TMNT’s 2007 Movie Proves Michael Bay’s Turtles Franchise’s Biggest Flaw

Seven years before the Michael Bay-produced Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles duology, the 2007 CG-animated TMNT proved that a dark take on the Ninja Turtles can work, but only if done right. While the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comics were quite dark, the last three decades saw the TMNT franchise aiming at younger audiences – especially with the cartoons. For that reason, many assume that a more serious, realistic take on the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles will never work, and while the Michael Bay Ninja Turtles movies make a case for it, the 2007 TMNT animated film begs to differ.


After creating a billion-dollar franchise out of the Transformers IP, Michael Bay was tasked with the mission of doing something similar with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The first TMNT live-action movie since 1993’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014) brought Leonardo, Michelangelo, Raphael, and Donatello as CG creatures with unique designs that made the turtles into Hulk-like characters. Similar to what Michaele Bay had done with Transformers but also a reflex of a post-The Dark Knight industry, the 2014 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie tried to ground the Ninja Turtles in reality as much as possible, a jarring contrast from the animated series and other live-action movies.

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Despite a cast with names like Megan Fox and Will Arnett, plus all of Michael Bay’s expertise in launching a franchise, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and its sequel Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows did not manage to replicate what has been done with Transformers. The Michael Bay TMNT movies failed to resonate with both new audiences and those who already knew the Turtles, and were heavily criticized for taking themselves way too seriously for a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie – especially the first one. However, seven years before 2014’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the 2007 TMNT movie placed the Turtles in a very serious, mature story that was somewhat grounded in reality. The difference is that, unlike the Michael Bay Ninja Turtles movie, TMNT (2007) stuck with its serious tone all the way through. The CG-animated Ninja Turtles film opened with a family getting caught in the middle of a guerrilla war, setting the tone for what would be the darkest Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie ever released. The Michael Bay TMNT films had a realistic setting, but the lack of consistency in tone made it so that it didn’t work.

Michael Bay’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Movies Lacked Consistency

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles can work in a realistic and dark setting, as that was how the characters were created in the first place. However, just like what happened in Transformers, the Michael Bay-produced Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles tried to combine that sense of realism with silly, over-the-top moments in a mixture that did not quite work. Both a serious TMNT movie and a silly TMNT could work, but not a movie that was trying to be the two different things at the same time. In other words, it was difficult to take a Hulk-like Raphael seriously when the movie stopped the action for some bizarre visual comedy. That problem became even bigger with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows, which increased the silliness with characters like Bepop and Rocksteady and made that lack of consistency in the Michael Bay-produced Ninja Turtles movies much more noticeable.

While it grossed only $96 million at the box office, TMNT (2007) is a much better example of how to ground the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in reality than the Michael Bay movies. Despite being a serious story, TMNT (2007) does not lose track of what makes the Turtles who they are, and it works for all sorts of audiences. That’s the exact balance the Michael Bay Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles never found, and is evidence that another attempt at that tone could be more successful in the future.