Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows (review)
As like most of you, I grew up practically glued to my TV screen, watching things like Bobby’s World and Life with Louie in the early mornings, to getting home at three in the afternoon to watch Spider-Man, X-Men, Batman: The Animated Series, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, and of course, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Now, if you have no idea what any these shows are, then maybe this review isn’t for you. Go on, I’ll wait until you’re out of the room. I see you peeking from behind the door! Alright, now that they’re gone, let’s continue. With the upcoming release of the sequel to 2014’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles debuting this Friday, we got a chance to view the film ahead of time, and what an experience! Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows returns our green Ninjitsu-fighting reptilian humanoids back to the big screen, and into a whole new world of danger.
Directed by Dave Green, Out of the Shadows places our turtle warriors a year after the events of the first film, as they face a new challenge when Shredder escapes from custody and joins forces with Baxter Stockman (Tyler Perry), a mad scientist who plans to use a serum to take over the world. Along for the ride are Bebop (Gary Anthony Williams) and Rocksteady (WWE’s Sheamus), two dimwitted henchmen who provide plenty of muscle. Luckily, the turtles have their own allies in April O’Neil (Megan Fox), Vernon Fenwick (Will Arnett) and Casey Jones (Stephen Amell), a hockey-masked vigilante. As the pizza-loving heroes prepare for battle, the notorious Krang (voiced by Brad Garett) also emerges to pose an even greater threat.
Just to be upfront, I normally have to look at things with an impartial and non-bias perspective, only to keep it fair. Judging the film not only based on my love for the cartoons and the comics but as a fan of cinema, as a whole, keeps me, as a writer, grounded in the fundamentals that I hold each time I write a review. With that said…this film seriously tried to bring the nostalgia train right through the theater! Out of the Shadows seemed to be chock full of unique scenes that made it feel like it was ripped right from the cartoon series. At the forefront of this train is the introduction of the Party Wagon, given its yellow and green color scheme and all the great gizmo’s that Donatello installs in it. Although you only get a glimpse of it a the beginning of the film, and nowhere else, the scene – which is what fans saw in the trailers and TV spots – is great, and filled with opportunities to allow the turtles to show their personalities. Amidst the rest of the film, you get other fun nuggets, such as the introduction of Bebop and Rocksteady, played humorously by Williams and Sheamus. These two probably have to be one of – if not the – best parts of the film for me, as they seemed to have channeled the true characters from the 1987 cartoon series! My only issue with the duo is that although the creators slightly deepened the voice of Williams in Bebop form, they did nothing to alter or change Sheamus’s voice in Rocksteady’s form. It really didn’t work for me, especially when the scenes died down, or he was just talking on his own. The scenes, however, when they were together hailed immense laughter from the audience, and added to the fun of the whole experience.
On to the most important part of the film: the turtles. One of the positive things about this film that differs from the last one was that you have more “Turtle” time, rather than “Fox” time, if you catch my drift. The Turtles have a substantial amount of screen time in the film, showing a totally different type of movie structure than the first film. We spend time watching them fight and high-five, of course, but we also see them face personal issues, personal desires, and even see them contemplate the possibility of being “normal”. It does veer a bit away from the TV series, as the cartoon version of themselves seemed to only be focused on being proud of being a turtle, but it does open up fans to the deeper conversations of self-acceptance and self-love. The actors, themselves, who played the turtles did an excellent job of keeping their each true personality shine, where we see Leonardo exemplify leadership, Donatello’s intellect exceeding everyone in the room, Raphael showcasing his tough outer demeanor yet love for his family, and Michelangelo being the loveable air-headed goofball.
Despite the film hitting some crucial high points, it also hit some crucial, and sometimes debilitating, low points as well. First off, I was not a fan of the usage of Shredder in the film. He seemed to have taken a far, far, far backseat in the movie as the third-string bad guy. Now I know what you’re going to say: “But remember in the cartoons, he always followed what Krang ordered him to do! He was like a lackey, doing Krang’s bidding to take over the world!” And to that, I say true, but there’s a distinct difference between being someone’s lackey, and someone’s footstool, and in this film, Shredder was definitely a footstool. Why did they replace the actor who played Shredder in the first film? There’s a very obvious distinction between the first film’s Shredder and this one, and yet it’s not explained or defined. You go from seeing a large and imposing Shredder (without his suit; the scene where him and William Fichtner’s Eric Sacks first talk), to a much smaller, shorter, and less intimidating Shredder, and there’s nothing to give context of the change. Usually when people go to prison, they get bigger, don’t they? Not that I’ve been to prison or anything… I’m just saying….umm…next point!
Also, I wasn’t a fan of Stephen Amell’s portrayal of Oliver Qu- I mean, Casey Jones. It’s tough for an actor who’s noted for doing one particular role for such a long period of time to try to jump out of that persona and do something different, and this is certainly the case. Amell attempts to tap into the greatness left behind by Elias Koteas, but doesn’t quite hit the mark. Jones in the film is a corrections officer put on administrative unpaid leave after Shredder, alongside Bebop and Rocksteady, escapes on route to a larger prison facility. Not one to stand and take it sitting down, Jones decides to find the escapees on his own, quoting his desires to be a detective one day as a driving force, and wanting to “save the city”. Okay, maybe he didn’t say that last part, but c’mon, it’s pretty much implied! Amell, however, falls flat as Jones, and seems more like Oliver Queen in the Bronx, serving moviegoers with his unique version of peppy and excited one second, brooding and self-loathing the next. Maybe there’s still a role somewhere for him to thrive in, but until then, stick with the green leather suit and the arrows, Amell. Same with Tyler Perry. I don’t know how well he’d portray Baxter Stockman once he turns into a fly. It seems that, much like Amell, they may have cast by name, instead by talent.
Now, I know that I’m going to ruffle a lot of feathers reading this, but here goes: I was not a fan of Krang in the film. From his voice, to the his brief on-screen appearances and performance, I couldn’t get too into his role. Brad Garett, as many of you are familiar with from the TV series Everybody Loves Raymond, has a very unique voice. His ability to channel the great Chef Gusteau in Disney’s Ratatouille was superb, and being able to show a sense of gruff and tenderness as the hook-handed thug with a deep desire to play piano in Disney’s Tangled was done with ease. His ability to personify an otherworldly creature from Dimension X that has an extremely unique voice that ranges from high and squeaky to low and with rumble fell far from the landing pad. As the film, as a whole, creates a sense of homage to the cartoon series, the one thing that most filmmakers don’t want to do is mess up the cantankerous villain who is a General on his home world. Sorry guys, but you did. Despite the fact that you only see him twice in the film, once at the beginning and once at the end, you still see how the creators were trying to give you enough of Krang to fulfill the hopes of wanting to see him in future films. The way he looked wasn’t too bad, giving him a more realistic look as a brain-looking creature housed in a large human-like robot, but sadly, the voice is what killed it for me. I’m unsure that the franchise can bounce from something like that, moving forward, but if they do, one thing’s for sure: they’ll need to recast the voice actor for him.
Overall, the film does have some inconsistencies in the plot progression, and drops the ball in its casting, but you still can’t overlook the one feeling that trumps most feelings in this world: nostalgia. Nostalgia is what makes films like Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Captain America: Civil War, or X-Men: Apocalypse a hit for some and not for others; it’s the nostalgia factor. It’s what drives people to see films that give homage to our past, and salutes the very creators of those properties. Nostalgia is the opiate for the masses, as it overtakes logic, reason, and common sense, and drops us in seats at theaters to see a film that many may hate, but some will absolutely love. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows is one of those films; it caters to the very inner child of us all, and serves a platter of nostalgia so thick, that we can’t help but be overwhelmed by it. Some will see it and say that it insults the source material, others will say that it avoids the source material altogether, but it’s that very unique vein of fans that this film caters to. The very vein that allows fans to overlook flimsy plot points, bad casting, or even reimaginings of characters that we grew up with, to catch a glimpse of their childhood selves in the theaters going crazy seeing either DC’s trinity on screen for the first time, watching an iconic airport battle with heroes that were once friends, or seeing the incredible Phoenix Force manifest itself. Those are the people who will enjoy this film, and will come back for more. Take what you will from critics around the world, but know one thing: this film will definitely take you on a trip to your childhood, whether you want to or not.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows ninja-kicks its way into theaters this Friday.
Rating: 3/5 atoms