For fans of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, 2014’s reboot of the series was less than well received, to put it lightly. Despite creatively depicting the design of the titular characters, the film’s focus on being a dark, gritty, and semi-realistic take on the characters wasn’t appreciated by many, despite being relatively faithful to the tone of the source comics. Though I appreciated this take on the Turtles, I found the film to be disjointed, tonally confused, and an overall poor representation of the characters I, like many others, grew up enjoying through their popular cartoon. When I saw the trailer for the sequel, I was immediately interested as the tone conveyed by the trailer, as well as the inclusion of two popular characters from the 1987 cartoon, Bebop and Rocksteady, showed me that the sequel was at least aware of what made the characters so popular in the first place, and was going to go that direction in this second outing. And I’m happy to announce, it certainly delivered.
The plot of this sequel comes a year after the first film, with the Turtles continuing to act in the shadows as to not alarm New York City, knowing it’s better to operate and be successful without the credit, than to reveal themselves and discredit all of the good they’ve done. This is challenged when Shredder is broken out of prison and contacted by an inter-dimensional being known as Krang, who has teamed up with Shredder to help bring him to Earth in order to take it over. The turtles do what they do best in hunting down Shredder, whose assisted by his foot soldiers as well as fan favorite henchmen Bebop and Rocksteady, as he gathers the components of a device needed to bring Krang from Dimension X to Earth, helped along the way by their old friends April O’Neil and Vernon Fenwick, in addition to their new team member, former corrections officer Casey Jones.
One of the strongest aspects of this film is the characterizations of the Turtles themselves. One of my biggest complaints of the original films is that while each turtle had a unique APPEARANCE, their individual personalities were lost on me, save for Raphael who took center stage for a good chunk of the film. When the turtles WERE together, I just didn’t feel the brotherly chemistry that makes them such an incredible and special group. Luckily, this was changed for the sequel, and from the very first scene we can see how perfectly they work together as a unit, while still remaining individuals. Most importantly, each personality is more than apparent in this sequel, matching up perfectly with the Turtles longtime fans of the series have come to love.
As far as the other characters of the film go, I found them all to be handled extraordinarily well. Except for the Turtles themselves, the definite stars of the film came in the form of Gary Anthony Williams and Stephen “Sheamus” Farrelly as Bebop and Rocksteady, respectively. The two have excellent on screen chemistry, on par at the very least with that of the Turtles. They bring the characters to life, and they’re a lot of fun to see on the big screen after all of these years. Brad Garrett’s Krang is another welcome addition that fans have been waiting to see on the big screen for years, and though his time is short, he makes a definitive impact and leaves you wanting more of Krang, which I hope we will get in a third film of the series. Megan Fox and Will Arnett take a smaller role in this film, which I found welcome; I felt they were given a larger role than necessary in the first film, so the downsizing of their roles in favor of better Turtle chemistry, and the addition of Bebop and Rocksteady, was incredibly welcome.
Shredder and Baxter Stockman are played fairly decently if not slightly forgettable, which is a shame considering how memorable these characters are in the cartoon. Ideally with both characters, we’ll see more of them in future films, where their characters will be brought up to par with all of the other well portrayed characters. Finally, there’s Stephen Amell’s Casey Jones, who in this film takes on the role of a former corrections officer who’s willing to do anything needed to bring Bebop and Rocksteady to justice. Amell plays this very well, giving us a likably sarcastic, quick-witted addition to the Turtles’ core team. He does lose some of the vigilante charm that made Jones such a popular fan favorite amongst the various shows, movies and comics, but Amell’s natural chemistry with the rest of the cast as well as his personal charisma is enough to make this new interpretation of the character stand tall amongst the rest.
Based on the characters added into the film, it would appear that this film is basically a live action adaptation of the 80’s cartoon. In many ways it is, though the general tone of dark realism is still present throughout the film. This helps compliment it as a sequel to the 2014 reboot very well, but at the same time it doesn’t work for the same reasons it didn’t work in 2014; the entire concept is fairly ridiculous, and best handled in a light hearted, if not full blown cartoonish fashion. The Turtles themselves look better than they did in 2014, but are still fairly jarring to see next to our live action cast, and the same can be said for Bebop and Rocksteady. Though they don’t necessarily fit in next to the human cast, they don’t look completely out there… Krang however, does. Out of all of the characters in the film, Krang feels the most like a cartoon character, and for that reason I’m fairly glad his time on screen is short, as I feel any longer seeing him and he would’ve not only overstayed his welcome, but brought down the entire tone the film was going for.
Because of all of this nostalgia factor and for long time fans, you’d think that this would be your generic kids action flick with nothing to really think about, but the film does have an underlying message – the importance of individualism and accepting yourself. The Turtles face a bit of an identity crisis, disappointed that they must stay secluded in the shadows for the greater good, knowing what makes them different will cause rejection from the world above the sewers. Yet when given the opportunity to change themselves into humans in order to live above ground and be accepted, they ultimately reject the opportunity, finally content with who they are, and able to work together cohesively as a team despite their personality clashes. Given that this is a film that will primarily be marketed to children, this is an important message to have at the forefront, and makes it better than just a generic nostalgia-fest; it makes it a vehicle to teach kids the importance of simply being themselves, and accepting others for who they are.
Overall, the film does have problems. But it also does a lot of things right, and it’s a definite improvement over its predecessor. Because of this, I’m giving Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows a 3.5/5. I still don’t think the overall tone works very well, and the use of mixed media falls short from working perfectly yet again, but the film has more thought put into it than the 2014 predecessor did, it stuck true to what made the Turtles franchise so successful in the first place, and it’s just a lot more fun overall. Kids will enjoy it, and long time fans of the series will appreciate it.