The Michael Bay-produced Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles raked in almost $500 million at the worldwide box office, but it was widely regarded as a flop by both critics and hardcore TMNT fans alike. Jonathan Liebesman may have served as director, but the rebootedTurtles was all Bay spectacle, complete with puffed-up action sequences, low-hanging jokes, and gratuitous shots of Megan Fox. The sequel, subtitled Out of the Shadows, trades Liebesman for Earth to Echo director Dave Green, and while the final result is anything but a cinematic masterpiece, it’s at least an improvement over the original, as our four heroes in half-shells leave their sewer home behind to once again defend the streets of New York from cartoonish villains.
Returning as the turtles’ closest friend and confidante, April O’Neil, Fox actually gets a fair amount to do, whether she’s breaking into a top-secret scientific facility or hacking into a villain’s email. (That being said, there are still too many shots of her walking in slo-mo, sexily flipping her hair over her shoulder in a midriff-baring schoolgirl outfit.) Arrow’s Stephen Amell also makes his debut as the hockey-stick-wielding vigilante Casey Jones, and Laura Linney phones it in as your standard no-nonsense police commander intent on hunting down the turtles. Far more interesting are Tyler Perry as the scenery-chewing mad scientist Baxter Stockman and the addition of two classic TMNT foes: Bebop and Rocksteady, a pair of witless felons transformed into a humanoid warthog and rhino.
In addition to Bebop (Gary Anthony Williams), Rocksteady (Stephen “Sheamus” Farrelly), and Stockman, Out of the Shadows finds the turtles facing off against a pantheon of villains, including the returning Shredder (Brian Tee, replacing Tohoru Masamune) and his Foot Clan. The maniacal Krang (voiced by Brad Garrett) recruits Shredder to retrieve a bunch of dimension-opening machine parts, so he can bring an alien warship into Earth’s atmosphere and destroy the planet, or something.
As you might expect, it’s up to the turtles to stop them, all while struggling with their vow to protect New York, a city that will never accept them as the mutants they are. There’s a heavy-handed emphasis on the importance of brotherhood and being true to yourself, but mostly, the emotional stuff takes a backseat to all the pizza, pranks, and flaming garbage trucks that shoot manhole covers like projectiles.
Unlike its predecessor, which tried to turn TMNT into a self-important Bay action epic, Out of the Shadows remembers that this is a story about four reptilian teenage brothers who live in a sewer with their rodent sensei/surrogate father, eat a lot of pizza, and beat up bad guys — like an empty-headed warthog and rhino duo and a squid-like brain squished into a robot body. In other words, it leans into the ridiculousness that is Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. So while Out of the Shadows may not be any smarter than the first installment (or really all that smart at all), it’s certainly a lot more fun. C+