There is a scene about halfway through David Green’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows, a sequel to the notorious 2014 Teenage Mutant etc. film, wherein Casey Jones (Stephen Amell) has been recently recruited by the film’s title mutants to help steal a canister of purple ooze that can transform thugs into humanoid jungle creatures. Jones had been, over the course of the last few scenes, introduced to mutant talking turtles, a giant talking rat, and a plot hatched by an evil interdimensional anthropomorphic brain to invade Earth. He explains that he is anew recruit to these proceedings, and has little choice but to roll with it.
This scene is also, rather clearly, sage advice for the audience. Out of the Shadows is wholly committed to its own bonkers premise, and speeds so happily and hastily through its own fevered pre-adolescent insanity, that audiences would do well to take a shot of caffeine, lay back comfortable in a candy-induced haze, and, likewise, roll with it. Just let go of humane reason and accept everything being displayed. Then, and only then, will you find that Out of the Shadows is, dare this critic admit, actually one of the more fun Summer blockbusters of the year.
Out of the Shadows is constructed like, contains all the elements from – and is very much a high-octane cousin to – the1987 Saturday morning Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon series. The title characters, still CGI monsters, are carried over from the it-was-okay-I-suppose 2014 film, but the tone is now decidedly lighter and sillier, and the story is broader and stranger.
The four leads, Leonardo, Raphael, Donatello, and Michelangelo (voiced by Pete Ploszek, Alan Ritchson, Jeremy Howard, and Noel Fisher respectively) have previously, secretly, saved New York, but resent that they must remain in their sewer hideout, away from the prying eyes of humans. Their friend Falcon (Will Arnett) has been posing at the real perpetrator of their heroism, a role he takes on all too well. Meanwhile, their reporter friend April (Megan Fox) has uncovered a plot by Dr. Baxter Stockman (Tyler Perry, dressed up like Neil deGrasse Tyson) to free the evil Shredder (Brian Tee) by teleporting him to another dimension.
All is well and good so far. It’s when Shredder appears in another dimension, about 20 minutes into the flick, that your eyeballs will begin to melt. In that dimension, Shredder meets a goopy talking brain inside a robot suit. This is Krang, although most audience members of a certain demographic know this already. Krang gives no introduction, tells us nothing of where he is from, and explains nothing about his relationship with Shredder. He simply charges ahead with the plot, explaining that he wishes to invade Earth using an evil war machine called the Technodrome. Also mixed in with Krang’s plan is a pair of street thugs who have been turned into a rhinoceros (WWE Wrestler Sheamus) and a warthog (Gary Anthony Williams). Academy Award nominee Laura Linney will also show up later on.
These wild characters, hastily revealed plot details, and oddball conceits feel oddly at home in the heart, though. For those raised on the 1987 TV show, nostalgia imagery is being exploited to the best of the filmmakers abilities, but that’s hardly en impressive feat anymore – isn’t that the M.O. of all blockbusters these days? Here, the bizarro, calculated, and supra-marketed elements seem strangely pure. As if they spilled, unmixed, out of the brain of an 8-year-old boy and onto the digital celluloid.
In an era where audiences are fans of movies before they go in, there is a great deal of concern as to whether or not a new cinematic interpretation will do justice to the masses’ childhood memories. Will this new [blank] honor my memories of the original, or will it be too far away to be recognized? Out of the Shadows strikes a vital balance: It will burrow needles of nostalgia deeply under your skin, while still presenting something that looks and feels like its own entity.
Most importantly, though, Out of the Shadows has one important element that lacks from many of its nostalgia-based blockbuster peers: It possesses the conviction of its own silliness. This is not a film that’s attempting to make “gritty” or “realistic” something that is inherently childish and fantastical. That’s what the last films attempted. This one seems to know that the Ninja Turtles are, at their core, kind of ridiculous. That knowledge just makes everything more fun.
Witney Seibold has been a film critic for nearly 20 years, and is currently the co-host of The B-Movies Podcast on CraveOnline. He also co-hosts the TV podcast Canceled Too Soon. You can contact him on Twitter at @WitneySeibold.