'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem' (2023)/Directed by Jeff Rowe and Kyle Spears/Grade: B+
Nostalgia is all over the place when it comes to entertainment these days. Netflix capitalized on our fondness for the eighties with Stranger Things (2016-2024), and now Paramount and Nickelodeon update everyone's favorite talking reptiles with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem. Does this reimagining live up to the hype?
In the new adventure 'from the mind of Seth Rogen' (a major selling point in the trailer), Leonardo (Nicolas Cantu), Donatello (Micah Abbey), Raphael (Brady Noon) and Michelangelo (Shamon Brown Jr.) grapple with the realization that they want to become accepted amongst humankind, against the advice of their master, Splinter (Jackie Chan). When they rescue aspiring journalist April O'Neil's (Ayo Edebiri) stolen bike, the two parties concoct a surefire plan: have April film the turtles as they stop a bad guy, so that the city will love them, and April will get some exposure as well.
That opportunity arises when the terrifying mutant SuperFly (Ice Cube) devises a plan to replace humanity with mutants, using a giant machine that will shoot a special serum into the atmosphere and transform everyone.
While this movie's story is set in modern day, and the screenplay involves a lot of references to current pop culture, the visual style references the comic book panel aesthetic popularized by Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018), and for this picture, it works magnificently. The turtles' hideout, as well as New York City, leap off the screen and practically pull you right through. This also, unsurprisingly, lends a lot of vivacious energy to the action and storytelling. The 100-minute runtime flew by like 15 minutes.
Those style and fight sequences wouldn't be as compelling, though, if the characters weren't likable, and everyone here shine, a credit to the screenplay by Rogen, Evan Goldberg, Jeff Rowe, Dan Hernandez and Benji Samit. Micah Abbey, Nicolas Cantu, Brady Noon and Shamon Brown Jr. also have such a natural rapport, they really feel like they've been friends for years. In addition, Aye Edebiri is quite endearing as April O'Neil. You really feel her aspiration to be a journalist, despite her ironic camera-shyness (trust me, I can relate). That trait leads to one of the movie's funniest jokes, which I'll leave you to see for yourself.
The most touching element of the movie for me was Splinter's backstory. Not only is his motivation to stay away from people completely understandable, as shown in a poignant flashback when he first adopted the turtles, but Jackie Chan infuses the character with so much pain, longing and fear that it's hard not to care about the guy.
I didn't find SuperFly that interesting as an antagonist, though. While his backstory is sympathetic, he quickly devolves into another run-of-the-mill who wants to take over the world. Even his big scheme is ripped off from The Amazing Spider-Man (2012). Consequently, his inevitable demise didn't register with me whatsoever.
In the end, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem is a sly, exciting and heartfelt cinematic time capsule. If you're a die-hard fan of this IP, like my friend who I saw it with, you will leave satisified. As for me, a Ninja Turtles noob, but I was rather surprised and delighted.
The film is currently in theaters everywhere. You can watch the trailer here: https://youtu.be/IHvzw4Ibuho