Those motor-mouthed, bandanna-clad vigilantes armed with an arsenal of feudal Japanese weaponry are back on the prowl in “Earth to Echo” director David Green’s slick but superficial sequel “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows” (** OUT OF ****), with Megan Fox and Stephen Amell running interference for them in this PG-13 rated, Paramount release. The virtues of a first sequel are simple: create something new without retreading the original, and “Out of the Shadows” doesn’t retread the same ground a second time. Indeed, you’ll find yourself plunged headlong into the follow-up film as the dastardly villains, surprisingly spearheaded by Tyler Perry as evil scientist Baxter Stockman, struggle to break TMNT’s arch nemesis Shredder out of police custody. The Turtles are just as outrageous as they were in the initial movie. Their shenanigans at a Big Apple basketball game are amusing, but they encounter competition where comedy is concerned. As much as you’ll relish their frantic antics, they are overshadowed by four characters that consistently upstage them. Two peripheral felons, Rocksteady (WWF sensation Stephen Farrelly) and Bebop (Gary Anthony Williams of “End of Days”), who perform the heavy lifting for Shredder, emerge as far funnier than our eponymous half-shell heroes. “Medea” star Tyler Perry is supremely silly as the smart scientist who mutates Rocksteady and Bebop respectively into a rowdy rhinoceros and a gusty warthog. These galoots furnish the fantasy along with a bizarre extraterrestrial alien, Commander Krang (voiced by Brad Garrett), who barges in out of nowhere. Krang reminded me of a similar monster in the vintage Arnold Schwarzenegger sci-fi flick “Total Recall.” Looking like a combination of an octopus and a feisty Scottish terrier, Krang lurks within the belly of a giant robot. Krang shares ambitions similar to the aliens in the Marvel Comics’ blockbuster “The Avengers” (2012) who sought to subjugate Earth. Unfortunately, “Out of the Shadows” doesn’t expose the Turtles to the same kind of jeopardy of the original movie. This time they spend more time squabbling among themselves over a rare mutagen that could transform them into humans. If you aren’t familiar with their uncanny creation saga, you should watch director Jonathan Liebesman’s outlandish but superior 2014 predecessor that depicted their geneses. Comparably, if you can believe it, “Out of the Shadows” embraces juvenile fantasy rather than gritty melodrama. For instance, Shredder’s Foot Clan army isn’t armed to the teeth with firearms.
As the action unfolds, the heroic Turtle quartet is attending an NBA basketball game. Naturally, they stay out of sight. Michelangelo (Noel Fisher), Donatello (Jeremy Howard), Leonardo (Pete Ploszek), and Raphael (Alan Ritchson) are munching blissfully on pizza while they watch the New York Knicks and the Los Angeles Lakers play from the rafters in the Jumbotron at Madison Square Garden. Below them, everybody worships smarmy Vernon Fenwick (Will Arnett of “Blades of Glory”) for saving New York City from both Eric Sacks and Shredder. Accidentally, the Turtles drop a slimy slice of pizza onto the basketball court, and a Laker slips down on it. As far as everybody knows, Vern is the hero of the day, because the Turtles have allowed him to take credit for their heroics. As the movie’s subtitle indicates, the Turtles have second thoughts about exposing themselves as the real heroes in Green’s sequel. Basically, this ushers the Turtles into heretofore new territory. A year has elapsed since they vanquished Shredder, but things are about to change. Initially, the NYPD is transferring Shredder to another prison upstate when Baxter Stockman arranges for the Foot Clan to attack the police transport van. The cop riding shotgun on the transfer van is Casey Jones (Stephen Amell of “The Arrow”), and he cannot believe his eyes when the Clan strike. At the same time, Jones is astonished when he spots a garbage truck careen behind them and launch manhole covers like Frisbees that knock some of the Clan off the prison van. Hardcore TMNT fans will know Casey wears a hockey mask and wields a mean stick. Eventually, Casey saves Channel 6 Eyewitness News reporter April O’Neil (Meghan Fox of “Jennifer’s Body”) from the Clan during a subsequent ambush where he meets the Turtles.
Unfortunately, the Turtles don’t thwart the Clan because someone else intervenes and enables Shredder to taste freedom. Baxter activates a teleportation device to facilitate Shredder’s flight. Something, however, goes weirdly haywire. As Baxter teleports Shredder, Shredder is captured by an alien life-form, Commander Krang, and the convicted samurai warrior finds himself trapped in another dimension! Shredder cuts a deal with Krang in exchange for a unique mutagen compound. Krang orders Shredder to locate two parts of a mechanism that Krang dispatched to Earth ages ago. As it turns out, Baxter and Shredder possess the first part, and Krang knows about this ahead of time. Once Baxter assembles the three parts for Shredder, Krang can enter a portal to Earth and dominate it. Baxter uses the mutagen that Krang gave Shredder and changes Rocksteady and Bebop into fearless but asinine creatures. Rocksteady and Bebop rush off to recover those prized parts. The Turtles pursue them to Brazil, but the Shredder’s henchmen outwit them. Meantime, straightforward NYPD Chief Vincent (Laura Linney of “Mr. Holmes”) presides over the investigation to recapture Shredder, and she refuses to believe the far-fetched yarn that Jones has spun about what he witnessed during the Clan’s hijacking of the prison van. Jones finds himself on suspension, but he joins April O’Neil and the Turtles to fight Shredder.
Director David Green doesn’t conjure up any memorable, white-knuckled, adrenaline-laced, action sequences like Jonathan Liebesman orchestrated in the original “TMNT” opus. Nothing in the lackluster sequel tops the helter-skelter snow chase between the Turtles on a jack-knifed 18-wheeler and Shredder’s army. Splinter, the rat who trained the Turtles in martial arts, gets little screen time. Altogether, the rather lame, largely routine “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows” delivers half as many sensational thrills as its rollercoaster, pandemonium-laden a predecessor.
“Your imagination can take you where nothing else can.” Van Roberts