Call it a plague, a trend, or a naturally occurring response to the cultural zeitgeist, but it’s safe to say that Hollywood’s dedication to IP won’t be fizzling out any time soon, but this absolutely, positively doesn’t need to be a bad thing.
A movie utilizing established IPs as its stomping ground has absolutely no bearing on whether it’s good or not; so long as it’s approached with genuine love and creative intention, you’re probably going to get a great film regardless of which familiar faces are wrapped up in it, and few features in the last few years have proven that quite as deftly as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem, masterminded by Jeff Rowe and Seth Rogen.
With a charm that takes no prisoners, a voice cast that boasts an in-depth understanding of the assignment, and an overwhelming artistic love injected into more than enough of its many pieces, the faults with Mutant Mayhem are few and far between.
To the surprise of absolutely nobody, the film is far and away at its strongest whenever the camera is focusing on the four reptilian brothers, whose incredibly refreshing characterization as cartoonish teenage boys is perhaps the secret MVP of the entire operation. When it comes to the TMNT, some writers may find it easy to create a rift – often between the responsible-to-a-fault Leonardo and the headstrong Raphael – between the brothers as a plot point, and while there’s nothing inherently wrong with that, seeing them stand together as an unshakable united front sans the occasional ribbing of Leonardo means the family dynamics get cracked wide open; enter the film’s not-so-secret MVP.
Listening to Don, Raph, Mikey, and Leo talk over each other with their delightfully unhinged, pop-culture laden dialogue is the epitome of raw, gut-busting joy, and even when the camera pivots away from the brothers, the comedic edge very rarely disappoints. It gets a bit liberal with the references sometimes (the brothers mention Batman, Drake, Adele, Avengers: Endgame, Godzilla, and even Attack on Titan throughout), but it’s less the references and more the way the turtles relate to them that do the heavy lifting for those gags, and the inch-perfect voice work of Micah Abbey, Shamon Brown Jr., Nicolas Cantu, and Brady Noon is the cherry on top of what’s easily one of the greatest takes on the turtles the world has ever seen.
Beyond Mutant Mayhem‘s rip-roaring, ever-important humor, not a drop of creativity is wasted in crafting the elevated reality offered by its status as an animated feature. It’s one thing for a film’s animation to be good, but Mutant Mayhem goes several extra miles by adopting a style not dissimilar to that of the Spider-Verse franchise or The Mitchells vs. The Machines, and anyone familiar with those certified triumphs is all too aware of how far animation of that caliber is capable of carrying any feature, and Mutant Mayhem utilizes it to eye-popping perfection.
Perhaps on par with the film’s faultless visual presentation is the musical score dreamed up by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, blending hard-hitting hip-hop strokes with a dash of electronica that simultaneously captures the whimsical swagger of the four brothers, without making us forget about the looming threat of Superfly and his band of mutant extremists.
There’s no true standout performance, as the turtles effectively combine into their own collective highlight, further subjected to varying shades in the presence of such characters as April O’Neil and Master Splinter. Further still, Ice Cube sounds like he’s having the time of his life when he first bursts onto the scene as the notorious Superfly (you can imagine the jokes that were milked from that name), and while he and his quirky associates don’t boast any sort of noteworthy depth, it’s clear as day that everyone involved had oodles of fun crafting the most outrageous voices for what material they did have to work with.
Of course, Mutant Mayhem isn’t without its shortcomings, many of which are a symptom of us audiences being able to see what it was able to accomplish, and especially with those visual comparisons to the aforementioned Spider-Verse and The Mitchells vs. The Machines, one might be left wishing that it tried harder to match up in the storytelling department as well.
The story as a whole works more than enough for something in this vein, and like most all of the movie, its strongest elements have the characterization of the brothers to thank; Mutant Mayhem does a commendable job of setting up the heroes as four teenage boys who long to be accepted by the wider social world, and with the extra-macho, radical Superfly as the villain, all the pieces were there to craft a particularly timely, important narrative about social isolation and how young boys can healthily approach the issue.
Unfortunately, the plot itself doesn’t seem terribly interested in exploring anyone’s struggles beyond the surface, and in fact makes the bizarre choice to end on a note that spits quite egregiously in the face of whatever arc the brothers do manage to drum up. Perhaps it isn’t a wise move to expect thoughtful social commentary from an animated Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie, but considering how attentive Rogen and company were in bringing its comedy, characterization, visuals, and soundtrack to life, it’s nevertheless a shame that the plot was overlooked the way it was.
Despite a storytelling deficiency that was never going to be its bread and butter anyway, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem absolutely soars in the ways it was meant to, from its stimulating animation, to its captivating music, to this infinitely lovable iteration of the karate-inclined quartet that have no trouble keeping the laughs coming.
TMNT fans old and new can safely chalk this one up as a lean, mean, green victory, and we can only hope the party will continue once the sequel emerges from the sewer.
With only a slightly underwhelming plot among its infractions, ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem’ flies high on some gorgeously evocative presentation and an untouchably charming take on the eponymous reptiles.