It’s not easy being green. Just ask the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
Despite saving New York City a year ago from the dastardly supervillain Shredder and his insidious Foot Clan, our half-shelled heroes are still slinking around the sewers, eating their beloved pizzas in anonymity. Because while the Big Apple is allegedly an open-minded place, the Turtles are convinced the city would draw the line at huge, wisecracking, weapons-toting reptiles with lips.
Leonardo, the group’s leader, reminds his dejected crew that ninjas work best in the shadows. Still, it’d be nice to get the occasional “nice job” or high-five from the average New Yorker, they say, rather than the screams of panic they assume they’d be greeted with now. As far as the world knows, Shredder was conquered by vain photographer Vernon Fenwick (who calls himself “The Falcon”), not a bunch of mutated turtles.
But supervillains are as stubborn as steroid-taking dandelions to get rid of. And even though the nefarious evildoer has been locked away for nearly a year now, he—with the help of brilliant scientist Baxter Stockman—has decided to escape and renew his reign of terror.
The escape doesn’t go as planned. First the Turtles show up, beating down Foot soldiers and nearly spoiling the whole works. Then, when Baxter opens up his strange teleportation hole as planned, Shredder is zapped into space, where he runs into a talking brain named Krang (and his hulking robotic chaperone).
This is no chance meeting: Krang tells Shredder that he’s been wanting to get his tentacles on earth for some time. And with Shredder’s help he can do it. All Shredder needs to do is retrieve some nifty extraterrestrial gizmos, patch ’em together and create an interdimensional portal large enough to pull Krang and his Technodrome (which sounds like a 1970s disco club, but it’s actually a super-powerful war machine) through it.
And once that happens, Krang cackles, *the earth will be mine! MINE! Or, um (cough), ours.
As long as some pesky turtles don’t get in the way, that is.
It would take guts to face down Shredder and his slimy new pink counterpart, especially when Shredder creates a couple of new helpmates: Bebop and Rocksteady, human-animal hybrids who can throw around cars like they were largish stress balls. But the Turtles have said guts, and they do their best to protect New York (and the rest of the world) from this grave threat.
It’s not easy, given that the Turtles have hit a bit of a rough patch in their team chemistry. Secrets, selfish behavior and their own wildly divergent personalities threaten to tear the team apart. But as the movie trundles on, the reptilian brothers realize that their differences make them stronger, not weaker. They begin to appreciate each other for who and what they are—a lesson that I’m sure they’ll retain until the next sequel.
The Turtles get some help from their friends, of course, including reporter April O’Neil, newcomer Casey Jones and the Falcon. All of them risk their lives for the others.
[Spoiler Warning] The turtles also grapple with their self-identity. When they’re given a chance to transform fully into humans and to earn the widespread acceptance they long for, some are tempted to do just that. In the end, though, they choose to stay as they are. Their choice emphasizes the idea that it’s best to be yourself, even if you’re a little different. “True acceptance,” their sensei, Splinter, reminds them, “only comes from within.”
The Turtles have been raised by a giant rat named Splinter, who appears to be a devotee of Eastern religion. He balances on a finger as a computerized voice tells him that with a few more seconds of meditation, he’ll reach “total Nirvana” (the Buddhist conception of total transcendence and enlightenment). But he’s interrupted by his boisterous charges before that can happen. Elsewhere, Casey, who’s taking Shredder to a new prison, mocks the villain by saying, “The Lord works in mysterious ways.”
Baxter believes that once he opens the portal, he and Shredder will be considered “gods to future generations.” Beefy turtle Raphael may be riffing on the popular saying “What would Jesus do?” when he wonders, “What would Vin Diesel do?”
Bebop and Rocksteady became man-beasts through a process, we’re told, of reviving long-dormant genes from their “animal ancestors” (a rhinoceros and warthog, respectively). Evolution is mentioned in this context.
April O’Neil flirtily uses her feminine wiles to distract someone, donning a revealing getup that includes a super-short skirt and midriff-revealing top that’s unbuttoned a fair way down the front. April wears formfitting clothes throughout the rest of the movie, too. Michelangelo, the free-spirited, pizza-loving turtle, asks April whether she and Casey are a “thing.”
The Turtles and their nefarious adversaries are not the type to sit down and settle their differences over coffee. No, they fight. And these fights account for a big chunk of the film’s running time. Characters hit, kick, throw and otherwise wallop their adversaries almost constantly. Most of this action takes place between CGI combatants, though, and there’s essentially no blood to be seen on screen.
Amid those frequent tangles, Bebop and Rocksteady cause scads of rampaging property damage, crashing into cars, thudding into space rocks and mowing down much of the Brazilian rain forest with a tank. The tank’s artillery also does a deadly number on a plane as well, endangering passengers inside it. Casey knocks out Foot soldiers with hockey pucks (and other projectiles he fires with a hockey stick). He body checks other enemies into cars and dumpsters.
Several vehicles (with people inside) are blown up. Foot fighters get knocked fearsomely off their bikes. People and Turtles fall from significant heights. One of them is nearly crushed to death. Shredder, we learn, has killed 32 people (and would like to kill many more). Someone is frozen and put into storage. Krang gets pushed and punched into an opening in a robot’s abdomen.
One s-word. A smattering of other profanities, including “a–,” “b–ch,” “d–n” and “h—” (spoken one or two times each). God’s name is misused three times.
Bebop and Rocksteady, while still fully human, visit a bar where they down shots and beer until they’re a bit inebriated. Later, Casey comes into the same bar and begins breaking bottles and glasses to convince the barkeep to tell him where the two criminals are.
A drug changes people into human-animal hybrids or, in the turtle’s case, potentially makes them fully human.
Bebop and Rocksteady have a grotesque flatulence contest. Bebop picks his nose.
April steals clothes and a hat. Casey swipes a phone from the police chief. They—along with Fenwick, Rafael and Michelangelo—break into police headquarters. Fenwick misleads a security guard (albeit for a good cause). The turtles shoot spitballs at Fenwick.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows seems set on replicating the goofy charm of the original 1987-96 animated TV series—but in a messier manner. (The comics themselves, upon which the original show was based on, were in many ways significantly darker.) And while the CGI Krang and Turtles look kinda disturbing to me (putting lips on turtles is just plain wrong), and the violence is admittedly pervasive, the overall vibe still feels very much like the afternoon program I watched as an adolescent.
Krang is still malevolently silly. Bebop and Rocksteady are still clueless doofuses. This movie may look dark and gritty in comparison to that series, but it doesn’t take itself any more seriously. (And really, how seriously can you take your movie when your primarily villain is a cackling disembodied brain with eyes? It’s not like we’re talking All the King’s Men here.)
Which makes, I suppose, the movie’s salacious content all the more disappointing. In the original animated series, April O’Neil (despite sporting some cartoonish curves) never flaunted her femininity like her live-action counterpart does here. (The excuse to get April, played by Megan Fox, into a miniskirt is as laughably flimsy as the skirt itself.) And the cursing we hear is totally foreign to the beloved kids’ show. It’s almost as if the (re)makers of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles wanted to take this relatively innocent product and replicate it … minus its relative innocence. And that’s a shame.
Paradoxically, I also have to say that this film is still relatively less problematic than some of this year’s other big-screen superhero offerings, such as Captain America: Civil War and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Whether or not that comparison is enough to offset the issues that permeate Out of the Shadows, however, is a decision parents of today’s young Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle fans will have to consider carefully.
Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.