I am shocked, shocked I tell you (shell-shocked)! I never thought I’d write this, but Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows is… good! Not great, but good! Unlike the 1st film, this sequel has lost all of its Michael Bay/Transformers sensibilities and production design in favor of a film that feels like a direct adaptation of the Animated Series from the 90s!I watched 2014’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on Hulu the other night in preparation for this sequel. Watching the 1 st film, my initial worries were confirmed: it was a Michael Bay-esque mess (you’d swear he directed it) with more visual cues from the Transformers movies that anything in Turtle “Canon” and a brand new origin that stripped the characters of their complex relationships and personalities from the original animated series and live action movies of the 90’s. Shredder was a God-Damn transformer, William Fichtner played his typical Michael Bay role (Don’t trust that guy! Remember Armageddon?), and Megan Fox was a smoking reporter… with no reporter skills, nor any resemblance of classic April O’Neal besides having breasts. The Turtles were created by April O’Neal’s (Megan Fox) father with evil Fichtner, the former destroying his creation after learning about his research’s application (a la Amazing Spider-Man’s unnecessary backstory). They were April’s turtles that she saved only to throw down a sewer. Splinter (Peter Donald Badalamenti II) was just a rat that was experimented on, same as the turtles, instead of a former Ninjutsu master that trained under the same Sensei as Shredder. This Splinter learned Ninjutsu from a book! He was never trained AND was lacking the history with Shredder that always made their conflict personal and Shredder’s hatred appropriate. Worst of all, the plot was about poisoning New York and using the Turtles DNA as a cure, a dastardly plan that doesn’t fit the MO of the Shredder we once knew. And… the CGI was terrible, even for its time.
While not erasing the events of the first movie like it never happened, this year’s sequel, Out of the Shadows, fixed all these problems and modeled itself off of the 90’s Animated Series which is the most popular iteration of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to this day, even though they initially came from the pages of a comic book. In fact, as far as comic book movies go, TMNT: Out of the Shadows is better than last week’s release, X-Men: Apocalypse.This movie is all about giving kids of today the same feeling I got from the Animated Series, while also serving as sweet nostalgia for those that grew up with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles like myself.Shredder (Brian Tee) has been toned down to a guy in a costume nearly identical to the show; no more whirling robot arms that look like an Iron Man suit got jacked by a Transformer. The Foot Clan has stopped using guns like in the previous film and are back to being actual ninjas! Bebop (Gary Anthony Williams) and Rocksteady (Stephen Farrelly) are nearly perfect adaptations of their TV counterparts, as is Krang (Brad Garrett), fully realized with perhaps an overabundance of CGI, but cool none-the- less (his suit looks a lil’ like a Transformer, but it’s also true to the character). Casey Jones (Stephen Amell from Arrow) is awesome and fits in nicely with the other new characters. Best of all, with the introduction of all these fan favorites, it never feels crowded, though Shredder and Krang deserved a little more screen time.
The tone has been nailed this time as well. It’s humorous and fun! 2014’s initial entry took itself too seriously (again, look no further than the updated origins and generic terrorist plot) while Out of the Shadows reminds you how fun it is to be a Turtle, of the Teenage Mutant Ninja variety. The Turtles, Michelangelo (Noel Fisher), Donatello (Jeremy Howard), Leonardo (Pete Ploszek), and Raphael (Alan Ritchson), have distinct personalities past their archetypes: the leader, the brains, the goofy one, and the badass. They grapple with issues having to do with simply being brothers vs. learning to be an actual team, even if Master Splinter doesn’t offer as much sage advice as he did in the old days.And the plot feels just like it came from the cartoon. No more terrorist acts like poisoning all of New York; instead, after a portal transports Shredder to the wrong location, Krang tasks him with collecting 3 relics to complete an inter-dimensional doorway which will allow Krang to invade the Earth with his warship. Meanwhile, Bebop and Rocksteady are mutated so the Foot Clan have a fighting chance against Mutant Turtles and Casey Jones takes up the vigilante mantle after he allows Bebop, Rocksteady, and Shredder to escape on his watch during a prisoner transport. Who can save the day? Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles! Who still love Pizza!
The one plot point that worried me was in the introduction of the Purple “Ooze.” Unlike the traditional origin, there is not simply Green Mutagen which transforms any being into a combined version of their species and the last species they touched (in the old days Splinter touched the Turtles so they became humanoid, while his touching a rat made him half rodent). The Purple Ooze turns you into the animal you are in your soul (what mumbo-jumbo is that Dr. Tyler Perry?), creating Bebop and Rocksteady… who are apparently a Rhino and Warthog on the inside… while also offering the Turtles a chance to become human. Luckily the latter idea is not over explored, with the Turtles deciding not to use the Ooze without too much time spent ruminating on the subject.Otherwise, the other characters are fine as well. Megan Fox remains better eye candy than a fully fleshed out April O’Neal, while Will Arnett continues to bring the funny as comic-relief Vernon Fenwick, now calling himself “The Falcon” after receiving all the credit for saving New York City in the 1 st film so the Turtles could remain a secret. Tyler Perry as Baxter Stockman is a fun addition, especially knowing his character mutates with a fly eventually in TV show continuity. That fact, as well as the ability to easily bring back Shredder, Bebop, Rocksteady, and Krang, leave the franchise with a lot of places to go!
When you get down to it, this movie just feels like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, while the 1 st film felt misguided and over Michael Bay-ed. Sure, it’s meant for kids and it’s not the smartest Comic Book Movie out there, but if you’ve ever liked the Turtles, it’s damn fun!
Oh, and as an added bonus, the original theme is played during the credits: new version, classic lyrics!
Bonus Points for Nostalgia!