The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have been a part of the American popular subculture since their advent by Mirage Studios back in 1984. Leonardo, Raphael, Michelangelo and Donatello have been an integral part of the lives of millions of young people over the years, which resulted in the creation of several cartoon series, toys and three TMNT shows in the early 1990s. After a fourth film reboot was created in 2007, some fans had mixtures of joy and disdain when initially hearing of this year’s remake. Which made the writing of the screenplay the most important part in allaying all fears of a disappointment. But TMNT successfully knocks it out the park thanks to writers Josh Appelbaum (Mission: Impossible-Ghost Protocol), Evan Daugherty (GI Joe 3) and Andre Nemec (Life on Mars). Each is an accomplished scribe with the ability to squeeze every ounce of action into a script.
“Andre and I had just come off of writing Mission Impossible for Paramount and they wanted to bring Turtles back to the world,” says Appelbaum. “We were thinking about what would be the best way to write this movie and what would be the best way to make it fun for audiences bringing it all back.”
Love for the TMNT franchise was clearly the catalyst for writing a great screenplay. That familiarity of the original subject matter was apparent with all the writers who worked on the film.
“I was a pretty diehard Turtles fan. I collected the toys,” says Daugherty. “I kind of missed the graphic novels, but I got super into the cartoon and in the live action movies. I used to get out of school early by faking illness to go see the opening of the first three Turtles live action movies as a tradition every couple of years. I was a huge Turtle fan and it was an honor to be able to tell that story in that world.”
“I was a huge fan of the original Mirage comic, a huge fan of the first movie when it came out. I was maybe a little too old for the cartoon," says Appelbaum. "But the comic and the first movie were my favorites. I remember that first comic because it was bigger than a normal comic and it was the first 3D comic that I had ever owned. So I was really excited. I read it over and over again.”
Part of the appeal of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise and its many incarnations is the way it captures the popular culture of the day. Music, slang, swagger and the attitude of whatever decade these offerings debut, are woven into the fabric of the films and television series. That same formula is used in the new TMNT film.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles retells the story of four turtles and a lab rat that are mysteriously transformed by a chemical called mutagen. Trained by the rat, who calls himself Splinter, each of the turtles is given the name of a famous person from the Italian Renaissance. Where the dark and mysterious feeling inherent in the original Ninja Turtles comic book was largely lost in the past. This new TMNT movie pulls it off with room to spare.
“We’re all pop culture junkies in one way or the other," says Appelbaum, “and it was about trying to honor the ninja turtles from the graphic novel as much as possible.”
“I think that the finished product actually straddled the middle ground between some of that grittiness and darkness of the graphic novel,” said Evan. “There are real stakes. New York City is really in danger in a big way at the end of the film. But at the same time I like to think that it does keep a lot of that levity from the cartoon and the original live action film. From my perspective, it was about walking the line between the two.”
“There’s something about the grittiness, the size and the shape of those guys that plays really well in conjunction with the type of humor that the cartoon had,” says Andre. “We decided that if we were going to do it and Michael Bay was going to produce it then let’s put the Turtles on the biggest canvas possible, the most exciting action scenes possible and take it from there.”
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a rollicking fun ride with serious consequences at stake. The anthropomorphic turtles created by CGI, had a look and feel that out turtled all prior attempts at a live action TMNT. With witty dialogue that largely avoids clichés, star Megan Fox (Transformers, Transformers 2) surprisingly nails the role of struggling reporter April O’Neil. And Shredder, played by Tohoru Masamune, was truly frightening with battle armor made like a CGI wonderland. Some bloggers and TMNT fans initially expressed concern over the look of Shredder's gear. But the silvery-metallic style often caught the sunlight for scenes that were equal parts dramatic and dreadful. The fact that he spoke in Japanese for much of the film added to his character's authenticity as well.
Easy to distinguish one turtle from another - unlike past TMNT franchises - Leonardo, Raphael, Michelangelo and Donatello vary in size, strength and mental aptitude. Directed by Jonathan Liebesman, one can clearly see the Michael Bay producer influence in several of the scenes full of slow motion action sequences, collapsing builds and April O’Neil nearly plunging to her death. But TMNT is still a joy to behold, and one of the first sci-fi films of the summer that will be equally entertaining for children and adults as well.
The Shadow League gives Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles an A-.