August 2023 Roundup
TMNT: Mutant Mayhem
Paramount Pictures // Directed by Jeff Rowe // Starring Micah Abbey, Shamon Brown Jr., Nicolas Cantu, Brady Noon, Jackie Chan, Ice Cube, Giancarlo Esposito, Rose Byrne, Paul Rudd, John Cena
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was one of my first pop culture loves, alongside Transformers and Ghostbusters (such good times…), but the heroes in a half shell haven’t always adapted well on the big screen. Sure, 1990’s original film and 1991’s Secrets of the Ooze are nostalgic fun, but I’m not sure they can be classed as strong - similar sentiments apply to Jonathan Liebesman’s 2014 effort. The animated series and comics have led the line well, and now, with Jeff Rowe’s TMNT: Mutant Mayhem, we have another fully animated Turtles film aiming to stop the rot. With the Teenage Turtles - Leonardo (Cantu), Donatello (Abbey), Raphael (Noon), and Michaelangelo (Brown Jr.) - being voiced by actual teens, the casting was off to a strong start, and that’s before adding in the likes of Giancarlo Esposito, Ice Cube, Paul Rudd, Rose Byrne, John Cena, and a host of other stars to deliver a stacked voice cast - but what’s a stacked cast if the film doesn’t deliver? Thankfully, Mutant Mayhem does deliver the goods with a visually distinctive adventure full of earnestness, action, and lots of pop culture references (which mainly land, except for an odd Avengers: Endgame nod). Breezing through its ninety-eight-minute runtime, the film is aimed more at kids and families a la the older films rather than the Bay-produced sleaze-fests, so expect more levity than gravitas, though the film does attempt to inject some weight with the strained relationship between the Turtles and their father/master Splinter (Chan) which acts as the narrative focus alongside their dalliances with April O’Neil (Edebiri), here portrayed as an aspiring teen anchor and journalist. Ice Cube’s Superfly acts as the antagonist with the nefarious plan to seize control of the world, a plan that our heroes must foil if they are ever to be accepted by the humans of their beloved New York. It’s a tale as old as time, but what makes the film sing is the chemistry and camaraderie between the heroes, their authentic bond provides a strong foundation for the rest of the film to build upon, beginning with the sumptuous animation employed throughout. The concept art sketch feel lends itself more to the styling of Into/Across the Spider-Verse yet this still feels very much its own thing and allows Mutant Mayhem to stand alone against its six other theatrical cousins - that’s without mentioning the ace score from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross plus the East Coast-styled playlist that provides the films pulsing soundtrack. Mutant Mayhem provides a strong mix of performances, visual and audio appeal, and energy which, to me, is a step up from previous Turtles efforts and its almost-throwback feel really benefits the film overall. Yes, the story is simple and the screenplay is thin, but goddamn does the film look and feel good. I’ve been waiting a long time for a fun Turtles flick, and Mutant Mayhem was an absolute blast.