Gemma Creagh gets nostalgic with rebooted ’90s classic Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem.
Old millennials and Gen X parents with fond memories of this nostalgic classic can breathe a sigh of relief. Your next family film night or cinema outing is safe and won’t ruin any childhood memories. Certainly not the way “real eye” Sonic still haunts our dreams. From the nonstop quips, visual gags, fast action set pieces, and warm characterisation, there’s so much to enjoy for both adults and children. But be warned, kids on the younger scale might find the violence and over reliance on dialogue a bit much, so your 400th watch of Frozen 2 might still be your best bet there. Sorry.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem assumes no prior knowledge, and sets the premise up from scratch, spending a surprising amount of screen time on a flashback sequence to the turtle’s origin story. On the surface, you might think small animals covered in radioactive goo might not warrant this. However, it does allow for a particularly sweet montage of Splinter (Jackie Chan) raising the cute little reptiles. The majority of the action takes place in the present day as these green teenagers long to escape the sewer and Splinter’s overbearing parenting. They long to venture into the world of humans. A chance meeting with fellow teenage sleuth April O’Neill (Ayo Edebiri) sees them embroiled in a crimefighting mission to foil the evil plans of criminal figurehead Superfly (Ice Cube).
While the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem universe is certainly entertaining, the premise is slightly undercooked and doesn’t quite tie into the overarching theme of identity and belonging. Instead of the one clear centralised villain or thread, there are too many antagonising forces at play – classic Spiderman Three Syndrome again. Many of the beats and plot points are just a bit too convenient. What’s interesting too is how the action is modern-day Manhattan yet gives very 90s NYC vibes.
The aesthetics of the animation are graphic and playful; there’s movement and energy in every frame, and the violence – I mean action sequences – and interplay with real-life elements work very well. What’s wonderful in the character design is how recognisable certain characters are to their real-life actors, as well as the presentation of their physicality – you can feel the heft in the movement of the likes of Rocksteady (John Cena) and Bebop (Seth Rogan). Plus the array of body types is refreshing. The women aren’t stuck figures with enormous breasts, nor are all the men muscular gods. Raphael (Brady Noon) and April are stocky, while Michelangelo (Shamon Brown Jr.) has a smaller frame. The grading is so stylistically dark that it will be interesting to see how this looks on the less forgiving TV screens for the VOD release. Aside from the VFX and star-studded cast, a huge chunk of the reported production budget of $70-80 million must have gone towards licensing such a whopper soundtrack of classic bangers from No Diggity by Blackstreet, Dr. Dre, and Queen Pen to Everything is Everything from Lauryn Hill. This simple, self-aware film delivers entertainment, humour, and heart.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem is in cinemas from 31st July 2023.