Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows is, in an unexpected way, aptly named. Whereas the title characters were basically relegated to background scenery for their 2014 predecessor, they have now, narratively speaking, been brought out of the shadows, allowed to be the stars of their own movie. The tradeoff is that their starring vehicle is the most miserable cinematic experience this side of a Transformers movie. It’s such a product, not telling a story so much as setting the stage for a series of action figures and playsets. It’s a loud and aggressive film populated by computerized characters with no originality and human characters with no substance. It’s action sequence after action sequence buried by special effects and assaulting 3D visuals.
The story, as would be expected, once again involves the Turtles on a mission to stop evil Shredder (Brian Tee) and his clan, The Foot. He and his martial arts flunkies have teamed up with a scientist (Tyler Perry), who not only laughs like Dwight Frye of Dracula fame but also has no concrete reason for helping the Foot Clan, save for some vague references to not wanting to be a footnote in the annals of scientific history. The villains have gained possession of pieces of a teleportation device, which, when assembled, can create a portal to another dimension and unleash a metallic monstrosity capable to destroying the world. What isn’t adequately explained is why the pieces need to be assembled at all, given the fact that they each seem to work just fine on their own.
The only apparent being in this other dimension is Krang, a disgusting, goo-dripping cross between a human brain, an octopus, and a piranha attached via hoses to a gigantic and unbelievably clunky robot suit. He’s voiced by Brad Garrett very much in the style of a Saturday morning cartoon – pure hambone theatrics, with the hilariously awful dialogue to boot. This is in stark contrast to Shredder, who delivers every line as a monotone whisper, as if the intention was for us to take the character seriously. How can we when he creates sidekicks that are more comedy relief than serious threats? These would be a warthog and a rhino, created when two idiotic prison inmates (Gary Anthony Williams and Stephen Farrelly) are injected with a purple ooze that brings forth and accentuates dormant animal DNA.
Oh, and then there are the human characters. We’re reintroduced to April O’Neil (Megan Fox), who doesn’t deliver a single news report until the end of the film. Up until then, she acts as the Turtles’ sexy assistant. Fox’s performance is painfully unconvincing, in part, I suspect, because she was directed to be eye candy in an action film as opposed to an actual character. This isn’t the best image to be putting into the heads of preteen boys, the film’s target demographic. There’s a difference between a strong female character and a female character doing strong things; one is allowed to be engaging and intelligent while the other is meant to give impressionable young men nighttime fantasies.
We’re also reintroduced to Vern Fenwick (Will Arnett), who, because of the deal he made with the Turtles at the end of the previous film, has retired from being a news cameraman and has become an egocentric media whore with an honorary key to the city. New to this film are hockey-playing cop Casey Jones (Stephen Amell), who’s given just about nothing to do aside from deliver wiseass lines that make him seem naïve, and Jones’ superior, Rebecca Vincent (Laura Linney), whose sole purpose is to chastise Jones for every move he makes and regard the Turtles with fear and suspicion.
And what of the Turtles? Played as motion capture figures by Pete Ploszek, Alan Ritchson, Noel Fisher, and Jeremy Howard, they certainly look better than their counterparts from the animated series and the original ‘90s movies. There were even the beginnings of a decent subplot, which examines their clashing personalities and how they each must deal with remaining unseen, lest they be ostracized. Unfortunately, this idea has been explored more times than I care to count. And ultimately, they contribute too much to all the unbearable noise and spectacle, especially during the final battle. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows had me wishing it would retreat back into them.