In 1995's Mallrats, there was a poor man named William (a film debuting Ethan Suplee). William was obsessed with a magic eye picture of a sail boat that all his friends could see easily, but the poor big guy could not no matter how long and hard he starred at it. Sometimes no matter how hard you try, you just can’t see things the same way as other people. I really hated 2014's Ninja Turtles live action reboot film despite having much love for TMNT franchise. I thought it was a dorky Transformers reject mish mash drowned in terrible pop culture references.... yet so many people I know didn’t just like the film, they absolutely loved it, listing it as one of their favourite films that summer. So much so that I genuinely started wondering if it was my magic eye sail boat: were there good qualities here that I was just unable to see? With that very real possibility in mind, I walked into its sequel, Out of the Shadows, keen to give these new hip hop heroes if a half shell a fresh perspective.... but despite some improvements, I still wasn’t convinced. It’s more of the same for fans of the first film to really enjoy but few new fans will be coming out of these shadows.
A year after being defeated, Shredder (Brian Tee – Tokyo Drift) escapes and seeks to bring forth a more terrible alien threat from another dimension with the help of his animal mutated thugs Bebop (Gary Anthony Williams) and Rocksteady (WWE’s Sheamus). Along with their friends April O’Neil (Megan Fox – Transformers) and Casey Jones (Stephen Amell- Arrow), New York once more needs some turtle power to save it.
Now, before I start cracking any shells, let’s be clear: this film gets many things right in concept even if the execution’s off. Firstly, this feels a lot more of Ninja Turtles movie than its predecessor, more in keeping with the comics and animated series that saw the 90's turtle boom. The likes of Casey Jones, Bebop, Rocksteady, the Turtle Van and Krang are all welcome additions but the single biggest improvement is their re-branding and re-casting of Shredder. Rather than being a lurch in Megatron’s reject Halloween costume, he actually feels like a character this time around! Granted he doesn’t do enough physically, which really detriments is threat as a villain but at least the real Slim Shredder has stood up and appeared in this film. Then there’s the “Out of the Shadows” theme itself as the boys’ desire for recognition sees them wanting to go public in at least some capacity. It plays the teenage and ninja sides of their characters off against each other well even if the McGuffin mutagen overcomplicates it somewhat, it does give the film some level of relation that pulls it back down to Earth amidst all the lunacy. This sequel continues the trend of delivering good action set pieces that prove to be the film’s highlight. Just like the last film’s alpine chase/escape put a smile on the face of even the biggest hater, here again, we see the film excelling by placing our heroes in more bonkers and unexpected calamity. The extended aerial hijacking sequence is almost the Turtles take on the Fast & Furious vehicular mayhem. In fact, that even yields the film’s best line when a nervous Raphael reassures himself with, “What would Vin Diesel do?” before jumping out of a plane. Many scenes and sequences throughout the film also carry a fair degree of fun and the first third in particular (complete with a Turtle Van action sequence) shows some much needed affection for its bandana wearing stars.
Then, there’s the flood of bad. For starters, most of the aforementioned “welcome additions” have in fact been delivered very badly. Despite making him talk about anger management issues and attitude, we just don’t see any of it from Casey Jones because they want to make him nice enough for a possible April/Casey relationship. Bebop and Rocksteady fare better to make physically challenging fight opponents but while some of their vast comedic material is enjoyable, the rest feels overly forced and one big fart joke in particular stinks in all the wrong ways. Yet worst of all is Krang, who, although is a villain all fans want to see, has been handled so poorly he would have been better off being saved for the inevitable 3rd film. He’s almost meaninglessly dumped into the plot, looks passable enough but serves to be nothing more than an upgraded re-run of the last film’s climax. It all boils down to a repeat of the 4 brothers taking on the bigger hulking tech-laden Shredder to having them taking on a bigger hulking techladen Krang robot, just on a floaty platform with more CG lunacy. Then, there is the humour. For every good laugh, there are plenty more that fail hopelessly, especially concerning Will Arnett’s (The Millers) returning Vern Fenwick, now a city hero and celebrity in one of the dumbest story arcs you’ll see in any film this year. At one point, we spend nearly a minute pointlessly watching him try to stand on a chair while secretly hoping he slips off, breaks his neck and gets the hell out of this film. Michelangelo is still so annoying you’ll want to shove him in a blender, Megan Fox is still an uninspiring April O’Neil who doesn’t even do any journalism until the final minutes, and neither Tyler Perry’s (Madea) Baxter Stockman or Laura Linney’s (The Big C) police chief add anything of merit.
Out of the Shadows is a significant improvement on the last film but this franchise still has a long way to go before it crawls out of the sewers. Frustratingly, the potential still feels like it’s there, and that there is a great Turtles movie to be made here with the right script and story. If the first film made you happy, you will certainly like this sequel; watch it and don’t give a flying truck about people telling you it sucks (least of all me). If you didn’t the last film or don’t care for C- fest style over substance films, then keep this film firmly in the shadows and smash all the lights with sporting goods.