Creating the TMNT Cinematic Universe
For the Last 10 years, Marvel studios have brought superhero movies to the forefront of all pop culture.
No one expected Iron Man, what most considered a third tier hero, would launch 10 years of smashing box office records all over the world. Marvel brought us from LA to Queens, from Asgard to World War 2, and from all over the galaxy back to Wakanda. Marvel is now a proven experiment that weaves together some of our favorite pages from the comics. Other franchises have tried to recreate the success by launching their own franchises, but more times than not, they sizzle out before they hit theaters.
Universal tried launching their own classic Monster movie universe with A-List actors, starting with the Mummy. The reboot, featuring Tom Cruise, would have launched future films from Wolf Man, Bride of Frankenstein, and Dracula forming a “Dark Universe.” After the dismal box office showing, plans were quickly put “on hold.”
The “Distinguished Competition” DC Comics tried their hand at launching their own cinematic universe as well.
Starting in 2013 with Man of Steel, it started in innocent terms. Superman was recast from Brandon Routh to Henry Cavill and the original intent was simply to reboot the character. With Nolan and Bale stepping out of the Dark Knight franchise, Warner Bros took this opportunity to expand their own universe. They have 80 years worth of some of the most popular characters to introduce to cinemas. They followed in Marvel’s footsteps to…mixed results. While “Wonder Woman” seemed to focus on building a strong character with a great story, Justice League spent most of the movie hyping up Superman. Justice League had more movies to expand on with a possible “Flashpoint” type reboot in the future, but with dismal box office numbers, chances are more likely the DC Universe will be put on hold. Of course, save for Wonder Woman.
King Kong and Godzilla now share a universe. Alien and Predator. Freddy and Jason. There’s even a separate universe reserved for Marvel on Netflix! So with nearly 35 years of characters to pull from, could it be time for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to create their own cinematic universe? Taking the Marvel Studios formula, it’s possible to make this universe a successful franchise. And the first step, is to make them go away.
I won’t call the Michael Bay films a failure.
They performed moderately well at the box office in 2014 and 2016. The sequel garnered more fan favor than the original, due largely to how well Bebop and Rocksteady are portrayed. But the character designs in the original were inescapable, paired with unfortunate casting choices and mediocre story, it’s safe to say this version of the turtles won’t see a third movie.
There is also a new animated version of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles coming in just a few months, titled, “Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.” This is clearly going to be where the focus will be for the next few years at least. Let the show exist and become it’s own entity.
I think the world can do without a TMNT movie until at least 2024. That leaves a 10 year gap between the start of 2 movie franchises. We’ve rebooted Spider-Man in less time. When a wrestler is getting stale, they go away for a while. When they come back, we remember how great the wrestler is. Making the Ninja Turtles leave movie theatres for a while will make us miss them more, and gain excitement for a comeback. Which falls in to the next step. Make the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles about a non-turtle.
Probably the biggest thing working against a TMNT franchise is that we’ve seen the origin done a hundred ways.
But the real origin story of the Ninja Turtles lies in the history between Oroku Saki and Hamato Yoshi. Aka the Shredder and Splinter.
Having the first installment of a new franchise get into their history could open the doors to more emotional investment down the line. Everyone remembers Splinter as a giant rat and the Shredder as a cheese grater. Few people remember that these two started as humans. Each had a deep impact on the others lives in every incarnation so far. Whether Splinter scars Oroku Saki, causing him to become the Shredder, or Shredder mutating Yoshi into a giant rat, both deserve a deeper look in to their origin. The finale shows us how they become the characters we know today, as well as potential for glimpses of the turtles origin.
This could also give us a closer look at the origin of the foot clan as well. Which brings me to movie 2. The story of Casey Jones escaping his abusive household and being recruited by the Foot is where I would go. Casey as a runaway looking for a family to latch on to finds the Foot Clan and trains with them. They treat him as a family as he learns to fight. Soon, Casey learns the evil underbelly of the foot clan and must choose a side. This is also a good place to introduce more mutagen and how it could effect more side characters and villains. Maybe Shredder is using the Foot clan to create super-mutants and this is our introduction to Bebop and Rocksteady. The end of this movie shows Casey learning what real family is, as he is introduced to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
We want the 4 brothers to have already existed in this world, but now, 3 movies in, we get our first real meeting.
This should be a build. We know the characters. We know how they have been trained, but this is where we really learn their personalities. Audiences need to know how different they are from each other. By this point we’re already invested in several characters, as well as the Turtles. I think the beginning of the third movie we see the death of a major character in the beginning, and end. In the beginning, either Splinter or Shredder dies. Shredder dying pays homage to the original comic and opens up possibility for another character to take the lead as a main villain. Maybe Karai makes her mark here.
If Splinter dies, you have the emotional investment in the character for his death to hold weight. If we see his journey from a young man to Master Splinter, there’s more chance the audience will have latched on and care about him. And while we’re talking about character death’s, I also want this movie to end with the unthinkable. The death of one of the four brothers.
Use this opportunity to introduce the supporting characters as well. April O’Neil and Baxter Stockman both deserve proper film renditions after the last attempt in 2016.
Pulled from the IDW series, the third movie should end with a standoff, and the turtles losing one of their own and forcing them into retreat. This could be a way to dive even further in to the weirder side of the TMNT universe. Whoever gets “killed” in the previous film should have their consciousness transported into Metalhead. Not only because it’s a fantastic storyline, but because if you introduce transporting consciousness in to robots, the world opens up to Time Travel and aliens without being too much of a stretch.
Movie four will have the turtles come together and finally realize what the definition of family and brotherhood really is.
Only when they finally come together can they defeat the big bad and potentially return the deceased brother to their old body.
From here, the options open to other side characters and spin offs. Give Raphael his own story. Let’s have a fun buddy story between Michelangelo and Klunk. Give us an awesome Ace Duck story! If the background is based in reality, we can suspend our disbelief when things go off the rails a bit.
This formula works because, as with Marvel’s Universe, each movie seems to have a specific genre in mind. Captain America was more a war film than anything, while Guardians of the Galaxy was a sci-fi comedy. The TMNT universe spans over several genres. The battle between Shredder and Splinter would make a fantastic Kung-Fu film, while Casey Jones works as a gritty crime drama.
The best part for studios is that these ideas are still relatively cheap. And while I understand the concern of a giant rat leading a movie, Rocket and Groot look amazing in every movie they’ve been in. These movies all skew more to adults, but the cartoon still exists for young fans. Many young fans could still see this version as well as Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles! But this having a PG-13 rating could be the difference needed to having success.
Finally, the most important part of the potential for this universe. The story has to be good.
We fell in love with Iron Man on screens. We fell in love with Captain America. But while we were all drawn in because of the potential for the characters, the story is what kept them around. The Ninja Turtles have over 30 years of strange, bizarre stories to pull from. Crowds are willing to go along with weird, but we need to be invested in this reality if several movies will be planned.
I miss seeing good Ninja Turtles movies in theaters. I enjoyed the 2007 effort, and 2014 and 2016 have their place. But the opportunity to present us with a deep dive in the TMNT universe on big screens is something fans have been wanting for a while.
Who knows, maybe we could have a Netflix series one day! In the meantime, Marvel will keep making all the money with how huge Avengers:Infinity War is expected to be. They keep making great films, which is enough to keep theaters full. Kevin Feige might be the glue that makes the Marvel Universe work. And if Kevin Feige wants a break after 10 fantastic years at Marvel Studios, I hope he gives the heroes in a half shell a chance.
Avengers: Infinity War is in theaters now.