All the toppings, no extra cheese.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows opens with a sweeping pan of Leonardo, Raphael, Donatello and Michelangelo atop an iconic New York landmark with a box of pizza. This is a fine decision. With no questionable and convoluted origin story to get tangled up in, the second installment in Platinum Dunes’ take on the 32-year old franchise succeeds by getting to what matters most as quickly as possible: Watching a group of mutant anthropomorphic creatures perform ridiculous feats in New York City, and having a ton of fun doing so.
This attitude is consistent throughout the film. Out of the Shadows wastes little time justifying its over-the-top scenarios in order to spend more time with the Turtles. Plot holes are quickly glossed over, the motivations of key supporting characters are superficial, and the result is a clear, uncomplicated picture we can accept at face value. This is a contemporary hero movie without moral greys: There are only good guys and bad guys. Shredder (Brian Tee) wants power at any cost. Baxter Stockman (Tyler Perry) is a mad scientist who wants to make history at any cost. Only a few minutes are devoted to introducing the interdimensional warlord Krang (Brad Garrett) and establishing that he’s an evil alien brain who wants to take over Earth (also at any cost), before the heroes quickly nod and move on.
The straightforward setups and subplots, along with the film’s colorful, saturated art direction succeed in creating a strong and enjoyable cartoonish tone--in spite of the juxtaposition to the gritty, grotesque nature of its CGI characters and action scenes. This helps the film succeed in echoing the goofy spirit of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles animated series of the late '80s and early '90s.
The new antagonists Bebop (Gary Williams) and Rocksteady (WWE’s Sheamus), who were first introduced in the animated series, are portrayed faithfully as a duo of clownish thugs whose dim-witted but entertaining personalities only become more vibrant as they find joy in their warthog and rhinoceros forms. Their presence is delightful--they slap each other with affection, and crack jokes amidst the frantic action scenes. Krang similarly makes the transition with few liberties taken, he is the character as fans would expect him to appear, albeit only briefly.
Out of the Shadows rightly keeps the majority of its focus on the four Turtle brothers, spending ample time showcasing their individual personalities, as well as exploring the dynamics of their interpersonal relationships. These beats won’t be entirely unique to anyone familiar with past iterations of the Turtles, but the conflicts and the characters’ explorations into themes of teamwork, humanity and tolerance, help paint fleshed-out portraits of each brother and give the film a solid emotional core.
On the other end of the spectrum, Out of the Shadows’ weakest links are its human characters: Casey Jones (Stephen Amell), April O’Neil (Megan Fox), and Vernon Fenwick (Will Arnett). They offer their own brand of comic relief and serve as convenient plot advancement--certain ninjas of the Foot Clan are bafflingly inept at fighting civilians--but otherwise fill unnecessary scenes. There are hints of the expected romance between Casey and April, but nothing more than the glances of two attractive people deciding whether they want to sleep with the other. Even in a film filled with straightforward characters, the human heroes feel dull compared to the over-the-top villains and of course, the Turtles.
While Casey does play a key part in the film’s amusingly contrived, but engaging penultimate battle, his initial fight scene is monotonous and erratically edited--a sticking point in the film’s otherwise robust action arsenal. More cues from the '80s animated series are taken as the iconic Turtle Van/Party Wagon makes its debut with suitably ridiculous armaments, and a macguffin is placed in South America for no reason other than to get all the anthropomorphic creature characters on a plane together. These scenes are absurd and chaotic, but paced well. Director Dave Green emphasizes extended shots here, which make events easy to follow and as a result, they are fun to watch.
Out of the Shadows is focused and confident in its execution without taking itself too seriously. It trades in nostalgia, but does so in a way that shows admiration for the franchise and its characters, while hitting the balance necessary to make it consistently entertaining for new and returning audiences. It’s defined by levity, and brings the spirit of '80s entertainment into present day, prioritising amusement and heart, complete with feel-good moral lessons and a catchy theme tune.