I’ve been surprised by the mostly-positive pre-release buzz Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows has had going for it. The original film in this particular series was supposedly hated by all (mostly because they mistakenly believed Michael Bay directed it and felt obligated to say that it sucked, lest they risk their oh-so-precious reputations within the film community), yet it made a lot of money. More than pretty much anyone expected. I personally recognized that it had some serious flaws but I still had some fun with it. In fact, I just re-watched it a few weeks ago to prime myself for this one and enjoyed it even more with that viewing. But even the haters have seemed to be intrigued by the trailers and TV spots for this sequel that show a no-holds-barred, full-on embracing of the mythology – something that some films just refuse to do. Who doesn’t want to see Bebop, Rocksteady, and even frickin’ KRANG in big budget live-action? The nostalgia-fueled appeal is virtually too much to resist.
And I’m so glad I didn’t resist. This is the TMNT movie I wanted as a kid when the original 1990 film hit theaters. Don’t get me wrong; I liked that one. But I always wished it was just a little more . . . out there. But in 1990, it wasn’t technically possible to be as out there as I wanted it to be. But it is now. And it was two years ago when the first film was released, as well. But, despite some very well-staged action set pieces towards the end of that film, director Jonathan Liebesman and his fellow filmmakers still held back and gave us a more “grounded” version (as grounded as anthropomorphic turtles can be) in the same vein as Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight series or the X-Men movies. It didn’t click.
But now there’s a new director in town by the name of Dave Green (Earth to Echo) and whether it’s his doing or the studio coming to their senses, the gloves are off and the Turtles have truly arrived. Gone are boring, clichéd, evil businessmen. No longer do we have to deal with convoluted explanations for events that we don’t need or want to have explained to us (Krang just exists. No reason is given. He’s just there. It’s truly refreshing.). No pseudoscience dialogue to try to convince us this could really happen. The film embraces the fact that their world and our world are separate entities and the fun-factor is amplified exponentially as a result.
The humor works much, much better when compared to the original, as well. I saw a Facebook post from a very popular website asking if this film was the funniest of the year. Now, that’s stretching it but I definitely had fun with it and Michelangelo, in particular, delivers on the laughs.
The story isn’t exactly groundbreaking and borrows from umpteen films and comics we’ve all seen before but, to my knowledge, it’s at least new ground for this particular property. And nobody is heading to the theater to see this movie for the story, anyway, so I won’t hit it too hard for that.
Megan Fox does her job (as she usually does. Even more than that, she was fantastic when filling in for Zooey Deschanel on New Girl.), Stephen Amell never felt like a full fit for Casey Jones to me, but he doesn’t offend in the role, and Will Arnett isn’t on screen enough to annoy me. Tyler Perry serves surprisingly well as Baxter Stockman and I assume we haven’t seen the last of him. Krang is spectacularly outlandish (could have used more of him) and Bebop and Rocksteady (respectively portrayed by Gary Anthony Williams – who I know from Whose Line Is It Anyway? of all places – and Stephen Farrelly – better known as WWE’s Sheamus) couldn’t be more spot-on. Longtime Turtles fans – particularly those of the classic animated series – have waited a very long time for this and it pays off.
As I alluded to earlier, Out of the Shadows is not only vastly superior to its precursor (though I still love that slide down the snow-covered hill) but I actually feel that it succeeds in nearly every way in which last week’s X-Men: Apocalypse fails. There is one particular story point where I expected the film would get lazy and rest on its laurels but it instead shows surprising restraint and allows the film and characters to tread into uncharted territory. Fox refuses to do this with the X-Men. Turtles is also very true to its characters and trusting of the crazy world that they inhabit. Audiences don’t want “grounded” blockbusters. Audiences want escape. Believable characters are important. Believable stories are not.
So, I really liked Out of the Shadows. I’m not sure it’s technically the “best” Turtles film (it’s between this one and the original) but it’s my favorite and it’s the one I’ll watch most often. If you didn’t see the Liebesman film, don’t worry about it. What little you need to know, you probably already do. Just go, have fun, and stop taking life so seriously for a couple of hours.