The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are back with a new animated adventure after a rocky track record in live-action adaptations. The writing team of Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg, and Jeff Rowe attempts to deliver a new take with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem, which follows the turtle brothers, Leonardo (Nicolas Cantu), Donatello (Micah Abbey), Raphael (Brady Noon), and Michelangelo (Shamon Brown Jr.), all wanting the love and acceptance of New York. To the dismay of their mutant-rat father Splinter (Jackie Chan), the heroes stumble upon a mutant army led by the villainous Superfly (Ice Cube). This forces the turtles to try and uncover what it really means to be loved in the world.
Mutant Mayhem succeeds at being a visually stunning and thoroughly entertaining time at the movies. The screenplay by Rogen (Preacher), Goldberg (Preacher), and Rowe (The Mitchells vs. The Machines) creates a childish world, where the humor is consistently juvenile in places but works with these characters being teens. Each turtle is dealing with identifiable problems that teens can relate to, including falling for first crushes, finding hobbies, and even living up to people’s expectations. Some will feel slighted by the turtles’ problems being this simple. That can be understandable, and might even detract from the level of enjoyment some older audiences may have. Thankfully those moments are few and far between due to the visual delights.
It is the film’s often hilarious and well-staged action sequences that elevate the material. Those looking for straight-up ninja action will be thrilled with what transpires on screen. Each turtle carves out a distinct fighting style thanks to their weapon of choice. Fans who grew up with their favorite turtle will enjoy seeing them get a moment to shine. It is particularly enjoyable to watch the boys interact with the first human they across, April O’Neil (Ayo Edebiri). In these moments, you can see the turtles finally receiving the acceptance they are looking for.
There’s a real joy in how identifiable it is to see these outsiders (turtles) being happy. Though the references to pop culture run the risk of feeling heavy-handed, the film, thankfully, does not bombard viewers with references. Instead, they are used to show how the turtles are really like teens. These sorts of insights help when they meet Superfly and his family (Rose Byrne, John Cena, Seth Rogen, Paul Rudd, Post Malone, and Hannibal Buress). All of the weird character designs endear these outsiders to audiences. It is those visuals that could split viewers on the finished product.
Moments of Mutant Mayhem rival the visual poetry of the Spider-Verse films. In those moments, you can see the originality and creativity on display in thrilling ways. Other moments become cluttered to the point of being a visual mess. It is in those messy moments that the visuals almost become headache-inducing. They become prevalent in the third act, which can be enough to deter a certain audience. Children, on the other hand, may enjoy the visual messiness and excitement as the messiness also serve as scenes of pure fun.
When all of Mutant Mayhem’s characters come together, the results are quite exciting. The teamwork delivers on two levels for audiences. Comic fans and adults in general will enjoy the freneticism of the action while kids will be able to understand themes of teamwork and friendship. That could be cheesy in some cases, but it works in the context of the Turtles becoming real heroes.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem is a fun time at the movies. Its messaging and themes are simple but deliver in a visually stunning package. The visuals can be messy in places, but you can feel the passion for the material on display. That passion makes the finished product one of the summer’s biggest surprises. Mutant Mayhem is more than just popcorn entertainment, its messages and ideas are simple but can help to move audiences of any age.
In theaters August 2nd, 2023.
For more information, head to the official Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem website.
Final Score: 4 out of 5.
This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the movie being covered here wouldn’t exist.