Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2: What We Learned on the Set!
2014's TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES is a mixed bag in even the most generous of assessments. Met mostly with either indifference or anger from fans of the comics and cartoon series, and attacked thoroughly by critics (it received a 21% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with our own Chris Bumbray giving it a 5 out of 10), the franchise reboot wasn't terribly popular but made enough dough ($493 million worldwide) to warrant a sequel. But is anyone clamoring for a sequel that would offer more of the same?
Having been on the set of TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES 2 - or TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES: OUT OF THE SHADOWS, as it is now known - I can assure you that the principal parties are not promising more of the same. The message seems to have been received, and multiple people I spoke to on the set - from the Turtles themselves to the producers - are intent on delivering a follow-up that is more in line with what fans wanted the first time around. With the inclusion of favorite characters like Casey Jones, Baxter Stockman and doltish henchman Bebop and Rocksteady - and the return of the Turtles, natch - studio Paramount Pictures and production company Platinum Dunes are fully aiming to gain the trust of the TMNT faithful. Besides, if a mediocre product like the first one can still gobble up $500 million theatrically alone, a sequel that gets things right should easily surpass that figure.
The set visit, which was attended by myself and a handful of other web journalists, took place in late May in Tribeca, New York. The NY Law School had been outfitted to look like a police station, which was the scene of some massive turmoil. Debris was everywhere, extras in Foot Clan costumes strolled about, indicating the villainous group was responsible for the damage. And the Turtles were in the building: actors Noel Fisher (Michelangelo), Alan Ritchson (Raphael), Jeremy Howard (Donotello) and Pete Ploszek (Leonardo) were present, with Fisher and Ritchson outfitted in their elaborate faux-turtles mo-cap suits. This sequence dealt only with Michelangelo and Raphael, but the other guys were nice enough to show up so we could chat with them. Also around from the cast were Laura Linney, who plays a police chief who grudgingly works alongside the Turtles, Stephen Amell, who straps on the hockey mask as Casey Jones, and Megan Fox, returning as April O'Neil. We would only really get face-time with Ms. Linney, sadly, but talking to Laura Linney about mutant turtles is an item I can now cross off my bucket list.
So what's important to know about the new film? I've assembled some fast facts for you to help let you know where the filmmakers are taking the Turtles for their second go-round.
They Now Know What Movie They're Trying to Make
As mentioned, everyone involved we spoke to seemingly agreed that the first film was a bit messy tonally. The actors know it, the producers know it. Turns out there were at least three different versions of that film assembled, with a lot of material ultimately ending up on the cutting room floor. Writer-producer Andre Nemec (who co-wrote both films) indicated that finding the right tone for the film was one of the trickiest battles the creative team waged; the hope this time around is that everyone is on the same page and heading in the right direction. To quote Nemec, on the first film they "weren't even sure what the Turtles were going to be." And to quote Ritchson, the first film's director, Jonathan Liebesman, had a vision that was very different from the one new director Dave Green has, and all signs point to the latter having the correct one.
The Turtles Are Actually the Main Characters This Time!
It's clear one aspect of the sequel that is overwhelmingly important to the production is that the Turtles actually be the main characters, as opposed to April O'Neil. (You could say they were basically co-stars in their own movie the first time around; not the case anymore.) The actors and Nemec made it clear that the brotherhood between the Turtles and their interactions are taking a front seat in this movie. Add to that, the focus is on making TMNT2 a more family-friendly production, with irreverent comedy being especially important. (The funny elevator sequence from the first one was referenced by one of the actors as being a case where the chemistry between the Turtles was highlighted; expect more of that camaraderie to be displayed in part two.)
As writer Andre Nemec put it: "The movie leans into a very strong theme of what it means to grow up, and leaning into the notion of the teenager part of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and that time of life where you don’t really know how you feel."
The New Director is... Kinder
Another adjustment is in the director's chair. Dave Green (Earth to Echo) is at the helm - only his second feature length film - but the producers are confidant he'll bring more of a fanboy-minded flourish to the sequel; the director is all of 32-years-old and grew up loving these characters. The absence of Liebesman did not evidently bring much sadness to the four guys who play the Turtles. One exchange went like this: When asked the difference between Green's approach and Liebesman's approach, one of the guys remarked, "Kindness." Ouch. It would seem as though this main cast is much more in tune with their new captain, although no one else threw Liebesman under the bus too harshly.
Platinum Dunes producer Andrew Form offered this: "You know, Liesbesman had to start this franchise, which was hard and finding the tone of the movie was hard, and now Dave gets to come into this movie with 90% of the crew from movie one, almost everybody, everybody is returning cast wise except for a couple of new people, so he gets to walk right into this machine that is really moving along nicely."
The Plot is Still a Mystery
Even though I was on the set and spoke to the cast and producers, don't ask me what TMNT2 is about. I still don't know. Form was as cagey as one could be, and the Turtles - great guys though they are - towed the line. What was hammered home for us were notions that it's focused on the Turtles' relationships to one another and the city they live in. Not all of New York City knows about the Turtles' existence, but they are forced to reveal themselves to a handful of new people, like Linney's police chief character. The sequel picks up approximately 6-8 months after the end of the first one (this according to Form). Shredder is back (this time played by Brian Tee), once again seeking to wreak havoc on NYC with the help of mad scientist Baxter Stockman and new lackeys Bebop and Rocksteady. Naturally, there are rumors that we'll get to see Dimension X in the movie, but I honestly can neither confirm nor deny that. (Addendum: That footage in the first trailer absolutely makes it look like Dimension X is touched upon.)
I was able to see some rough footage from the film, none of which really shed much light on the particulars of the story: Tyler Perry (as Stockman) getting out of a cab near Grand Central Station; Bebop and Rocksteady (in human form) talking in a bar and being approached by Shredder; a couple of Foot Clansmen leaping over Casey Jones and April O'Neil. Looked decent, but without context there's not much to glean from what we were shown.
So yes, this was a very tight-lipped crew. That said...
Noel Fisher and Alan Ritchson on set with Will Arnett and Megan Fox
The Sky Opens and The Stakes are Global
Form tipped his hand a little bit in regards to the plot when he said, "We open up the sky at the end of this movie and some crazy stuff happens. You know we don't just have a tower falling off of a building in Times Square. The stakes in this movie are global, where in the first movie I feel like they were contained to 45th and 7th and now they are fully global, and which is a much bigger story than we had in movie one." Dimension X sure is looking likely.
All of New York will be Center Stage
The streets of NYC play a bigger role in the TMNT2 universe, with more exterior sequences than the first one. Form said they were using plenty of recognizable landmarks in TMNT2, from Grand Central to Times Square to the Statue of Liberty, and that NYC is a character in this movie as much as it is in GHOSTBUSTERS (which they apparently look to as a movie that really captures the city).
Fans Have Plenty of Easter Eggs to Look Forward To
According to Andre Nemec, serious fans of TMNT should be on the lookout for easter eggs hidden throughout the film: "There are a couple of good, fun, deep canon Easter Eggs. There are things that if you are paying attention, there will be a name here or there. There will be a number on something that means something to super fans... I always make the joke because I like putting these things in, I’m like, there are eight people who will see this movie and be like, ‘Right on! I can’t believe they did that!’ But probably not more than eight people will notice some of the Easter eggs."
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|Extra Tidbit:||TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES: OUT OF THE SHADOWS comes out June 3, 2016.|