Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem Review – More Teenagers Than Ninjas

By Jonathan Klotz | Published


The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have been a staple of pop culture since 1987 when a small black-and-white independent comic that lovingly mocked Marvel’s stable of heroes was turned into one of the most popular toy lines in history. An incredibly popular cartoon series then followed, running for 10 seasons, spawning a trio of live-action movies that failed to capture the fun-loving spirit of the turtles. 33 years and five major movies later, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg have finally done the turtles justice with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem, the first big-screen animated adventure for the heroes in a half-shell.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem proves animation is the best format for the heroes, with the stylized look bringing the streets and sewers of New York City to life like never before.

Choosing to go back to animation was smart, leaving behind the original bulky costumes of the first live-action trilogy and the Michael Bay CGI heroes of the last revival. Instead, by building off the stylized design of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, the New York City of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem is an absolute joy to watch, though the number of outside scenes in daylight can be counted on a finger. Silky smooth animation that looks better in motion than it does in still frames makes the by-the-numbers origin story appear to have more momentum behind it than it really does.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem adds its own twist to the franchise’s mythos at the end of the film, but to get there, the audience has to hear about the ooze, how Splinter found them (though, unlike the original cartoon, this time he was originally a rat), and how as mutants, they are feared by society. What’s striking about this version of the turtles, is how they act and sound like teenagers, rebelling against Splinter by venturing out of the sewers and desperate to be part of the human world.

It’s on one of those excursions that the turtles meet April O’Neil, this time a high-school student, and develop a plan to save the city from the criminal mastermind Superfly to be accepted by the humans and, most importantly, attend high school. Once April (voiced by The Bear star Ayo Edebiri) enters the story, the origin story is finally over, and through the next third Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem it’s rapid-fire introductions to a dozen new characters, each with their own bizarre looks and personalities that take full advantage of the all-star voice cast.

Leonardo (Nicolas Cantu), Donatello (Micah Abbey), Raphael (Brady Noon), and Michelangelo (Shamon Brown Jr.) are all awkward teenagers trying to fit in while rebelling against Splinter (Jackie Chan), so when they meet up with Superfly (Ice Cube) and his gang, they go from wanting to stop the villain’s plans to enjoying blacklight bowling.

Nothing says high school more than throwing away all your principles and plans to be accepted by the cool kids. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem pulled characters from the entire span of the franchise, bringing fan favorites to the big screen for the very first time in the process.

An all-star voice cast supports the weak plot of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem, which does better in slower character moments then it does in presenting a viable threat to the heroes.

Rocksteady and Bebop, the classic henchmen of Shredder, are both here, voiced by John Cena and Seth Rogen, while another fan-favorite villain, Leatherhead (now Australian instead of Cajun and voiced by Rose Byrne), gets a chance to shine on the big screen.

The mutant manta ray, Ray Fillet, is changed from his usual muscle-bound persona to instead be a singer, voiced by Magic: The Gathering super-fan and rapper Post Malone, while Genghis Frog, played by comedian Hannibal Burress, is only outdone in absurdity by Scumbug, the mutant cockroach. A brilliant gag during the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem credits is “Introducing Paul Rudd as Mondo Gecko,” seemingly because Rudd’s old friend Rogen is taking a good-natured jab at the Marvel star.

Stuffed full of pop-culture references that will date it, though an offhand comment about Attack on Titan turns out to be important later on, brace yourself for awkward meta-humor about the Hollywood Chrises, Mark Ruffalo, and BTS. The film is heartfelt, a little bit awkward, and maybe too earnest for its own good, just like real teenagers. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem tries to tell a lot, but there’s very little to the plot, and ultimately the best part isn’t what the movie actually does, but what this bold new interpretation of the heroes means for the future.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem is a fun romp, but it suffers in the end from hinting at future movies.

As fun as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem is, it’s still an origin movie, but one that sets up an exciting new status quo (and plenty of future shows) for the heroes by the end of its runtime. Longtime fans will either love or hate the bold new direction, but by then, the countless easter eggs (Eastman and Laird references, the pizza wagon gets a visual shoutout, etc.) have hopefully won them over. And if not, the after-credits sequel tease, featuring the villain everyone wanted to see, promises that the sequel is going to be bigger and better than this first mostly good but a little shaky effort.