Home Arts & Entertainment Solidarity for the Weird: A Spoiler-Free Review of “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles:...

Solidarity for the Weird: A Spoiler-Free Review of “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem”

Image from Paramount Pictures

Leonardo. Raphael. Donatello. Michelangelo.

Growing up, one of my favorite shows was “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I had a DVD of the 80’s cartoon that I watched all the time, all three live-action movies (yes, even the third one,) and one of my earliest theater memories is going to see “TMNT” in theaters back in 2007.

I adored the story of the Turtles, raised by a Ninja master who was mutated into a rat, fighting against their master’s sworn nemesis, the Shredder and the Foot Clan. One of their only allies was the plucky but confident reporter April O’Neil, who I think first got me interested in uncovering the unexpected in journalism. The four are such iconic characters that everyone can have a different favorite Turtle and every choice is equally valid. (Mine’s Raph.)

“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem,” directed by Jeff Rowe and produced by Seth Rogan, is very different from the originals. The four Turtles skirt outside of humanity, fascinated by a world that they cannot be a part of. April is not a confident reporter, but an anxiety-ridden journalism student who wants to prove herself. Splinter is not a ninja master, but a rat who has seen the worst of humanity and taught the Turtles to fear them. Shredder is nowhere to be seen.

And, honestly, I loved it.

“Mutant Mayhem” plays around with the basic concepts of its characters to present the audience with something fresh and exciting. The Turtles behave like actual teenagers, helped by the voice talents of a cast under 20 years old. They tease each other, make dumb jokes, and get excited about small things in a way that makes the audience root for them. Leo (Nicolas Cantu) isn’t the strong leader we’re used to. Raph (Brady Noon) is more subdued, Mikey (Shamon Brown Jr.) isn’t as boisterous, and Donnie (Micah Abbey) is fairly closed off, but over the course of the movie, they begin to embrace these aspects of themselves and open up about what makes them different.

April’s anxiety is relatable, and I found her struggle to overcome her embarrassing past to be very compelling. Just like the Turtles, April (Ayo Edebiri) learns throughout the movie what she’s capable of. Since she’s not very popular among her peers, she feels a bit more down-to-Earth than the versions I grew up with.

Splinter (Jackie Chan) feels a lot like an immigrant father who doesn’t quite understand the world they’re in and wants to keep the Turtles close. His helicopter parenting is driven by his love for his sons and his fear of losing them, which leads the audience to feel sympathetic for him.

Instead of Shredder or Krang, we’re introduced to Superfly, an obscure character that I sort of knew going into it. In the original show and most depictions, he’s a mutated version of Baxter Stockman. While Stockman does appear in the film, this Superfly is an entirely unique incarnation. Voiced by Ice Cube, Superfly is a scene stealer whose quick and snappy lines make him weirdly endearing. He leads a crew of other mutants, many of whom don’t get as much of a chance to shine and whose names most people in the audience won’t remember unless they’re a Turtles fan who knows them from other media.

The animation style was one of the biggest draws for the movie. Inspired by “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” it looks amazing. The characters move in a way reminiscent of stop motion at times, which makes the film look unique, but it also gets difficult to keep track of what’s happening during fast action scenes. Many of the characters are kinda ugly by design, which makes the movie feel more rough and grounded. The colors are bright and vibrant under a layer of grime, which provides a cool 90’s comic book-y aesthetic that fits perfectly for “TMNT.”

As for the humor, there are a few jokes that land and others that feel drawn out. For example, I groaned internally every time that they made a reference to a popular celebrity, but I’m still giggling over one joke about Leonardo’s name. There are a couple of jokes that are repeated a few times, some with payoffs and others without.

All-in-all, the work done on “Mutant Mayhem” proves that the film is made by a passionate crew who cares for the Turtles and wants to explore a different take on it. The ending feels satisfying while leaving just enough mysteries open to lead to a sequel. If you’re a Turtles fan or are curious about dipping your toes into it, “Mutant Mayhem” is a fantastic spectacle that will leave you loving the four brothers.


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