2014’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was by no means a good movie, but I definitely wasn’t as hard on it as other critics. It suffered from poor characterization, a lazy screenplay, and an ugly art style, but I found the action sequences to be at least entertaining, even if not especially engaging or memorable. Two years after the first movie’s immense financial success, we have a sequel that in no way needed to improve upon its predecessor. Yet, remarkably, it seems to have done just that, quite possibly on accident.
To be upfront about it, Out Of The Shadows retains many of the problems of its predecessor. The screenplay feels as if it was written over a long weekend and produced after a first draft. Exposition comes hard and fast with little to no explanation as to why the characters are privy to their information or how they were able to obtain it. Furthermore, the underlying logic of many plot points involving genetic mutation is questionable at best, even with the greatest suspension of disbelief in a movie about giant talking turtles.
Overall, the entire production feels like a who’s who of recognizable TMNT branding. A plot is built around newcomers Casey Jones (Stephen Amell, who knows exactly how hammy to play the role), Dr. Baxter Stockman (Tyler Perry, hamming it up too much), Krang, Bebop, and Rocksteady (the three of which actually came out looking pretty decent), but never really explores what any of these characters mean to the mythos of TMNT.
Funny thing is, though, by resorting to the same sort of plagiarism the first film used by mimicking the plot of The Amazing Spider-Man, Out Of The Shadows has improved simply by using a better crib sheet: The Avengers. The elements are all there: a MacGuffin hunt to stop a previously encountered villain who is actually working on behalf of a bigger baddie, a group of discordant personalities needing to come together to stop a greater enemy, a climax revolving around an alien invasion through a portal in the sky—the list goes on. Oddly enough, by lifting so heavily from a film that was actually great, some of that greatness seeped into Out Of The Shadows. The turtles are still ugly as sin and a bit more “modern bro” than I would like, but the necessity of clashing character dynamics forces them to have defined personalities closer to their cartoon counterparts, so they no longer feel like the same character copy-pasted four times over; they even have a semblance of individual character arcs, though basic and largely unrealized by the end. The plot may be utter nonsense when looked at with even the slightest scrutiny, but the movie retains constant momentum that jumps from set piece to set piece in a way that’s surprisingly engaging. Even those action set pieces are at least entertaining; they don’t always have a great sense of space or as much emphasis on ninja combat as I would prefer, but there’s still a spark of inventive energy that is miles ahead of anything else Michael Bay or Platinum Dunes have previously produced.
None of this is enough to definitively say that Out Of The Shadows is a good movie, though. Its scripting and plotting problems are too large to ignore, and the character performances are mostly just as bad as in the first film—particularly Megan Fox’s April O’Neill. However, if you’re willing to sit back and gawk at the stupidity, the latest Ninja Turtles flick is actually pretty fun as far as trainwrecks go. If this franchise keeps this upward momentum going, maybe the fourth or fifth installment will actually be an unironically decent film.
Hi, everyone! My name’s Leigh Monson, and I’ll be helping out with the movie reviews from now on. I look forward to reading your comments and sharing my thoughts here at Substream Magazine.