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Children of the 80s and 90s remember the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles with fondness particularly the 1987 cartoon that lasted for ten seasons and the first live action movie. The movie series was rebooted in 2014 to poor reviews but good box-office numbers. Its sequel Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows attempts to rectify the mistakes of the 2014 movie.
Set one year after the events of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Shredder (Brian Tee) is in prison and Vern Fenwick (Will Arnett) is recognized as the hero who saved New York. The Turtles still hide underground and April O’Neill (Megan Fox) is investigating the scientist Baxter Stockman (Tyler Perry) who she believes is working with Shredder. After Shredder breaks free from custody an alien from another dimension, Krang (Brad Garrett) offers the ninja a deal – help him and his war machine the Techodrome to Earth and he would let Shredder rule with him. It’s up to the turtles, April and New York cop Casey Jones (Stephen Arnell) to stop Shredder from retrieving the three parts of an alien device that could allow for inter-dimensional travel.
When the reboot was announced it was met with dismay by fans because Michael Bay was producing. It was made even worse when it was proposed that the Turtles would be aliens and a terrible script was leaked. The previous movie was directed by Jonathan Liebesman – a disciple of Bay’s so picked up his bad habits such as infusing sexual jokes and content in a movie aimed at children, overuse of product placement and focusing more on human characters than the title characters. Liebesman has been replaced with Dave Green, a young director whose previous movie was family orientated.
Green and writers Josh Appelbaum and André Nemec go back to the 1987 cartoon for inspiration. They bring fan favorites Krang, Bebop (Gary Anthony Williams) and Rocksteady (WWE wrestler Sheamus) to the big screen for the first time as well as ideas of Dimension X and the Technodrome. The plot is one from a Saturday Morning Cartoon, villains want to take over the world and the heroes in a half-shell have to stop them and their idiot henchmen. It was a better premise than the previous movie where a mega rich man wanted to spread a virus in New York so he could be even richer. The capability of the Foot Soldiers change depending on what the plot requires, from hopeless to very aerobatic. At least the Foot Clan dress like ninja this time instead of paramilitaries. People are able to survive impossible situations like a plane getting shot up from the inside to help give the movie a Saturday Morning Cartoon vibe to it.
Green does have to make some concessions to Bay’s style. He gets them out of the way early, the product placement and having Megan Fox dress up in a sexy costume to get close to a target. It’s still better than the Turtles pretending to be breasts on a Victoria Secret billboard, Fox getting her buttocks ogled and Mikey (Noel Fisher) trying to have an inter-species relationship with his former owner. Green continues the tradition of using slo-mo for some of the action sequences. There is also a blatant reference to Bay’s other popular franchise Transformers.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows is rated PG-13 in the US and 12A in the UK, but the worst aspect is the movie is the use of some mild swear words. The violence is tame and there is no sexual content. This is a movie that knows it is geared to children unlike its Paramount contemporary.
One of the better features of the 2014 movie was it got the personalities of the turtles right and now that Mikey is no longer a pervert he is a lot more likeable. A relief because he was a childhood favorite. Mikey and Raph (Alan Ritchson) had a great dynamic as they prank Casey Jones – this is when the movie is at its funniest. Leo (Pete Ploszek) is given an arc that he trust his brothers while Mikey and Raph have a craving to be able to go out on the surface and blend in as humans.
Like G.I. Joe: Retaliation Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows wants to be both a sequel and a mini-reboot. It continues the storyline of the 2014 movie but ignores Eric Sacks’ existence and recast’s The Shredder, giving him a more prominent role. In the 2014 movie Shredder was shot in the shadows and the mention of his name by Sacks was off screen. Clearly this was the sign of re-shoots to avoid controversy about initial changes to the Shredder character – Eric Sacks is the English equivalent to Shredder’s Japanese name Oroku Saki.
The human cast was nothing special. Megan Fox is her usual stiff self – her best moment in the movie is when she has to dress up in her sexy schoolgirl outfit – that’s only because she just needs to rely on her sex symbol status and briefly gets to act as a party girl. Arrow‘s Stephen Amell was a budget Ryan Reynolds, offering wisecracks and physicality for action scenes. Tyler Perry was slightly grating as Baxter Stockman and Brian Tee had to keep a straight face as the villain. Laura Linney was slumming it for a paycheck.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows is a CGI fest and it is very high end special effects. The Turtles were very detailed and the effects of the Technodrome forming over New York was impressive. The effects for Krang are disappointing – looking too artificial when he appears on the screen. The action sequences are also fun and well crafted, the highlights being the chase sequence with the Turtle Van and the sky drive onto a plane before falling into a jungle. However the climax is the same as the first movie’s – the Turtles having to fight a giant robot against a ticking clock as some sort of impending doom forms in the sky while their allies help out on the ground.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows is a big improvement over the 2014 movie. It is a live action version of the 1987 cartoon which will give fans a nostalgia trip and is fine for kids to see it. At least David Green understood the audience the movie was aimed for.