Sequels rarely surpass their predecessors, and typically this lofty achievement solidifies the sophomore entry as a renowned classic. So is the case with “Aliens,” “Terminator 2,” and “The Empire Strikes Back.” Defying this pattern is “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows.” Much improved over Michael Bay’s 2014 “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” “Out of the Shadows” delivers a wallop of fan service, but doesn’t quite live up to the Ninja Turtles canon precedent.
In the wake of saving New York City from Shredder’s (Brian Tee), vicious attack Leonardo (Pete Ploszek), Donatello (Jeremy Howard), Michelangelo (Noel Fisher), and Raphael (Alan Ritchson) remain in hiding. Channel 6 cameraman Vern Fenwick (Will Arnett) has turned into a celebrity, having agreed to assume credit for the turtles’ victory over Shredder, thus maintaining their anonymity. Now in custody, Shredder is prepared for transport, but April O’Neil (Megan Fox) alerts Raph, Leo, Mikey, and Donnie about a planned rescue attempt. Despite their efforts to thwart the escape, Shredder, with the help of scientist Baxter Stockman (Tyler Perry) makes his getaway.
The first Michael Bay-produced “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” suffers from a predictable plot, lackluster humor, and overall average execution. It succeeds in eschewing both terribleness and greatness terrifically, as the epitome of mundane. Its follow up, “Out of the Shadows,” improves substantially. Pacing is more even, the string of one-liners doesn’t have extra cheese (though the humor is still corny), and there’s loads of pandering to fans. Fan service isn’t really bad per se, as films like “The Force Awakens” and “Out of the Shadows” prove. Beloved characters Stockman, Casey Jones (Stephen Amell), Rocksteady (Sheamus Farrelly), Bebop (Gary Anthony Williams), and Krang (Brad Garrett) feature prominent roles, though Garrett’s Krang voice seems out of place. Jones, Rocksteady, and Bebop are even graced with origin stories.
Tony Shaloub voices an excellent Splinter, who doesn’t quite seem to get enough screen time. Similarly, Karai (Brittany Ishibashi) seems almost like an afterthought, strange despite her importance in Ninja Turtles lore and in the 2014 “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.” A few over-the-top scenes really feel forced, and remind any viewers who may have forgotten that this is indeed a Michael Bay production. There’s a trip down a river that’s basically the avalanche sequence from the first series entry.
Yet despite its shortcomings, “Out of the Shadows” makes a marked improvement over “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” notably through its loyalty to fans. A few easter eggs even cater to the most die-hard TMNT devotees. There’s a bar scene where Vanilla Ice plays on a jukebox, a reference to Ice’s cameo in “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze,” and Franchise creator Kevin Eastman appears in a brief cameo as a pizza delivery guy. There are loads of other nuggets for clever viewers, and a brief “Friday the 13th” gag. Even the Paramount logo at the beginning features ninja throwing stars surrounding the mountain peak in place of standard stars. Ultimately, “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows” might not be the strongest TMNT flick and there’s ample room for improvement, but it’s certainly better than its forerunner.