Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem
"Drawing on coming book traditions rather than the animation styles associated with the TV series or previous big screen efforts, it makes for stunning viewing: fluid, inventive and full of character."

First up, a confession: I was never a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles fan. They belonged to my little brother’s generation, and to my small cousin James, who thought that their names were Teenage, Mutant, Hero and Turtle (the word ‘ninja’ being forbidden on UK children’s television in that era). I did not seek out a copy of this film, nor did I expect to enjoy it, but if there is a sequel, I shall certainly go looking for that.

It’s a nominee for Best Animated Film at the Critics Choice Awards, and there’s a reason for that. Drawing on coming book traditions rather than the animation styles associated with the TV series or previous big screen efforts, it makes for stunning viewing: fluid, inventive and full of character. Equally vibrant is the storytelling, with a pace and energy appropriate to its young teenage characters. It’s shot through with humour which is spot on for that age group and which many older viewers will find adorable.

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Older viewers are represented here by grumpy old sewer rat Splinter (voiced by Jackie Chan), who found the turtles as babies in the legendary ooze – outflow from a busted-up secret laboratory – which gave them their powers. Recognising that human-sized turtles might not find much acceptance in the human world, he does his best to shelter them and keep them out of sight. That effort is ultimately thwarted, however, by the turtles’ gregarious instincts and Leonardo’s discovery of girls (or one particular girl, Ayo Edebiri’s high school journalist April). It occurs to them that if they were heroes, they could make humans like them. Unfortunately, this proves more complicated than they expected, when the initially cool-seeming Superfly (Ice Cube) turns out to be building a machine with which to destroy all humans.

With secret government scientists who destroyed the aforementioned lab on their trail as well, life presents plenty of challenges for the green-skinned boys, who spend much of the film desperately out of their depth. Unlike previous versions of the characters, they’re voiced by real teenagers, which makes these sequences more believable and sympathetic. They have fantastic chemistry and the script allows them to perform as an ensemble, with individual characters becoming clear over time, rather than wasting time on individual origin stories. This means we get to know them more as if we were hanging out with them than watching a conventional comic adaptation, and we’re primed to like them because they have so much affection for each other.

The adventures which unfold here are woven together impressively so that everything gets just the right amount of time. Superfly gets more depth than the average villain and the writers’ appreciation of the limited options available to oppressed communities gives weight to the whole thing. All cops are bastards in what is at heart a story about growing up as a Black teenager in the Bronx, but humans more generally are complicated and there is room for forgiveness and change. There is also a good deal of silliness, especially when we’re in the company of Superfly’s motley crew of mutant sidekicks.

There are pop culture references seeded throughout. Splinter trains the turtles with clips from Bruce Lee films. They sneak out at night to watch a drive-in screening of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and have a run-in with a hoodlum who describes them rather fondly as “like little Shreks.” Nonetheless, the film is entirely its own thing and doesn’t need this or any previous Turtles material to support it. It’s everything that a comic adaptation or superhero story ought to be, and if you’ve any love for either of those genres, you should make sure not to miss it.

Reviewed on: 17 Dec 2023
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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem packshot
Teenage mutant turtles set out to try to become heroes so that people will like them, but may have bitten off more than they can chew with villainous fellow mutant Superfly.

Director: Jeff Rowe, Kyler Spears

Writer: Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg, Jeff Rowe

Starring: Micah Abbey, Shamon Brown Jr, Nicolas Cantu, Brady Noon, Ayo Edebiri, Jackie Chan, Ice Cube, Maya Rudolph

Year: 2023

Runtime: 99 minutes

Country: US, Japan, Canada


Streaming on: Sky Cinema

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