"Better than the last one” is an increasingly useless metric during this Time of the Pre-Determined Franchise. Happily, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows is, indeed, much better than the last one, with a firmer handle on what makes this stuff appeal to kids and enough off-kilter elements (Laura Linney! A Vanilla Ice joke! Tyler Perry as a dangerous, cackling nerd!) to keep parents at least semiconscious throughout.

As for producer Michael Bay, whose distinctive bro-tastic aura soured the entire previous film, his honeyed hand is thankfully on display here in only one scene, where Megan Fox’s intrepid heroine dresses up like a schoolgirl hooker to retrieve vital information. Let’s hear it for progress.

Picking up a year after the events of the first film, the story finds the four mutated superheroes back down in the New York sewers and grumbling about the need to stay hidden from the world. Their Q rating zooms up, however, when they team with a hockey-obsessed vigilante (Arrow’s extremely game Stephen Amell) to stop an invasion from another dimension. A giant, farting warthog also has a significant part to play.

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Director Dave Green, whose previous Earth to Echo was a nifty little Spielberg riff, keeps things moving right along, with a cartoony vibe that stops just on the fringe of annoying self-awareness. Disposable though this installment may ultimately be, it’s rarely dull, and full of elements like good actors content to stay at the level of their lines and action scenes that at least nod in the direction of spatial coherence.

Best of all, there’s a chortling Alien Brain that looks like it slithered over from a Toxic Avenger movie, picking up extra gunk during the journey. In movies like this, you should snatch and cherish whatever stray weirdness you can. recommended