Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is much like Pokemon in that it never disappeared. There has always been some continuation in the form of either cartoons, movies, or comic books. Mutant Mayhem is the second theatrical animated Ninja Turtles film, following the lukewarm TMNT of 2007. In addition to having a better style and characterization, Mutant Mayhem may be the first film to address the four crime-fighting turtles as teenagers, complete with similar dreams and quirks.
Posed for a new generation, this film establishes the origins of the collective known by Leonardo, Donatello, Michelangelo, and Raphael. We get the familiar story of how a mysterious ooze from TCRI mutated them and how that ooze also formed their adoptive parent of the mutated rat Splinter, who teaches them ninjitsu. We get all that, but there’s a purpose beyond a standard “this is how we got here” backstory. The mutation of the turtles and the parental aspects of their rat dad play a major part in their ultimate desires that are grander than just being heroes.
The four turtles ultimately want the same thing as Ariel from The Little Mermaid: They want to be a part of the surface world. Having been told the horrors of discrimination by humans via Splinter, the turtles remain in the shadows but long for the light. While running secretive errands at bodegas and taking in outdoor movie nights, they dream of becoming high school students and feeling like they belong. Heroism seems to be a solid route, but they are given another option. On their vigilante spree, the Turtles run across a band of mutants led by the vicious Superfly. These mutants came from the same ooze as the four turtles, and a kinship felt. That bond, however, will be tested in how they view the human world. Namely, Superfly wants to overtake humanity.
As one might expect from that synopsis, Mutant Mayhem does fall back on an expected dose of manic action where the zips and quips compound. It’s a bit disappointing how the film zooms so quickly to this point that we don’t get to spend time with a lot of the characters. April O'Neil, for example, is uniquely staged as a teenage aspiring reporter who fears being on camera. Her goals are interesting, but her journey is reduced to a punchline of barfing less when the camera is turned on. Likewise, the dispute about handling discrimination between the teachings of Splinter and Superfly is reduced to an easy-to-read moral, pulling the blunt “we’re not the same” type of dialogue.
The good news is that the presentation of Mutant Mayhem far outweighs the light scripting. I love the graffiti-style look of the animation, where backgrounds and effects feel like they have a penciled sketchiness. The character designs are varied enough that it’s easier to tell the Turtles apart beyond which color of bandana they wear. The editing is also stellar, as with the montage of various raids on the criminal underworld, smoothly transitioning with the addition of “No Diggity” on the soundtrack. Speaking of the soundtrack, the tracks that are not solid rap choices is a score composed by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. And it’s exactly as hardcore and intense as one might expect, incorporating vicious synth and moody 80s ambient. It packs a strong punch during the moments of horror and drama.
Mutant Mayhem is a solid retooling of the TMNT brand to suit a new generation of Turtles fans better. It has the same level of pop culture slinging in the previous iterations, complete with the Gen-Z vernacular to make the teenage aspect more apparent. It has a unique style that can separate itself from previous TMNT movies and modern animated movies in general. As a stylish dose of action laced with teen-talk absurdities, it continues the legacy of the mutants who dine on pizza in sewers.