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August 6, 2023


written by: Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg, Jeff Rowe, Dan Hernandez & Benji Samit
produced by: Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg and James Weaver
directed by: Jeffrey Rowe
rated: PG (for sequences of violence and action, language and impolite material)
runtime: 100 min.
U.S. release date: August 2, 2023 (theatrical) and September 1, 2023 (VOD)


It appears that the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are timeless, having been in pop culture in some iteration since their comic book debut from writer/artist Kevin Eastman back in 1984. Since then, there have been various cartoon series on television, multiple toys, and an assortment of Halloween costumes for kids, keeping an awareness of them around even when popularity waned. Each decade, there have been kids discovering these “Heroes in a Half Shell” for the first time, thanks to their fun concept, look, and personality. However, their life on the big-screen hasn’t always been a hit. While some of the earlier live-action adaptations were an initial hit and went on to become cult classics, the Michael Bay-produced live-action updates just didn’t take off as hoped, despite making a ton of money for Paramount Pictures. Either way, the live-action iterations of these characters typically came across as visually odd or weird. The latest theatrical release is “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem”, from director Jeff Rowe (who serves as a co-writer here and also co-wrote/directed the Oscar-nominated “Mitchells vs the Machines” from 2021), which confirms that animation is the best way to go for this quartet.

That’s not surprising considering the success of the recent Spider-Man animated features, but this movie is putting a different stamp on the recognizable property in more ways than just visuals. The biggest surprise and change is how this is the first “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” movie that actually cast teenage actors to play the teenage turtles. Imagine that! You would think that would be a no-brainer, but when you consider how most of the feature-length films have humans in turtle costumes, with at times other actors altogether provided the voices for the reptilian quartet. Between the kinetic natural dialogue – from a screenplay by Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg, Jeff Rowe, Dan Hernandez & Benji Samit – and the young actors who voice the turtles, one can easily identify how this iteration is a better fit for these characters.

The story here begins with a cold open which finds Cynthia Udon (Maya Rudolph), an executive at Techno Cosmic Research Institute (TCRI), sending an elite tactical team to infiltrate the underground lab of rogue research scientist, Dr. Baxter Stockman (Giancarlo Esposito), who had been working on a mutagen that would alter animals, such as a housefly. When he is abruptly killed in an explosion, the leftover mutagen poured into the New York City sewers, exposing a rat and four baby turtles to the mysterious green ooze.



Fifteen years later, we meet four teenage turtles, Donatello (Micah Abbey), Leonardo (Nicolas Cantu), Raphael (Brady Noon), and Michelangelo (Shamon Brown Jr.), who have grown-up under the tutelage of Splinter (Jackie Chan), the rat who served as their surrogate father after all five of them were transformed into humanoid mutants. We learn the reason Splinter trained his four boys in the ways of ninjutsu was primarily due to how he was rejected by humans, something he wanted to protect them from such judgement. The ninja turtles begin to realize just how ostracized they will be due to their appearance just at a time in their lives where they yearn for acceptance, especially by their human peers. They’re the only teens I know who wish they could attend high school. Right away, there’s an overt theme of acceptance (or the need for it) established that will weave throughout the “Mutant Mayhem” story. When it comes to the movie’s antagonist, the theme is flipped and we see what happens when a mutant humanoid shuns acceptance and chooses their own path.

The “Mutant Mayhem” antagonist shows up in the form of a giant mutated version of the aforementioned housefly, who now goes by Superfly (a hilariously spot-on Ice Cube) and leads a gang of mutants who plan on spreading the ooze throughout NYC. The crew of mutated stooges are made of warthog Bebop (Seth Rogen) and alligator Leatherhead (Rose Byrne), as well as a gecko who goes by Mondo Gecko (Paul Rudd), a bat called Wingnut (Natasia Demetriou), and a manta ray named Ray Fillet (Post Malone). This evil plan will transform humans into mutants, making humans the inferior species for a change. Maybe then men and women will feel what it’s liked to be feared, persecuted, and looked down upon. But, it does bring to mind some questions: If mutants are special and then everyone’s a mutant, then who’s special? Doesn’t having less mutants make them more special? Such questions are too heady for a villains “evil plan”, but it nevertheless lingers.



Our Mutant Ninja Turtle pals aren’t alone in their quest to challenge Superfly and his mutated minions. They are joined by April (Ayo Edebiri, who also lent her voice talent to “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” and stars in “Theater Camp” and “Bottoms”), a high-school-age aspiring reporter with a comical (albeit humiliating) physical repulsion when on camera. The character of April has appeared as a plucky red-headed TV reporter in the cartoons or as Megan Fox in the Michael Bay-produced movies. It’s a good call on the part of the screenwriters – not only to differentiate from those iterations by making April an African-American, but also by making her the same age as our heroes, providing a relatable generational rapport for these characters that, to my knowledge, has been unseen until now.

Most of the “mayhem” in “Mutant Mayhem” is saved for when the movie builds to it’s inevitably action-heavy third act, which is what you’d expect. However, there are plenty of unexpected elements here that make this a more memorable TMNT outing. That begins with the initial world building that director Jeff Rowe focuses on, as we see what life is like for the young sewer dwellers and their master/father figure (an almost indecipherable Chan) as well as what April’s teen life is like, all told through a visual style that’s more akin to the approach many comics illustrators have taken with the characters, rather than the computer animation we’re used to seeing so many animated features employ. These visuals keep the movie more engaging than one might expect and lends itself well to the kinetic pace of the action and the dialogue. It’s refreshing that “Mutant Mayhem” doesn’t weigh viewers down with exposition and instead simply drops on in on what’s happening (or what’s happened) and who’s who, trusting the audience will catch on and, if not, hang on.



As for the Turtles themselves, they are a blast to hang out with. Enough time is given for each personality to stand out and become recognizable. Granted, some may feel like the dialogue created by a bunch of fortysomething writers is a forced attempt at what teenagers sounds like, but as the four characters talk or yell over each other or finish off each other’s sentences, the whole experience lends itself to something much more age (and generation) appropriate than one would expect. However their portrayal is perceived, there are definitely many laughs to be found in the material mainly from the Turtles interaction with each other and those around them. There’s also a different (at least to me) take on Splinter. He’s not necessarily this all-knowing sage that the Turtles come to for advice. He also exudes this welcome nervousness about his role in molding these youngsters, conveying a knowing parental anxiety that’s quite relatable. He definitely does get in on the action as well, but it’s only when needed, winding up as a fun highlight in the story.

“Mutant Mayhem” goes all out at the end, delivering some crazy action and hilarious comic turns, while still grounding it all with fun characters. There’s some giant kaiju disruption and some silliness provided by the supporting characters, especially Rudd’s Mondo Gecko role. The lively soundtrack incorporates a variety of hip-hop sounds from the likes of M.O.P., De la Soul, Vanilla Ice, and A Tribe Called Quest, but what resonates most is the killer score from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross that combines infectious beats with stylized synths laced with plaintive piano interludes. It’s a cool score that’s worth revisiting.

Overall, “Mutant Mayhem” does a solid job in offering a new take on familiar characters, relying less on the “Cowabunga” exclamations and the pizza obsessions, and more on some unexpected yet relatable themes of acceptance and belonging.






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