A film review by Craig J. Koban June 12, 2016




2016, PG-13, 112 mins.


Megan Fox as April O'Neil  /  Laura Linney as Chief Vincent  /  Stephen Amell as Casey Jones  /  Will Arnett as Vernon Fenwick  /  William Fichtner as Eric Sacks  /  Pete Ploszek as Leonardo  /  Alan Ritchson as Raphael  /  Noel Fisher as Michelangelo  /  Jeremy Howard as Donatello  /  Tony Shalhoub as Splinter (voice)  /  Tyler Perry as Baxter Stockman  /  Brian Tee as Shredder  /  Gary Anthony Williams as Bebop  /  Stephen Farrelly as Rocksteady  /  Alessandra Ambrosio as Vernon's Girlfriend  /  Brad Garrett as Kraang (voice)

Directed by Dave Green  /  Written by Josh Appelbaum and André Nemec


The very best scene in TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES: OUT OF THE SHADOWS occurs during its end credits.  

A very familiar theme song blares on the soundtrack, signaling a whirlwind of wonderfully reflective emotions about the ionic 1980’s animated series.  Hearing that song filled me with nostalgia and made the adult viewer in me feel like a child again. 

Watching everything that transpired in OUT OF THE SHADOWS before those wonderful end credits, though, made me feel thoroughly miserable.  The movie made the adult viewer in me feel like it was nonsensically written and produced by pre-adolescent filmmakers.  

See the difference? 

I was awfully fair to the 2014 Michael Bay produced franchise reboot, as far as I could considering that the phrase “produced by Michael Bay” is enough to have many a filmgoer yearn to sheepishly crawl back into an emotionally agitated shell of panic.  For as much perceived good will that the makers of that film probably believed they were imparting of Kevin Eastman’s and Peter Laird’s legendary comic book creations, the last TMNT film came off more as a dutifully produced, 90-plus-minute mass marketed bit of product placement than it did a fully realized and impactfully designed feature film.  Even with the film’s exemplary visual effects and production values (it was the best looking TMNT film ever made), it nevertheless was as soulless as a plastic action figure.  OUT OF THE SHADOWS, more than its predecessor, is a sequel that certainly makes the catastrophic error in surmising that lazily engaging in simplistic nostalgic fan servicing somehow equals a competently designed and executed motion picture.  



The new film takes place soon after the events of TMNT 1, during which time pop culture’s most famous eradiated, bipedal, quip slinging, pizza loving, and martial arts skilled reptiles – Leonardo (voice of Pete Ploszek), Raphael (Alan Ritchson), Michelangelo (Noel Fisher) and Donatello (Jeremy Howard) – have just saved The Big Apple from the nefarious plans of Shredder (Brain Tee).  Of course, because they are, to be fair, freakishly large monsters, none of these siblings believe that the larger world will accept them in any tangible way, despite their heroic efforts (this film exists in a bizarro version of New York where none of its citizens have smart phones, cameras, or the ability to upload video of the turtles to YouTube).  Instead, they incredulously allowed their buddy Vern (Will Arnett) to take all of the credit for ending Shredder’s reign of terror.  Now, how any sane and rational person that watches the news – and witnessed first hand the near catastrophic events of the last film’s climax – would believe that a bumbling and egotistical dope like Vern would be capable of such gallantry is something the film never once plausibly explains.  

OUT OF THE SHADOWS kicks off with investigative journalist April O’Neil (Megan Fox, once again about as credible as an investigative journalist as I would be playing a perpetually shirtless Wolverine in an X-MEN film), deduces that strange things are afoot with scientist Baxter Stockman (Tyler Perry, the only human performer here that seems to be genuinely enthusiastic about appearing in a TMNT film), so she quickly asks for her green skinned pals for assistance.  Making matters worse for all is Shredder’s prison break (with aid from Stockman), who decides to ally himself with an alien entity know as Krang (voice of Brad Garret), a slimy extra-terrestrial that looks like a brain with eyes and octopus-like hands that’s housed in the stomach cavity of a giant robot.  Krang wishes to bring his Death Star-like Technodrome to Earth to destroy it, but requires Shredder's assistance in doing so.  Also helping the villains are two Stockmen created mutated henchmen, the warthog Bebop (Gary Anthony Williams) and the rhino Rockesteady (Stephen Farrelly).  But of course, the turtles have to emerge…wait for it…out of the shadows to battle their sworn enemy yet again.  

Question: how can a movie based on a 30-year-old comic book/cartoon property fail so miserably at envisioning the overall look of its titular heroes?  My biggest gripe with the previous TMNT entry was in how wrongheaded it was in portraying the appearance of the turtles themselves, which disappointingly continues on here.  Instead of making these ninja warriors agreeably and faithfully pint sized like in the source material, they're instead ugly and grotesquely roided out behemoths that appear seemingly indestructible against every obstacle thrown in their way (hell, at one point one of them collides mid-air with the front of an airplane thousands of feet above the ground – don’t ask – with nary a scratch to show for it, an event that should have reduced him to gooey soup and obvious death).  Yes, the film captures the jovial personalities of the turtles well, but since these characters are borderline indestructible and nearly as large as the Hulk, there’s never a single moment of suspense in OUT OF THE SHADOWS.  

Other characters fare no better.  These two TMNT films have really no idea how to handle the most classic villain in the entire litany of this franchise.  Shredder here is once again lamentably wasted; in the first film he was reduced to a giant robotic warrior with mechanized enhancements (odd considering his lethality as a martial arts master) and now he plays second fiddle to an alien and two simpleton minions that face off against the turtles.  TMNT and OUT OF THE SHADOWS misses the boat altogether in understanding that the core central conflict in the series is between Shredder, the turtles, and their master Splinter (still inexplicably voiced by Tony Shalhoub, still a poor casting choice as he rarely brings any solemn gravitas to the part).  New characters like the alien brain monster Krang are so ineptly shoehorned into the narrative without anything in the way of decent exposition that they feel like they’ve been hijacked from another film and haphazardly thrown in here without a care in the world.  

Sadly and rather predictably, the human characters are not afforded much in the way of development either.  It takes Fox only five minutes into the film before she parades around in yet another gratuitously sexualized outfit, much to placate the pitifully horny desires of young – and perhaps many old – male viewers.  It's impossible to ever believe that she’s a smart, assured, and courageously independent minded reporter, mostly because she struts around like a runway Barbie doll in tight fitting outfits striking pouty lipped poses for the camera that passes as acting.  The great Will Arnett (proven to be hysterical when given the right material) is wastefully annoying in a throwaway role that could have been easily excised from the film altogether.  Series newcomer Stephen Amell (so very charismatic and charming on TV’s ARROW) is a real misfire as the hockey mask adorned cop-turned-vigilante Casey Jones, which has more to say about the film’s comatose and D.O.A. writing of the character than it does with the actor’s enthusiastic commitment to the role.  And don’t even get me started with Oscar nominated actress Laura Linney appearing here as a police commander intent on hunting down the heroes; she visibly appears about as confused and ill at ease in the film as I was while watching her in it.  

Director Dave Green (EARTH TO ECHO) replaced Jonathon Liebesman this go-around, and of course the computer generated effects he utilizes in conjuring up the turtles out of sheer nothingness are indeed thanklessly rendered and look sensational…but at what ultimate cost?  TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES: OUT OF THE SHADOWS is a film bereft of soul, wit, humor, and even a modestly compelling narrative worthy of its characters' stature in the annals of pop culture.  Ultimately, it’s a senseless continuation of a heavily commercialized brand that proves to be a patience-testing endurance test of will for any viewer that achieved puberty decades ago.  In many ways, it's the kind of super hero film that Joel Schumacher would have directed around, say, 1997.  OUT OF THE SHADOWS will definitely appease children and those adults embarrassingly stuck in a state of arrested development, but the rest of us will easily see it as a dreadfully engineered piece of nostalgia claptrap orchestrated to sell toys and methodically push a brand.    

Heroes deserve better treatment than this…even ones that live in the sewer.


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