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.
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Featured Image by CapMoreno @ DeviantArt