The previous live-action TMNT film from Paramount set the bar pretty low, as I attested in my review for that one. With this sequel, it was one of those “nowhere to go but up” situations, so I was expecting a better movie but not by a very wide margin.
What TMNT: Out of the Shadows delivers is, yes, a bad movie, but a bad movie with good THINGS about it. And I kind of hate myself for it, but I actually sort of liked the movie. Well, I liked THINGS about the movie; let’s settle on that.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows (2016)
The Shredder (Brian Tee) has escaped from police custody and teamed up with the evil warlord from Dimension X: Commander Krang (Brad Garrett). Together, they plan to bring an unstoppable war machine called the Technodrome to Earth, and to do it, the Shredder employs Baxter Stockman (Tyler Perry) to create a pair of mutant henchmen: Bebop and Rocksteady (Gary Anthony Williams and Sheamus). To beat these new odds, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles will have to enlist a new ally: Ex-cop and hockey enthusiast Casey Jones (Stephen Amell).
Okay, so you want to know the big difference between the first Paramount TMNT movie and this one? The difference that ultimately makes the sequel so much more palatable than its predecessor even if it’s still a pretty bad flick?
It is 100% unashamed of what it is.
The first TMNT film suffered from “Pitof’s Catwoman Syndrome”; everyone making the film was so embarrassed by the source material that they tried to make a movie that had only the faintest similarity with the source material. Then, when executives tried to go back and do last minute reshoots to “fix” the film and realign it with expectations, they wound up making something even more senseless. And that was the foundation this new film franchise had to work from.
But Out of the Shadows? There’s a sincerity to this movie; it EMBRACES the looniness of the source material (in this case leaning more toward the Fred Wolf animated series from the ’80s rather than the original Mirage comics).
For example: There’s this scene where Baxter Stockman tries to teleport the Shredder out of police custody, but Shredder is intercepted by an unknown source and brought to the Technodrome in Dimension X. And then Krang just shows up with no fanfare, no build-up, and says (paraphrased), “I am an alien from another dimension! Let’s work together to conquer the Earth!” And Shredder, completely unfazed by any of this, simply agrees, “Yeah, okay.”
I mean, that’s BAD, yes, but it’s the hilarious sort of bizarre matter-of-factness you’d get from the ’80s cartoon and the film is totally unashamed about it. Though the characters inhabit a live-action universe, this is 100% a cartoon at heart and has no compunctions about what it is or who its targeting.
And I think that’s what really helps; it knows its demographic. The first film wanted to stand alone as its own unique thing to be watched in a vacuum, divorced from all other interpretations of the franchise. And it was asinine. Out of the Shadows, on the other hand, knows EXACTLY who is going to be seeing a live-action Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie: Kids who currently watch the cartoons and play with the toys, and their parents who watched the cartoons and played with the toys in the ’80s.
So Director Dave Green holds nothing back and gives the target demographic everything it could want from a TMNT film. You want Bebop and Rocksteady? You got it! You want Casey Jones and Baxter Stockman? You got it! Krang, the Technodrome and Dimension X? You got it, you got it, you got it!
It’s a fucking MESS, no bones about it, but it gives you all the pieces you want, even if it isn’t smart enough to assemble them into something coherent. And it’s those pieces, those THINGS I was talking about earlier, that are what’s worth seeing in this movie.
And what also helps the film, and something I think a lot of other franchises that are on their third or fourth reboot could stand to learn, is that it knows that the people seeing it aren’t doing so in a vacuum. The kids and their parents are familiar with ALL these characters and set pieces, thanks in large part to the TMNT brand being a merchandising constant since 1987 with very few gaps in its lifespan.
And that’s why when Krang shows up, he doesn’t need dreadful minutes of fanfare or extraneous amounts of context to ease the audience into this concept of an alien brain from Dimension X. Because the target audience is either watching the cartoon now and or watched it back in the day and they already KNOW who Krang is and what he’s all about so why waste everyone’s time explaining him in detail?
It doesn’t make for a cinematic masterpiece, but it does make for a film that breezes through the establishing bullshit and gets to the fun ASAP. The Shredder teams up with Krang and Baxter Stockman creates Bebop and Rocksteady in the first freakin’ ACT of the film and we’re ready to roll from there. It’s like you jumped into the thirteenth episode of a cartoon you’re somewhat familiar with, but you don’t really care, so there’s no need to pussyfoot around and ease anyone into anything.
But even though I seem to be showering the film with praise while also backhanding it by saying it’s bad, I’m not trying to contradict myself. Out of the Shadows isn’t a very logical film and perhaps giving audiences everything they wanted all at once is the culprit.
There are so many new faces, and even in the rush to introduce them all, the Turtles just get buried. Bebop and Rocksteady steal the show, Baxter Stockman’s a hoot, and Krang commands attention whenever he’s on screen… The Turtles can’t compete, even though this is supposed to be their movie.
So a superfluous subplot is introduced in the form of purple ooze, a substance that can potentially turn them into humans. The “Out of the Shadows” in the title is given context in the movie-itself in that the Turtles want to join society and quit being outcasts (they find a compromise in the climax). The purple ooze, although featured prominently in the trailers, doesn’t actually feature prominently in the film; it’s a brief argument and the Turtles forget it almost immediately. The whole bit was included, “tacked-on” almost, because the Turtles were playing second fiddle in their own film and if they didn’t have something, ANYTHING to do, then this was going to become The Bebop & Rocksteady Movie really quick.
But the Turtles are still stronger and more diverse in personality in this film than in the first. Whereas the last installment had them all acting like silly goofballs with nary a difference between them, Out of the Shadows better highlights their unique traits. Much of it is the same old, same old; Raph and Leo arguing about leadership, Donnie being the convenient source of all the answers, Mikey being an idiot, etc. But it beats them ALL acting like fuckin’ Michelangelo like in the last movie, so it’s still an improvement.
This movie favors characters over plot (the story is a thin “item collect” scenario where the good guys have to stop the bad guys from collecting the pieces of a portal generator that are scattered around the Earth). That isn’t such a bad thing, as everyone in this movie is happy to be there and REALLY giving it their all. Well, everyone except Megan Fox, but that’s how she always is so whadda ya gonna do?
Tyler Perry chews the scenery to pieces with his Baxter Stockman. His interpretation seems like a fusion between the Baxter seen in the 4Kids TMNT series and the current Nickelodeon series. He has the arrogance of his 4Kids counterpart, but also with a touch of Nickelodeon Baxter’s awkward nerdiness. He’s goofy, he’s energetic and somehow, despite NOT being a special effect, he manages to keep from drifting off into the background even when he’s surrounded by CG monsters.
Bebop and Rocksteady were featured the most in the promotions for this movie and you can see why when you watch the film. Williams and Sheamus look and sound like they’re having an absolute blast (they did the mocap for the mutant versions of the characters in addition to their human forms) and their enthusiasm will rub off on you. They play the Foot mutants exactly as you’d expect; they’re hulking, childish morons, but they can put up a good fight.
The pair play up the “best friends” aspect of the duo and I think that’s what really sells it. You see, there’s so much animosity between the other characters in the film: The Turtles are fighting amongst themselves over the purple ooze, they don’t trust Casey Jones as their new ally, Verne (Will Arnett) is pissing everyone off with his self-absorbed glory hound routine, April is being catty with everyone, and so on. But Bebop and Rocksteady? They get along like bros every step of the way and it almost makes the two villains more likeable than the heroes (perhaps scratch that “almost”).
Then there’s Krang. He’s hardly in the movie, appearing only at the beginning and the end, but god damn if he doesn’t steal everyone else’s thunder when he shows up. Krang’s entirely a special effect and the camera is always moving around him in circles whenever he appears, crowding the human actors out of the scene so we can bask in Krang’s flamboyant gooeyness. In personality he is an exact duplicate of his ’80s cartoon counterpart (goofy and immature but an evil genius nevertheless), and visually he’s pretty much spot on (a brain in a robot body’s belly, but now he can extend himself outward on cables).
Brad Garrett was a last minute inclusion to voice Krang; originally it was going to be comedian Fred Armisen, but scheduling conflicts forced him to opt out. I’m really glad we got Garrett, who has a distinctly deep voice (he played Lobo on Superman: The Animated Series and Big Dog on 2 Stupid Dogs, if you need a refresher). But even with his baritone, he is very obviously trying to do an impression of Pat Fraley’s Krang from the cartoon, so we end up with something that sounds familiar but unique. And Garrett just hams it the fuck up; it’s wonderful.
There’s some recasting from the previous film; mostly in the villains’ camp. Some you won’t notice, such as Baxter Stockman. K. Todd Freeman played the character in the last movie, but his role was so diminished after reshoots and edits, you probably didn’t even know Baxter was in that film. Another change is Brittany Ishibashi replacing Minae Noji as Karai. They look very different from one another, but Karai plays much the same role here as she did in the last film (a mostly silent henchwoman).
Brain Tee replaces Tohoru Masamune as the Shredder, though realistically, Masamune was a last minute inclusion in the first film, added in during the reshoots, and we barely saw him in that flick. Tee’s Shredder is appropriately growly and fierce, though being the subdued head honcho also causes him to get lost behind the more bonkers characters who flank him throughout the film. Shredder’s costume has been mercifully dialed back (he no longer looks like a refugee from a Michael Bay Transformers film), but he only wears the helmet for one brief scene during the climax and never actually gets to fight anyone. You might be disappointed.
And then there’s Casey Jones. The ex-cop back story the film included was organically fitting, setting up his vigilante behavior within the context of the movie. Despite being a cop, he still feels like Casey; he’s a macho doofus who has a good heart but no patience. They find a nice balance with his intellect, as rather than play him up as an idiot, they instead show that he has good instincts if perhaps poor judgment and a lack of book smarts.
Alas, he only wears his hockey mask for one brief sequence and is without it for the rest of the film. He’s still very much Casey Jones in personality, and his climactic battle against Bebop and Rocksteady is appropriately hockey-themed, but the lack of the mask is a bit of a downer. To be fair, he may actually have the mask on for more screen time than Elias Koteas did in the original 1990 flick (I’d have to break out a stop watch to be sure), so we’ve been there before.
Okay, so I guess in closing, I can say that TMNT: Out of the Shadows is a bad movie with good moments and characters that overcome all its fundamental storytelling failings. Whether you’re a child or a manchild, you’ll find aspects in this film to enjoy, be they fleeting or lingering, and that alone elevates this film head and shoulders above its predecessor.