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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem Review

August 2, 2023 | Posted by Jeffrey Harris
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem Still Image Credit: Paramount Pictures & Nickelodeon Movies
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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem Review  

Directed By: Jeff Rowe and Kyler Spears
Written By: Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg, Jeff Rowe, Dan Hernandez, and Benji Samit; Based on the comics and characters created by Peter Laird and Kevin Eastman
Runtime: 99 minutes
MPA Rating: Rated PG for sequences of violence and action, language, and impolite material

Nicholas Cantu – Leonardo
Micah Abbey – Donatello
Shamon Brown Jr. – Michelangelo
Brady Noon – Raphael
Jackie Chan – Master Splinter
Ayo Edebiri – April O’Neil
Ice Cube – Superfly
Seth Rogen – Bebop
John Cena – Rocksteady
Natasia Demetriou – Wingnut
Rose Byrne – Leatherhead
Hannibal Buress – Genghis Frog
Post Malone – Ray Fillet
Paul Rudd – Mondo Gecko
Maya Rudolph – Cynthia Utrom
Giancarlo Esposito – Baxter Stockman

The heroes in a half-shell, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, have withstood the test of time as their 40th-anniversary approaches in 2024. The turtles are now back in a new CG-animated, theatrical cinematic reboot, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem, with Seth Rogen and Jeff Rowe serving as the main creative forces behind the camera, as writer and producer. While Mutant Mayhem is not the definitive cinematic take on the Ninja Turtles, it’s still an entertaining one with a distinct, visual style and energy.

Rogen’s take on the franchise is a modern and contemporary one. The Turtles, now voiced by actual teens, have been living in the sewers with their adopted sewer rat father, Splinter (Chan). As the story often goes, the group of animals is exposed to a mysterious mutagenic ooze, which causes them to mutate into hybrid, anthropomorphic creatures, capable of human speech and intelligence. Splinter and his adopted turtle sons Leonardo (Cantu); Donatello (Abbey); Michelangelo (Brown Jr.); and Raphael (Noon) have made it their mission to stay hidden from humans. But as they are getting older, the turtle brothers are vying to go to the surface and live normal lives. They want to go to school and live among the humans. However, Splinter, their protective guardian, forbids them from interacting with the surface world. Splinter believes that humanity will never accept them. With the surface world is too dangerous, Splinter teaches his boys the ways of ninjitsu to stay hidden and to protect themselves.

It turns out the mutagenic ooze is a substance created by an eccentric scientist, Baxter Stockman (Esposito), a scientist who went rogue from his corporate employers at TCRI and sought to create his own family of mutant creatures. However, after TCRI dispatches Stockman, his mutant children manage to escape captivity from TCRI. Fifteen years later, Stockman’s kids, who are now adults and led by Superfly (Ice Cube), lead an apparent crime wave that has grave implications for the people of New York.

After a chance encounter with teen student and aspiring reporter April O’Neil (Edebiri), the Ninja Turtles quickly befriend her and devise a strategy to forge a new life on the surface. They hope that by having April document their exploits as crimefighters who bring down Superfly, they can be seen as heroes who will be embraced by the public, rather than be rejected and persecuted as outcasts. Unfortunately, once they realize that Superfly and his gang are mutants like them, things get more complicated.

Co-directors Jeff Rowe and Kyler Spears bring a unique, dynamic visual animation style to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem. The whole visual style of the movie looks rough around the edges. The production has the vibe of an underground, indie comic book title, which is appropriate considering the Ninja Turtles’ roots. Many character models look purposefully off-kilter or lacking in symmetry from their visual profiles or silhouettes. There are visual flourishes where designs or images look like they are straight out of a sketchbook, or things that have been colored outside the lines. Considering the subject matter, it makes the movie look and feel more creative. They also do a great job of presenting some great dynamic lighting. Every set piece and location throughout Mutant Mayhem looks visually distinct.

Rowe and Spears have created an animated movie that celebrates the underground, avant-garde spirit of the original Ninja Turtles comics, without it being a strict recreation of the classic comic and stories. More than anything, it’s nice to see a CG-animated movie favoring oblong or misshapen models, where the approach isn’t meant to make everything look so clean and perfectly drawn. Rather than trying to make everything look clean and perfect, Rowe and Spears embrace imperfection, which enhances the film’s overall theme and attitude.

Rogen’s approach to casting kids and teens as the Turtles serves the picture well. All of the Turtles resemble their classic counterparts and their best-known traits. Leonardo’s would-be leader, Raphael, is the hothead and brawler; Donatello is the smart one; and Michelangelo is the wild guy. The actors bring youthful energy, exuberance, and believability to their performances. The main characters’ personalities hue closer to the familiar than in the most recent animated adaptation of the franchise. The kids’ acting performances as the Turtles are all solid, but the script tends to lean too heavily on pop-culture references.

The script, credited to Rogen and four other screenwriters, wants to make it clear that this Ninja Turtles is set in the “real” world, so that means tons of pop-culture jokes and gags. While it’s clear what Rogen and his co-writers were going for with this attempt, the frequent pop-culture references tend to break the immersion that this unique world creates. Not to mention, the pop-culture gags will be dated in a few years.

The weak link among the cast is sadly, Jackie Chan as Master Splinter. Granted, there are many different interpretations of Splinter, just as many as there are of the Turtles, but this iteration leans too heavily on the overprotective father trope. While Chan is a tremendous talent in his own right, he’s not the most gifted vocal performer. His line deliveries sound very stiff, especially when Splinter is supposed to have incredibly emotional, dramatic character beats. The way the movie explains Splinter’s expertise in martial arts and ninjitsu and how he teaches it to his adopted sons is little more than a disappointing throwaway gag.

The introduction of Superfly as a new villain for the heroes, while a fresh take, is underwhelming. The plot perfectly sets up Baxter Stockman as the main villain, but the story fumbles by making his prodigal “son” the main baddie instead. Familiar rogues and characters of the TMNT mythos comprise Superfly’s mutant crew. Unfortunately, the other mutants of Mutant Mayhem are fairly one-note characters without much significance to the overall narrative. Bebop (Rogen) and Rocksteady (Cena) are part of the plot, but they have very little material to work with. That said, Paul Rudd as Mondo Gecko is easily the standout of the group, and he has the best moments and interactions with the Turtles.

Esposito’s take on Stockman sounds great as if he could be the ideal villain. Having Stockman as the villain would have reinforced the film’s overall message and themes. It also would have made Stockman a darker parallel to Splinter’s storyline. Additionally, the script tends to hammer the message of Splinter as an overprotective parent, and it never truly feels organic or believable.

Regardless, there is still much to like about Mutant Mayhem with its unique direction and visual style. While the villains could have been better, the rest of the cast makes up for it with strong performances. If this series does continue, the film sets up some potentially more exciting adventures, but that’s only if the sequels that Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem baits get made.

The final score: review Good
The 411
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem is a solid animated update for everyone's favorite heroes in a half-shell. Jeff Rowe and Kyler Spears perform exceptional work in providing a unique visual look and style for the franchise that embraces an art style that's rough around the edges and off-kilter. Mutant Mayhem features a unique visual energy and art style that's reminiscent of the franchise's indie, underground comic roots. The new Turtle vocal performers are solid, but the film could have used some better villains. While this isn't the best adaptation of the Ninja Turtles ever made, it's a solid attempt.