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How to Make a Bodacious ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ Movie

Platinum Dunes isn’t giving up with this franchise, but that doesn’t mean they can’t still make it work.
Ninja Turtles movies
By  · Published on January 16th, 2019

Are you prepared to be shell-shocked, folks? This might even be a call for a shell-ebration. There’s a new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie in the works, and it’s not a sequel to the recent live-action critical duds that are way more entertaining than most people give them credit for. Nope, this is a brand-spankin’ new reboot that’s being produced by the same team behind those duds.

You have to admire Platinum Dunes and Paramount’s commitment to launching a successful franchise about these beloved crime-fighting reptilians. Their last attempt didn’t have the successful long-term impact they hoped for, but that hasn’t derailed their ambitions. Good for them. Personally, I’m excited about this reboot. I think they’re smart enough to realize where the previous movies went wrong and take a different approach this time. If Bumblebee proved anything, it’s that Paramount understands when change is needed.

Will we see another origin story? Will our heroes look less terrifying? Can the Turtles be relevant in the contemporary superhero movie climate? We’ll see. In the meantime, they should take this advice into consideration.

Keep the Budget Modest and Use Practical Effects

These days, your average superhero blockbuster costs upwards of $150 million. Sure, the previous Platinum Dunes’ flicks cost less than that, but not by much. The reboot should be a more low-key affair that harkens back to the modest aesthetic of the original movies, albeit with an improved, modernized sheen. Times have changed a lot since 1990 when a TMNT movie only cost $13.5 million to make, but a reboot doesn’t need to break the bank.

While we’re talking old-school, how about some men-in-suits or animatronic puppets instead of CGI-laden motion capture? The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles screen history is mostly synonymous with animation, but in a cinematic climate where almost every superhero movie uses CGI for non-human characters, a live-action reboot could stand out from the pack by rejecting this trend. There’s a gap in the market for practically driven superhero movies at the moment, and the Turtles can fill that niche.

Subvert Current Superhero Movie Trends

The Turtles have never been the most serious superheroes out there. They were originally conceived as a joke that poked fun at other superhero comics at the time. From each character being named after a Renaissance artist to their mythology riffing on Daredevil’s lore, along with the fact that they’re humanoid turtles, they’ve always been goofy outcasts in the heroic crusader landscape.

Of course, the original comics were dark and violent and the satire wasn’t in your face. These days, the Turtles are family-friendly characters, and I imagine the reboot will be PG. However, while the new movie will be much lighter in tone than the comics, it can still retain their anarchic spirit. Finding that happy medium between self-aware parody and genuine action-adventure romp is key. Don’t make “the joke” the main focus like the Deadpool movies do, but don’t shy away from de-constructing and satirizing superhero flicks, either.

Give Us Some Good Action

Let’s not overlook the ninja part of these characters. Ninjas are awesome and know how to engage in action sequences that entertain and enthrall. Plus, the Turtles’ main adversaries, the Foot Clan, are no slouches when it comes to throwing down. Here we have a group of evil ninjas who practice black magic and want to take over organized crime. Showdowns between each group should always deliver the goods.

The 1990 film understood that the Turtles and their foes deserved to showcase their martial arts skills; the rooftop fight between Raphael and his Foot Clan adversaries is top notch and provides both thrills and laughs. That movie was also a prime example of how to add entertaining action to a family-friendly movie, but this aspect was unfortunately lost in the 2014 and 2016 films, which were very underwhelming in that regard. The new movie boasting great action would go a long way.

A Strong Villain and a Focus on Crime

Shredder. Baxter Stockman. Krang. Suffice to say, the Turtles have had their run-ins with some truly memorable villains throughout the years. The reboot will have no shortage of great characters to choose from. That said, the key is portraying them in the right way. One of the most disappointing things about the 2014 movie is the way it mishandles Shredder. He should be a formidable foe, but he was presented as nothing more than a glorified henchman. The reboot needs to respect the bad guys more.

The reboot should also embrace the New York grime sensibilities of the Turtles’ peak popularity years. It was a core aspect of the original comics, cartoon series, and first live-action movie. While the IP has never shied away from exploring sci-fi concepts such as alternate dimensions, the Turtles are at their most fun when they’re battling street gangs and local organized crime. Sometimes, those criminals just so happen to be mutated humanoid rhinos and warthogs.

The latest movies had bigger ideas in mind, with more apocalyptic connotations associated with the Turtles’ missions to save the day. The reboot should take place in the Big Apple’s criminal underbelly and pit our heroes against oafish goons and master martial artists. Moving on to Dimension X and the weirder concepts can happen organically as the new franchise requires organic growth.

Focus on the Turtles

This should go without saying, but the Turtles should always be the stars of the show. Where the 2014 movie lost a lot of viewers was through its insistent focus on April O’Neil (Megan Fox), which was understandable given Fox’s star power. There’s no denying that O’Neil is an essential part of this legacy and deserves to play an important role in all future movies. However, character-driven stories about everyone’s favorite reptilians with O’Neil playing an integral part is the heart that drives these stories.

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Kieran is a Contributor to the website you're currently reading. He also loves the movie Varsity Blues.