For a kid growing up in the 80’s and early 90’s, few things were as anticipated as Saturday morning cartoons, and few Saturday morning cartoons were as cool as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. On paper, the ninja turtles shouldn’t work. Mutated turtles (notoriously slow animals) becoming ninjas (a vocation where speed and agility are prerequisite), eating pizza, cracking wise and fighting crime? How it got greenlit I’ll never know… How it became a phenomenon, even creators Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird couldn’t tell you. But phenomenon it became, and 32 years after their first appearance in comic book form, we have Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows.
After the events of 2014’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, this film finds the turtles having to celebrate their victory over Shredder in secret while Will Arnett’s Vernon Fenwick (AKA The Falcon) takes all the credit and the key to the city. April O’Neil (played once again by a surprisingly enjoyable Megan Fox), discovers a plot to break Shredder out of prison and sets the turtles on an unsuccessful mission to prevent his escape. Aiding Shredder in his escape are Dr. Baxter Stockman (the overly campy Tyler Perry) and fellow prisoners Bebop and Rocksteady (Gary Anthony Williams and the WWE’s Sheamus.) Newcomer Casey Jones ( Arrow’s Stephen Amell) joins the fray as a police officer with a thing for hockey, who, after the successful escape, sets out on his own to find the missing prisioners when his superiors on the force don’t believe his tales of the wild events of the break-out. April and Casey’s separate investigations lead them both to Dr. Stockman’s lab where Dr. Stockman and Shredder have mutated Bebop and Rocksteady into super soldiers using a mysterious “ooze” obtained by Shredder from an interdimensional baddie named Krang (voiced by Brad Garrett.) Once Casey Jones and the turtles join forces, it is up to them to stop Shredder from opening a dimensional rift and in turn allowing Krang and his spherical weapons base “the Technodrome” to enter our dimension and conquering Earth.
Out of the Shadows is far-and-away a superior film to it’s predecessor. While there is still plenty of off-the-wall CG action and as much ridiculousness as any other Ninja Turtle property, director Dave Green does an admirable job keeping things coherent. The action is thrilling, the jokes land, and with the exception of Laura Linney’s Chief Vincent (way too straight-man for this film) and Tyler Perry (way too hammy for most films), the acting was respectable and better than you would expect from a fun summer blockbuster about mutated, pizza-eating turtles. Writers Josh Applebaum & André Nemec (Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol) were wise to bring so many fun elements from the Turtles’ history into the film. It is great to see Krang, Dr. Stockman, the Technodrome, the Turtlemobile, and Bebop and Rocksteady in the film, who were substituted for cheap imitations (Tokka & Rahzar) in 1991’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Secret of the Ooze. While this film is not perfect, it is certainly fun and worth the price of admission. It is also safe to say that it is the best Ninja Turtles film since the 1990 original (and maybe I’m giving that one more points solely on nostalgia.) Even with the diminishing ticket sales from it’s predecessor, this film is sure to keep the franchise going if for no other reason than the toy sales. In their prime, Ninja Turtle action figures accounted for 60% of all action figure sales and while that may not be the case today, they still sell enough to justify the $135 million film budget as good marketing money spent for the toy line.