Jeff Rowe’s “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem” is the new CGI animated adaptation of the classic Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird comic book series
It’s also a reboot that reimagines/changes the origin story of the central characters.
Here, Leonardo, Donatello, Michelangelo and Raphael first encounter April O’Neil while she’s in high school and spend most of their first adventure dealing with an army of mutations, run by kingpin named Superfly.
The major difference here between the source material, the multiple prior film adaptations and the animated series is that now the title characters are bummed out by their existence. You read that right – these talking turtles who have a secret lair, are martial arts masters and feast on pizza every day are experiencing Teenage Mutant Ninja Anguish.
Are you kidding me?
Remember that great moment in Steve Barron’s 1990 “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” when Michelangelo’s ability to dodge a sword by ducking into his shell inspires him to scream, “God, I love being a TURTLE”?
Here, our heroes are having an existential crisis and lean into the desire to be human. It’s an ill-advised, Doctor Moreau-like conundrum that never should have been considered.
Clearly, there’s nothing cooler than being a freaking Ninja Turtle! Giving our four leads a “Wizard of Oz”-like desire to be human undermines what should be a celebration of their freakish bravado and synergy of pop culture elements.
I recall how violent those early, black-and-white issues of Eastman and Laird’s comic books were (and nothing here comes close to duplicating that). On the other hand, were the comic books ever this off-putting?
FAST FACT: The 1990 film “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” earned $135 million at the U.S. box office. The 2014 reboot? $191 million. (BoxOfficeMojo.com)
There’s way too much gross-out humor here. I’m betting that the forthcoming “Exorcist” sequel won’t have as much projectile vomiting as this movie does.
“Mutant Mayhem” is involving but never charming. Five screenwriters, including Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen are credited. Perhaps there were too many cooks in the pizza kitchen?
The scenes with Master Splinter are the most emotionally engaging and that has a lot to do with how in tune Jackie Chan’s vocal performance is. Splinter is another character that has been refashioned by Rogen and Goldberg’s angst, though the angle of being a lonely, stay-at-home rat dad at least has some kick.
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The screenplay leans into how the turtles not only want to interact with humans (which, by what we see here, is due to how much they enjoy “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”) but actually go to high school (!).
We’re also supposed to believe that humankind has been relentlessly cruel to these outsiders but cease all bigotry after a single newscast that informs us that the title characters are heroes. Also, Donatello and Splinter both wear prescription glasses (think about that for a moment).
I can buy the talking, giant turtles with martial arts prowess but the lack of logic here goes beyond the breaking point.
Chan and Ayo Edibiri as O’Neil offer a great deal in their vocal performances and give heft to the reconfigured take on the characters. I like April O’Neil’s pluck and vulnerability and Splinter has always been the center of these stories – in the inevitable sequels, I’d like a lot more of these two and less of everything else.
The screenplay also bombards us with pop culture references, to a degree that you’d think this was a self-parody. There’s a moment where Superfly announces that he’s now “Super-duper fly,” then waits a beat before looking into the camera and asking us if we got the Missy Elliot reference (Yes, we got it!).
It’s not clever or funny.
— 🐢 The Old Turtle Den 🍕 (@TheOldTurtleDen) August 9, 2023
The use of vintage hip-hop tracks was actually served better in the other Paramount nostalgia fueled summer flick, “Transformers: Rise of the Beasts.”
As an action movie, only Splinter’s takedown of a roomful of villains elicits any awe. Otherwise, Kevin Munroe’s undervalued “TMNT” (2007) had far better action, as did the still unbeatable 1990 live-action original, which has the grit, humor, action and scrappy charm that this lacks.
The visual presentation is the biggest aesthetic difference between this and the other Ninja Turtles movies. The animation suggests a painting come to life; it is beautiful to look at for a while, until it lingers on rotting environments and puke brown color schemes, with a blurring effect that undermines many of the big action set pieces.
To say the least, the filmmakers clearly intended to match the approach of “Spider-Verse” movies and have mirrored some of the techniques without connecting to the visual poetry of those films.
I was in this movie’s corner for most of the way, until the indifferently grotesque side characters, relentless puking and unfunny pop culture nods and shaky-cam action wore me down.
I like that there’s a new take on a Ninja Turtle movie and there are elements here that are promising as this franchise moves forward, but there’s too much junk floating in this ooze.