Film Review | Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows

This sequel to the Michael Bay-produced reboot of the crime-fighting turtles may do one better on this original, but that doesn't mean it lives up to the gonzo potential of this much-loved piece of pop culture nostalgia

Teodor Reljic
20 June 2016, 8:00am
Low on (turtle) power: the mutant foursome do their utmost, but the film’s a dud
Low on (turtle) power: the mutant foursome do their utmost, but the film’s a dud

While it was unsurprisingly panned by critics, the first of these rebooted Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles films – directed by Jonathan Liebesman and released in 2014 – apparently made enough money to justify a sequel. Truth be told – and as a kid I was among the ranks of their baying fans – the Ninja Turtles themselves were always something of a strange pop culture phenomenon. I mean, the clue is in the name, really. ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ sounds like the title you’d come up while playing some elaborate – and alcohol-laced – party game with your equally soused friends.

In this sequel, the Turtles – Leonardo, Michelangelo, Donatello and Raphael – are still hiding away from public view, having struck an agreement with cameraman Vernon Fenwick (Will Arnett) that he is to take the credit for their defeat of the villainous Shredder in the first film. But when – the now recast – Shredder returns with plans to plunge the world into an extra-dimensional portal with the help of arch-villain Krang, and rogue scientist Baxter Stockman (Tyler Perry), the Turtles are left with no choice but to risk their anonymity to save the city once again. They might just make it, if their trusty broadcaster friend April O’Neill (Megan Fox) and new ally Casey Jones (Stephen Amell) manage to convince the public and the police – led by the sceptical Chief Vincent (Laura Linney) – that the Turtles are not monsters, but the city’s only hope for survival.

For all the mad superheroes and – yes – mutants we’ve seen pop up on the big screen lately, ‘mutated turtle humanoids taught to fight crime by a rat-human sensei in a sewer’ takes the biscuit as far as kooky B-movie weirdness is concerned. It’ll come as little surprise that the original comic books that originated the Turtles were a darker, far more violent affair.

And given that fact, it’s then also hardly surprising that what eventually became a sanitized version of its source material – for the purpose of the wildly popular early 90s animated cartoon – would make for an awkward transition to live action.

But it’s a brand that apparently still has some weight, and producer Michael Bay (guiding hand of that other bit of 90s nostalgia, the Transformers franchise) has been proven right to invest in it.

And for sure, this particular installment – directed by Dave Green and written by Josh Appelbaum and André Nemec – appears to have at least enough juice for a decent half-hour of half-shell shenanigans. What’s most surprising is that while it doesn't quite keep things kid-friendly through and through – a few notable swears assure us that the studio cares more about the nostalgia viewer than the young ‘uns – there’s a refreshing acceptance of ‘lame’ humour that will grate with adults but go down like catnip with the target audience.

That said, all the problems that have beset the franchise are very much present and accounted for. The voice actors behind the turtles do a good enough job of carving out distinct personalities for each of them, but the overwhelming use of CGI continues to create an unwelcome distancing effect, and smacks of cost-cutting and lack of imagination at the studio.

The ‘human’ cast doesn’t fare too much better either – Megan Fox’s April O’Neil is objectified even before the opening credits have had a chance to roll, and Tyler Perry is woefully miscast as the science boffin sidekick to Brian Tee’s Shredder. 

Teodor Reljic is MaltaToday's culture editor and film critic. He joined t...