Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows Megan Fox, Stephen Amell, Tyler Perry. Directed by Dave Green. Rated PG-13. Opens Friday citywide.
When the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles returned to the big screen in 2014, in a feature film produced by Michael Bay and starring Megan Fox, the fundamentally goofy characters were awkwardly forced into a loud, bombastic and mostly serious action movie, without much of the silly charm that the quartet of mutated reptile heroes sometimes possess in their various animated TV series and comic books. The new sequel, subtitled Out of the Shadows, has vastly overcorrected for this problem, turning itself into a grating, childish and overlong version of one of the episodes of the beloved (by a nostalgia-soaked generation) late ’80s and early ’90s TMNT cartoon series, complete with unpleasant CGI renditions of bad guys who were initially invented solely to sell more toys.
Those bad guys include the warthog and rhinoceros mutants Bebop and Rocksteady, plus Krang, a literal brain with a face and tentacles, suspended in the abdomen of a robot. The apparently randomized casting also offers up Tyler Perry as Baxter Stockman, an evil (human) scientist prone to actual sinister giggles as he cooks up his nonsensical plan to open up a portal to another dimension and destroy the Earth, or whatever. Perry’s performance is only slightly less cartoonish than the rendition of the potbellied anthropomorphic warthog, and the movie on the whole pitches itself at the volume and subtlety level required to reach an audience of hyperactive nine-year-olds (for whom, then, the throwaway joke about the size of the mutated warthog’s penis is perhaps inappropriate).
Hyperactive nine-year-olds of all ages are the broader target audience, and the overabundance of familiar characters (also including Arrow’s Stephen Amell as hockey-themed vigilante Casey Jones) is pure fan service, designed to appease the diehards who thought the previous movie went too far off-brand. Fox is back as reporter April O’Neil, but she spends most of her time standing around while other characters keep the plot moving. This time around, the Turtles crack terrible jokes, eat plenty of pizza and thwart a world-ending plan with the help of their souped-up garbage truck that shoots manhole covers (available in toy stores everywhere, no doubt). The movie even closes with an updated take on the old TMNT theme song, accompanied by comic-book-style illustrations of the main characters.
As throwaway entertainment for bored kids on weekday afternoons, the TMNT cartoon was serviceable, but the same kind of plotting, dialogue and in-your-face visual aesthetic is completely mind-numbing over the course of 100-plus minutes, with large-scale action sequences that utilize actual explosions. Director Dave Green (Earth to Echo), taking over from Jonathan Liebesman, fails to bring any more coherence to the action sequences, especially the chaotic finale that takes place atop Krang’s interdimensional weapon/base/thingy. Decades ago, the Turtles were the idiosyncratic creations of a pair of comics artists satirizing popular trends in their industry; Out of the Shadows is just the latest step in their long evolution into meaningless corporate properties.