The second live-action franchise given to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles made enough money for a sequel—but the sequel will have to win back a lot of the fans of the comics and cartoons, who were disappointed by the human-led re-introduction. On a set visit of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2 in New York, we kept hearing from the actors and crew that they’re listening to fans and are aware that you want more Ninja Turtle interactions—like the fan favorite elevator beatbox scene from the previous film—and less April O’Neil (Megan Fox) and Vernon Fenwick (Will Arnett). More interestingly, many of the actors who portray the Turtles were very open about how negative they felt about the original film and the original film’s director, Jonathan Liebesman. There were even a few instances where their comparisons of Liebesman and new director Dave Green (who last directed Disney’s original sci-fi charmer, Earth to Echo) made the small batch of journalists look at each other in disbelief at their candidness.
Despite the actors’ excitement for the new director and better effects for these Turtles, one thing they all agreed on, having this story focus more on the Turtles and their interactions, is key. As for overall improvement, we’ll have to wait until June to see how the team did, but today—with the film’s first trailer—we did get our first peek at footage from the sequel. Now that you’ve witnessed that, please check out all the bits of intel we learned from set, visiting with the Turtles, Stephen Amell, Laura Linney, producer Andrew Form and visual effects supervisor Pablo Helman.
LEARNING FROM THE FIRST MOVIE
As mentioned in the intro, the returning cast is excited about this sequel, but they also revealed that they had some reservation in reprising their roles—because the first film was very difficult.
- Alan Ritchson (Raphael) said, “I got to be honest, I was a little nervous about coming back because the first run of this—the first trial run—was pretty tough.” Richtson elaborating by saying that the studio and director Jonathan Liebesman essentially shot “three different versions of the movie, for one movie,” noting that a lot of the mixing of tone and new technology were done on the spot, as opposed to being ironed-out prior.
- Pete Ploszek (Leonardo) said watching the first film made them realize what worked and what didn’t as far as technology and tone. “I think it was a mystery of what survived from the first shoots, into reshoots and beyond.” Ritchson added—with a laugh from all the Turtles—that they didn’t know they were supposed to make a family film until they saw the first movie.
- Noel Fisher (Michelangelo) said that family film will come from spending more time with the turtle family than the humans. “We really genuinely like hanging out and busting each other’s balls, like brothers would,” he said. “The main thing is we’re [adding] more turtles into this movie.”
- When asked how the new director Dave Green (Earth to Echo) compares to Liebesman (Battle Los Angeles, Wrath of the Titans), Jeremy Howard (Donatello) answered the question—while the others deferred—by pausing and saying that Green possessed “kindness” on set.
- Realizing that Howard was treading into darker territory, Polszek offered, “Dave Green is 32. He grew up with these guys (the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles). What was communicated to us early on was how much of a fan he is, and really gets it. I think he was able to watch the first movie—like we all did as an audience—and say, okay that works, that doesn’t work.”
- “To be fair to Liebesman, everybody was trying to figure it out as we were going. And Liebesman had a vision that was different than the final movie, and different than the movie we’re making today,” Ritchson said. “I think—to Dave’s advantage— he desperately wants to make a love letter to the Turtles, the authors (Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird) and the fans. And there’s a lot less battle to make it happen.”
- Producer Andrew Form (of Michael Bay‘s Platinum Dunes production company), who has worked with Liebesman before (on The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning), was a little more judicious than the Turtles, as he said “finding the tone [for Liebesman] was hard” because scripts kept changing. He noted that listening to fans’ frustrations with the first was key for them, though, and they did want to hire a director who was a fan of the comic and cartoon canon. And they got that with Green, who Form noted “used to dress up Donatello (as a kid)… It’s all about the family and the brothers for him, and he stepped right into the machine of the movie and brings that.”
“There were a lot of frustrating issues with the first one, as both a viewer and as someone being in the movie who knows what they chose to edit out,” Ploszek mentioned. “We all know that we’re lucky to be back. We made money but we’re actually now making what we should’ve made the first time.” Which Howard bluntly defined: “the first movie was one-third turtles, this one is two-thirds turtles.”
- If you’re concerned that the makers have abandoned the Turtles’ canon, Ploszek said that, “everyone’s paying attention to how people felt about the first one, what they want to see, and what ‘faithful’ means.” And if you need further proof that they’re taking this one a bit more seriously, Howard pointed out that having three-time Oscar nominee Laura Linney in the movie adds more credibility to this Turtles.
- Having Green being a fan—in comparison to Liebesman, who was not—also benefited the cast, because the cast playing the Turtles also grew up as fans. Ploszek played with his four siblings (his sister as Splinter) and Howard had a broomstick and a purple mask for Donatello. However, they acknowledged, “Leonardo’s no one’s favorite.”
A FEW STORY ASPECTS FOR TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES 2
As juicy as some of the previous film tidbits were, with a very strict unit publicist on hand, we weren’t able to get so much as a logline plot synopsis for TMNT 2. We were, however, able to get a few details about Casey Jones, Laura Linney’s character, and various new locations that the Turtles will venture to (which emphasize Form’s comment that the sequel will feature a “global threat”).
The actors said they’re taking the fans’ favorite scene from the first film, the elevator scene, and trying to get that playful team spirit throughout the sequel. “You’re really going to see four brothers being brothers, and fighting and trying to make up and telling each other how they feel,” Ploszek said. “We’re essentially almost no longer teenagers, and so with that comes our own identity. You’re going to se the four of us realize that we’re pretty different than on another.”
- Producer Andrew Form hopes Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2 will resonate with today’s teenagers as much as teen’s from the 80s who might be raising their own kids now. “This movie is about acceptance… and what it’s like to feel different and how teenagers go through a phase where you feel different or maybe not accepted by everyone,” he said.
- Howard said that in the sequel “Donny has a lot less gear, which I think fans will be excited about and I’m excited about, too. I think he was a little prop heavy in the first one.”
- Of course, what fans really want to know about are the new additions, such as Tyler Perry (Gone Girl) as the villainous Baxter Stockman, Gary Anthony Williams (The Boondocks) as Bebop and Stephen Farrelly (WWE) as Rocksteady, but while Form did show us some footage of Bebop and Rocksteady in a pre-Rhino mutation state—being raucous in a bar—we didn’t get to speak to any of them.
We did, however, get a brief amount of time with Stephen Amell (Arrow), who will be playing fan favorite Casey Jones and Linney, who will be playing an original character not from the comics. Amell teased that the vigilant-justice wannabe, Jones, will be introduced differently than how he was in previous films, where he was already wielding his hockey mask and stick weapons. “I’m doing a completely different job when you meet me than what I am doing by the end of the movie,” Amell said. “It’s very much an origin story for [Casey Jones].”
Howard said that unlike the 90s film, “Raphael’s not on his own when he meets Casey Jones” and that more of the Turtles will interact with him early on.
- Form mentioned that they originally intended to introduce Jones in the first film. “We had incarnations of the script where Casey and April were in the (first) movie together,” Form said. “[But in the sequel] he’s the fresh eyes. He does meet the turtles, but we meet him first. Casey, at least in canon, wants to be a vigilante and the turtles help him and we’re true to that,” Form said, and added that, “[Casey] and Raphael still have their issues, too.”Form also mentioned that they attempted to get a cameo from Elias Koteas, the original live-action Casey Jones, but while that didn’t pan out, they will have a cameo with the original live-action April O’Neil, Judith Hoag, in a scene that Form promised will have “a great Easter egg” for fans.
- Linney, as police chief Rebecca Vincent, will essentially be the Turtles’ personal Commissioner Gordon. She noted that while Rebecca is skeptical of teaming up with crime-fighting turtles, “the more time she spends with them and sees not only what they’re capable of, but their different personalities” she loses some of her hardened cop stereotypes. “She’s not a fool… But it does take time to understand what these creatures are, to value their assistance and then become an ally.”
Tony Shaloub is returning to voice splinter and Johnny Knoxville will again voice Leonardo, making Ploszek the only Turtle actor who doesn’t get to use his voice. But there will be a new actor for Shredder and a new actress for Karai, Form said.
- Form mentioned that other than Jones and Vincent seeing the Turtles, more people will see them in the sequel, including more police officers and civilians. This will be because, the areas in which they venture will also be much more diverse.Form noted that—while the first film their appearance was largely reserved to 45th St and 7th Avenue in Manhatta— in TMNT 2, we can expect a lot of locations. He teased San Francisco, Brazil and Buffalo, but also that they wanted to “capture New York as a character in the movie. [We want] the audience to feel New York more in this movie, in the texture of the city, the streets, the alleys, and especially by setting more in the daytime.” The extra NYC locations that Form teased were Grand Central Station, Madison Square Garden, the Statue of Liberty, the NYPD headquarters, and the streets of Manhattan.Hold it, Brazil? “As you know, Manhattan is surrounded by water, so we take advantage of that,” Form said.
- Form called the Turtles’ new truck “the best man cave I’ve ever seen.”
THE IMPROVEMENT OF VISUAL EFFECTS FOR TMNT 2
With the increase of Turtle on-screen time and Turtle brotherhood, the visual effects for the creatures will be much more elaborate than the first film.
Pablo Helman, of the visual effects studio Industrial Light & Magic, said advancement in animations (and budget) will allow for more interaction and facial expressions between the turtles. “We had to limit contact between them in the first one,” Helman said, “but now we’re going for it.”
Due to the actor-VFX communication we can also expect to see more nuance in the Turtles’ emotions. “It is a lot more interesting to see somebody get mad then be mad—when you can see that transition of change, you can read what they’re thinking, know what’s happening—[so that’s something that will be more evident] with Raphael (in this movie), who was always angry [at the outset] (on the first film),” Helman said. “You know how much energy it takes to be angry all the time? Same thing with being funny, when a Turtle is about to tell a joke, [we’re adding] more tiny things, like the sparkle that they have before (telling the joke). Working with the actors to communicate that makes the animation better and better.”
- Linney said that working with the Turtle actors has been great and she hopes they get more credit with this sequel. “Even though they’re encased in special effects, any emotion that comes through—or anything that works in the movie—is a total marriage between what they do and what special effects adds,” Linney said. “There’s a lot that special effects can do, but spirit has to be provided by a human and these guys are great.”
- We can expect to see a lot more light and a lot less shadows in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2. Partially due to budget restraints on the first film, when it came to animating the turtles’ faces, Liebesman decided to keep them in the shadows. But also because they’re shooting in more real locations the shots be less shadowy, and the Turtles will be less hidden.”There were no real artistic shots in the first movie,” Ploszek said. “But this time, it looks beautiful. We’ve already shot some action pieces in Buffalo that are mind-blowing. We got the guys from The Fast and the Furious [movies] to come in and do it. It looks like a summer blockbuster movie this time.”
- As for the prestigious Academy-Award nominated Linney? She much prefers this process to the times she’s acted opposite “creatures” in the past. “You know, in Congo, they were little girls in ape outfits,” she laughed. “So parts of that movie worked and some of it didn’t, but this is a completely different type of experience because you’re looking at actor’s faces, and they’re so expressive. It’s real flesh and blood.”
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2 will hit theaters on June 3rd. Here’s a look at some of our other recent coverage:
- ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2’: Is the Technodrome Hiding in Plain Sight?
- ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2 First Footage, Images Reveal Bebop and Rocksteady