I was 7 years old when I first glimpsed the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. As I was flipping through the channels one summer morning I came across the opening credits of the series. I remember having trouble remembering the four nouns of the title, referring to them as simply the Ninja Turtles. Eventually, being an imaginative DIY-er, I made a mask out of a piece of purple cloth and re-purposed a green backpack and taped together cardboard paper towel tubes, and I spent hours in the backyard acting out the stories I saw. In 1990, my sister won advance screening passes via the local Fox Kids Club to the TMNT film. I loved the Turtles. But it hasn’t been something that has stuck with me, they’ve never had the complexity that makes me want to revisit them often.
The most recent film, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows, is the follow up to the successful 2014 reboot. The new film finds the Turtles continuing their life underground in the daytime while protecting the citizens of New York City during the night. After Shredder escapes from police custody, our heroes find themselves pushed out into the spotlight and their group goes through the inevitable existential questioning found so often in superhero sequels. Added to the mix this go round are Stephen Amell as the hockey stick wielding Casey Jones and the mutants Bebop and Rocksteady (played to perfection by Gary Anthony Williams and WWE’s Sheamus). Plus, Krang the Brain and the Technodrome make the slightest of appearances for the third act.
Out of the Shadows is not a great movie, but it is a big improvement on the 2014 film. One of the biggest complaint, and one I shared, about the first was that it was too April O’Neil focused with the Turtles in the background. For the second film we get a lot of time with the heroes with April being featured alongside them in a sort of sidekick partnership with Casey Jones. As previously mentioned, Bebop and Rocksteady are perfect recreations of their cartoon counterparts. They are buffoonish henchmen who bumble through their job with Shredder always on the edge of ending their lives, but strangely keeping them around.
My biggest issues with the film come from the overflow of content in the script and how a lot of these plot points aren’t able to be developed. Krang is the biggest example of someone who shows up in the first act to get the plot rolling, vanishes until the third act, and ends up just being a CGI punching bag so the film can have the big finale battle in the skies over New York City. Another problem I had was that right from the start of the film, April O’Neil uses her sexuality to get access to important information to the plot. It doesn’t come up again, but it is a rough start for her character. April has never been a character who flashed her midriff or seduced men. She’s an experienced reporter and it’s a shame that her opening moment in the film were so reductive.
The Out of the Shadows will feed that nostalgic itch of people who grew up with the cartoon series. It is also a big, loud dumb summer blockbuster but maybe a little less than other films under the Michael Bay banner. It’s considerably shorter than Transformers and their ilk, so that gives the Turtles a greater sense of energy and movement towards the finale. I don’t have expectations that we’ll ever have a deep, meaningful Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film, it was a concept developed as a parody of ninja comics in the mid 80s. But what has been made is a very fun, light movie.