Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows Review (SPOILER-FREE)

The latest version of live-action big screen Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have returned! This sequel to the 2014 reboot sees our heroes again facing the Shredder and his Foot Clan, who allies himself with mutated street thugs and an ominous inter-dimensional foe for the Turtles’ greatest threat yet.

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Grow Up On Turtles? Go See This Movie.

Like many around my age, I grew up loving the 1987 TMNT cartoon. That show, the increasingly great video games, and the fantastic toy line helped define my early childhood. When the Turtles were first brought to the big screen in 1990, I was a bit too young to experience how big of a deal it was. It wasn’t until later that I realized how great of a Turtles movie and overall comic book movie that it was, and still is to this day. Its sequel, Secret of the Ooze, was more of my time. It became more cartoonish and kid-friendly, but being a young kid when I saw it, I loved it. The sequel that came after that…even when I was a kid, I didn’t like it (as it turns out no one else did either).

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The Turtles went in and out over the years, but always maintained a cultural presence. The 2007 CGI movie was a nice surprise, and the 2014 reboot, although having a troubled production and being surrounded by adverse fan reaction, I thought was pretty good. The origin plot of the turtles was a bit messy and I didn’t much care for the direction they went with it, but the Turtles themselves were done great (odd character design aside), the action was pretty fantastic, and the movie performed better-than-expected.

While the 1990s film series started strong and declined, this new series started on a mixed note and has gone on an upswing this time around. Everything about this movie is improved from its predecessor. While the 1990 classic was a great adaptation largely based on the original comic, this movie is instead a great adaptation of the 1987 cartoon. Seriously, it’s that original series brought to life in a way I wasn’t sure we’d ever see.

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Focus on the Family

The story of the 2014 movie was a bit of a patchwork from several scripts and late-in-the-game story additions. It worked well enough, but was messy and featured an origin for the Turtles which tied them and Splinter into April O’Neil’s past, which I didn’t really care for. The movie had too much of a focus on this weaker human plot. Whenever the Turtles or Shredder showed up however, I thought it was great. But the movie is told more from April’s point-of-view for much of the time.

This time around, the Turtles are front-and-center in the story. They are the absolute focus of the movie, with most of the plot cutting back and forth between them and the delightful villains. Much less time is spent on the human allies and their side of the story, and what plot and character there is to those humans is better written and more enjoyable than the last movie.

The previous installment did a great job giving the Turtles their own personalities and styles, and this movie goes farther with it. They are very distinct characters, each line and action reflecting their individual personalities and skills, and each facing their own struggles. Leonardo, despite being one of my favorite Turtles, he often is a more plain and less interesting character due to being the defacto responsible one. In this movie though, he has some conflicts and missteps along his path that give him more depth than I’ve seen him have before.

Internal struggle is another way this movie builds well upon the original. The Turtles have a well-developed and interesting group arc that is at the backbone of the story. Sensei Splinter is still knocking around as well, of course. I liked his hard-edged but loving portrayal in the 2014 movie, and his role here is very akin to the ’87 cartoon, offering guidance when needed, but often going about his own business in their sewer lair.

Also, for those that took issue with the Turtles’ designs from the 2014 movie (although it never bothered me much), they have had a slight redesign here, reducing things like Michelangelo’s lips and restructuring the faces a bit to better resemble their cartoon counterparts. Not too different from the last movie, but definitely revised with some audience feedback taken into account.

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Heroes Abound, Old and New

Several characters return from the 2014 movie on the heroes’ side of the cast. April O’Neil (played by Megan Fox) is back, doing a decent job overall, despite being not quite right for the part of April, in my opinion. But on the whole her character is a fine presence throughout, despite a straight-up STUPID opening scene for her that comes off less as a character showcase and more as a commercial for Megan Fox.

Will Arnett is back as Vernon Fenwick, thankfully playing the part of the goofy jerk more than he did in the previous movie. At the end of the day he’s an ally to the Turtles, but he’s often busy reaping the rewards of the Turtles victory over the Shredder from the 2014 film, and he’s much more of the jackass I recall from the original cartoon here.

Arrow’s Stephen Amell is a big newcomer though, as TMNT staple Casey Jones! This incarnation incorporates his thirst for justice by-any-means and love for hockey-themed beatdowns that he’s always had, but the approach to his character is just different than in the cartoon and the original movies. He previously was more of a rough-around-the-edges street punk with a lot of skill and a heart of gold. In this, he’s pretty tough but comes off much more earnest and somewhat naive. It’s an okay version, and even though the way Casey has ties with some of the villains incorporates him nicely into the plot, and while it’s always good to see Stephen Amell, it doesn’t quite live up to Elias Koteas’s fantastic portrayal from the 1990s movies.

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Villains in a Half-Drome

Speaking of the villains, boy does this movie let the good times roll with classic Turtles bad guys. First off, we have the return of the Shredder, this time played by Brian Tee. While intimidating to encounter and exciting to watch fight in the 2014 movie, he didn’t have too much character there. Here, his character still isn’t fleshed out too much, but he’s much more of a personality than he was before. He actually is unmasked throughout most of the movie, working to move the plot of the global threat forward. He continues to lead the Foot Clan, who are actual ninjas in this movie as opposed to terrorist-soldiers as they were in the last movie. Shredder is also assisted in a small role by minor villain Karai in assembling the best collection of TMNT villains we’ve ever seen on-screen.

TCRI scientist Baxter Stockman is a welcome addition, played gleefully over-the-top by Tyler Perry. Stockman and Shredder, along with a little help from a squishy thing from another dimension (more on that later), Shredder finally gives us live-action versions of TMNT icons Bebop and Rocksteady, played by Gary Anthony Williams and WWE’S Sheamus, respectively. First seen in the story as goofy, endearing outlaw buddies, their mutant forms are surprisingly dead-on. Their look, the missions Shredder sends them on, and even their comic-duo dynamic is retained from the ’87 show. They’re a highlight of the movie, and give the Turtles a different type of foe to face.

But even more of a highlight for me, was the long-awaited appearance of the powerful, nefarious, wacky and manipulative talking brain from Dimension X; this movie has finally given us the blessing of live-action Krang.

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Despite the way he’s brought into the plot being abrupt, his character is about as perfect as I could have imagined. If you remember how Krang was in the ’87 series, be ready for greatness. He’s just as controlling, dysfunctional, joyfully-diabolical and straight-up weird as you remember him. Though originally slated to be voiced by Fred Armisen, due to a scheduling conflict he’s instead voiced by Brad Garrett, who gives a great performance that invokes much of the maddened and random inflection classic Krang had. I can’t help but long for what Fred Armisen would have done with the part, but Garrett does an undeniably great job.

Krang also has with him a great update to the classic Krang exoskeleton, and the impending threat of the classic Technodrome late in the movie is great to see. Not all potential is realized for our villains, but much is teased and left open for major comebacks.

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Action and effects are on good display here. There are some great action set-pieces, and while I preferred much of the action from the previous movie since it was more geared toward hand-to-hand fighting and combat with Shredder, this movie has a nice mix of skill and mayhem going for much of its action, along with some more inventive ways the Turtles use their individual weapons as well. And I have to mention that, not only does the Turtle Van show up in this movie, not only does it have an array of weapons and gadgets that are straight from the old Playmates toy…but the scene it’s most featured in was filmed on the NY-33 right here in Buffalo NY!

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Overall, I really enjoyed Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows. Besides the great action sequences and memorable villains, the heroes shine brightest here. Their struggles bring new dimensions to their characters, and their skills and personalities are on constant display. The villains are mostly great, giving us spot-on versions of sought-after TMNT favorites. The plot is weak at times and the human side of the story is still less interesting, but every element is improved from the 2014 reboot. It’s overall not quite as strong as the 1990 Turtles original film, but this definitely comes in second behind that. To the average moviegoer, I believe this is a fun, charming and entertaining ride. To Turtles followers though, especially fans of the 1987 cartoon, this is a movie in which the negatives of the experience will be drastically overshadowed by how much heart and fun is put into bringing classic Turtles adventures to life like never before.

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+ Turtles are distinct, charming and interesting with emotional arc

+ Finally great live-action Bebop, Rocksteady and Krang

+ Improved plot, very inspired by 1987 show

– Shredder is underused despite being more fleshed-out

– Human side of story is weaker, although better than previous movie

Final Score

7/10

 

What did you think of TMNT: Out of the Shadows? Also, who’s your favorite turtle? We’d love to know, leave us a comment down below!

Seth Zielinski is a writer and video producer for The Geekiverse. Follow his attempts to make a funny on Twitter.

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