Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows (2016)

Raise some shell

Cowabunga dudes! Those heroes in a half shell are back — well I guess that’s to be expected, seeing as the 2014 Michael Bay/ Platinum Dunes produced kickoff flick grossed some five hundred million dollars globally. In any case, Out of the Shadows opens about one year after the four humanoid ‘ninja’ turtles — fearless leader Leonardo (Pete Plozek), techie Donatello (Jeremy Howard), alpha-male Raphael (Alan Ritchson), and fan-fave Michelangelo (Noel Fisher), named after Italian Renaissance artists — defeated supervillian Shredder and saved New York City from the crime circle known as the Foot Clan. Though, nothing much has changed for these anthropomorphic do-gooders as they still hide in shadow (living beneath the city streets) while Vernon Fenwick (Will Arnett) takes all the credit for the brothers’ harrowing feat — an agreement that Vernon has no qualms in playing along with.

But as Shredder (Brian Tee) is transferred to a more secure prison location — alongside two other small-time dim-witted crooks, Bebop (Gary Anthony Williams) and Rocksteady (Stephen Farrelly credited as Sheamus) — by means of a vehicle convoy, led by corrections officer Casey Jones (Stephen Amell), the Foot re-emerge and attack the unsuspecting fleet. As luck would have it, the turtles, tipped off by their reporter pal April O’Neil (a steamy Megan Fox), arrive just in time to intervene, O’Neil learning of this getaway scheme while keeping tabs on scientist Baxter Stockman (Tyler Perry) — a guy seen to have shady connections to the newly resurfaced Foot. However, as Shredder is making his escape via a teleportation device, he is ‘snatched’ mid-way and whisked to another world (a place most refer to as Dimension X). There, Shredder strikes a deal with alien warlord Krang (Brad Garrett) — a tentacled brain-like creature who lives inside of a mechanized bodysuit — the diabolical duo teaming up to re-assemble an inter-dimensional portal that will bring a sphere-shaped war-machine (called the Technodrome) to Earth, allowing Krang and Shredder to rule with fear over the people and planet. And Thus, with Shredder out of custody and mankind’s freedom at stake once again, the quarreling turtle quartet must learn to work together as one — overcoming their personal flaws and limitations — if they plan on becoming the heroes their master, Splinter (voiced by Tony Shalhoub), has trained them to be.

Feeling threatened there, Mikey?
Feeling threatened there, Mikey?

Taking over from Jonathan Liebesman, director Dave Green, Earth to Echo (2014), does his best to etch his own stamp on the hugely popular source material (characters created by Peter Laird and Kevin Eastman), moving away from the teen-centered ‘Bayhem’ approach of its predecessor, and rather, playing up the family-entertainment card instead. Good move Green, good move indeed! Subsequently, Out of the Shadows brings to life some of the finer (yet flightier) details of the animated series (which I grew up with), such as henchmen Rocksteady and Bebop, a mutated rhino and warthog respectively, and the maniacal villainous squid Krang — antagonists that wouldn’t have worked so well had the film remained teen/ adult focused. The narrative is a little goofier as a result but hey, at least returning writers Josh Appelbaum and André Nemec have given the fandom what they’ve been rallying for — a bigger, wilder, more crowd-pleasing romp, one that both the young and young-at-heart can openly enjoy.

On the topic of plot, the film does play out like an episode of the telly toon show — the screenplay brimming with clichés and genre conventions — though the inventive square-offs are (at least) worthy of note, the nicely assembled set pieces being more-or-less in line with those large-scale blockbuster beats staged in the original pic. Segments of interest include, a freeway pursuit involving a manhole-cover launching ‘Party Wagon’ (steered by the reptilian crime-fighters, of course), a turbulent plane descent that cannons its way into the Amazon rainforest in Northwestern Brazil (a scene concluding with a tumble down a raging waterfall, following a rampant river brawl) and the show-stopping climax, a sequence that sees asymmetric Tetris-styled blocks collide into NYC high-rises and skyscrapers, these gravity defying bricks piecing together to form Krang’s floating fortress, the Technodrome; and for a brisk 112-minutes (the movie’s runtime), one can’t help but get swept up in the silliness of it all.

Bringing back the mohawk!
Bringing back the mohawk!

With a more turtle-centered storyline, the personalities of our four sewer-dwellers really takes the spotlight as a majority of Out of the Shadows is spent exploring these characters in deeper ways — the film’s preliminary slate re-introducing the titular turtles as they catch a New York Knicks basketball game at Madison Square Garden (by means of hiding in the stadium’s jumbotron). The action sees each of these ninjutsu-trained defenders employ and master their own unique style of combat — the fun-loving Mikey is slightly mischievous in his scuffles whilst the more aggressive Raph uses brute strength to knock down his opponents — whereas the quieter moments sees the bros’ relationship develop through their camaraderie, a connection that walks a fine line between enmity and fellowship, each member of this ‘fearsome fighting team’ grappling with their own set of adolescent insecurities along the way. And oh, there are also subtle themes of acceptance and kinship spritzed throughout — some food for thought for those younger viewers perhaps. With that said, the actors all fare relatively well under their digital skins, the most noticeable difference being Johnny Knoxville’s departure as the voice of Leo, with physical performer Pete Ploszek — who motion-captured the blue bandana wearing, katana wielding protagonist in the first outing — now supplying the vocals.

Elsewhere on the acting sash, Megan Fox, Transformers (2007), returns as sultry Channel 6 news anchor April O’Neil, effortlessly flaunting her sizzling bod, while Will Arnett, The LEGO Movie (2014), showcases his comedic chops as the cowardly Vernon Fenwick — both Fox and Arnett giving similar performances to that of the prior film. Donning the ‘destructor’ armor, Brian Tee, The Wolverine (2013), replaces Tohoru Masamune as Shredder, the antagonistic ‘tinhead’ making little to no impact, pushed to the sidelines this time around by a bigger, ‘badder’ bad: General Krang — Brad Garrett, from television’s Everybody Loves Raymond (1996), (who joins the cast) bringing the intergalactic menace to life in a gleefully slobbering manner. Franchise newcomers Stephen Amell — who’s best known for playing Oliver Queen on TV’s Arrow (2012) — is a nice fit as the hockey stick handling, goaltender masked ‘vigilante’ Casey Jones, Amell trading in his bow-and-arrow guise for a more thuggish getup, whereas Laura Linney, The Truman Show (1998), appears slightly miscast as the bureau chief of Organized Crime, Rebecca Vincent. And lastly, WWE fighter Sheamus and Gary Anthony Williams, The Internship (2013), add some dippy comic relief as mutated knuckleheads Rocksteady and Bebop while Tyler Perry, Gone Girl (2014), infuses the lab-coat cloaked Baxter Stockman with a giddy sense of ‘mad’ — I’d be interested to see where filmmakers take this barmy scientist in the future, Perry fashioning one of the more memorable side players in the entire film.

Who said turtles couldn't fly?
Who said turtles couldn’t fly?

Explicitly borrowing from canon, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows may very well be the most faithful live-action Turtles movie to date; it’s an unabashedly fun time, a zany and ostentatious science-fiction rollercoaster, paying homage to (and being more in tune with) it’s cartoon ancestor while continuing the story set out in the former installment. A tad too ‘childish’ for my taste, older audiences can at least pull enjoyment out of the sheer visual language and off-kilter action, this follow-up having a firmer handle on dishing out kid-friendly entertainment than the previous chapter. Look, Out of the Shadows isn’t necessarily a better film than its 2014 precursor, but hey, it isn’t any worse either — so if you didn’t dig the former, I’d say don’t bother with the latter. Did someone say ‘Turtle Power?’

3.5 / 5 – Great

Reviewed by S-Littner

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows is released through Paramount Pictures Australia