The negativity that’s been thrown at the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie started way before we ever saw a frame of the new trailer, leading to one of the most contentious movie rollouts in recent memory. First came the announcement that Michael Bay’s unfortunately reboot-happy production company, Platinum Dunes, would lead the charge to reimagine our heroes in a half shell. On top of Bay, whose brand of washed out and mindless CGI-heavy films have become the action-movies-by-way-of-toy-advertisements to imitate these days, Battle: Los Angeles and Wrath of the Titans director—and perfect Michael Bay wannabe—Jonathan Liebsman was named as director.
Rumors arose that the turtles would be of alien origin, changing a fairly important fundamental detail of the whole story—not to mention having to change the title to the strangely insipid “Ninja Turtles”—and fan outrage continued. Bizarre early drafts of the script leaked that featured even more changes to the Turtle mythos, and then Megan Fox was cast as everybody’s favorite news reporter, April O’Neil. A Halloween costume ad and a poster from CinemaCon soon revealed the atypical updated look of the Turtles followed by on-set spy photos that featured full-body miniatures. Donatello sported goggles and some kind of mechanized backpack, Raphael wore Oakley shades for some reason, Michelangelo had sweatpants and a Puka Shell necklace, and Leonardo’s bamboo chest armor just made him look like Rufio from Hook. As if things weren’t bad enough, Johnny Knoxville, an actor whose weird and wacky personality seemed better suited for Michelangelo, was named as the voice behind the Turtles’ brave and courageous leader Leonardo.
Then the trailer hit:
So what does all this pessimism amount to? The easy answer is that you have an easily susceptible fanbase—and even the creators of the Turtles themselves—who are seeing a ton of red flags about basic pieces of a familiar story. There is reimagining—or the annoyingly persistent label of the “reboot”—and then there is robbing the essence of the property by toying with aspects of its inherent significance.
But because I like to keep up hope, especially with something as beloved as [Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles](movie:323027), I tried to see the good in there somewhere, and wouldn’t you know I still think this could possibly work. Call me crazy—please, go ahead, I probably am—but there are certain hints within the trailer and the general sense of the film that has me not so much won over, but piqued my curiosity in a unique sort of way.
The movie, mostly from what I can gather from the trailer and maybe some wishful thinking, seems to be incorporating the right amount of nods to the story despite those other glaring changes. The changes will be disruptive no doubt, but should the filmmakers embody the story with enough easily recognizable references to solidify it in our minds, and then throw those curveballs in there to stir up our expectations, the movie could eke out a new and engaging way to approach that seemingly sacrosanct source material.
From what I can see from the trailer we’ve got April conspicuously outfitted in a yellow jacket, which is an obvious but welcome touch (which never showed up in the original live action movies by the way). Then there is that one glimpse of Shredder’s mask, which is tantalizing enough to get the emotions stirring in any overactive TMNT fanboy. It’s samurai-like, but threatening enough with all of that chrome to conjure images of the big baddie tearing up New York flanked by the interestingly upgraded Foot Clan. Even the humor looks to be spot on, with Mikey cracking wise and launching Donatello into a Humvee saying, “Batter up!” Now if they could just plausibly incorporate the Turtles’ sewer hangout, maybe the Turtle Mobile somehow, and some pizza and a “Cowabunga” in there then we’d be getting somewhere!
Another aspect that makes me feel like the film will work is its sense of place, even from within the glimpses we’ve seen so far. The second thing said in the trailer’s voiceover is, “Our great city is being destroyed,” playing over scenes of criminals (The Foot?) running rampant and causing chaos within New York. The fact that they’re making the city a focal point for the larger story makes me pretty confident, if not a bit jazzed. It’s a detail that I don’t think gets said enough in regards to the Turtles because New York is absolutely essential to the mythology. If they’re going for a sort of Nolan-esque tone in terms of creating a fully functioning environment like Gotham in The Dark Knight Trilogy, then it will be a galvanizing narrative force for the heroic Turtles to rid the city of its problem, especially if both of them were created by the same guy, which brings me to my final point.
William Fichtner is Shredder. I repeat, William Fichtner is Shredder. That is a bonus-and-a-half if I’ve ever heard one. Fichtner has carved out quite an interesting career for himself, and has basically always been someone you recognize for his talents but were never really able to put a name to the face. The majority of his parts—especially when playing an antagonist—convey a distinctly ominous presence with an unrivaled intensity that is too good to be true for a ruthless supervillain like Shredder. His voiceover is calm and collected but equal parts menacing. He comes across as someone you probably should never mess with. He’s the perfect fit for the Shredder story they’re trying to tell—someone who means well but eventually becomes evil because of what he’s created. Sure the origin story of Shredder being Oroku Saki who fled to New York after he killed his brother Oroku Nagi, who trained with Hamato Yoshi (Spilnter’s owner), will be missed but I’m curious to see how Fichtner’s updated Shredder plays out onscreen.
Those are but a few reasons why the new TMNT could still work despite all of the other less than stellar tidbits we’ve seen so far. Even if you don’t agree with me, you’ve got to admit it’ll be great to see a new live-action Turtles movie on the big screen come August.