The key to adapting a comic book franchise into a modern blockbuster, you might think, is to stick closely to the source material. Certainly if you want to avoid a very loud and very angry fan backlash. Go back to the comics and give the fans what they want. In the case of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, that’s not really the case.
There are a good few of us who really love those original Mirage comic books, but a larger group of Turtles fans want an adaptation of the vastly different cartoon series from the 1980s. They want characters like Krang and Bebop and Rocksteady. As illogical as it might sound, you have to make a faithful adaptation of an unfaithful adaptation. And that’s exactly what director David Green and his Turtles team have done for this new movie sequel.
Following the events of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014), the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles continue to live in the shadows, bound to their underground lair by day, moving in the shadows at night, hiding from the very people of the city they risked their lives to save. Following the Turtles’ failure to thwart a daring jailbreak, Shredder is on the loose again, this time with new allies. The Turtles must once again stop the villainous Shredder to protect the city, and the world, that don’t know they exist from a new intergalactic threat.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out Of The Shadows is a massive upgrade from the first film. There are so many improvements. The Turtles’ appearances; sized down a bit and given a few cartoonish adjustments, they look so much better (Splinter, voiced by Tony Shalhoub, is also given just minor alterations but looks greatly improved). The film has more action sequences, and they’re bigger and better. It has a better script. It has a better story. The score is better.
The Turtles get more screen time (a concern of expense in the first film; perhaps the budget has been upgraded too), which is a massive boost. Building on one of the successes of the first film, the character work here is great. These are good versions of the Turtles. Michelangelo, played by the brilliant Noel Fisher, is dead funny. Jeremy Howard got Donatello bang on in the first film and here, given more to do, he impresses again. Raphael is not only helped by some adjustments to his face, but he’s given some comedy in this sequel and it warms you up to Alan Ritchson’s gruff would-be action hero a treat.
The stand out Turtle performance, though, is Pete Ploszek’s Leonardo. Pete just is Leo.
This film does right by the Turtles. We get to spend time in the lair with them just being the Turtles. This is a lesson learned in the first film; when your characters are good, let us watch them. The Turtles each get character moments and proper, set up and paid off story arcs.
Stephen Amell’s Casey Jones does a bit too much telling instead of showing (he tells us he’s crazy but there aren’t too many moments on screen to back up his claim, for example), but Amell’s performance is likable, energetic and kind of wired; it works. Will Arnett wrings laughs out of every moment of screen time he’s given as cowardly cameraman Vernon Fenwick and David Green’s film wisely puts him to work. I know you’re not supposed to praise Megan Fox on the internet but I like her April O’Neil. Fox is surrounded by large characters with big personalities yet her April never looks like she can’t hold her own.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out Of The Shadows is a good looking movie. Every set is stylish and filled with detail. It’s colourful and full of cool vehicles and character designs. The bright colours and pristine look compliment to the cartoonish feel of the film and characters.
A couple of the action sequences don’t meet the standard set by the others. The film opens on a fairly disorienting one and a Casey Jones fight sequence doesn’t seem to have been put together quite right. For the most part, though, the action set pieces are terrific. They’re big, exciting and filled with character. The plane sequence in particular is very entertaining.
The obvious highlight, the stand out by a mile, better than everything else on screen, of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out Of The Shadows is the bungling duo of Bebop and Rocksteady. They don’t so much light up the screen as come crashing through it, high fiving each other and destroying the front few rows of seats in the cinema. The pair steal every scene they’re in thanks to an alignment of excellent writing, top notch CGI and pitch perfect casting. The chemistry between actors Gary Anthony Williams, who plays Bebop, and Stephen ‘Sheamus’ Farrelly, who plays Rocksteady, contributes massively to a wonderfully funny screen team.
There are two other new villains. Tyler Perry clearly gets the tone of the film, as his performance as evil scientist Baxter Stockman is big and silly. And Krang? Krang is deranged. The design, the voice (Brad Garrett), the gloopiness. A brilliant, utterly weird inclusion.
This is a film with six villains and, as you might expect, there simply isn’t enough for all of them to do. As such, we end up with about the dullest version of Shredder I’ve ever seen. The super-teched-up Swiss army Shredder-suit of the first film was definitely more interesting than the shrug of a costume actor Brian Tee is dressed in here, too. The other returning villain from the first film is Karai (Brittany Ishibashi), although for all she gets to do she might just as well not be in the film at all.
The other issue with having as many characters as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out Of The Shadows does is you end up feeling a bit short changed on some counts. It’s an understandable problem; they’re right to keep the film under two hours long and they want to make a film that features all the fan pleasing characters. That means a Casey Jones that doesn’t really get to do much Casey Jonesing. It means there’s a long spell of the film where Baxter Stockman disappears and another section without Bebop and Rocksteady.
There are other problems, too. The chunks of expository dialogue are brutally blunt; characters just plainly explain pieces of plot and then the film starts back again. And with the odd exception, the dramatic dialogue lands like a bowling ball on the foot (you’ll excuse that foot reference, I’m sure). The film thrives when it’s being funny or cool, but when it’s doing anything else there’s a stiffness and a rush to get back to the fun stuff.
There are also a few story problems. Let me be clear; the issues with story in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out Of The Shadows are nowhere near as severe as those in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014). However, perhaps owing to the number of characters that needed to be set up, there’s a charging, chaotic feel to the first half an hour, as we zip from event to event. Even after this, it just doesn’t quite hang together. It’s a bit stop-start, moving from one sequence to the next without building any momentum until the last half an hour or so.
It’s a problem in putting the jigsaw together, I think, as they might well have the right pieces here. Would a bit more time to work on the script or to put the film together in the edit have made the difference? I suspect it might have.
It feels a bit odd giving this film the same star rating that I gave the first (a rating I stand by), as it is miles better. I do think it’s a three star film, but it’s a three star film that I kind of love. This is why star ratings are rubbish. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out Of The Shadows is a big, fun summer blockbuster, and one that Turtles fans are likely to get a massive kick out of.