Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows Review

Shadow Boxing

Out of the Shadows subsists on jumbled, chaotic ideas. Part nostalgia trip, identity story, inter-dimensional saga, videogame tributary – all at once – it’s crowded. When Out of the Shadows settles – and that’s not often – a sense of awareness as to who the Turtles are slips through. That’s a success.

Despite blatant on-screen text denoting their personalities, the Turtles do define their purpose in action. In the Michael Bay-produced 2014 Ninja Turtles, the foursome blended as one. Derivative as the interpretations are (the Raphael/Leonardo scuffle sits in the center as in most Turtles sagas), Out of the Shadows tones down the indistinct mannerisms and if nothing else, finds the character’s essential motivations between beats of a messy narrative.

Struggles with mutagen, a find-the-object chase, city police saga, and villain-led sci-fi fantasy are indecisive in their direction, as if led by a dozen episodes of the cartoon, scrunched into a two hour time frame. Scripting pulls in needless directions and the narrative covers up gaping holes with additional loud, booming action. It’s too much, despite some coherency which is more than can be said for the aimlessly scatterbrained 2014 film. Out of the Shadows is also scatterbrained, but it’s aiming for something.

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That something is another rooftop-esque climax to cap this live action cartoon (which too is mostly a cartoon given the excess of effects), bridging the two films with a me-too similarity. Inclusions meant to appease the fan base include mutant warthog Bebop and rhino Rocksteady, brought in alongside slithering brain from Dimension-X, Kraang. Chisel additional time for the uneventful Shredder, under-developed Karai, and Tyler Perry’s overplayed Baxter Stockman  and Out of the Shadows becomes led by its opposition rather than its heroes.

A significant swatch of Out of the Shadows is a visual impossibility with no adherence to rational form.

There’s no trust in the audience to solve things on their own, the lowest common denominator writing with insipid dialog. Stephen Amell plays the cleanest vigilante Casey Jones to date, well shaven and plainly dressed, outright proclaiming his character traits to the camera as the vigilante hockey buff. An attempt to briefly leverage the Turtle’s mutated form for a civil rights allegory is left field political posturing, which as with much of this film, struggles to find its point.

If there’s progress, where Turtles ’14 turned ferocious in its violence and dire in its sexualization, this sequel follows the pattern of 1991’s Secret of the Ooze: Tamer and cuter. In the case of this sequel specifically, there is less concern with the Turtle’s sexual prowess. Someone, somewhere considered the implications of inter-species sexuality and figured it was too much. Megan Fox though remains stuck in a typecast role of sex bomb, shamelessly undressing in public during an early montage. A role reduction for Will Arnett means a drop-off in embarrassing one-liners and creepy relationship set-up.

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Even with a number of progressive measures meant to better this live action Turtles, the series remains bogged down by its ADD-infested formalities and pace. It’s not only narrative which behaves as if endlessly pursued by the editor’s hand (moving the Turtles from Brazil to New York sewers in two scene cuts) – it’s action too. The finale’s nauseating cluster of moving objects, brawling, New York scenery, and jet-powered skateboards never anchors into place. If meant to imbue the feature with the Turtle’s “radical” zaniness, it fails.

There’s no use trying to follow the frenzied collection of choreography and visual effects. A significant swatch of Out of the Shadows is a visual impossibility with no adherence to rational form. Camerawork flips and twists because the digital effects allow mobility, inconsiderate of whether such a shot could be probable. Therein lies immediate distance between the camera and viewer, leaving images ill-composed and artificially feverish.  Michael Bay’s signature continues to be all over this reset Ninja Turtles series. It’s less about who’s directing and handling cinematography than it is Bay’s own preference for vapid cinematic busyness.

Out of the Shadows’ competent moment comes as Leonardo bows before Splinter to receive guidance. The camera (nearly) stops, allowing for a drip feed of clarity and beauty (despite the still ungainly faces of the Turtles). By using restraint, Out of the Shadows creates an admirable moment in a film all too concerned with being busy.

Summary

Out of the Shadows improves over its miserable predecessor, while still lacking focus and a sense of maturity as a franchise.

Overall
2
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