from Dimension X,” Krang was an interesting choice but vanishes between his one introductory expositional scene before returning for an end-of-level boss fight towards the end, a basic structural error in any dramatic construct. Voiced by Brad Garrett (Everybody Loves Raymond), the distortions made to the actor’s well known intonations remove any character and makes some of the dialogue unintelligible. Visually, the effects are reasonable, his body essentially being a Transformer from producer Michael Bay’s other franchise, so not a ground-breaking challenge.
Noel Fisher, Jeremy Howard, Pete Ploszek and Alan Ritchson all return from the first movie as Michelangelo, Donatello, Leonardo and Raphael, as does Tony Shalhoub to voice their master Splinter, and all give better performances than the film deserves considering the material they have to work with; fortunately digital rendering of the testudines and the rodent have been improved since the first movie.
Tohoru Masamunea has been replaced by The Wolverine’s Brian Tee as Shredder, and it is easy to see why the actor may have chosen not to return; while the character drives motivation for others, he undertakes very little action himself. There is thankfully no return of the excessively bladed outfit from the first movie, but also no replacement, meaning up until the very end of the movie he is not wearing his trademark mask or vambraces, just a disappointing looking regular guy, and even at the end he wears the Shredder costume only for a matter of seconds, leaving the audience feeling decidedly cheated.
End of Days’ Gary Anthony Williams and wrestler turned actor Stephen “Sheamus” Farrelly play Bebop and Rocksteady, characters introduced in the first episode of the 1987 cartoon with a large degree of levity, but who throughout the Turtles franchise in other media were sometimes written more seriously.
That would have been a welcome approach for writers Josh Appelbaum (executive producer of Project Almanac) and André Nemec (Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol) to consider, but unfortunately they are presented simply as annoying comic relief, using juvenile humor a five year old would think beneath them and are an embarrassment through every scene.
Elsewhere, Gone Girl’s Tyler Perry gives a clumsy performance as Doctor Baxter Stockman, playing the scientist as a cross between Jerry Lewis’ Nutty Professor and an evil Neil deGrasse Tyson, while The Lego Movie’s Will Arnett returns as former cameraman Vern Fenwick, now a well-known celebrity having agreed to take credit for the Foot Clan’s defeat to preserve the Turtles’ anonymity. Both Arnett and Linney do an amazing job considering the dross they have been given to work with and they shine head and shoulders above the rest of the human character cast simply by virtue of actually acting.
Considering the wealth of source material for the Turtles, the plethora of cartoons, comics and previous movies, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows joins producer Michael Bay’s other “toy action franchise” in missing all possible opportunities for good storytelling and delivers consistent disappointments. While technically an improvement on the previous movie, that is a very low bar to step over, and despite a huge budget and modern special effects, all this movie does is prove that video director Steve Barron did it better in 1990 with only rubber suits.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows is now on general release