Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem
Cast: Jackie Chan, Rose Byrne, Ice Cube,
Writers: Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg, Dan Hernandez, Benji Samit
Director: Jeff Rowe
Back in 1990, I went to the theaters to watch Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on the big screen. At the age of 13 whose previous summer was rocked by Tim Burton’s Batman mulitiple times. Seeing my beloved TV show on the big screen was a huge deal for my friends and I. First of all it was going to be live action (OK, yes it was going to feature animatronics and puppets, but it was going to be set in the real world with real actors playing the human characters) and secondly they were going to swear. I overheard from a friend that tells me that one of the turtles yells “Damn” and to a kid from the suburbs. That’s on the same level as “Fuck” is today(I’m guessing, Im sure kids hear a lot worse things, I don’t know). The movie itself was gritty and it showed city life as being dirty and kind of dangerous. There were kids my age doing large thefts and mentally unstable guys in hockey masks who watched Taxi Driver one too many times prowling the streets in this movie. Our four amphibian friends fought back with their weapons in some great action moments. This came out the same year as RoboCop 2 and I still believe that both movies take place in the same universe. Yet this movie from the early 90’s that was aimed at kids almost feels at times like a gritty grindhouse movie just purely from the way the city was shot. Later when I watched movies like Ms. 45 by Abel Ferrara, Maniac by William Lustig and After Hours by Martin Scorsese. I could recognize similar visual elements in them. As a kid I felt that city life is both exciting and dangerous but with Leonardo, Donnetello, Michaelangelo and Raphael around. I felt protected and the movie itself was amazing
Cut to a few years later when the sequel comes out and I read that the turtles would not be using their weapons at all in this movie. It turns out that a lot of parents were upset about the use of violence in the first one that they were forced to give up their trademarks in this new one. The cartoon had them use their weapons for years and no one batted an eye once. Having Vanilla Ice in this was certainly more bad than any violence you would have seen performed by some puppets. So once I heard that I did not watch much of the Turtles features at all. I did watch the 2007 animated movie and than in 2014 Michael Bay produced a few movies that I remember being OK but the CGI wasn’t that great.
Now it’s 2023 and we have a new movie out being produced and co written by Seth Rogen called Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem. The story involves our four brothers who are kept hidden from the real world by their dad Splinter(Voiced wonderfully by Jackie Chan). All they want is to be accepted and to be able to attend High School. Which is very different from when I was a teenager. I didn’t hate school, but I wasn’t really rushing to go each day either. After becoming friends with an outcast teenager named April( yes the same April O’Neil but more on her later) Our beloved turtles meet up with other mutants and join up with their gang, run by SuperFly( voiced by Ice Cube). However his goals of killing every human don’t quite line up with our four heroes’ morals. So Mikey, Donnie, Leo and…um..Ralph team up with the other mutants to stop him.
First up, the visuals in this are really good. Using the same animation techniques that were established in Spider-Man Into The SpiderVerse. Mutant Mayhem feels like it was lifted off a comic book page and brought to life. I also really liked that they got actual young people to voice the turtles because they are actual teenagers and our four cast members have good chemistry with each other. Yet none of their voices stood out to me. At some points I couldn’t tell who was speaking unless I see their lips move. I think this is due to the fact that I was closer to the screen than I wanted to be. Im sure on more viewings this will become less of an issue. The Score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross was also quite good and it had the vibe of 80’s synthwave music that feels like it could have came from composer Giorgio Moroder at times.
The script by Rogen, Evan Goldberg, Dan Hernandez, and Benji Samit features a lot more comedy than I would personally like in these movies. It doesn’t know the right balance in being serious or being silly. There is also a message about acceptance that I don’t think the filmmakers really thought about before they shot it.
In this movie our main characters really want to be accepted by everyone. They would love to be able to go to school and be just like the other kids. The only way they feel that they can achieve this goal is to save the city from being annihilated by SuperFly. This puts the idea in kids heads that the only way they will be accepted and love is to protect people from catastrophic events and that is not entirely true. People will hate you based solely on the stupidest of reasons and it doesn’t matter what you do or how good you are. All you can do is just be the best person you can and hope for the best. I wished the movie addressed this a little. I also didn’t like that a few of the characters became good when they were always the baddie in all forms of other media.
Now earlier I mentioned that the Turtles befriend this outcast teenager named Puke Girl…No.No.. that’s not it. umm Her name is actual April O Neil(voiced by Ayo Edebiri). Puke Girl was a nickname giving to her after an unfortunate incident reading the morning reports at her school. Now for years April was an older woman who worked as a news reporter, wore an iconic yellow jump suit and had red hair. At least in the cartoon show and other forms of media she did. In the original comics, April was a computer programmer and had black curly hair and wore a jean jacket. In Mutant Mayhem, this character is now very different from the character I used to know. I have absolutely no issue with the way she looks or behaves but she is so far removed from the look and persona people are used to that I wonder why doesn’t she have a different name. They didn’t use Shredder in this (OK in the post credit scene but not in the actual movie) so why the need to even have April O’ Neil at all. I get the film wants to be inclusive and feature characters that focus on representation and that is good. But April from tother forms of media was strongly confident and happy with the way she looks The girl in Mutant Mayhem has anxiety and body image issues about herself. I get the filmmakers don't want to be accused of making this character out to be just purely a sex symbol but it was her additude that the turtles liked. Not her iconic yellow jumpsuit.
Each generation there will be a new tale of these turtles and I’m curious at what the next ten years will bring us. Mutant Mayhem has a lot of great things to enjoy about it, but for me. I’ll rewatch my jam from the 90’s
T-U-R-T-L-E…Power T-U-R-T-L-E..Power T-U-R-T-L-E..Power Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
*** out of Five Stars