Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have had a long and varied history when it comes to the big screen, with the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film being one of the highest-grossing independent films of all time, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2: Secret of the Ooze being a toned down classic, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 3: Turtles in Time… The Less we talk about that the better, same thing with the TMNT CGI film. A reboot via producer Michael Bay produced two very average films that tried to bring the teens back to the big screen to some success depending on who you ask (Ask me here). It seems that Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles finds better success on the small screen, even with a final movie for a horrible TV series. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem now tries its hand at the big screen. Can Seth Rogan, the eternal child, bring these teens back to their cinematic box office best? Let’s take a look.
Title: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem Production Company: Nickelodeon Movies & Point Grey Pictures Distributed by: Paramount Pictures Directed by: Jeff Rowe Produced by: Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg, and James Weaver Written by: Brendan O’Brien, Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg, and Jeff Rowe Starring: Micah Abbey, Shamon Brown Jr., Hannibal Buress, Rose Byrne, Nicolas Cantu, John Cena, Jackie Chan, Ice Cube, Natasia Demetriou, Ayo Edebiri, Giancarlo Esposito, Post Malone, Brady Noon, Seth Rogen, Paul Rudd, and Maya Rudolph Based on: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles by Peter Laird & Kevin Eastman Release dates: August 2, 2023 (United States), September 7 (Australia) Running time: 100 Minutes Rating: Worldwide: PG
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem Story Summary – SPOILERS
Techno Cosmic Research Institute (TCRI) executive Cynthia Utrom sends a squadron to hunt down rogue scientist Baxter Stockman, who has created a mutagen to form his own mutant animal family, starting with a housefly. Stockman is interrupted by Utrom’s strike force and killed in the resulting explosion, while the mutagen falls into the sewers of New York City.
Fifteen years later, the turtle brothers Michelangelo, Leonardo, Raphael, and Donatello have been raised by their adoptive rat father, Splinter after the five of them were transformed into humanoid mutants by “ooze” — Stockman’s mutagen. Being chased away by humans led Splinter to distrust humanity and train his sons in the art of ninjutsu, instructing them to only leave their sewer home to steal supplies. Now teenagers, the turtles long to live as normal high schoolers, much to Splinter’s dismay.
During a supply run, the turtles defeat a gang of criminals to recover a stolen moped belonging to a teenager named April O’Neil, revealing themselves and their origins. April, an aspiring journalist struggling to move past an embarrassing viral incident of vomiting on camera, has been investigating a series of robberies of TCRI technology by a criminal known as “Superfly”. The turtles plan to stop Superfly and, through April’s reporting, win public acceptance as heroes. They intercept a piece of stolen technology and meet Superfly under the Brooklyn Bridge, discovering that he is not only a mutant himself, but leader of a mutant gang. Ecstatic to meet fellow mutants, the turtles bond with Superfly and the others and he explains that they were created by Stockman, evading TCRI and living on an abandoned ship in Staten Island.
Like the turtles, they were attacked by society and an embittered Superfly has stolen TCRI technology to weaponize ooze to mutate all wildlife on the planet into the new dominant species and enslave humanity. The turtles try to intervene, but the gang escapes with the equipment while a tracker allows TCRI to capture the turtles. At TCRI headquarters, the turtles are painfully “milked” for their mutagen, but April arrives with Splinter to rescue them. At the gang’s hideout, Splinter and the turtles convince them that their plan for domination will make them no better than the worst of humanity, and together they turn on Superfly, destroying his machine. However, the ooze combines Superfly with other nearby wildlife into a gigantic whale-like kaiju. He attacks the city and the turtles and other mutants attempt to stop him but are assumed by the public to be fellow monsters.
April overcomes her anxiety and commandeers a news broadcast to explain the mutants’ good intentions and the citizens of New York come to their aid. Leonardo finds his voice as a leader, utilizing Michelangelo’s gift for improvisation, Donatello’s intelligence, and Raphael’s rage to drop a canister of TCRI retro-mutagen into Superfly’s blowhole, turning him back into a collection of normal animals. Reconciling with Splinter, the turtles, April, and the mutants are celebrated by the city. The mutants soon move into the sewers with them. Splinter and Scumbug fall in love and the Turtles enroll at April’s high school, where they are all embraced as heroes.
In a mid-credits scene, the turtles enjoy high school life: While the turtles and April enjoy themselves at prom, they are under surveillance from Utrom (holding the now unmutated Superfly captive), who plans to recapture the turtles by enlisting the aid of the mysterious Shredder.
Story Review – Some Vague Spoilers
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem is part origin story, part coming of age, part “dreaming of the world I cannot be in” trope, and a really interesting juxtaposition of how the outcome of a traumatic experience can change based on one single moment.
Of course, we already know all about the origin of the Turtles and Splinter, so that gets glossed over thankfully. The other plots are a bit more interesting with the Turtles themselves longing to interact with the human world from beyond the shadows, and a chance encounter with April O’Neil allows them to do exactly that, with a deal being struck that if they help April take down the criminal Superfly, then they would get a chance to be seen by the world, accepted by them, and attend High School… Yes, the Turtles want to attend High School.
The better part of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem comes from Superfly, with his story being the exact same as Splinters. Both characters had to raise younger mutants due to being older when they mutated, and through a bad encounter with humans one time, things go two ways. When you see this and understand why it happened, you’ll enjoy the movie just a little bit more. It’s a simple plot of how one moment can change an outcome, but one that works for this movie.
Wave 1 and 2 of the Next Big Action Figures
Micah Abbey as Donatello
Probably the most interesting of the group. Taking a lot of cues from Rise of the TMNT, Donatello is clearly on the autism spectrum with a side of sensory issues, using his headphones through a lot of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem. Donatello is still the “smart” one, but he doesn’t know everything yet, and this makes his anxiety issues all the more useful to his character and helps him stand out more in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem than he ever has in previous versions of the character.
Shamon Brown Jr. as Michelangelo
He’s still the goofy jokester of the group, leaning into the more modern improv side of comedy than other versions. A very typical Mikey.
Nicolas Cantu as Leonardo
A wanna-be leader who wants to have everyone like him. Leo’s need to be liked and approved by not only his brothers, but the world he cannot be a part of gives him an awkward look in everything he does, and when he does anything right, he goes overboard, leading to a weird and stupid moment. However, out of all the characters, Leo is the one who gets the most character development and improvement… Except for one thing… Leo being romantically obsessed with April is just weird.
Brady Noon as Raphael
Oh Raph, I’m not sure where to start here. Rachael isn’t really a moody character, but somewhere along the lines of an ADHD kid with too much energy and thinks that fighting is the only way to get rid of that energy. I’m not sure if this is a psychological issue or just too much energy. Either way, I love the way he is played off as the bulldozer of the group. I guess he reminds me of my younger days when I would wrestle with the other kids due to too much energy… Maybe that’s why I loved Raph as a kid…
Jackie Chan as Splinter
I can’t believe I’m going to say this… I did not like Jackie Chan as Splinter. This version of Splinter is a shut-in who fears the world above due to one bad experience and pushes that experience onto his boys. Parental trauma is something that should never be pushed onto children, and the result of that really pushed Splinter from a wise Father into a rejected and needed parent. Also, there was something off-putting with the character model looking more Greek/Italian/European than other Splinter models, making the disconnect with Jackie Chan’s voice acting really come into focus. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem could have been a real first time to change the character up for the better, but gets hurt for name value… Also, the whole “Splinter is gay” thing about his ending with Scumbug is complete BS as Scumbug is female in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem, not male like the original cartoon and toy version of Scumbug was.
Ayo Edebiri as April O’Neil Straight out, April is not as bad as people on the internet have been saying that she is. Yes, the design is not what people expect (Especially those older fans who cannot let go of the 1987 cartoon version), but that’s fine since everyone was off-model and odd-looking. As a character, April is a teenager who wants to increase her social status through becoming a journalist and breaking big stories. She’s bold, pig-headed, and will do exactly what she wants… All traits the original April had too. After spending time watching the crazy psychopath April in Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, seeing this April is a welcome change.
Ice Cube as Superfly
Ice Cube is a perfect villain in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem. While he has the same trauma as Splinter, Superfly goes in the opposite direction, leading to a more violent version of what can occur from being ostracised. I love the way this comes off in the story and having Ice Cube (complete with a few of his rap lines being added into his character) play the part was the perfect casting. However, the fact that he appears during the last third of the movie doesn’t really give him time to be the threat he should have been, and even once he gets a bigger form for the final fight, he just comes off as lame. But overall, still a good villain.
Maya Rudolph as Cynthia Utrom
An enigma wrapped in a riddle wrapped in a mystery. Cynthia Utrom is the leader of the military section, and possibly all of, TCRI. They are the reason everything has happened in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem. Their attempted capture of Baxter Stockman is what leads to the creation of Superfly, the mutants, and the Turtles themselves. While Cynthia and her crew are secondary villains in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem they end up becoming a bigger threat for the potential sequel, which is great.
John Cena as Rocksteady, Seth Rogen as Bebop, Giancarlo Esposito as Baxter Stockman, Rose Byrne as Leatherhead, Hannibal Buress as Genghis Frog, Natasia Demetriou as Wingnut, Post Malone as Ray Fillet, & Paul Rudd as Mondo Gecko I hate having to do this, but I’ve combined all these characters together as they didn’t have too many lines in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem. This sucks because there are a lot of really big names associated with these characters which have gone squandered because none of these characters actually got enough time on screen to actually give us a chance to get to know them or do anything of importance. However I will say this, I hated Rose Byrne’s Leatherhead, who was played as a badly done Australian hunter character. I know Rose is Australian, but we didn’t need that stereotype out there again. Australians do not sound like that. Anyone who has heard me on the Spectator Mode podcast knows this. On the other side of things, Hannibal Buress as Genghis Frog is a scene stealer with only 2 lines in the whole film.
A True New Generation of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
As an overall film, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem is done specifically to appeal to the younger segments of Gen-Z and Gen-Alpha, with a lot of memes used and music choices that would only make sense to someone who spends the majority of their time on TikTok. This isn’t a bad thing though as long as you keep that idea in the back of your brain while watching Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem.
The Turtles themselves are a highlight of the film, spending their time dreaming of the better world that they could have if they weren’t locked away in the sewers for 15 years. It’s a classic trope. Also, having actual teenagers voicing the group lends a very genuine tone to the way they talk and act on screen, leaving the meme of “How are you doing fellow kids?” in the dust for the first time in the franchise’s history. These kids really show that Seth Rogan has tapped into the very lifeblood of the demographic he was making this movie for.
This is also seen in the animation style, which comes off as a teenager who is drawing the story of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem in their notebook. The constant off-model look of all the characters actually works when you think about it. Does it get jarring at times? Yes. Especially in the April in front of the camera scene. But when you look at it, it makes sense as, once again, you’re seeing the film through the eyes of a teenager.
Not Quite Mutant Mayhem, more like Mutant Slap-fight
I’m not going to call Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem a bad film, but there are some fundamental flaws in the movie that really got annoying over time.
The biggest flaw comes from the villains. While Superfly is a really good villain, the rest of the crew just comes off as “there” and that’s it. We don’t even get to see Superfly and the mutants till near the end of the second act, with only mentions of Superfly happening in the film before that. As much as I’m happy to see many other mutants in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem, none of them got time to actually develop into basic characters. We got one scene of everyone in a bowling alley playing around together with them talking about themselves, but nothing actually showed us who they are. A better idea would have been to have all the stolen equipment that happens during Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem to be done in a more mysterious manner by the other mutants instead of generic gangster thugs, thus giving the other mutants time to actually do something.
The other issue I found with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem is that there is this weird obsession with Prom. April is only doing what she is (Writing about Superfly, and the Turtles) because she wants to restore the canceled Prom at her High School and remove a nickname from her social standing. I have no idea what America’s obsession with Prom is, but it plays so heavily into things with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem that it creates a disconnect for international audiences.
Speaking of obsession, Leonardo having an obsession with April is just creepy. It was the same with Donatello in the 2012 TV series. Having any of the Turtles having a romantic obsession with April just feels wrong, and in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem it comes off as extra creepy for some reason I’m still trying to work out.
Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles of the Next Mutation
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem is a good film, I’ll even put it somewhere around the rank 3 or 4 mark if I were to redo my favorite all-time Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film ranking. While personally speaking, not as good as the first 2 live-action films of the 1990s, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem is easily better than the Michael Bay offerings, and slightly better than the Rise of the TMNT film. However, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem did have some easy-to-fix character development and story moments that would have pushed Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem into top 2 territory.
As a way to get a new generation into Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem does a great job of doing just that. For us older fans, we have to remember that is a new-generation TMNT that was only partially made with us in mind (There are a few old-school references). With the associated toy sales (reviews coming to The Outerhaven soon) being some of the best in decades, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem is already slated to get a sequel and a side-story TV series, meaning that Turtle Power is back and better than ever!
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem is a great way to introduce the almost 40-year-old franchise to a whole new generation of fans, done completely from and with them in mind. While Seth Rogan wrote a decent, but spotty, story; it’s the voice acting from the teenage cast combined with bigger names that brings everything together with animation straight from a teenager’s sketchbook that creates a very well-done piece of cinema that is worthy of being passed onto future generations for years to come.