Among the many iterations of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise, one of the newer attempts was the 2014 film Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Produced by filmmaker Michael Bay’s production company Platinum Dunes, the film marked the fourth live-action feature done of the Ninja Turtles and the start of a potential new line of films. The result was…not good, to put it lightly. It suffered in a multitude of ways, such as with writing that offered a weak plot with plenty of bad decisions and characters written as threadbare and relying on stereotype rather than personality. Along with that is the fact that it was more of an April O’Neil film that just happened to have the Ninja Turtles in it, considering how she was a critical part of their origin and how her story was the one with any personal stakes in stopping the villain. It is natural, then, to be skeptical about the prospects of a sequel to such a weak film. The trailers for the sequel, though, have garnered interest. They suggested that the filmmakers had learned from the last film, offering a movie that might be closer in spirit to its source material. Does Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows show that they have learned their lesson? Well, it is still not good, but at least it shows hints of improvement.
It has been a year since the Shredder nearly unleashed a deadly virus upon New York City. Though the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were the ones responsible for defeating him, they have been forced to remain in the shadows while cameraman Vern Fenwick took credit for the victory. However, their peace does not last that long. The Shredder escapes from police custody, now serving under an interdimensional conqueror named Krang. In exchange for helping Krang and his scheme to unleash a war machine known as the Technodrome, Shredder is provided mutagen as a means of defeating the Turtles. With the aid of T.C.R.I. scientist Baxter Stockman, they concoct a serum capable of mutating people into super strong animal humanoids and use the serum on a pair of idiot criminals named Bebop and Rocksteady, turning them into a warthog mutant and rhino mutant respectively. Now, the race is on to stop Shredder and his new allies from fulfilling Krang’s twisted scheme. Unfortunately, a fracture begins to form in the team when Donatello discovers something: the mutagen might be capable of turning the Turtles into humans.
This is not really a good film, but it does have entertaining moments. First, let me address some of the weaker points of this film. The human characters still suffer from shallow depictions that are not helped by weak performances. In particular, Casey Jones is poorly done and feels more like a separate character with his name slapped on. This movie’s iteration of Casey Jones has him as a police officer who happens to like hockey and seeks to avenge a mistake by taking down Bebop and Rocksteady. This iteration lacks the real spirit and core of character, normally a lower-class vigilante with the sort of eccentric edge that would come from a person who decides to fight crime in a hockey mask with sporting equipment. It is not helped either by Stephen Amell’s performance, which opts for an oddly chipper approach. As for the plot itself, it moves at a brisk pace unfortunately accomplished thanks to flimsy exposition. It moves from set piece to set piece, not allowing for much real character development among all the plot points crammed in. The action itself can also be a tad lacking, as the Turtles’ only battle with Foot Clan ninjas comes in a car chase early on while any physical fights for them are relegated to the more extraordinary foes. The result is a film that feels rather lacking on a lot of fronts. However, it does not sink quite as low as the last movie.
There are some positive things to note. For instance, the Ninja Turtles are the central focus for this film unlike last time. Not only that, they are actually given time to showcase their individual personalities and feel like actual characters. That is a definite step up over the last film, where they were more of a side element. Some of the new villains in the film also provide some solid fun in the proceedings. For instance, Bebop and Rocksteady retain their classic spirit while also looking great. Though the humor they show off is occasionally a bit gross, they are the same classic dumb muscle they were from the 1987 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon. As for Krang, he is a fun addition even if his plot could have ultimately been saved for a later film. His design is a good update of his ’87 cartoon look, while his personality is pure Saturday morning cartoon villain as presented through actor Brad Garrett’s thoroughly hammy performance. In fact, both villains speak to what is strongest about the movie: it is far more willing to be fun. The last movie had opted for a more serious take, shying away from the natural absurdity with an idea like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Here, they choose to instead run with it and capture the fun of the property. In fact, it is clear that a major inspiration for the tone is the ’87 cartoon, which was a bit dumb but also a fun and goofy watch. It does not always match that inspiration, but the moments that do make for a fun watch.
Though there were many lessons to learn from the last movie, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows shows that Michael Bay and his production company have at least listened to a few of them. Though the human characters may still be written poorly and the flow of the plot may rely on odd decisions and forced exposition, there are at least glimpses of fun as the Ninja Turtles get to be actual characters while battling classic foes.