Power Goes Out On Turtles In "Out Of The Shadows"

The heroes in a half shell are back in a sequel to 2014’s live-action “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” which was a modest creative and commercial success for Paramount and Nickelodeon. Subtitled “Out Of The Shadows,” the follow-up sees its heroes throw down with a who’s who of longtime Turtle foes. There’s the returning Shredder (Brian Tee), a pair of thugs-turned-mutants called Bebop (Gary Anthony Williams) and Rocksteady (WWE wrestler Sheamus), and the pink, diminutive slimeball known as Krang (voiced by Brad Garrett).

What there isn’t is any tension or personality to speak of, with the film coming off as a pricey, subpar Saturday morning cartoon episode needlessly stretched to 110 minutes. Gone is the playfulness of its predecessor, in its place a noisy, chugging action movie chock full of fan service in lieu of imagination.

The amphibious four – Leonardo (Pete Ploszek), Raphael (Alan Ritchson), Donatello (Jeremy Howard), and Michelangelo (Noel Fisher) – are once again impeccably realized CGI creations, brought to life by four actors with flourishing motion capture and voice acting skills. Even without enough fun banter, the quartet remains enjoyable company: sort of cute, sort of hideous, always amiable, especially in their rapport with rat sensei Master Splinter (again voiced by Tony Shalhoub).

No, the Turtles and Splinter are just fine; it’s everything around them that’s about as healthful as a throwing star to the jugular.

The screenplay, penned by Josh Applebaum and Andre Nemec (whose work on the stellar “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol” is looking more and more like a fluke), is a loose assemblage of the aforementioned villains running to and fro, occasionally crossing paths with our heroes. That’s the movie. No intrigue concerning any of the bad guys’ identities, no concrete plan beyond world domination, just physical confrontation after physical confrontation over a handful of underexplained trinkets.

First, there’s a car chase involving Shredder (easily the film’s best stretch). Then there’s a police station standoff, an airplane cargo hold brawl, and a terribly anticlimactic battle atop Krang’s ship. Fin. There are a few nuggets of character work here and there – Bebop and Rocksteady get terribly unnecessary mini-origin stories – but the film is so insubstantial, so linear that even young kids will know exactly where things are headed well before they get there. Even if the details themselves are impenetrable.

Cruelest of all, the human characters are DOA this time around, with Turtle allies April O’Neil (Megan Fox) and Vernon Fenwick (Will Arnett) operating on the periphery of the story for the duration. Apart from a few instances of narrative lever pulling, their presence has zero impact on the story, each absent for long stretches of the picture. Neither performer seems engaged in the least; it’s understandable. This goes double for new character (and longtime Turtle associate) Casey Jones (Stephen Amell), a total stick-in-the-mud cop whose only cool feature is a hockey mask he wears for no other reason than he did in the 1987 animated series. And inveterate actress Laura Linney is tremendously out of her element as a run-of-the-mill police chief.

Just how poorly are the characters written? Not even media mogul and general lightning rod Tyler Perry (“Gone Girl”) summons so much as a spark as mad scientist Baxter Stockman. He comes off like a theme park stunt show actor. It’s a nothing role performed weakly, and like nearly every other element in the movie it could have been cut to no ill effect. No 110-minute movie should have this many cuttable things.

There are minor doses of fun within, but “Out Of The Shadows” accomplishes nothing that any given episode of the original animated series didn’t – only at five times the length and a thousand times the budget. Turtle die-hards might appreciate the copious amounts of fan pandering, but a little introspection reveals that every bit of it is as hollow as a carved-up Jack-O-Lantern, adding nothing to the source material’s lore. No, the film only robs from it. Don’t let it do the same to you.

-J. Olson

Rating: ★★ out of ★★★★★ (Not So Good)

Release Date: June 3, 2016
Studio: Paramount Pictures, Nickelodeon Movies
Director: David Green
Screenwriter: Josh Appelbaum, Andre Nemec
Starring: Megan Fox, Will Arnett, Alan Ritchson, Noel Fisher, Pete Ploszek, Jeremy Howard, Stephen Amell, Tyler Perry, Laura Linney, Brian Tee, Stephen ‘Sheamus’ Farrelly, Gary Anthony Williams
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for sci-fi action violence)