Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows is an improvement on the character/story side of things for this reboot of the franchise, but lacks the action spectacle of the previous entry.
Out of the Shadows picks up a year after the defeat of Shredder in the first film and feels extremely at ease (after some weird on-screen character intros [for the Chinese/Arabic audiences?]) with the core group of heroes; Leonardo, Donatello, Michaelangelo and Raphael. Yes, they sort of reset that these guys can work as a team (because the first film clearly showed they could work as a team in their battle against Shredder and their mountain slalom to get to him), but it works for the film thematically, pretty much throughout. The plot this time around involves the Shredder, again, who escapes police custody and is accidentally brought together with an inter-dimensional alien, Commander Krang, who implores Shredder to gather the scattered pieces of a portal generator, on Earth, that will allow Krang to bring his Technodrome to Earth and conquer the world!
Now, that plot sounds super silly, and it is!, but it plays right to people like myself who grew up watching the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon growing up. I don’t know if the current iteration of the Turtles cartoon is currently dealing with Krang, but the inclusion of him and his robot body, along with Bebop & Rocksteady makes sure that fans of that original run will feel right at home. And I think it does all of this without feeling like nostalgia porn. Director Dave Green unfolds all of the new elements well, Casey Jones and Baxter Stockman (in human form) are also brought into the fold, and none of it feels too forced or inorganic to the expansion of this Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles universe. I really like that Krang only shows up briefly in the beginning and isn’t heard from again until his Technodrome gets pulled into our dimension, and then I also like what they did to avoid a Shredder rehash in the final fight.
While Green delivers all of this new stuff well, the Turtles themselves feel a bit slighted with screen time. Everything with the Turtles is great, the script really gets these characters and the drama between them in the film, but I found myself wishing we got more with them. Splinter too is also pushed to pretty much the background, while April O’Neil gets less screen time than the newly introduced Casey Jones. Stephen Amell is the weak link of the newbies as Jones too, I just never got into the guy’s vibe, doesn’t seem like a very good actor, which makes his prominence above Fox’s very fun turn as O’Neil and the need to give him action beats over the Turtles a bit disheartening. The action never comes close to the string of set pieces at the back half of the first film, but the Turtles really feel like they miss out on an opportunity or two to top the previous film’s set pieces because Casey Jones has to get a couple as well. You can only make a guy with a hockey stick so thrilling, plus he is a human among mutants.
The guys behind the voices and motions of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Pete Ploszek as Leonardo, Alan Ritchson as Raphael, Noel Fisher as Michelangelo, Jeremy Howard as Donatello) feel even more comfortable in their roles this time around and really encapsulate the heart of these characters. These guys are so fun and enjoyable it really hurt the film when they aren’t around, even if everything else is handled pretty damn well. I think the first film might have a leg up on this entry just because we got to spend so much more time with the Turtles. Though, I think they found the perfect balance of Will Arnett in this one, though he is completely unnecessary to the plot.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows is right on par with the original film in this reboot. Each film has its own strengths and I hope they can bridge the gap between the two films for the inevitable sequel in a couple years. And I am excited for that sequel. These Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle films are fun and feel more like a cartoon than any other blockbuster out there and that is kind of a nice change of pace compared to a lot of other summer fare. If you are a fan of the franchise, you won’t be disappointed here, I just wish the action would have taken a step forward, instead of a step back. The action is still fun, just not nearly as good.