After Michael Bay and Jonathan Liebesman cowabungled the first “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” reboot movie, I approached this one with some scepticism and lower expectations. As a result, I ended up having quite a bit of fun with it. I always like it when studios are playful with their logos, so the Paramount stars being replaced by shuriken was a nice touch and got me onside right from the beginning.
When rogue scientist Baxter Stockman links up with the Foot Clan to break Shredder out of prison, they inadvertently break through to a parallel dimension where Commander Krang proposes an alliance with Shredder to bring his Technodrome through the portal to Earth. The only ones who can stand in his way are the Turtles.
Director Dave Green (“Earth To Echo”) wisely tones down the Bayisms (although it’s less than twenty minutes in before we get a car-flipping freeway chase) in this second instalment and makes room for some of the joyously anarchic fun which was the hallmark of the successful cartoon series. The personalities of the turtles themselves remain intact but they’re less brash and extreme this time round, making them more likeable – especially Michelangelo who’s dialled way back from the aggressively horny douchebag of the first film.
The supporting characters are repositioned to be just that, with April O’Neil (Megan Fox) becoming a catalyst for the Turtles’ adventures rather than dominating the story. With the extra room, the movie introduces a few more familiar faces from the TMNT canon, such as Casey Jones. Stephen Amell brings all of his range and versatility to the role of Jones, a skilled fighter with anger issues who dons a mask to dish out some vigilante justice and while he’s decent enough in the film, he plays it with a joyless sincerity, completely missing the satirical point of the character of Casey Jones and making it a pale shadow of his TV alter-ego, the “Arrow”. If nothing else, the film confirms that Amell is very much a TV actor, not suited for the big screen outside of a very narrowly defined role (much like Zachary Quinto’s lucky break as Spock).
But, as dull as the new additions on the heroes’ side may be, the film is given a fabulous kick up the butt by the arrival of Rocksteady and Beebop who, in a bold and progressive move, seem set to be Hollywood’s new power couple. Whether by accident or sly, subversive design, the relationship between Rocksteady and Beebop drips with subtext hinting at a partnership much closer than a henchman bromance. It’s actually really very sweet and gives their character arcs much more entertainment value, so kudos to WWE star Sheamus (Stephen Farrelly) and “Boston Legal” alum Gary Anthony Williams for bringing such good natured diversity and complexity to a family blockbuster. ‘Out’ Of The Shadows indeed.
It’s a great example of how this instalment succeeds where its predecessor failed. Unlike the first one, “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out Of The Shadows” fully embraces the ridiculousness of its premise and the adorable dorkiness of its characters’ cartoon origins. It revels in it and as a result it has a sense of fun and knowing satire that was missed out last time.
The energy helps overcome a script which is still lumbered with some clumsy and obvious writing and atrocious dialogue such as: ‘Well, you know what they say: ‘If you want to get work done, don’t spend time at the zoo’’. Who? Who says that, Casey?
There are still clunky performances (Tyler Perry, I’m looking at you) and awkward product placement (Michael Bay, I’m looking at you sipping conspicuously from your Chinese juice carton) but the Turtles are good, the action is great and is bustles along with such energy and exuberance that you won’t even mind howlers like the Turtles being told they can’t help April break into a lab because it’s going to happen in broad daylight only for the entire sequence to then take place at night.
“Out Of The Shadows” is still dumb and it’s still chaotic but at least this time out it’s silly and fun too.