Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem is not even close to being definitive, and for hard core fans, the key to enjoying it is to embrace that fact. Photo courtesy of Nickelodeon Movies

Film Review: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem

Film Reviews

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem
Director: Jeff Rowe

Nickelodeon Movies and Point Grey Pictures
In Theaters: 08.02

As a die-hard fan who has been eating up every new iteration of turtle power like it was a fresh slice of pizza since the ’80s, I was obviously ready to shellabrate Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem. Still, as someone who has also waited since the days of the original underground comic for a truly definitive screen version, there was always the danger that I’d simply set my expectations too high.

In Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem, Leonardo (Nicolas Cantu, The Walking Dead: World Beyond), Raphael (Brady Noon, The Mighty Duck: Game Changers), Donatello (Micah Abbey, Cousins for Life) and Michaelangelo (Shamon Brown Jr., The Chi) live in the New York sewer system with their adoptive father, Splinter the rat (Jackie Chan). The four boys share a Little Mermaid–like obsession with the world above them, and when they are out on a late night  excursion, they make friends with a high school girl named April O’Neil (Ayo Edebri, Abbott Elementary). While retrieving April’s stolen scooter, the turtle brothers stumble onto a mysterious crime syndicate and discover that it’s led by Superfly (Ice Cube), the rage-fueled boss of a gang of mutant animals bent on revenge against their human oppressors. The turtles must ask themselves a question: beat them or join them?

Director Jeff Rowe (The Mitchells vs. the Machines) has clearly been influenced by the look of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, and that works both for and against Mutant Mayhem. While the eye-popping animation style is computer generated and looks like a hybrid of old-school claymation and big-city graffiti, it’s hard for the story not to suffer a bit by comparison. The screenplay by Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg, Dan Hernandez, Benji Samit and Rowe is sometimes right on target, and other times it’s simply too chaotic and the plot too convoluted. The commitment to emphasizing the “teenage” element is inspired, and as a Stand By Me or The Goonies–style coming-of-age movie, Mutant Mayhem works. The X-Men–like approach to the othering and loneliness of being a “mutant” is also interesting, and Superfly makes for an outrageous yet complicated antagonist. Those who are all about the “ninja” aspect of the Turtles franchise are the ones most likely to be disappointed by this installment. Apart from one terrific sequence with Splinter, the martial arts element is pushed so far into the background that at times it feels like Rogen and company simply forgot about it. Also, a few more awesome jump kicks and a few less vomit jokes wouldn’t have hurt anything.

The young actors playing the turtles add energy and lovable charm that serve the movie well, and Chan’s awkward, clueless dad–take on Splinter is pure gold. Edebri is often called upon to provide the film with a de facto central character, and she shines in this audacious reimagining of April. Ice Cube gives what may well be a career-best performance, bringing a sad depth to the character and exercising the comedic chops he apparently left at home when shooting the Ride Along movies..

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem is not even close to being definitive, and for hard core fans, the key to enjoying it is to embrace that fact. This is an off-the-wall, alternative telling that thrives on the fact that it never takes itself too seriously, and it brings some bold ideas, an off-kilter sense of humor and a lot of humanity (turtality?). In a word … Cowabunga! –Patrick Gibbs 

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