Although Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem is not without its flaws, Seth Rogen has captured lightning in a bottle to deliver a sensationally fun, hilarious, and action-packed adventure that ticks every pizza box.
At long last, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem is finally ninja-kicking its way onto cinema screens. And it’s been a long time coming. This franchise is loved globally and has gained a huge following. Some iterations have more fans than others, but TMNT is more popular now than ever, especially with me as an OG TMNT fan. In my opinion, the best versions of the franchise are TMNT 1990 and the 2003 animated series. And they set the bar high. So needless to say, going into Mutant Mayhem, my expectations were pretty low. So, has Seth Rogen and his creative team stuck the landing and delivered a movie worthy of admiration? Or is this latest effort another disaster waiting to slip into the bargain bin?
Fear not TMNT fans because Mutant Mayhem is an absolute banger and a solid take on the franchise we know and love. And although the film is not without its flaws, Seth Rogen has captured lightning in a bottle to deliver a sensationally fun, hilarious, and action-packed adventure that ticks every pizza box.
By now, every fan of the Heroes in a Half-Shell knows the score. Four baby turtles stumble upon a canister of mutagen in the sewer and it mutates them into humanized walking and talking creatures. And together with their mutated rat-father Splinter, learn the art of ninjitsu and set off to defend New York City from all evildoers!
It’s an origin story that’s been done to death a hundred times already. But thankfully, Mutant Mayhem skips over the lineage of the Turtles to hit the ground running and kick-start us off on a fresh adventure. The birth of the fab four is referenced in the film. But it’s limited to a brief flashback that serves to keep the flow of the film sleek and punchy. And right from the off, we know we are about to embark on an entirely new take on the TMNT mythology.
Omitting the backstory was a bold choice from Rogen’s team, but it works here. The movie begins with the fab four making a grocery run that swiftly introduces us to the teenagers as they begin to explore our world. These aren’t the fully formed versions of the characters that we’ve seen in the past, in fact, they’re more childish than we’ve ever seen them. But it works here and reveals them to be at the cusp of exploring adulthood and the complexities that come with puberty.
HEROES IN A HALF SHELL
One of the best decisions the filmmakers made to bring this new take to life was casting actual teenagers as the Turtles. It gives them an authentic quality that other variations haven’t had. And it works well with the tone of the film. The best compliment I can give is they actually feel like teenagers. In many ways, they’re dreamers, inexperienced in the ways of the world and their innocence is infectious. After spending only a few minutes with these young and adventurous crimefighters, we quickly become their supporters. Effortlessly being swept up in their infectious camaraderie. Even when they’re pushing the boundaries of Splinter’s wishes and hurling ninja stars at each other!
Showcasing the innocence of youth is a bold choice. One that allows for an abundance of character growth. And in truth, it’s a shrewd move from Rogen and Co. These aren’t the finished version of the Turtles. There are subtle nuances at play, but they’re still developing the traits we know and love. And as the inevitable assembly line of sequels kicks into high gear, I expect to see them develop the tropes and characteristics we all adore. And this depth of character isn’t just reserved for the Turtles. Master Splinter also gets in on the action. The result is a very different take on the wise old ninja master that is sure to divide opinions.
Splinter is revealed to be a middle-aged, human-hating isolationist struggling to keep his children’s urges to explore the surface world at bay. The character choice allows for an arc of self-exploration. One that finds him discovering the errors of his ways and learning to embrace the world, despite his bad experiences. And at first, it allows for some genuinely hilarious moments. However, after a while, I found myself yearning for the traditional Splinter who always offers his wise guidance to keep the fab-four on the right track.
This leads to a divide between the Turtles and their father which reflects the real world a little too closely. Moreover, fans who prefer the Hamato Yoshi version of the character are set to be disappointed. Here, Splinter has no association with Japan or his famed ninja master. Instead, he’s an ordinary rat who has a penchant for martial arts movies. And after being shunned by the world above, he uses the same old movies to teach the Turtles to defend themselves from the human threat.
Another change, albeit a less jarring one comes in the form of April O’Neil. Instead of being a seasoned journalist, April is presented as an anxious teenager yearning for acceptance. But the character change is vital in facilitating her integration into the Turtles’ lives. And it furnishes their relationship with some much-needed similarities. And once they discover their mutual need for acceptance from the world that shuns them, they set off to bring the perpetrators of a series of thefts to justice hoping their heroic efforts will sway public opinion.
This brings them into contact with Superfly (Ice Cube) and his band of mutants. And the gathering delivers where it counts. Every voice actor is perfectly cast here and they each get their time in the limelight. Leading the charge is the always energetic Paul Rudd who brings Mondo Gecko to life. His interactions with the Turtles are a joy to watch. And by the time Bebop and Rocksteady arrive on the scene, the hallmarks of a great cast come together. Their repartee ups the hilarity to eleven and serves up some genuinely laughable moments that will hit the kids and parents alike. Some of the comedy is edgy and walks the fine line Rogen is renowned for. But it never slips into the negative and manages to hold the line for its slick 100-minute running time.
The movie is bound to draw obvious comparisons to the animation style of Spider-Man Across the Spider-Verse. But this is a disservice to both properties because Mutant Mayhem is gorgeous. Both in style and substance and every scene dazzles with its vivid imagery. Whether it’s the streets of New York or the sewers beneath it, every landscape is beautifully rendered and boasts a clay-like quality that imbues each scene with a hand-crafted feeling. And coupled with the lighting and expertly drawn 2D landscapes, the film is one of the most rewarding animated efforts in recent memory. One that I’ll never tire of watching.
If that isn’t enough, the action set pieces are equally as dazzling to watch. With its groundbreaking and inventive animation style, the property swells with its use of fluorescent colors. And they reach out through the screen and bathe the audience in their warmth. This colorful palette takes TMNT in a vibrant and vivid direction that wouldn’t translate into live-action. But here, it works beautifully and accentuates the ninja action tenfold.
STYLE & SCORE
Beyond the breathtaking visuals, the disappointing score from Atticus Ross/Trent Reznor is instantly forgettable and lets the film down. Frustratingly, the collaboration relies heavily on hip-hop and garage beats to hit the mark. And while these tunes are effortlessly pulse-pounding, they rob the project of a suitable score and a classic theme for the Turtles. To date, every iteration of Ninja Turtles has boasted an iconic theme. But the lack of it here leaves the film a little flat. It’s not a major detraction. But it takes the gloss away from what is otherwise a perfectly enjoyable entry into TMNT lore.
Overall, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem is an absolute blast. If directors Jeff Rowe and Kyler Spears set out to deliver a fun and authentic coming-of-age tale for the heroes in a half shell they succeeded. With ease. The Turtles have been imbued with an energetic innocence and freshness that will make them a staple for a new generation of fans. All the while serving up a feast of Turtle Power for pre-existing fans of the IP. And that, coupled with a gloriously vibrant palette, inventive animation style, and a slick narrative delivers everything a TMNT project needs to kick the shell out of the box office.
Although the film doesn’t quite live up to my expectations and tampers with Splinter’s treasured character, the collaboration between Rowe, Spears, and Rogen has delivered a fun, slick, and exciting adventure for every fan. It may not reach the bar set by the 1990 live-action movie. But it will effortlessly become of staple of my TMNT journey. And that is the highest praise I can offer.
Grab a slice of pizza, yell cowabunga, and get ready to kick some shell dudes!
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem is playing in U.K. cinemas now. Grab a slice of pizza and book your tickets now. Subscribe to our newsletter at the top of our homepage to stay up-to-date with all the latest TMNT news and reviews from Future of the Force.
Phil Roberts is the Owner, Daily Content Manager, and Editor-In-Chief of The Future of the Force. He is passionate about Star Wars, Batman, DC, Marvel, Star Trek, Indiana Jones, Ghostbusters, King Kong, and the Ray Harryhausen movies. Follow him on Twitter where he uses the force and babbles frequently!