Summer is just around the corner which means it’s time to go “meh” for the “Season of the Hollywood Sequels.” But is it?
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows is the sequel to the 2014 “sleeper” hit. A blockbuster movie grossing over $400 million worldwide is no “sleeper,” but I use this term to describe what happened to me when I watched it on Netflix. I didn’t fall asleep the first time, oh no, that was the second time and the third. When I watched the movie the first time, in an attempt to protect itself, my brain prevented me from remembering anything that occurred. So, by the end of the movie, I legit forgot everything I just watched. It could have featured a full Megan Fox nude scene and I would’ve not even remembered. Wait, was Megan Fox even in the first movie? Just kidding (starts Googling).
Since all that matters to Hollywood is box office ticket sales and not the fact the first movie caused immediate amnesia or that the Turtles’ might have dabbled in steroids, or even the fact the movie was atrocious, it was greenlit for a sequel the day the first movie was released. So to say I wasn’t pleased with the first film and wanted nothing to do with a sequel would be a massive understatement. Nothing was going to change that. Nope, not even you, Vanilla Ice (starts humming “Go Ninja, Go Ninja. Go.”).
Out of the Shadows takes place almost a year after our overly buffed heroes saved Manhattan, and in keeping with their ninja training, they’ve maintained a low profile by fighting in the shadows, watching the NY Knicks lose from the rafters of Madison Square Garden, and arguing over the last slice of pizza. Meanwhile, April O’Neil (still played by Megan Fox) has gone undercover, investigating Baxter Stockman (in Tyler Perry form), a brilliant and respected scientist who may have ties to Shredder (now played by Brian Tee). Unsurprisingly, Shredder escapes police custody (in the most epic Fast and Furious way possible), and the Turtles, with the help of a new ally in corrections officer turned hockey vigilante, Casey Jones, (played by Stephen Amell) go about bringing the villain to justice… again.
With a mix of secret plans and teleporting, Shredder teams with the infamous Kraang, a disembodied alien brain, whose purple ooze will help him dominate the world by turning two dimwitted loyal followers into their true animal spirits: a warthog and rhino in the form of Bebop (Gary Anthony Williams) and Rocksteady (WWE’s Sheamus).
Breathe. Did you get all of that? Good.
Watching Out of the Shadows is seeing a laughable movie franchise get a second chance at life and deciding not to completely waste it this time around. A total opposite from the previous installment, I not only remembered this movie, but I found myself enjoying it while watching. This is a movie about talking, crime fighting turtles, which means you’re not getting Shakespeare, but you are getting a sequel with with heart, depth, and action sequences so well-crafted by the Fast and Furious/Transformers team it’ll have you glued to the screen waiting for Vin Diesel and The Rock to start punching things as Megatron and Optimus Prime look jealously from afar while sharing popcorn. They even make Megan Fox effortlessly walk and talk at the same time. She even slides under a door. #Progress
Not to be outmatched by the action, the creative team paid attention to the many flaws of the first movie, making an actual cohesive storyline and friendlier looking turtles. As a result we are finally given a Turtles movie instead of the “April O’ Neil Story” and O’Neil is finally the investigator all young boys and miserable married men deserve.
While there are plenty of jokes about pizza, farting, and Splinter, there’s finally conflict and an inner struggle the brothers go through. They want to be accepted by the humans they protect but there’s a real fear of how humans will react if the turtles were to reveal themselves. One even even goes so far as to suggest using Kraang’s ooze to change the course of their lives forever; and with their distinctive personalities, their views on brotherhood and identity are questioned.
With this improved script comes a new cast. Tyler Perry whom I last saw in Gone Girl completely nerds out as Stockman. Bringing a genuine performance to the role, he’s a natural fit. Funny, corny, and geeky, Perry looks and feels like he’s having fun instead of just reciting lines or playing to a camera desperately hoping someone laughs (I’m talking to you, Madea). He bounces around the screen with infectious nervous excited energy. He’s funny enough for children yet never overstays his welcome. Not once does he feel like a caricature or a cartoon. This is Baxter in the flesh, yet he manages to make the role his own — adding a special quirk to the character that’s highlighted when he’s around O’Neil.
Amell as Casey Jones… is basically Amell as Casey Jones, but he’s fresh faced, energetic, and flexible. He blends with the cast so well that this doesn’t even feel like it is his first movie. Juggling scenes with the Turtles, flirting with O’Neil, and standing up to the police department, he manages to remind us he’s capable of more than what we see in Arrow, especially during the fight scenes. Watching him balance hockey pucks, sticks, and various acrobatics, you can’t but hope CW is somewhere taking notes. The fight scenes are where he truly shines but he also has a relaxed chemistry with the cast that makes me appreciative when he’s onscreen.
Rounding out the newcomers are Brian Tee who replaces Tohoru Masamune as Shredder, the true villain we deserved (and I would have remembered) in the previous movie. Without much dialogue, he is menacing, dark, and overpowers the screen. Making me long for more Tee.
However, the true stars of this movie are Farrelly and Williams. Watching them together in human form, you can easily feel their chemistry. Minus the fart jokes and surprising penis joke, it’s as if they locked these two in a room together without a script and secretly filmed them. Even in CGI form, not a single ounce of chemistry is lost, and in fact, they even look good in this form. The coloring is crisp, fun, and original to the cartoon.
The CGI effects have improved since the last film are not only effective for Rocksteady and Bebop but for the remaining cast as well. The Turtles looks are softer, making them resemble their cartoon selves more. Much like Gollum from the Lord of the Rings franchise, their eyes are the center of their emotions. There’s even minute details from a smile to a downcast stare. All hail, motion capture!
Is Out of the Shadows perfect? Heck no. There are a slew of problems: way too many characters and storylines going on at the same time where nothing feels fully resolved. Characters will go missing for several scenes at a time, resulting in plot holes. Kraang will randomly appear out of nowhere and pop up scenes later without much explanation. Kraang’s design is so cartoony with the blurp noises and slime it took me completely out of the moment. Not once did I think, “this is a villain.” Again and again I just wanted Shredder to step on Kraang to end this laughable suffering. There was no explanation of their bond, no reason for them to associate with each other, no chemistry, and sadly, none of the back-and-forth banter from the cartoon.
One of the saddest missed opportunities comes from actress Brittany Ishibashi who plays Shredder’s daughter. I’m letting you know she plays Shredder’s daughter because not only does the movie not acknowledge her bad-assness, it doesn’t even acknowledge her existence — not unless you call one line an acknowledgement. Despite replacing Minae Noji, she partakes in a fight scene that’s just disrespectful to the character’s entire essence.
Overall Out of the Shadows is a step in the right direction: Fun, exciting battles with an actual story. It’s going to be destroyed by critics, however, this isn’t a movie for critics. This is finally a movie for fans of the Turtles and a great way to introduce newcomers to the franchise… if the Nickelodeon animated version isn’t available.