If you’re of a certain age (born in the early ’80s) the best part of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows comes after the movie is over, when the credits morph into the bright, cartoon style of the TV show we knew and loved, soundtracked to that indelible theme song. Sing it with me: “Heroes in a half shell, turtle power!” That’s the point when you finally recognize the beloved and bizarre turtles that somehow signify childhood. The preceding hour and 50 minutes, directed by Dave Green, written by Josh Appelbaum and Andre Nemec, are just a befuddling and loud jumble of computer graphics and familiar character names crammed into a story that’s overly busy but also too simple.
One can question who this movie is for – the nostalgic 30-year-olds who loved the cartoon or younger kids. It’s aiming for both; the 2014 reboot connected with audiences to the tune of nearly $500 million dollars, so it’s clear that there’s an enduring affection for the ragtag bunch of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles who live in the sewers of New York City and love pizza.
This time around, the brothers TMNT, Leonardo (Pete Ploszek), Donatello (Jeremy Howard), Raphael (Alan Ritchson) and Michaelangelo (Noel Fisher), are struggling with the lack of recognition they get for keeping the streets of the Big Apple safe from supervillains like Shredder (Brian Tee). They’d like to come out of the shadows, if you will, though they know their mutant reptilian visages are unappealing to most humans, a heartbreaker for the teen turtles who are just like other kids, personality-wise.
But a turtle’s gotta do what a turtle’s gotta do, and when Shredder breaks out of prison and starts conspiring with the evil Krang (Brad Garrett), an aggressive and nasty brain alien housed inside a robot body, to open up a space portal for world domination, turtles gotta go to work. They’re aided by the fetching April O’Neil (Megan Fox), a scrappy journalist, and Casey Jones (Stephen Amell), a corrections officer gone rogue.
The plot itself is pretty straightforward – stop the space portal – but is filled with the chasing down of little do-dads and other unnecessarily complicated tangents. There’s a whole section where the turtles follow oafish thugs Bebop (Gary Anthony Williams) and Rocksteady (Sheamus) to Brazil to chase down a thingamabob that is entirely unnecessary and just extends the movie’s already overly long running time. Tyler Perry appears as Dr. Baxter Stockman, a scientist and red herring villain, who quickly gets shunted aside, and Laura Linney, of all people, plays a hard-charging police chief who is similarly extraneous to the story.
The dynamic between the brothers and their struggle over their desire to be “normal” are the most heartfelt and resonant elements of the film, even though emotion can be hard to buy from a bipedal turtle with huge muscles and a surfer dude accent. Something about that fantastical a creature rendered that realistically tests the limits of the uncanny valley.
Ultimately, any sass, sentiment and personality are obliterated in the noisy chaos of the climax, which is a grayish brown blur of flying spaceship parts, whirling turtle shells and shouts of “the beacon!” It’s more cacophonous than cinematic, and loses the quirky charm of the cartoon in the avalanche of computer-generated violence.
Cast: Megan Fox, Stephen Amell, Will Arnett, Brad Garrett, Pete Ploszek, Jeremy Howard, Alan Ritchson, Noel Fisher.
Director: Dave Green.
Screenwriters: Josh Appelbaum, Andre Nemec.
A Paramount Pictures release. Running time: 112 minutes. Sci-fi action violence. Playing at area theaters.