“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows” was made for the 12-year-old boy in all of us. The one who loves gooey cheese pizza and ninja stars and beating up bad guys just because.
After a recent film reboot, the self-proclaimed “heroes in a half-shell” from late 80s and early 90s Saturday morning cartoon lore are back to save New York City once again and keep children largely entertained for about 90 minutes.
In this installment, the four turtles – Leonardo, Raphael, Michelangelo and Donatello – must stop their arch-nemesis Shredder and his goons from opening a portal to another dimension for aliens bent on world domination. If this sounds like a pre-teen version of the plot to “Marvel’s The Avengers,” it’s because it probably is.
The turtles, along with mutant rhinoceros Rocksteady and warthog Bebop, are filmed via motion-capture, just like the villainous Gollum was performed by Andy Serkis in the “Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit” trilogies.
The animations used to turn actors in green suits into cartoon animals with fighting abilities doesn’t work quite as well as the filmmakers might have hoped. Given the next-level computer graphics of Disney’s recent reboot “The Jungle Book,” these turtles can’t quite cut it visually and the voice talent behind these CGI characters can’t elevate a pedestrian script from Josh Appelbaum and Andre Nemec.
After breaking out in the first two “Transformers” films as the stereotypical hot girl following around large superheroes trying to save the world, Megan Fox returns to the TMNT franchise as April O’Neil, an attractive TV news reporter following the turtles around as they try to save the world. Surprisingly enough, Fox gives the best performance in the entire film, which should tell you everything you need to know about “Out of the Shadows.”
Television star Stephen Amell of “Arrow” fame joins the cast this go-round as the iconic TMNT sidekick Casey Jones, a vigilante cop sporting hockey gear as weapons. Amell doesn’t have much character development or story arc to go on, an unfortunate, yet all too frequent occurrence among the actors portraying humans in the film.
The film’s four primary villains – Shredder (Brian Tee), Bebop (Gary Anthony Williams), Rocksteady (Stephen “Sheamus” Farrelly) and Krang (Brad Garrett) – are all comically undeveloped, with the whole purpose to just become meaningless obstacles for the turtles to overcome. While not all superhero films have deep, purposeful connections between hero and villain, a lot more work could have been done in the script-writing phase to make “Out of the Shadows” more well-rounded cinematically.
Tyler Perry, the film’s most high-profile star, plays a smaller supporting role as the possibly evil, but definitely mad scientist Baxter Stockman. The character, and especially Perry as an actor, deserve a shot to be the primary foil for the turtles in an inevitable sequel as Perry’s squirrely performance is the most interesting acting audiences will find in a “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” film.
Because the film is produced by heavyweight action film director Michael Bay, “Out of the Shadows” is most successful in its biggest, loudest moments where the turtles take on Shredder and his Foot Clan head on. While not entirely original, the battle sequences are bold, frantic and largely compelling at an age-appropriate level for the pre-teens in the film’s target audience demographic.
In this regard, the turtles seem to be a more viable starter option than the Avengers of Marvel’s cinematic universe for kids not quite ready for the complexities of more adult action-adventure films.
Where “Out of the Shadows” falls flat, however, is in the action-less rest of the film, which proves to be ultimately boring and comparable filler meant to bridge the gap between fight scenes. It’s a shame as Fox and Perry both show enough promise in their roles to develop a reasonably smart storyline around.
What director Dave Green ultimately relies on to propel the film forward is forgiveness on the part of younger viewers just excited to see the action scenes and 80s/90s nostalgia on the part of older audiences with enough background knowledge on the cartoon and comic book series to overcome the film’s shortcomings.
For fans of the 2014 reboot, “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows” proves to be on par, if not a little above the previous entry in the TMNT franchise worth giving a shot in theaters.
Newcomers, however, might want to rent or stream “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” first before committing to more of the same.