The Michael Bay-produced Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles did exactly what fans and detractors of the explosion and short skirts-loving director expected, which is bring the same level of chaotic action as his vaunted Transformers franchise. What it didn't do was fully embrace the straight-up weirdness of the TMNT universe, which goes far beyond a foursome of teenaged ninja turtles who love pizza and skateboards. The appropriately-titled sequel, 'Out of the Shadows', brings every bizarre facet of their comic book origins into the spotlight for an exercise in fan service that should leave them satisfied.
Newcomers may be left shell-shocked, though, at the mutagenic madness posing as a plot. To be honest, it's tough to make sense of even for the most devoted Turtle follower, and at no point is there any attempt for it to ever make sense. Not that there's time to stop and figure anything out, anyway, because incoming director Dave Green (of the kiddie sci-fi film Earth to Echo) never slows things down long enough to contemplate what the heck is going on. Leave the contemplation and meditation to Master Splinter, these Turtles need to kick some shell.
The plot is basically an extended episode of the long-running cartoon, in which metal-plated Foot Clan leader the Shredder (Brian Tee) teams up with interdimensional brain alien Krang (voiced by Brad Garrett) to take over the world. This comes after Shredder is broken out of NYPD custody, which includes volatile cop Casey Jones (Stephen Amell), with the help of dufus scientist Baxter Stockman (Tyler Perry!!). Fans of the cartoon know Stockman's future insectoid fate, but here he's used to help turn others into giant mutant freaks. WWE superstar Sheamus and actor Gary Anthony Williams are a couple of dumbass thugs injected with Krang's alien ooze to become mutant rhino Rocksteady and farting mutant boar Bebop.
Meanwhile the Turtles are coping with their ostracization from society, and the desire to be human so they can go to any New York Knicks game they want. Apparently living underground hasn't taught them what ticket prices are yet. The mutant ooze gives Michaelangelo, Raphael, Leonardo, and genius Donatello the idea that it could cure them of their Turtle-ness, but of course not all of them think this is a good thing. Cue the sibling rifts that have become a staple of pretty much every TMNT movie. It would be nice to see the basic Leo vs. Raph rivalry pushed forward in a different direction, but that's probably asking too much from a franchise that is clearly geared towards the kiddies.
As such, the emphasis is on silly pizza-inspired jokes and Turtle-powered action. Green has clearly gone to the same school that allowed Jonathan Liebesman to ape Bay's style in the first film. There's plenty of car-smashing, manhole-throwing thrills to be found, including a fun aerial sequence that serves as the centerpiece, and the battle against Krang aboard his Technodrome makes the most out of impressive CGI. All of the characters you've come to know and love are rendered faithfully, although Garrett's booming voice isn't the right fit for the weaselly Krang. If there's one thing these movies do better than the prior films it's giving each Turtle a distinct visual look that goes beyond the multi-colored headbands. As the resident nerd Donatello isn't as bulky as the massive Raph, while youngster Mikey looks like a cherub compared to his brothers.
We seem to have gotten less of Megan Fox as April O'Neil this time around, but of course there's still time to slip her into something tight and walk her in slo-mo. I wonder if Bay puts that into the studio notes as a "suggestion"? The promise of Arrow star Amell pulling an Oliver Queen against Shredder is never realized, either, and he's mostly used as everyman comic relief. Laura Linney also has a role as a high-ranking cop whose sole purpose is to be a disbelieving obstacle, while Will Arnett returns as self-absorbed cameraman Vern Fenwick, now an egotistical local celebrity.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows accomplishes what Paramount and Nickelodeon wanted to do, which is excite longtime fans enough that they'll buy some TMNT toys for their kids. And if they create a whole new generation of shell-heads in the process, then all this will have been worth it.
Rating: 3 out of 5