For months, fans have worried over the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film reboot from producer Michael Bay and director Jonathan Liebesman – following a number of controversial filmmaking decisions: the casting of former Transformers star Megan Fox as April O’Neil, rumored changes to the titular turtles’ origin story, as well as a modern makeover for the Heroes in a Half Shell. In fact, just one week before release it was still unclear whether William Fichtner was the movie’s primary villain – and the man inside of the Shredder armor.
However, now that Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is in theaters, we finally have answers to fans’ biggest questions (and concerns). For our official thoughts on the quality of Liebesman’s adaptation read our Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles review or listen to our TMNT episode of the Screen Rant Underground podcast; though, if you’ve already seen the movie (or do not mind being spoiled), read on for our explanation of the new TMNT origin story, as well as info to help casual moviegoers learn which aspects of the reboot are nods to the comic book (and animated series) source materials. This post is going to be full of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles SPOILERS from here on out. READ NO FURTHER unless you’re all caught up.
MAJOR TMNT SPOILERS FOLLOW!
The Mutagen (aka Ooze)
2014 Film Origin: In the new film, the origin of the ooze is left open for exploration in future sequels. Yet, Eric Sachs (William Fichtner) outright states that the substance is extraterrestrial – which shouldn’t come as a complete surprise to anyone who caught the T.C.R.I. label on the mutagen’s canister. In the comics, T.C.R.I. (the Techno Cosmic Research Institute) is actually a shell corporation/Earth base for the alien species known as the Utroms – the same life forms as fan-favorite baddie, Krang.
Source Material Inspiration: Certain origins of the ooze depict the substance as man-made; however, the original Mirage comic book series – as well as select TMNT adaptations across various mediums – have presented the ooze as an extraterrestrial substance. As mentioned, the Utroms are most often attributed with creating the mutagen (either intentionally or inadvertently). In the original source material, the ooze is actually the byproduct of the Utroms’ attempt to create a portal back to their home planet. As the Utroms were shipping the substance (in T.C.R.I. canisters) to a waste disposal facility, one of the glass containers was knocked off the truck and rolled into the sewer.
2014 Film Origin: Dr. O’Neil (Paul Fitzgerald) was a scientist who joined by Erich Sachs (William Fichtner) and hoped to harness the T.C.R.I. mutagen as a means to combat disease, infection, and poisoning in the human body. During experiments, O’Neil’s daughter April helped take care of their test subjects: a rat (Splinter) and four turtles (Donatello, Leonardo, Michelangelo, and Raphael).
However, after Dr. O’Neil learned of Sachs’ true plan for the mutagen, he attempted to destroy their research and was killed in the process. Years later, chasing a lead as an investigative journalist for Channel 6 news, April encounters a familiar Japanese symbol – a symbol with connections to her father’s research. Unable to pass up the chance to learn more about Dr. O’Neil’s death, April’s investigation leads her into a conflict between the Foot Clan and her former turtle pets – now a team of crime-fighting mutant vigilantes.
Source Material Inspiration: While 2014 April O’Neil is in-line with the most familiar iterations of the character (a headstrong news reporter who stumbles upon the turtles while investigating the Foot Clan), certain TMNT fans may think the childhood backstory (featuring Dr. O’Neil) came out of nowhere and was forced into the Ninja Turtles reboot simply to give April and the turtles a shared origin. After all, the father O’Neil character is either deceased or peripheral in most versions of TMNT mythology.
Yet, Mr. O’Neil has appeared in prior pieces of TMNT programming – especially as a supporting character in the 2012 animated series. In that version, Dr. Kirby O’Neil works as a psychologist, not a geneticist, but his abduction by The Kraang (the 2012 iteration of the Utroms) is still the inciting event that first brings April and the turtles together. Dr. O’Neil was even mutated into a bat-like creature during the show’s second season – until the turtles returned him to normal. Furthermore, this isn’t the first time that TMNT franchise writers have connected April to the science community – since the iterations of the comic book series (and later the 2003 animated show) saw the heroine working, at least for a time, as a research assistant to Dr. Baxter Stockman (instead of her more well-known occupation as a news reporter), and even had her responsible for first naming the four pet turtles, like in the movie.
The Ninja Turtles & Splinter
2014 Film Origin: As mentioned in the previous section, the ninja turtles and Splinter were just ordinary test subjects in Eric Sachs’ mutagen experiment. It is April and Dr. O’Neil that named the turtles after renaissance artists (a nod to the comics) – and painted each reptile’s shell with a dab of purple, blue, orange, or red paint to help identify them (the basis for their personalized colorizing). Following Dr. O’Neil’s death, April rescued the turtles and Splinter from her father’s lab – depositing them in a sewer gutter. After their mutation, Splinter followed Dr. O’Neil’s example of caring for his daughter, by raising the mutated turtles as his own sons.
In order to keep the brothers safe, he prohibited Donatello, Leonardo, Michelangelo, and Raphael from venturing above ground to the streets of New York City but, as the turtles became restless (and obsessed with human pop culture), Splinter sought to teach his sons discipline – turning to a discarded martial arts book for guidance. As a result, Master Splinter studied and practiced martial arts – and then passed the same skills and values on to his now Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Still restless, and armed with their own unique weapons, the turtles begin to sneak out when Splinter is away, fighting the growing Foot Clan threat from the shadows – until they are discovered by April O’Neil.
Source Material Inspiration: Following reports that the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles reboot would feature an “alien” origin story for the titular heroes, the film actually follows pretty close to traditional backstories for the turtles. Most versions of TMNT mythology suggest the turtles were created following accidental exposure to the T.C.R.I. ooze – as opposed to intentional experimentation. Yet, after that initial mutation, the 2014 turtles’ training and emergence as shadow vigilantes is mostly in sync with the source material – albeit with additions to their visual design that help differentiate their personalities beyond head band coloration.
Nevertheless, the biggest departure in the new film is Master Splinter’s backstory – which, in most versions of the mythology, has been directly tied to the rise of Shredder. In the original comic book series, Splinter was the pet rat of a benevolent ninja, Hamato Yoshi, who fled Japan – only to be hunted down and killed by rival warrior, Oroku Saki (aka The Shredder). Prior to Yoshi’s death (and Splinter’s mutation), the rat was already a proficient martial artist – having already shadowed his owner’s practice sessions for years. As a result, once Splinter and the turtles were mutated, the rat wasted no time in training his apprentices as heroic warriors – for the primary purpose of defending New York City and putting an end to Shredder’s reign of terror.
2014 Film Origin: For months TMNT fans were trying to determine whether Eric Sachs would don the Shredder armor – following comments from actor William Fichtner suggesting that the character’s alter-ego Oroku Saki was not going to be in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Nevertheless, now that the film is available in theaters, we know that Sachs is actually a student of Saki – and that the iconic villain is still the man inside the bladed battle suit. Even now, little is known about this version of Saki – since his backstory is shared mostly through Sachs’ romanticized retelling of his own time as an outcast in Japan.
Still, if Sachs is to be believed, the 2014 version of Shredder suffered under the tyranny of a local despot – permanently burned and disfigured by a toxin the unidentified warlord used to subdue his people. In spite of his injuries, Saki survived, defeated the malevolent ruler, and took command of his soldiers (now the Foot Clan). However, the experience had turned Saki into a bitter and blood-thirsty warrior. With Sachs under his protection, the two developed a plan to secure ultimate power over the entire world – and ensure they’d never be oppressed again.
Source Material Inspiration: In the original comic series, Oroku Saki was the younger brother of Oroku Nagi – who was killed as a result of a love triangle between a woman named Tang Shen and Splinter’s master Hamato Yoshi. Variations on the character remove Oroku Nagi entirely (reframing Saki as the rejected lover of Shen and combining the Hamato Yoshi and Splinter characters) but the end result is the same – Shredder travels to New York in order to kill Hamato Yoshi. Much like his 2014 counterpart, Oroku Saki works his way up through the ranks of the Foot Clan – either serving as their primary leader or as the crime organization’s chief in America, dependent on the version.
Early leaks of Shredder’s multi-bladed design for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles lead to significant eye-rolling from the fan community, but there is a precedent from prior iterations for the villain’s high-tech armored appearance – most notably Cyber Shredder from the 2003 animated series. Classic TMNT viewers might have been hoping for a simple cape, helmet, and bladed arm/shin guard design, but the new Shredder is hardly the strangest of the antagonist’s forms – which, again in the 2003 TV show, also included a demon-possessed Oroku Saki and Utrom named Ch’rell that masquerades in a Shredder exo-suit.
Returning Support Characters
Of course, Donatello, Leonardo, Michelangelo, Raphael, Splinter, Shredder, and April O’Neil aren’t the only characters from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise to appear in the 2014 film. Supporting players aren’t provided with much backstory but fans will definitely recognize characters like Vernon and Karai (among others), as well as subtle and not-so-subtle changes to their respective characters. For that reason, we’re briefly including four other classic TMNT characters below.
- 2014 Film Appearance: April O’Neil’s loyal cameraman – who also has a crush on the Channel 6 reporter. Played by Will Arnett.
- Source Material Inspiration: April O’Neil’s slimy cameraman – who tries to steal her stories whenever possible. First introduced in the 1987 animated series.
- 2014 Film Appearance: The tough-as-nails (female) managing editor at Channel 6 – who is skeptical of April O’Neil’s belief in ninja turtle vigilantes. Played by Whoopi Goldberg.
- Source Material Inspiration: Burne Thompson – April and Vernon’s (male) boss at Channel 6. Mistrusting of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Thompson wants to see the vigilantes exposed – LIVE on Channel 6 if possible. First introduced in the 1987 animated series.
- 2014 Film Appearance: Senior member of the Foot Clan and Shredder’s field commander. Played by Minae Noji.
- Source Material Inspiration: Leader of the Foot Clan in New York City and successor to Shredder (even donning her own customized Shredder armor), Karai is often an antagonist to the turtles, but on occasion, works with the heroes to battle greater threats. Introduced in the original comic series.
Dr. Baxter Stockman
- 2014 Film Appearance: A scientist working for Eric Sachs. Played by K. Todd Freeman.
- Source Material Inspiration: Deranged scientist and inventor of the Mousers. In the original comic book series Stockman built himself a cyborg body to fight the turtles whereas in the 1987 animated cartoon he was mutated into a half-human half-fly hybrid. Introduced in the original comic series.
As indicated, Liebesman included a number of story threads that could be explored in future sequels. However, at the time of this writing it’s too early to know how long fans will have to wait for the studio to unleash a sequel. In the meantime, check out the link below to find out which fan-favorite characters might appear in a future installment!
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is now playing in 2D and 3D theaters.
Follow me on Twitter @benkendrick for further updates on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles as well as future movie, TV, and gaming news.
Featured Image by CapMoreno @ DeviantArt