As franchises go, they don’t come any more feverishly popular yet shell shockingly strange than the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, which began life back in 1984, in the pages of Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird’s comic book series. Over their 30+ year history, the heroes in a half shell have become pizza plucking pop culture icons and appeared in 5, now 6, feature films, beginning with Steve Barron’s first (and many still say best) film in 1990. Since that point the reptilian heroes have had a winding history on the big screen, with the turtles struggling to enjoy the same success as their ‘80s / early ‘90s heyday. However, when the Michael Bay backed live action 2014 reboot came along, it emerged a surprising hit (at least financially) and that very weekend a sequel was announced. So, along comes Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows, which doesn’t just follow up the last film but in many ways reboots that reboot, taking heavy inspiration from the much loved 1987 animated series.
The plot sees the four turtle brothers – Michelangelo (Noel Fisher), Leonardo (Pete Ploszek), Raphael (Alan Ritchson) and Donatello (Jeremy Howard) - still hiding in the shadows, while Vern Fenwick (Will Arnett) takes the heroic praise for defeating The Shredder in the climax of the last film. Meanwhile April O’Neil (Megan Fox) is pursuing a lead on how scientific mind Baxter Stockman (Tyler Perry) could be in leagues with the metal claw-swinging super villain. But things truly kick off when, in a routine prison transfer, Shredder (Brian Tee) is broken loose and comes across otherworldly forces that have given his Foot Clan the key to possibly taking over the earth. So it is up to the turtles and O’Neil, alongside temperamental corrections officer Casey Jones (Stephen Amell) to save the city of New York and more than that, the entire world.
The last Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles did not exactly fill one with hope, regarding the franchise’s future. Featuring great action sequences and some good versions of the characters alongside a so-so plot, questionable designs, underused cast members, misfiring humour and another pervy moment of Megan Fox gazing, it was not abysmal, just not all that good. So after that and the hardly flashy trailers, expectations were not so high for this sequel. However, it seems as though some lessons have been learnt and Earth To Echo director Dave Green is more on target because Out of the Shadows is a huge improvement over its predecessor.
Josh Appelbaum and André Nemec have in many ways made this sequel as much a second start as a follow up and this time have dispatched with a lot of the self-congratulatory “this is so funny” humour to actually allow the characters some colour and charisma. True everything is not finely tuned, with some similarly misfiring jokes still remaining but more often than not the script actually moves along nicely - despite almost ending in a TV episode fashion (complete with "I'll be back" villain fist shaking) - with some good gags and a very admirable attempt at capitalizing on modern day Donald Trump fragmented politics, albeit incredibly briefly. In many ways this is the most accomplished Turtles since the likes of the first but is set back from soaring slightly by some lingering issues.
Michelangelo is nowhere near as irritating as last time and each of the turtles get a chance to develop an actual personality this time round, as the film is as much an adaptation of the comic book source as it is the aforementioned animated series, in fact it leans towards the a latter more (see the closing credits theme). This is no more evident, than in how the characters are presented. Shredder- while not used as much as he could be- is much better designed in this film and allows Brian Tee’s stone faced performance to contrast with the, at times, The Secret of the Ooze inspired silly energy. Megan Fox’s April and Will Arnett are given less substantial a roles overall this time, though both have their moments and at least Fox’s obligatory sexualized moment serves a purpose in moving along the plot, as opposed to the impromptu perv-like arse staring last time, and in fact every time she is in a Bay production. Though of all the performances, the hooded star of TV’s Arrow Stephen Amell is among the most charming and is a nice new addition as Casey Jones, striking a chemistry with all his co-stars and bringing to life a character that fans will be pleased to see, though it would have been nice to see more masked action from him. Other characters make effective débuts such as matey mutated villains Rocksteady (WWE star Sheamus) and Bebop (Gary Anthony Willaims), alongside a certain brainy foe that we won’t spoil. Although one gripe is Tyler Perry’s over-excitable turn as Baxter Stockman, which is thankfully not prolonged but very annoying.
All in all Out of the Shadows is a lot of fun, it could go further with certain elements and ideas but it far surpasses the last film and boasts some enjoyable action that will delight many fans of the hit animated incarnation of these characters back in the late ‘80s. The effects and designs are slicker and this fast paced and ridiculous sequel drops the self-satisfied attitude a bit and livens up in the process. Like a Big Mac and a drink, this could have been even better had it had just that little bit extra with it but what the heck, it’s still tasty. Although avid fans may want to add another number to our score because this is a film that for better (colour and charm) and for worse (a narrative structure of one of the animated episodes) is like the TV series. Pencil this down as a turtle surprise! Sorry…
TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES: OUT OF THE SHADOWS / CERT: 12A / DIRECTOR: DAVE GREEN / SCREENPLAY: JOSH APPELBAUM, ANDRÉ NEMEC / STARRING: MEGAN FOX, WILL ARNETT, STEPHEN AMELL, PETE PLOSZEK, ALAN RITCHSON, NOEL FISHER, JEREMY HOWARD, GARY ANTHONY WILLIAMS, SHEAMUS, TONY SHALHOUB / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW