It’s a sure sign of summer when the two movies likely to dominate this weekend’s box-office feature mutants of both the human and turtle variety. Yes, it’s X-Men: Apocalypse vs. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows, the sequel to the 2014 reboot of the popular vintage kiddie franchise. To say that this installment of the latter series is superior to its predecessor is damning it with faint praise, but it’s likely to reasonably satisfy tykes (and certain nostalgic oldsters — you know who you are). And, of course, certain male viewers are likely to appreciate the sight of star Megan Fox in a fetish-ready schoolgirl outfit.
The film, frenetically directed by Dave Green (Earth to Echo), doesn’t exactly take its time getting started, beginning with a manic segment in which the four hard-shelled heroes leap off the Chrysler Building because, well, they can. They then proceed to watch a New York Knicks game from the rafters of Madison Square Garden while chowing down on their trademark pizza, causing the team to miss a shot after an errant slice accidentally falls on the court.
TMNT fans will be pleased by the appearance of many of the familiar characters, including intrepid journalist April O’ Neill (Fox); the smarmy Vern (Will Arnett), who’s been treated as a hero and given the key to the city after taking the credit for the Turtles’ exploits in the last adventure; and Casey Jones (Stephen Amell of Arrow), the corrections officer turned crime-fighting vigilante armed with a hockey mask and stick. The villains include the returning Shredder (Brian Tee); his dimwitted goons Bebop (Gary Anthony Williams) and Rocksteady (wrestler Stephen “Sheamus” Farrelly), who are transformed into a rhino and warthog early on; mad scientist Baxter Stockman (Tyler Perry, sacrificing the credibility he earned with his excellent dramatic turn in Gone Girl); and the disembodied alien brain Krang (unrecognizably voiced by Brad Garrett), whose looks are enough to turn children off eating grilled calamari for the rest of their lives.
You’ll have to turn to other sources to find out the details of the narrative, which involves Krang attempting to destroy the world via a magical “purple ooze” that affects DNA, or something, because frankly, critics don’t get paid enough to give films like this their full attention. It doesn’t matter anyway, because the thin plot is essentially an excuse for a constant series of action-movie set pieces — including the heroes jumping out of one plane onto another plane, and then landing in whitewater rapids that send them over a waterfall — that wouldn’t be out of place in a Fast and Furious pic. As if to acknowledge the debt, one of the Turtles mutters to himself, “What would Vin Diesel do?” before executing one of his stunts.
The film fares best when it slows down a bit and allows the Turtles’ personalities, which are quite engaging, to shine through via their amusing comic banter. There’s genuine fun to be found in such scenes as when Michelangelo gleefully marches in a Halloween parade without anyone glancing twice, although the joke is undermined by a gratuitous reference to producer Michael Bay’s other franchise, Transformers.
Noel Fisher (Michelangelo), Alan Ritchson (Raphael), Jeremy Howard (Donatello) and Pete Ploszek (Leonardo) expertly go through their motion-capture paces, and their vocal work is not to be faulted. They certainly outshine most of the strictly human cast, which also includes three-time Oscar nominee Laura Linney, who may indeed be giving the best performance of her career simply by keeping a straight face during her turn as a no-nonsense NYC police commissioner. One hopes that she at least got a nice beach house out of the deal.
Production: Paramount Pictures, Nickelodeon Movies, Platinum Dunes, Gama Entertainment, Mednick Productions, Smithrowe Entertainment
Cast: Megan Fox, Will Arnett, Laura Linney, Stephen Amell, Noel Fisher, Jeremy Howard, Pete Ploszek, Alan Ritchson, Tyler Perry, Brian Tee, Stephen Farrelly, Gary Anthony Williams
Director: Dave Green
Screenwriters: Josh Appelbaum, Andre Nemec
Producers: Michael Bay, Andrew Form, Brad Fuller, Galen Walker, Scott Mednick
Executive producers: Denis L. Stewart, Grant Curtis, Eric Crown, Napoleon Smith III, Andre Nemec, Josh Appelbaum
Director of photography: Lula Carvalho
Production designer: Martin Laing
Editors: Bob Ducsay, Jim May
Costume designer: Sarah Edwards
Composer: Steve Jablonsky
Casting: Lisa Fields
Rated PG-13, 112 minutes