When the blatantly titled Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles hit theaters in 2014, the film had a lot of obstacles to overcome. The storm of pre-release controversy swirling among fans encompassed everything from the casting of Megan Fox as intrepid reporter April O’Neil to the rumored changes to the turtles’ origin. However, despite poor reviews and a mixed response from longtime TMNT fans, director Jonathan Liebesman’s film brought in nearly $500 million at the worldwide box office.
Its recent sequel, perhaps smarting from its predecessor’s half-baked narrative, has conversely struggled to earn half that amount. Though Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows is largely considered an improvement over the last film, it still gets bogged down with its own set of problems. Let’s dig into those a bit deeper.
1. Not enough Shredder
The 2014 reboot kept the Shredder — the turtles’ longtime arch-nemesis — shrouded largely in mystery, and the villain was essentially turned into a metallic creation ripped right out of producer Michael Bay’s Transformers series for his climactic battle scenes. When Out of the Shadows cast Brian Tee (The Wolverine) as the character, fans were amped up to see a richer version that would do the Shredder justice. Alas, Tee isn’t given enough screentime to really make much of an impact. Even worse, the Shredder is entirely sidelined during the final showdown with the turtles, never having received his moment in the spotlight.
2. Too-bland human characters
Yup, Fox is back as April this time around. However, she does feel a bit less jarring in the film, no doubt due to the fact that this rebooted franchise has rightfully shifted its focus from April to the turtles themselves. Nevertheless, the scenes which center on her without her reptilian allies are still the least interesting, thanks to Fox’s limited range. Moreover, Stephen Amell is a capable Casey Jones, but the Arrow star is saddled with a melodramatic subplot involving a police chief inexplicably played by Oscar-nominated actress Laura Linney (who feels more out of place than anyone).
3. Subplots galore
Though the main narrative thrust of Out of the Shadows centers on the Shredder’s secret alliance with the otherworldly Krang (more on him shortly), the film overloads itself with a number of superfluous subplots in lieu of developing either of its big bads. These range from the welcome absurdity of fan favorites Bebop (Gary Anthony Williams) and Rocksteady (Stephen Farrelly) to the inexplicable possibility of the turtles’ turning human (spoiler: they don’t). No TMNT film is complete without some internal drama among the brothers (they are teens, after all), but we can’t help but wonder if the film may have been better off with a sharper focus (and less screentime for the admittedly hilarious Will Arnett, whose character has no real purpose here).
4. Awkward introduction to Krang
Fans have waited decades to see the squirmy brain-like interdimensional being known as Krang make his big-screen debut. While the character’s design remains remarkably true to the 1980s animated series, the way in which Out of the Shadows introduces him is far from ideal. Rather than saving him for a third-act reveal or gradually easing into the fantastical notion of Dimension X, the film frontloads the weirdness with an exposition-heavy scene featuring the Shredder and Krang (voiced by Brad Garrett) in the first half-hour. It’s still a great development that the franchise is embracing its silly side, but it would have been more satisfying if Krang’s entrance was handled with more finesse.
5. An erratic tone
Speaking of tone, Out of the Shadows takes great steps away from the unbecoming darkness of the first film and toward the light-hearted fun of the classic animated series, which remains perhaps the most popular take to date. However, there are still moments in the film that seem concerned with maintaining a certain level of gravitas. Once the filmmakers realize that this “dark and gritty” approach doesn’t really fit with the concept and anything-goes storytelling of the TMNT world, then fans may be in for even better adventures to come. Of course, that all depends on whether the rebooted franchise even sees another entry after its disappointing box office numbers.
6. A repetitive finale
The turtles’ faceoff with the Transformers-esque Shredder at the end of the 2014 film frustrated fans who were hoping for something more imaginative. Yet, Out of the Shadows doubles-down on that with another high-altitude battle between the four turtles and a mech-heavy antagonist (this time Krang’s robotic “body”). Instead of ending Out of the Shadows with a bang, the finale allows the sequel to limp into its end credits, leaving audiences not only wanting more but hoping for something better in a teased third film that may never come to pass.
Follow Robert Yaniz Jr. on Twitter @CrookedTable
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