I’ve often criticised superhero films for resorting to using an ‘end of the world’ scenario as the climactic element of their story, or for including non-sensical elements or characters – and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows is no different. It ticks those boxes that have frustrated me in the past, and many many more boxes. Nostalgia is a brilliant thing – a wonderful mind trick which encourages you to fall in love with fallacies, it encourages the embrace of the bizarre, of the over the top elements that you would usually criticise. I, an eighties child, grew up with the bizarre world of mutant ninja turtles who battled a giant squid-like brain-alien in a massive robot suit, and embraced it wholeheartedly. So, with that in mind, take this review with a grain of salt – and there’s no doubt it’ll be a bit of a contradiction as well given what I’ve said regarding other superhero films. My nostalgia goggles were firmly fixed to my head while watching this film.
And, I absolutely loved it. I had a pure blast watching the exploits of four turtles trying to stop Shredder (Brian Tee) from using the newly-mutated Bebop (Gary Anthony Williams) and Rocksteady (Stephen Farrelly) as well as super genius (pre-fly) Baxter Stockman (Tyler Perry) to help bring about the existence of the Technodrome and its driver, Krang (Brad Garrett). It’s a simple plot that’s fuelled by an undercurrent of the turtles wanting to fit into society. After all – they saved New York from Shredder in the first film, and this time round they have to watch from the lighting rigs in Madison Square Garden whilst cameraman Vernon ‘The Falcon’ Fenwick (Will Arnett) takes all the credit at a basketball game.
The main criticism levelled at the first film was that the turtles felt like side-characters in their own film. The focus was mainly on April O’Neill (Megan Fox) and her sidekick cameraman (Arnett). As much as the studio may like to think, Megan Fox and Will Arnett are simply no match for the expressive characters that are Leonardo (Pete Ploszek), Raphael (Alan Ritchson), Donatello (Jeremy Howard) and Michelangelo (Noel Fisher). Out of the Shadows course corrects, delivering a massive bucket load of turtle power – the focus is solely on them, and this time round you get a great feel of who they are as individuals as well as get to experience that trademark turtle joy that made eighties kids like me fall in love with them.
Leonardo is his typical silent, pensive self. Raphael is the muscly, anger filled brute. Michelangelo is the childlike pizza loving doof. Donatello is the tech-genius. Director Dave Green and his plethora of screenwriters don’t stray far from who these characters are from the original animated series, and that’s a huge benefit to the film. I’m a fan of changing up characters as they are portrayed through various iterations – but this representation of the turtles feels the most akin to what is shown in both the original animated series as well as the newer rebooted series. Throw in the first big screen representation of uber-nemesis Krang as well and it turns into a pure nostalgia fest. I think I melted in my seat when Krang got into an argument with his robotic host body.
The appearance of Krang, Bebop and Rocksteady show this rebooted series taking steps towards embracing the more radical elements of the turtles series. Surprisingly, with the character roster reaching capacity, each character gets enough time to showcase who they are. Bebop and Rocksteady are given an origin that fits in with the narrative, and while they are mindless idiots, they are given enough agency so they actually don’t blend in with the many faceless Foot Soldiers that make up Shredder’s army. Even Casey Jones’ (Stephen Amell) appearance feels natural within the plot of the film and he doesn’t become an extraneous character.
However, if there was one character the film could do without, that would be April O’Neill. Look, she’s a great character in the animated series, but here – just like the first film – she’s absolutely useless. Megan Fox fails completely to fill her with any kind of personality other than pink lip gloss and a stolen tartan skirt. As for her reporting career, well, let’s just say that that’s become a distant memory. Fortunately she’s a minor presence here compared to being the ‘main character’ of the first film. Yes, it’d be nice if there were a more empowering female character within the film – but arguably, the always watchable Laura Linney as Chief Vincent counteracts most of Fox’s vacuous nature. Also, why is it that April gets to say cowabunga and none of the turtles do in this film?
The action is great and superbly realised, it’s coherent and exciting with a superb climactic battle on board a gradually building Technodrome. If you listen to the static noise on the internet about Michael Bay’s involvement with the series, you may go into this TMNT series thinking it’s going to be completely bombastic and overblown, but his capacity with these films is taking the role of being executive-producer and nothing more (think of Spielberg’s level of involvement in the Transformers series). This is as far away from the Transformers series as you could imagine – it’s fun, the main characters aren’t obnoxious and offensive, it’s a good time at the cinema.
Heck, they even try and slip in some elements of social commentary with Michelangelo simply wanting to exist in the world with humans. He wants to be accepted – especially given the turtles are the heroes that have saved the world, so why shouldn’t he and his brothers get the recognition they deserve? Sure, it’s very surface level stuff, but it adds an extra layer to who these characters are rather than them just being fists that punch nameless goons.
Yes, this may not be for everyone, but for me it was a simply superb time at the cinema and an adrenaline shot of nostalgia which was much needed for this superhero-exhausted filmgoer. It’s bright, it’s exciting, it’s got a talking squid-brain-alien-thing, it’s got a spaceship called the Technodrome for crying out loud. This isn’t meant to be taken seriously. It’s a joyful, exciting time at the cinema. Roll on the third instalment!
Director: Dave Green
Cast: Pete Ploszek, Alan Ritchson, Jeremy Howard, Noel Fisher
Writers: Josh Applebaum, André Nemec