The Big Picture
One word has been a constant throughout recent superhero/comic book adaptations: “Multiverse”. Everyone from Spider-Man to the Flash (and pretty soon, Invincible) has encountered a universe-shattering threat that brings them into contact with different versions of themselves. Some of these films, like Spider-Man: Across The Spider-Verse, manage to be standouts not just in their franchise but in the genre overall. Others, like The Flash, leave much to be desired. But one film ended up setting the trends that these other films would adapt — 2009’s Turtles Forever, which brought together multiple incarnations of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
‘Turtles Forever’ Brought Different Generations of Ninja Turtles Together
Serving as the grand finale of the 2003 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles animated series, Turtles Forever saw the Turtles encountering the shock of their lives when they learned that alternate versions of themselves had somehow traveled dimensions. The cherry on top wasn’t just that there were different versions of the Turtles – they were the version of the Turtles from the 1987 animated series! What follows is a race to save all of reality, especially when the 2k3 Shredder plots to erase existence and kill every version of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles who ever lived.
The best parts of Turtles Forever are the interactions between the 2K3 Turtles and the 1987 Turtles, particularly where 2k3 Michelangelo is concerned. The 1987 Turtles act just like how fans remember them, down to their lame puns and rather…unconventional ways of defeating their enemies. (One of these ways involves exploding shuriken, which plays a major role in the climax.) 2K3 Raphael even groans, “Great – we’re dealing with five Mikeys!” Ultimately both teams of Turtles unite to take down the 2K3 Shredder, which leads them to the Turtles Prime reality.
That reality is none other than the dark and gritty world of the original Mirage Comics created by Kevin Eastman & Peter Laird, featuring more bloodthirsty versions of the Heroes in a Half Shell. This is a prime example of Turtles Forever acknowledging the roots of the franchise, while also managing to weave them into the story in a way that feels organic. While the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have come a long way from their origins in 1984, those origins still have an influence on other Turtles media. In fact, large parts of the 2k3 series were inspired by or either outright adapt storylines from the original Mirage Comics! To top it all off, Eastman and Laird both provide voiceover artwork in the closing sequence as they put the “finishing touches” on the very first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic – bringing things full circle.
How Does ‘Turtles Forever’ Pays Homage to All Walks of Turtles Media?
Turtles Forever didn’t just bring together three different versions of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, however. It managed to pay homage to the vast mythology that has been built over the years. The Purple Dragons and the Foot Clan have been major thorns in the Turtles’ side; both of them play a major role, as the Dragons’ leader Hun ends up being mutated into a giant turtle himself while the Shredder’s daughter Karai manages to resurrect her father. On the other hand, the Turtles’ allies – including their adoptive father Splinter the rat as well as April O’Neil & Casey Jones – continue to provide backup. During a jaunt to the 1987 Turtles’ home universe, 2k3 Leonardo even notes that this world’s Splinter is similar to his father when the latter deals out some sage advice. This is the beauty of Turtles Forever; it’s constructed in a way that all of the callbacks have actual weight while also playing into the plot. More multiverse-based movies could stand to learn a lesson from this one.
Co-writer/co-director Lloyd Goldfine, alongside his fellow writers Rob David & Matthew Dredk and director Roy Burdine, fill the screen with plenty of shoutouts to other Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles media. When the Shredder starts making mutant foes to help in his subjugation of the 2k3 reality, a close glance will reveal that Tokka and Rahzar – the two lovable yet dimwitted antagonists from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze – are among their number. Even more impressive: the revelation of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles multiverse. Nearly every piece of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles media is represented here, whether it’s from the Super Turtles anime or the often-reviled Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation live-action series. Goldfine and his team have a love for all things Turtles that fueled Turtles Forever‘sstory, and at least one team member carried that with him. David is currently the president of Mattel and provided input on Masters of the Universe: Revelationwhich employed a similar approach (one has to assume that its sequel Masters of the Universe: Revolution will do the same.)
Turtles Forever has set trends that other multiverse superhero movies still follow. The last three Spider-Men movies have seen various versions of the web-slinger unite to stop reality itself from falling apart – and challenged key aspects of the Spider-Man mythos in the process. Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths used its multiverse-hopping story to bring up questions about free will. Even The Flashbrought back beloved DC icons in the form of Michael Keaton‘s Batman and Nicolas Cage‘s Superman. However, Turtles Forever did it first – and it used the setup to tell a compelling story with a beginning, middle, and end. Most multiverse movies nowadays tend to use their setup as a way to incite nostalgia or deliver big blockbuster thrills – or both. It’s not simply enough to remind fans that they love these characters; you have to deliver a story that makes you remember why you fell in love with the characters in the first place. Turtles Forever succeeds in that regard, as it shows that no matter what version of the Heroes in a Half Shell you grew up with there’s something great about all of them.
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