2014 saw the release of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, a Jonathan Liebesman-directed reboot of the well known 90s comic book franchise, in which four ordinary turtles mutate into walking, talking ninjas and do battle with the foes of New York City. The film used motion capture performances to portray the turtles, and starred Megan Fox as April O’Neil, the reporter who befriends the turtles and one of the few humans who knows of their existence.
This sequel, which has been directed by Dave Green (Earth to Echo), brings pretty much the whole gang back together. Fox is back as O’Neil, Will Arnett as Vern Fenwick (now a celebrity, having agreed to take credit for the turtles’ heroics) and Pete Ploszek, Alan Ritchson, Noel Fisher and Jeremy Howard as the turtles – Leonardo, Raphael, Michelangelo and Donatello, respectively.
The film is similar in many ways to its predecessor, in that it’s an untidy, inconsistent action film with hints of something better lurking underneath. This time, the turtles must bring their unique brand of bickering, brotherly justice to a dastardly plot to summon a being from another world. This plot is headed up by Shredder (Brian Tee), the villain from the first film, and his two new henchmen Bebop and Rocksteady, who, those familiar with the series will recall, are a talking warthog and rhinoceros.
Actually the elements of the film you might expect to misfire – in particular the ‘out there’ mo-capped characters – turn out to be one of its few strengths. The motion capture is fairly well done, and the turtles, as well as their new opponents, are pretty convincing. Where the film is less convincing, much like the first one, is in establishing an effective plot or characters. Although the turtles are well realised visually, their sibling squabbles come across as light and ultimately meaningless; as indeed do any of the human interactions. Megan Fox has little of real note to do as April and, in an early scene, is leered over by the camera in a pretty crass way. If the film had made her more of a character, it might’ve been easier to overlook. Steve Amell joins the cast as Casey Jones, and does his best with the hockey-stick toting vigilante, while Tyler Perry makes a decent impression as questionable scientist Baxter Stockman, but is quickly reduced to just laughing manically.
The action sequences feature fast-moving cameras and lots of whirly shots, some of which are impressive but most of which are just difficult to follow. There are flashes of invention, and the special effects are of a good standard, but it’s hard to really care when the film feels so hollow. The plot frequently descends into ludicrous contrivances that steer it from point to point, and at no point do we ever feel a sense of jeopardy or character progression.
I was disappointed to find that my reaction to this film more or less mirrored my reaction to the first. The first film made a decent profit, and most of the principal cast are signed on for a third, so I doubt this is last we’ll see of our reptilian crime fighters. Perhaps third time will be the charm.