Movie Review: TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES: MUTANT MAYHEM
And now for the movie based on childhood toys that everyone’s really looking forward to, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
What? There are dozens of us. Maybe.
I like them. 🙁
When I was a very young kid, I had two main affinities for childhood cartoons: “The Real Ghostbusters” and “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.” I had a friend, Kate, who lived across the street and also loved them. We’d bust out the action figures (Michelangelo FTW) and play with them for hours. I had homemade nunchucks and Ninja Turtle pillows, I dressed up as one for Halloween one year, it was great.
Naturally, my parents took me to see the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film in theaters and bought it on VHS. I couldn’t tell you how many times I watched the movie and memorized it (along with the Pizza Hut baseball commercial before it, featuring Shaun Weiss), and people give me odd looks when I tell them I still love it. Despite the whole “dudes in anthropomorphic turtle costumes” premise, it’s got a reasonably darker tone to it (more akin to the comics than the animated cartoons) and a surprisingly resonant message about family and relying on each other to get through tough times.
I watched the sequel but didn’t bother with the third, and by the time the other films came out, I was a little older and hadn’t kept up with the universe. It seems, though, that the series is enjoying a bit of a resurgence, with the announcement of a video game based on The Last Ronin (an absolutely brilliant graphic novel, if you haven’t read it) and the 2023 film Mutant Mayhem, returning to its animated roots with a style clearly influenced by the success of the brilliant Spider-Verse films. With the wildly successful release of Barbie, the market has shown people can be receptive to these nostalgic trips to our childhood…if they’re done right.
Thankfully, the team behind Mutant Mayhem (a team that includes director Jeff Rowe and Seth Rogan as a producer and actor) managed to accomplish just that, blending age-transcending humor, slick visuals, and a fantastic cast that left me reminiscing about my childhood. The movie borrows more heavily from the child-oriented films and series than the original live-action film, but it pulls it off with an energy and charisma that will all but guarantee a sequel.
The voice cast for the four Ninja Turtles is relatively unknown except for Brady Noon (Raphael), but they each do a fantastic job in letting the personalities of the brothers shine through. Noon’s Raphael is angry and at times reckless with his ambition. Leonardo (Nicolas Cantu) is the vocal cautious leader of the team. Michelangelo (Shamon Brown Jr.) is eager and fun-loving, while Donatello (Micah Abbey) is intelligent but appears to be much smaller than his brothers, so he’s not as quick to jump to combat. The film gives a brief recap of how the Ninja Turtles came to be, thanks to their paternal figure, Splinter (Jackie Chan). When Baxter Stockman (Giancarlo Esposito) has his lab raided for his secret mutation-causing formula, a sample manages to slip through the drain and falls into the sewer, where the four turtles find it. Upon seeing them, Splinter tries to clean them off and is exposed to the mutagen as well.
Fast forward 15 years and the turtles, now teenagers, are ready to explore. Tired of being stuck underground, they seek a relatively “normal” life, including high school, girls, and pizza. When they happen upon April O’Neil (Ayo Edibiri) via a ninja star accident, they form a quick alliance, uniting against Superfly (Ice Cube), who was once one of Baxter’s experiments.
Interestingly, with Superfly as the lead villain, the film has a noticeable lack of The Shredder, the typical TMNT nemesis. Rather, Superfly is somewhat less of a true villain to the TMNT and almost a Dr. Connors/The Lizard figure. Both the Turtles and Superfly’s gang are appalled by the way humans treat the mutants, and for a brief moment, it seems as though they may align; unfortunately, while the Turtles want to be accepted, Superfly simply wants to mutate/eradicate humans. He’s at least an intriguing character and a solid introduction to the Ninja Turtles universe, as opposed to a more universally-known villain like the Shredder or Krang.
The production overall is absolutely top-notch, ranging from the classic hip-hop soundtrack to the animation to the voice talent. The original trailer featured “Can I Kick It” by A Tribe Called Quest, and the in-film soundtrack features plenty of hits from the 80s and 90s that’ll make older moviegoers reminisce. The animation will undoubtedly draw comparisons to the aforementioned Spider-Verse films, and for good reason. Rowe apparently told his artists he liked the raw, almost unfinished-type feel of rough sketches and advised them to draw/paint as such. The result is a beautiful stylized universe that, unlike Spider-Verse, doesn’t incorporate a ton of different styles; it sticks with one, and it does it very well.
And unlike the original live-action film, Mutant Mayhem is stocked with A-list talent. In addition to the previously mentioned actors, the film also features such noted talent as Rose Byrne, John Cena, Post Malone, Maya Rudolph, Paul Rudd, and Hannibal Buress. Each one of them has their own distinct style, and it feels like all of them had a blast making the film.
Bottom line, if you were a fan of the series growing up and want your chance to relive your childhood like many Barbie fans, Mutant Mayhem is likely to satisfy. There is one scene at the very end that’s worth sticking around for; I think it’s a mid-credits scene, if not at the very end of the film.
Mutant Mayhem gets a B+