I grew up loving the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The animated series was a hallmark of my childhood, as were the action figures. I remember the quests my parents had to go on to acquire the toys, especially the April O’Neil figure, oddly enough. So, I have a soft spot in my heart for the turtles. I haven’t disliked the big screen efforts previously, but nothing has really captured my imagination yet. Too often, you just are getting something else, as opposed to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. All of this is to say what a nice little surprise Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem is. What could have been just another summer IP hitting cinemas instead harkens back to why so many of us loved TMNT as kids.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem gets the characters and the property right, at long last. I don’t think any of the prior efforts have been bad, necessarily, but they all felt like compromised visions, in a way. Here, it’s TMNT, while still being filtered through a new style and a modern lens. The end result is a lot of fun, both for younger audiences and for those of us who grew up with the turtles.
This is the story of how four turtle brothers first started on their heroic journeys, told in flashback by their adoptive father, the rat Splinter (Jackie Chan), who discovered them as babies in an ooze that transformed him too. Leonardo (Nicolas Cantu), Donatello (Micah Abbey), Raphael (Brady Noon), and Michelangelo (Shamon Brown Jr.) have grown up in the sewers, fascinated by humans even while Splinter has urged them to hide and fear them. However, they’re teens now and are pushing boundaries, including head out more and more. When they meet reporter in training April O’Neil (Ayo Edebiri), who is trying to bring down the criminal mastermind Super Fly (Ice Cube), the eager to help siblings tag along. As it turns out, they have a taste for heroism.
Of course, while the brothers are young and naive, assuming that New York City will be thrilled to have them fighting crime, that’s not the case. As they go through growing pains, the quartet and April get in deeper with this case, which puts them on a collision course not just with Super Fly, but with a ton of other mutants. These lackeys to Super Fly include Bebop (Seth Rogen), Rocksteady (John Cena), Leatherhead (Rose Byrne), Ray Fillet (Post Malone), Mondo Gecko (Paul Rudd), Wingnut (Natasia Demetriou), and Genghis Frog (Hannibal Buress). They’re not as alone as they might have thought, though they may well be in over their amphibian heads.
The voice cast slips into the roles effortlessly, even if no one quite blows me away. Micah Abbey, Shamon Brown Jr., Nicolas Cantu, and Brady Noon make the turtles feel, well, teenage. It’s not above and beyond work, but it fits what’s needed to let you really go with the story. The same goes for Ayo Edebiri and her take on April. They have a freshness to the work that shines through. The bigger names like Ice Cube, Hannibal Buress, Rose Byrne, John Cena, Jackie Chan, Natasia Demetriou, Post Malone, and Seth Rogen, Paul Rudd are all having a blast, that’s for sure. Supporting voices here include Giancarlo Esposito, Maya Rudolph, and more.
Jeff Rowe co-directs with Kyler Spears, while co-writing with Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg, Dan Hernandez, and Benji Samit (Brendan O’Brien shares a story by credit with Rogen, Goldberg, and Rowe), imbuing it all with the spirit you want out of these characters. This feels like the turtles, even if it’s clear the style is visually playing off of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse and its sequel. It looks great, the jokes almost all land, and the score from none other than Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross rocks. If not for a bit of repetition in the action, this would be an unqualified success.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem is a very promising start to hopefully a new TMNT franchise. The turtles are back and everyone involved seems to understand what makes them work. The film ends on a clear set up for a sequel, one that could be a real blast. We’ll see if this movie actually happens, but it’s ones that fans of the property can be excited about. Fear not, since the creatives here have figure out the turtles. Turtle Power!