Within the first 10 minutes of “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows,” a middle-schooler sitting next to me muttered, “Oh god, no.” Little did I know that her remark would ring true nearly two hours later.
After his defeat at the hands of the Turtles two years ago, the villainous Shredder (Brian Tee) has recruited mad scientist Dr. Baxter Stockman (Tyler Perry) to create mutants of his own in the form of Bebop (Gary Anthony Williams) and Rocksteady (Stephen Farrelly) to settle the score. Along with their mentor, Master Splinter, and their human allies April O’Neil (Megan Fox), Vern Fenwick (Will Arnett), and vigilante Casey Jones (Stephen Amell), the Turtles race to stop an alien invasion led by an extradimensional being called Krang (Brad Garrett) as they grapple with a discovery that could make them human.
If there’s anything that sets “Out of the Shadows” apart from its predecessor, it’s the fact that it finally made good use of titular characters. Each of the Turtles lend an appreciated flavor to the film that’s seemingly absent in their human peers. Donatello (Jeremy Howard) is the nerd, Raphael (Alan Ritchson) is the muscle, Leonardo (Pete Ploszek) is the dutiful leader, and Michelangelo (Noel Fisher) is the fun-loving comic relief. As a cross between four, kid-friendly frat bros and the four musketeers, the Turtles are fun to follow and arguably deliver the better half of the film’s hit-or-miss jokes.
“Out of the Shadows” checks off all the boxes you would expect from a Michael Bay production: explosions, over-the-top action, and cheesy one-liners galore. As a film directed by Hollywood newcomer Dave Green, “Out of the Shadows” finds a fun innocence in its characters without compromising its thrilling set-pieces, the best of which sees the Turtles skydiving over the Amazon. The film’s motion capture adds to the palpability of its monstrous character models, but it is not enough to save the film’s off-putting animations.
It’s more disappointing that the film hardly brings the best out of its human leads. Fox and Arnett feel more like contractual obligations than necessities, while Perry, a cackling nerd in a bowtie, seems to be channeling a poor man’s version of the Nutty Professor. Amell’s Casey Jones can’t help but seem like a man reading off a cue card. Farrelly and Williams may be among the few actors who seem to be enjoying themselves as two meatheads that walked straight out of the franchise’s original 1987 cartoon series.
To that end, “Out of the Shadows” is as much a film for kids as one seemingly written by them. The film struggles to reconcile its gritty hyperrealism with its juvenile jokes, most of which are bad enough to require a laugh track. It’s only reasonable that the image of four hulking turtle creatures hurling over Manhattan should require some suspension of disbelief, but “Out of the Shadows” goes out of its way to drill plot holes anywhere it can in its mess of a script. You might already know more about Krang, Baxter, and Shredder’s plan to rule the world than this writer does from the film’s wealth of spoilerific trailers. It’s difficult to know what’s going on from one moment to the next in “Out of the Shadows,” assuming you choose to think about it at all.
“Out of the Shadows” is the big, dumb, kids movie that every big, dumb, kids movie wants to be, but be duly prepared to turn off your brain. Come for the Turtles and stay for the action, so long as you ignore everything in between.
The verdict: “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows” is a stupid spectacle at its cheesiest with the only joyful moments coming from its titular characters.
Reach writer Tim Gruver at email@example.com Twitter: @T_TimeForce