Two years ago I walked out of the movie theater after seeing TMNT and was a little conflicted. As a life long Turtles fan I was a little disappointed with some of the decisions they had made, but I had felt relieved when I saw the kids in the theater around me and saw how much they enjoyed it. This is a sentiment I have echoed several times on this site. It’s exciting to see your favorite franchise get picked up by the next generation. Still, you want the version that’s passed down to mirror the best of what the franchise has to offer, and while Out of the Shadows doesn’t reach that bar fully, it comes considerably close. You can tell David Green and Platinum Dunes not only set out to make a fun summer blockbuster, but one that is sincerely TMNT, correcting many of the missteps the first film in this generation made.
*Author’s note. As is mentioned in the title, this is a Spoiler Review of the new TMNT movie. If you’d like our thoughts on the movie, spoiler-free, please check out Justin’s review, https://www.teenagemutantninjaturtles.com/2016/06/03/out-of-the-shadows-2016-movie-review/. Once you’ve read that and see the movie, come back here for my thoughts and join the conversation in the comments below!
I’ll get into the story beats in a moment, but I want to talk about style and tone first. This is really where you see the strides Green and Platinum Dunes made to bring Out of the Shadows back to the core ideas of the TMNT. If you think back to the first movie and compare it to this one, you’re going to notice some clear differences. The foot soldiers are no longer paramilitary guys with plastic masks. They look like, act, and fight, as ninjas. Shredder is no longer a giant transformer, but rather a man in armor: Kevlar and materials he could conceivably fight in, completed by his signature gauntlet and helmet. Best of all, the Turtles actually feel like ninjas in this one. It’s hard to pinpoint, since the CGI models haven’t changed much, if at all, but somehow the film manages to downplay the size of the Turtles. In the first movie, they felt like lumbering behemoths, causing craters in cars with their bullet proof shells. Out of the Shadows dials that back considerably, and you finally start to believe that these four are capable of being stealthy. They slide down buildings without causing millions in property damage. Raph crashes into a plane without causing it to explode. These are small details, but they go a long way to making these Turtles familiar again, something the first film missed by a wide margin.
In terms of tone, Out of the Shadows does a good job hitting the beats we’re all familiar with. The family aspect is played up, and much of the central personal conflict stems from this. One unique thing this film does that previous Turtles films have not, is that each Turtle has a small emotional arc. Remember how each of the 90s films and the 2003 spiritual sequel all focused on one brother’s journey in that particular story? This film breaks them down into pairs instead, and not the typical pairs we’re used to. Sure, we get the requisite fight between Leo and Raph, but we also get some great moments between Raph and Mikey, and Leo and Donnie. Even better, each individual Turtle feels more nuanced. The first film played up the stereotypes, but Out of the Shadows plays down this. For example, Donnie is less “geek” and more “person with personality, who also happens to be a genius.”
The Turtle’s human friends are also serviced well here. Will Arnett continues to prove that the inclusion of Vernon Fenwick was a good choice, more funny and earnest than the original cartoon character could ever hope to be.
Megan Fox once again shows that she is game for whatever the writers will throw her, whether that’s street smart reporter, goofy romanticism, or bravely walking into the den of ninjas. I do, however, have to call out the scene in the beginning of the movie where she strips from her “nerdy” disguise to that of a “naughty school girl” as completely unnecessary and not really appropriate. I get wanting to have things for the older audience members, but the way the camera focuses in on her body just made it feel gross. Overall the film does a good job of building April as a real woman. She stands up for the Turtles in their moment of need in the police station, doing what she believes is right in the face of authority. This one moment does disservice to the character, especially since she could have easily gotten what she needed without putting on a short skirt and tying up her shirt.
Stephen Amell is a welcome addition as Casey Jones, his Arrow chops being put to good use in the alleyway fight and his duel with the Bebop and Rocksteady. He also bring some great comedic relief to his surroundings, playing up the weirdness of his situation. His role hit similar beats to Elias Koteas’ portrayal in the first film, and it was smart of the writer’s to lean on that. It’s also great to see Amell get to play a hero with some joy to his character (I’m a big Arrow fan as well).
The police station heist is the best scene in terms of seeing the human friends work together with the Turtles. It’s a shame they couldn’t keep this team up rolling, because by the end of the movie, April, Vernon, and Casey don’t have much to do.
Out of the Shadows really hits stride with the villains. Rocksteady and Bebop are delightfully stupid, and Gary Anthony Williams and Sheamus really play up how much fun the characters are having. Complete with their delusions of grandeur, and love of destruction, these two might as well be direct transplants from the 80s, ripped right out of the cartoon. When you walk out of the theater, you will be saying “My man!” for the foreseeable future.
Tyler Perry also does a great job as Baxter Stockman. I was worried going into the movie that he would be too silly, but they play him pretty straight forward. He is a genius who is obsessed with legacy and history. He wants his name to overshadow all the other greats of the scientific world, and opening a dimensional portal is his ticket. He has some stereotypical “nerd” quirks, but is more mad scientist, and it plays well with Shredder’s scheme.
Green really paints Shredder like a badass too. In the beginning of the movie, Shredder is being moved from a city precinct to a prison out of the city limits. Bound with thick gauge chain and shackles, he is escorted by the entire (heavily armed) police force to a police van where he is chained down to the floor. The convoy transporting him is made up of 6 police cruisers. They take him seriously, and by proxy, you as the audience do too. They tell you right off the bat, this man is dangerous, with or without the giant robotic armor, and Brian Tee does a great job embodying that. This is not the bumbling Shredder of the cartoon. In fact, this is more akin to the original movie’s Shredder; a respected and feared leader, who does not get his hands dirty until he has to. Much will be made of his lack of fight scenes in this movie. He doesn’t have any and never interacts with the Turtles directly, but I like that he’s being used sparingly. He is (quite literally) put on ice for a future installment and you just know he’s going to come back with a vengeance.
Krang is also treated as a serious threat. His villainy is different than Shredder’s. Both yearn for conquest (the movie doesn’t stray that far from it’s Saturday morning roots), but Krang sees Earth as his personal play thing. He is grotesque, selfish, and pretty much a sociopath. Some small children might find him a little too scary.
Alright, that’s style, tone, and character, let’s move on to the story as a whole.
STORY SPOILERS FOLLOW!
For better or worse this is a straight forward summer blockbuster. The stakes are high, as the Shredder is bent on creating a mutant army and bringing an extra-dimensional monster to Earth, in order to conquer it. Good and Evil are straight forward, but if you’re looking for a more nuanced Turtle’s story, then you should be reading the original Mirage run or the current IDW run. Out of the Shadows is also free of having to do an origin story again, which is great. Instead, the film gives us time to see the brothers hanging out and having fun. The film opens on a great training sequence, with Leo, Raph, and Donnie playing keep away with a whole pizza from Mikey. It culminates with them sneaking into Madison Square Garden to catch a Knicks game, because of course they’re all hometown fans.
Meanwhile, April is tracking down Baxter Stockman. She found some evidence that he might be connected to The Foot, and wants to see how deep that connection goes. Donning a disguise, she gets close to Stockman and downloads the contents of his iPad, using a gizmo that Donnie made for her. This spins the plot into motion and it rarely slows down from there. The Turtles meet Casey Jones, a cop(?) turned vigilante, who is chasing down Bebop and Rocksteady. They reunite with Vernon Fenwick, now a city hero due the Turtles letting him take credit for stopping Shredder in the last movie. They discover the plan to create the dimensional portal, and set out to stop Shredder, taking them not just through the city, but all the way to South America in the process! It’s a fun romp, with cars exploding, plane’s crashing, the traditional alleyway ninja fight, and even a heist through police headquarters. It all culminates with the appearance of the Technodrome and Krang in the skies of Manhattan, and a showdown atop it.
The personal stakes ride on the Turtles and their loss of trust for each other. Donnie discovers that the same mutagen that created Bebop and Rocksteady can be reverse engineered to change the Turtles into humans. Fans of the original cartoon will recognize this plot, as one of the recurring themes in that show was making Splinter human again. Well here, the four debate whether or not they should become human, finally being able to fit in with society. It’s a good analogue for the turmoil that many teenager’s experience, and their reactions run the emotional spectrum. Ultimately, the four decide to embrace who they are, solidifying their bonds of teamwork and brotherhood for the final fight against Krang.
Two years ago I walked out of the theater feeling conflicted, but this time I was genuinely happy. This is not the best Turtles story, nor is it the best movie, but it finally feels like Platinum Dunes knows how to make a Turtle’s story, and a good one at that. It’s fun, actually funny this time, and gets to the heart of what the TMNT are all about: family, teamwork, courage in the face of adversity, and not being afraid to be different, and in fact, a little bit weird. Go into this with an open mind and have fun!