Monday, June 6, 2016

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows

After the success of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014), directed by Jonathan Liebesman, it only seemed natural that a sequel would soon follow. This sequel has now materialized as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows, directed by Dave Green. As seems to be common with blockbuster franchises, Out of the Shadows has a much larger scope than its predecessor, featuring a larger cast and clocking in at nearly two hours. Though the end result feels sillier in some ways, it does somehow manage to balance these elements into an enjoyable viewing.

One year after the events of the previous film, the evil Shredder (Brian Tee) is being transported, by corrections officer Casey Jones (Stephen Amell) to a higher security prison along with the prisoners Bebop (Gary Anthony Williams) and Rocksteady (Sheamus). The Foot Clan attempt to break Shredder out of the transport vehicle, only for the Turtles to thwart the effort but fail to capture Shredder themselves. After this escape, Shredder collaborates with Baxter Stockman (Tyler Perry) to enact a larger scale plan than simply taking over New York, also enlisting the aid of Bebop and Rocksteady. Meanwhile, Casey Jones sets out on a quest to redeem himself by tracking and capturing Bebop and Rocksteady, as they had escaped his custody with Shredder. At the same time, April O’Neil (Megan Fox) and the Turtles work to investigate TCRI, where Baxter Stockman works, and bring down Shredder while resolving a family dilemma. While Leonardo (Pete Ploszek) and Donatello (Jeremy Howard) are content with staying within the shadows, Raphael (Alan Ritchson) and Michelangelo (Noel Fisher) long to be accepted by the humans outside of their small circle.

Casey Jones as portrayed by Stephen Amell.

The general story seeks to embrace the inherently silly nature of the Turtles brand while also striking a balance with the more generally serious aspect of the Mirage and IDW comics series. Overall it seems to succeed, taking itself just seriously enough to further develop the Turtles and deal with their struggle to remain silent protectors of the city while remaining lighthearted enough for the many situations and character interactions to be more upbeat and fun. Despite the numerous subplots and new character introductions, the movie also manages to be pretty easy to follow and maintain the viewer’s attention. However, at least a couple of smaller scenes fall apart a little when you think about them and at least one plot thread seems to go unresolved, though perhaps a potential third installment would take these into account.

One area which received improvement is the special effects, which are rather impressive and contain plenty of small details, including a humorous moment where Bebop, as a mutant Warthog, is finishing off a strand of spaghetti; you can see the strand unwind twice around one of his tusks before whipping his eyes and finally ending in his mouth, complete with sauce stains. In addition, there are some small Easter eggs for fans, including a subtle use of a turtle head from the 1987 cartoon. The designs of the Turtles also seem more streamlined this time, with less bulky equipment, and the action is fast paced, featuring more application of ninja moves. There are also some creative setpieces, which are woven pretty naturally into the context of the story.

Also good is the acting, particularly notable with the larger cast size. The four Turtle actors are very good at distinguishing the personalities of each character from each other as well as establish a unique and engaging dynamic between the brothers and their master/father Splinter (voiced by Tony Shalhoub; motion-capture by Peter D. Badalamenti). Gary Anthony Williams and Sheamus also do a great job portraying Bebop and Rocksteady as total bros who are able to stay optimistic despite everything that gets thrown their way. One interesting performance comes from Will Arnett, returning as Vern Fenwick. It would be easy for him to be portrayed in such a way as to get grating, but Arnett manages to play him in a more balanced way, remaining in character while not being obnoxious and making him a good source of the film’s humor.

Bebop (Gary Anthony Williams) and Rocksteady (Sheamus) share a humorous "bro" dynamic.

While not a fantastic movie, Out of the Shadows is an overall better installment than its predecessor. This is achieved by engaging performances, action which never leaves a dull moment and an easy-to-follow story despite the higher amount of new characters and subplots. What also helps is the improved special effects and the increased number of laugh-out-loud moments mined from the mostly smart sense of humor found in the dialogue and character interactions. Though not the best film to come out this year, it’s one which will entertain Turtle fans old and new, as well as those who simply want to have a good time in the theater this summer.

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