It has been almost five years since the oft maligned, Michael Bay-produced Frankenstein of a film, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was released. Let that sink in for a minute. It’s been nearly half a decade since we finally got our first glimpse at the Turtles that we were sure to find incredibly lovable. It’s been five years since we got to see the massive, bulletproof, motion captured Turtles that were aliens once, until they weren’t. It’s been five years since one of my favorite franchises slapped the reboot button and went towards a new vision…and I really miss those Turtles.
Back in 2012 it was announced that the Turtles in the then upcoming feature film from Platinum Dunes studios, would feature ninja turtles that were a part of an alien race that somehow, I guess found there way to Earth and decided to take up ninjitsu. Not many, many people cried foul over this kind of storytelling decisions and, as I look back on it, even though I still believe the reaction was a bit overblown, I can kind of understand were some folks were coming from. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are a beloved franchise that I still believe doesn’t quite get the respect that it’s due.
In 2012, it was already twenty two years since the 1990 film came out and kind of ruined any and all potential new Turtles movies from being accepted by some fans because the 1990 movie is deeply rooted in many a childhood lexicon and also, the 1990 movie just just so damn good.
Add to that the myriad of problems the 2014 reboot had on top of the looming “threat” of Michael Bay (an award-winning director, and one of fourteen other producers for this film), which included a white man playing Shredder, four completely unknown actors playing the Turtles, the Turtles being motion captured instead of being men in suits and last but certainly not least…Megan Fox as April O’Neil.
But none of that mattered. Come August 8th, 2014, it didn’t matter that you probably never heard of the actors, or that you hated the people working behind the camera, it didn’t even matter that the latest installment in the holier than holy Marvel Cinematic Universe was released into theater the week prior. Move over Guardians of the Galaxy, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were here to claim the weekend with a sixty five million dollar opening weekend.
You know why this movie made the money it made, it had nothing to do with flashy special effects, a grim and gritty atmosphere or (arguably) even brand recognition, it was because this film somehow nailed the characteristics of Leonardo, Michelangelo, Raphael and Donatello. No this film wasn’t black and white. It wasn’t filled with blood and severed limbs. It wasn’t rated “R” or anything else older fans who grew up reading the original comic books from Mirage Studios. Instead, this film was bright, funny, loud and for whatever reason starred Johnny Knoxville as Leonardo (I still love ya Johnny).
But it also had stuff like this…
Ultimately though, success proved fleeting for this iteration of the Heroes in a Half-Shell, as the 2016 sequel, Out of the Shadows, just didn’t land as well with audiences, despite the heavy influence from the much loved ’87 animated series. Perhaps, despite how much I like it, the success and failures of the rebooted TMNT series goes on to prove that you can’t just replicate the popularity and staying power of something like the Turtles. Many people spent the entire decade of the nineties trying to some up with something that could strike the same chord as the Turtles did.
Hence all the animal-themed animated series found in the 90’s. It goes to show you just how much work goes into maintaining the legacy that the Turtles have created thanks to fans. While the 2014 film tried to forge a new future for the franchise, perhaps the upcoming film that is reportedly going into production next year can learn from this film and focus on their vision while keeping the spirit of who the Turtles are. Even Bay knew that you shouldn’t muck with who they are. Alien or not, don’t try to change the Turtles as characters, and you’re on your way to good movie.
Thank you to Pete Ploszek, Jeremy Howard, Alan Ritchson, Noel Fisher and Johnny Knoxville for getting it right.