‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows’ Review

From contributing film critic Andrew Gaudion

The first installment in the Michael Bay-produced reboot of the 1980’s phenomenon that features four mutant Turtle brothers (who also happen to be ninjas, don’t you know) barged on to our screens back in 2014. While it was critically torn to shreds, it made a decent enough buck to warrant another live-action/CG hybrid outing. Despite being 30 years old, the Turtles showed they still had some appeal to both younger audiences and older fans alike, even if the loyal devotees of the series were angered by the redesigns that befell our four heroes. Out of the Shadows comes with a new director, Earth to Echo’s David Green, and a slight re-design that sees the turtles’ grotesque muscular frames toned down a bit. This new sequel also comes with the same level of expectation as its predecessors: low to middling. However, if you go in with that in mind, then you are bound to have a passable, occasionally fun time.

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The Pizza-loving Testudine siblings, Leonardo (Pete Ploszek), Raphael (Alan Ritchson), Donatello (Jeremy Howard), and Michelangelo (Noel Fisher) continue to watch over the city of New York from within its sewers systems, protecting it from all threats, both big and small. When the nefarious Shredder (Brian Tee) breaks free from police custody, the brothers find themselves thrown into their most perilous situation yet, one which sees them facing up to new mutants, all the while contending with the possibilities of embracing their own humanity.

Straight out the sewage pipe, I will say that TMNT: Out of the Shadows is the best Ninja Turtles film to have skated its way onto our screens. However, it’s not as if the competition was all that fierce to begin with. While it harbours a certain sentimental nostalgic value, the original live-action trilogy from the 90’s is almost unbearable to watch now, with the completely CG TMNT (2007) lacking anything distinctive aside from the fact that the visuals resemble a bad PS2 game. I had fun with the first installment of this reboot series, but there is no denying the glaring Bay-isms (spinning cameras, eye-rolling misogyny), which often leave many of the stronger qualities of the film in tatters.

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Unfortunately, not much has changed for this sequel, with Green clearly having been manipulated into keeping a Bay-esque aesthetic. Megan Fox’s interpretation of April O’Neil is once again terribly, terribly written, with this once savvy and instinctual reporter being reduced to a character who is simply there to look pretty and make googly-eyes at the dashing (yet utterly psychotic) Casey Jones (Arrow’s Stephen Amell).

What remains a positive though, and what pushes this sequel above its predecessor, are the interactions and characterisations of the central four heroes, the guys we’ve paid to see. Ditching celebrity voice-overs and relying on the individuals who perform them via impressive motion capture, Leo, Raph, Donnie and Mikey are brilliantly realised on screen, be it during the admittedly well-executed action scenes, or moments in which the group contemplate the use of a formula which could make them human. They are in turns funny, affable, and their existential crisis is an intriguing idea, if not fully played out to its potential.

I am an individual who has great affection for the Ninja Turtles, with the cartoon series and the live-action films having been very much present throughout my childhood. It is hard not to see these characters and still enjoy my time with them when they’re giving it their all. It is a shame that most of what surrounds the Turtles themselves is often very half-baked. Many of the highlights outside of the central four come from Will Arnett, who is allowed a little more free reign this time around, and the introduction of Bebop (Gary Anthony Williams) and Rocksteady (Sheamus), a mutant Warthog and Rhino who are very much fan-favourites from the original cartoon run.

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It would be foolish to enter a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie in the hope of coming away with something that can contend with the more finely tuned blockbusters developed by the likes of Marvel (particularly with Bay as the head producer). Yet, they remain hard to resist. I can’t deny that I had a smirk on my face throughout most of the action beats, and I cannot deny how much joy I got from hearing the TV theme tune over the end credits. This film is a step up on the big screen for these sewer-dwelling vigilantes, yet it still hampers its best qualities at many turns. One day, hopefully, someone will embrace the quartets strengths and deliver something that is actually ok to admit to liking. But for now, this will have to do. Those Cowabunga cries remain muted in the back.

2.5 Stars (2.5 / 5)

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(Photos copyright: Gama Entertainment Partners, Nickelodeon Movies, Paramount Pictures, Platinum Dunes) 

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