TMNT: OUT OF THE SHADOWS… Of That Abominable Last Movie [Blu-ray Review]

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out Of The Shadows releases on Sept 20 from Paramount in 4K, 3D, and Standard Blu-ray editions.

So let’s get this right out in the open first: I hated the 2014 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie. HATED IT. As a Turtles megafan, I followed its development (including the leaked script and “they’re aliens/not mutants now” rumors) and viewed its terrible trailers with a sense of deep dread, but I never said a word against it because I had to judge the movie itself. And then I finally watched it.

It was even worse than I imagined.

It was aggressively, almost unbelievably stupid, assembled by committee, directed and produced by people who were clearly disinterested, and completely disrespectful to the franchise and its fans. Most damningly, and I didn’t figure this out until rewatching, there’s a constant barrage of bad decisions, terrible jokes, and inane plot devices, such that there’s something new to grit my teeth over and just drive that dagger of betrayal deeper — every couple of minutes, like clockwork. It was the Amazing Spider-Man of Turtles movies, only so much worse because I cared so deeply about the characters (sorry, Spidey). I took down a full 4 pages of notes, more than I’ve ever taken for any film, but finally gave up even attempting to put my thoughts into writing; so vast was my seething rage.

Instead I summarized all my hatred into a single tweet.

So when a sequel was announced from the same producers, I was completely disinterested. Why double-down on an awful, failed experiment? I know I wasn’t the only one who felt this way, because Out Of The Shadows stumbled out of the gate, doing about half the business of the prior film despite generally positive buzz.

But here’s the incredible thing: the new movie…. is actually good.

I sat down to the Blu-ray with a familiar sense of dread, but within the first few minutes of Out Of The Shadows, we get a character moment between Raph and Don that’s better than literally anything in the first film, a cameo from TMNT co-creator Kevin Eastman, the Turtles sneaking into a Knicks game (my team, so YMMV on that), and the introduction of a perfectly cast Tyler Perry as Baxter Stockman.

The first and best Turtles film from 1990 was informed mainly by the original Mirage comics series, adapting the mainline story up to that point (and even beyond, into future issues that hadn’t been published yet). That’s perfect for fans of the comic like me, but most viewers are coming from a place of loving the cartoons, mainly the 1987 series featuring a huge cast of wacky characters like Rocksteady, Bebop, and Krang; or in the case of younger fans, the current Nickelodeon show. Out Of The Shadows opts to do what many fans have wanted for years: bring the cartoon world to the big screen with tons of familiar characters, and visual elements like the Turtle Van and Technodrome.

In fact, the movie is such a blast that, like X2: X-Men United, the only major problems are the leftover issues from the prior film which took far too many liberties with its characters. Raphael is still an 11-foot tall steroid abuser, and Michaelangelo still looks like someone took a crowbar to his face, but these problems don’t seem as bad now — a combination of numbness from familiarity and actually being coupled with a decent script and direction.

To its credit, the film tries hard to uncluster certain aspects from the prior film. Hired gun Jonathan Liebesman is out, and new director Dave Green is a self-professed fan of the Turtles — and I believe him. Splinter’s design has been subtly changed — still the same character model, but with fur added. Gone is that terrifying naked mole-rat (though this doesn’t make him any more Japanese). Shredder’s utterly ridiculous Transformers-like robot armor has been completely excised as well, which makes sense from a story perspective. Most of all, The Turtles, not April, are the main characters.

Shredder (now played by Brian Tee with a full head of hair) is in police custody after the events of the prior film — apparently somehow still alive despite being being bodyslammed off a skyscraper. With the help of scientist Baxter Stockman, the Foot Clan plots to free him using alien teleportation technology they’ve stumbled upon, not realizing its owner, the multidimensional warlord Krang, wants it back.

Krang (voiced by Brad Garrett) contacts Shredder and they agree upon a loose partnership: Shredder will help Krang locate his missing teleportation device components so he can come to Earth, Krang will help Shredder wreak vengeance on the Turtles, and the pair will assume global domination when Krang’s mar machine, The Technodrome, arrives to hold the planet under siege.

With Krang’s gift of purple ooze, Shredder is able to turn a pair of his lackeys, Rocksteady and Bebop, into a mutant rhino and warthog. They’re not smart, but they’re huge, immensely strong, and work well together. Their effective partnership is even used to contrast a teamwork crisis among the Turtles, as Leonardo becomes increasingly frustrated by his brothers’ immaturity and warring personalities.

What follows is a very fun action romp that finds its groove, doesn’t take itself too seriously, and tries to actually address the avalanche of criticisms (and criticisms of avalanches) of the 2014 film. The action is lighthearted and the comedy actually works — the humor is more genuine, and many of the jokes land. The Turtle Van — a repurposed garbage truck — appears for a huge chase scene as the Foot Clan attempt to free Shredder from an armored transport. This crowd-pleasing sequence, especially the oversized nunchaku, will have fans grinning ear to ear, even if it’s way too silly to take seriously. (Manhole cannon? Katana launcher? Just go with it.)

Shredder gets largely sidelined in this sequel, but instead the Turtles battle Rocksteady and Bebop (in South America!), and eventually Krang. New ally Casey Jones (Stephen Amell) befriends April and joins the family as well, and also gets his own chance to shine in a battle with the mutant duo. And the “Out Of The Shadows” part of the title actually takes on a very real and surprising meaning, as the Turtles are outed to the police (led by Laura Linney), with potentially huge consequences to the way they live and work.

There’s also a really great but subtle twist to the way the Turtles pair off. Typically Leo and Raph, the better fighters and natural leaders, are the “A squad” with Mikey and Don providing backup. Out Of The Shadows instead splits them into unusual factions. When Don discovers the purple ooze might be able to make them human, the ensuing identity crisis pits the smarter, more mature turtles, Leo and Don, against sensitive soul Mikey and loose cannon Raph. Like the aforementioned opening character moment between Raph and Don, it’s a smart and atypical pairing-off that works really well.

And how great is Tyler Perry — a criminally underrated actor — as Baxter Stockman? He channels the classic versions of the character through a sort of Neil deGrasse Tyson parody, then adds his own goofy, socially awkward character tics to the mix. Stockman reassembles Krang’s teleportation device, allowing the alien to bring his massive Technodrome war machine to Earth… unless the Turtles and their friends can stop him.

It’s definitely not a perfect movie — Casey Jones is introduced, but his clean-cut, articulate police officer is pretty much unrecognizable from the classic long-haired, rough-edged, unintelligent but stout-hearted goon that fans know and love. Even his critical initial meeting and partnership with Raphael are gone. Take away his hockey mask and there’s precious little left to hang that name on. Similarly Karai, one of the most mysterious and conflicted characters in TMNT canon, is recast here, but otherwise the exactly same, if not even diminished a bit — still completely underused and devoid of any personality, merely a silent lieutenant for Shredder, kind of like a less interesting version of Tatsu from the original run of films (at least he had the whole “bald martial arts master” thing going on).

But overall, this is a huge, HUGE improvement over the prior film in pretty much every meaningful way. I’m kind of bummed that it’s still attached to that dud with all its idiotic elements of backstory and invincible turtles who are bulletproof and can jump through walls of steel, but for its own part, Out Of The Shadows is actually pretty solid, especially if you can mentally divorce it from the last one.

After the pleasant surprise of enjoying the sequel, I went back and rewatched the 2014 film to see if it was any better in hindsight.


The Package

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out Of The Shadows arrives on Blu-ray in Standard, 3D, and 4K UHD editions (as well as DVD and VOD). Also available is a 2-pack with the 2014 film, in snazzy Turtle-Van lunchbox packaging.

My screener was the standard release, which includes a set of 2 reversible masks (4 colors total). Disappointingly, more elegant rooftop cover art used in early marketing mockups has been replaced with a cheesy Photoshoppy collage in an effort to incorporate more characters.

As a side note, due to the perforated bonus compartment on the case where the masks are housed, the slipcover’s seam is on the spine side.

Special Features and Extras

A decent, but not great set of features. What’s here is fun and easy to watch, but it seems a bit fluffy and EPKish, and not made for a particularly sophisticated audience. I would have loved to see a more studious and honest discussion of adapting the characters and correcting the first film’s mistakes. Also missing — No trailers.

Note the Target-exclusive edition includes an additional bonus disc, so you might want to seek it out… but is housed in one of those gimmicky molded clamshell cases they love to do, so then again, maybe not.

We Are Family (8:15)
 Revisiting the Turtles and friends in the context of the sequel.

Whoa! Expanding the Turtleverse (14:19)
 The most relevant featurette looks at the wider story design and introduction of new characters Casey Jones, Krang, Rocksteady & Bebop, and Baxter Stockman.

House Party (6:18)
 A tour of the Turtles’ lair, highlighting the set design and incredible level of detail built around the Turtles’ individual personalities.

It’s Tricky: Inside the Van (4:08)
 A closer look at the new “Turtle Van”, which in fact a tricked-out garbage truck full of Donnie’s high-tech weaponry and gear (and Orange Crush, apparently).

ILM — The Effects Beneath the Shell (3:04)
 Quick CGI VFX reel in which layers of modeling and rendering play out in motion.

Did You Catch That? Turtle Eggs! (3:02)
 Pretty underwhelming. Ostensibly a look at the film’s Easter Eggs, but it doesn’t really show much of anything because the producers don’t want to spoil the surprise.

Deleted Scenes (4:54)
 A few deleted scenes, mostly surrounding an excised subplot. Tragically, these cuts include a cameo from Judith Hoag, who played April in the 1990 film, working opposite Megan Fox. While I don’t question the decision to axe the extraneous plotting, it’s sad that they couldn’t find a way to incorporate Hoag. Another great omission is the funny “kiss me” scene, which I kind of wish had made the cut.

I never would’ve expected it, but Out Of The Shadows is a ton of fun and actually manages to largely atone for its predecessor — a nearly impossible task.

A/V Out.

Get it at Amazon:
 TMNT: Out Of The Shadows — [4K UHD Blu] | [3D Blu] | [Blu-ray] | [DVD] | [Instant]
 TMNT 2014 + Out Of The Shadows 2-Film Set — [Blu-ray with Lunchbox Packaging]

TURTLEMANIA! Read Austin’s other TMNT Reviews and Articles:
 A Far Too Serious Sociological TMNT Think Piece
 Ninja Rap: The Ninja Turtles’ Unlikely Hip-Hop Connection
 Pick Of The Week: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990)
 Turtle Power Documentary DVD Review
 Turtle Power Director Interview with Randall Lobb
 Turtles Forever: Crisis On Infinite… Turtles?
 TMNT: Half-Shell Heroes — Blast To The Past

Originally published at on September 20, 2016.

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