Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows plays like a greatest hits of everything iconic you know and love about the Turtles. Good guys, bad guys, ninjitsu, party wagons, everything; it’s all there to make a movie that’s—surprisingly—very entertaining. It’s also borderline nonsensical but, in a movie with talking turtles, it works.
Directed by Dave Green, Turtles 2 starts off with a bang. We’re instantly flying through New York City with the Turtles, watching them banter like four teenage brothers would, and you can immediately tell this movie gets it. The original did its best to hide the stars of the film in favor of the humans, but not so much in Out of the Shadows. That’s the title for several reasons, and the Turtles being front and center is the biggest one.
By spending almost every scene with the Turtles, Green sets a very distinct tone. This is a silly movie. A campy romp down memory lane aimed quite specifically at fans of the franchise. It’s super CG-heavy, packed with action set pieces all tailor made to fit in all those aforementioned greatest hits. What that does is create a movie that has lots of momentum and fun, but requires you to forgive a great many things.
Almost from that first scene, the script by Josh Appelbaum and Andre Nemec just goes for it. It feels like a wishlist/checklist with a loose story that crams it all together. Most of the narrative connections don’t hold up under any scrutiny. So Shredder goes through a portal? Okay. That portal leads him to Krang? Sure, why not. Krang gives him ooze that turns people into animals? Perfect, that’s Bebob and Rocksteady. We’re going to say “Cowabunga” here for no reason? Let’s do it. Can we fit the word “Shadow” into this script enough times we could make a drinking game out of it? Yes. Will people laugh at this dialogue? Who cares.
(Here’s something I thought a lot about after seeing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows. If everything in a movie is absurd and devoid of logic, does that inversely make the whole thing cohesive and logical? In most cases it probably does not. But when it’s a nostalgia-heavy family blockbuster that’s a sequel to a film that was based on a cartoon, which was based on an older cartoon, which was based on toys, that was originally derived from a comic book about talking mutant turtles? I think the argument can be made it does.)
Besides the personalities of the Turtles shining throughout the movie, the action is also a huge positive. The filmmakers have come up with some very exciting, very big, slightly familiar scenes that are tweaked to give the characters extremely “Turtle” moments—moments where the characters can use their shells, individual weapons, personality traits, all that stuff. Along the way, there are definitely times when the CG aesthetic is distracting, but they’re few and far between. In fact, the CG of the alien villain Krang in particular is outstanding.
If the Turtles are the strongest part of the movie, the humans are the weakest. New and old, they’re little more than set dressing. Megan Fox and Will Arnett reprise their roles and try to bridge many of those huge jumps of logic in the narrative. Laura Linney and Tyler Perry are new additions who do the same, but with a total awareness the movie they’re in is not serious. Then there’s Stephen Amell as Casey Jones; Amell starts strong but his sporadic use in the story makes him feel insignificant, and the performance suffers for it.
Another place the movie suffers is the soundtrack. The score by Steve Jablonsky sounds almost identical to his score from the first Transformers film and, if you happen to notice that, it creates a huge disconnect. The Turtles deserve their own musical identity and this score fails to do that in a big, big way. Every time the music crescendos to an emotional moment, I felt like I was watching a different movie.
Green also peppers Out of the Shadows with lots of catchy, but super obvious music choices. “A Little Less Conversation” by Elvis during a heist? “War” by Edwin Starr during a tank scene? Very on the nose. But, if you go by the mantra that this movie is designed to be campy and crazy, those choices fit. It all depends on whether you’re either along for the ride or not.
Then there’s the finale of the film. We won’t spoil anything, but if you had a split screen of the first movie along side this sequel, you’d be hard pressed to differentiate between the two. Both are in broad daylight, on New York City rooftops, with the Turtles battling some great big silver thing. It’s a letdown after the film’s great early action scenes.
All of major caveats aside, if you are a fan of the Ninja Turtles you are most likely going to find Turtles 2 enjoyable. Does it qualify as a good movie? Depends on your definition. It’s got a great tone and lots of pleasing fan service, with a mostly weak narrative and dialogue. The stars of the film have strong personalities; the supporting characters do not.
However, I think the film is undeniably admirable for how much it loves its subject matter and just embraces what it is. That alone makes me like it. For better and worse, this is the live-action Turtles movie you always expected Hollywood to make.