Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem review – A triumphant, energetic reimagining

Jess Bacon
A still from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem

The latest half-shell hero reboot, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem, has landed in cinemas and is set to be the must-see family movie of the summer. 

It’s hard to see the need for another Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle reboot with six features, six animated series, and a host of toys, rides, comic books, and video games already on the roster. However, Mutant Mayhem is a strong contender to be the pizza-loving heroes’ best outing yet. 

Fronted by newcomers, Micah Abbey, Shamon Brown Jr., Nicolas Cantu, and Brady Noon, the half-shell teenagers are so desperate to be accepted by humans in all their green glory, that they set out to become heroes and take down the criminal terrorizing New York, Superfly. 

There’s been a lot of interest in how Seth Rogen’s typical R-rated humour will be woven into this family action-comedy, and if the seventh feature will provide enough nostalgia for the die-hard ninja fans. Without wasting more precious pizza time, let’s dive into this new take on the turtles – be warned, there will be some spoilers!

TMNT: Mutant Mayhem is a visual spectacle for all ages 

Animation is in an age of innovation, with Across the Spider-Verse leading the way for striking new visual ambitions, and Mutant Mayhem is no different. With a sketchbook-style animation that emulates a teenager’s comic book drawings, this edgy 90’s look is absolutely captivating. It offers a tonally darker take on the teen’s crime-ridden New York, balanced out by vibrant bursts of color and imaginative use of light within the story. It creates a mesmerizing aesthetic that pours even more life into the already playful script. 

The soundtrack’s heavy reliance on hip-hop only enhances this electric buzz throughout the movie. It also reinforces the turtles’ desire to be cool with their own sound (similar to great heroes like Iron Man and Black Panther), seen in an awesome stylized fight montage played to ‘No Diggity’, and an epic car chase.

In an ingenious move, director Jeff Rowe cast four (relatively unknown) age-appropriate actors as the reptilian teen heroes, which is a refreshing change to adult actors from the past. It’s a credit to the youngsters’ talents too, as they bring a vivacious, free-flowing momentum to co-writers Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s material.

In between the banter and pop-culture references, the four-fold barely pause for breath, absorbed in the excitement of exploring (for the first time) the exhilarating, gnarly underbelly of the human world. It’s the almost improvised feel to the dialogue, as the teens consistently chatter over each other, that captures your attention. Don’t let that concentration waiver either, as you’ll probably miss another stellar quick-witted quip. This dialogue and well-chosen cast humanizes the turtle teens, to make them extremely entertaining.

Superfly and other villains in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem

The wider ensemble has also been cast to perfection. Jackie Chan is electric as the turtles’ overbearing, scare-mongering dad and self-taught karate teacher, Master Splinter. The often-underdeveloped character, penned in the past as the protective dad who has a few words of wisdom, has been transformed into a flawed, but endearing father who tried to prepare and protect his children for the outside world, in the only way he knew how – by keeping them out of it. The coming-of-age story also pokes fun at the ooze-dripping origin story, without revisiting it in any depth again, to focus on the relatable experience of being persecuted for being different.

Ice Cube as the big baddie, mutant crime-ring leader Superfly, is another standout performance. His gang of thugs is made all the better with Paul Rudd, who brings a host of good vibes as hippy gecko, Nigel, and big laughs in every scene. It’s rounded off by Natasia Demetriou as mutant bat Wingnut, John Cena as rhino hybrid Rocksteady, and Rose Byrne as alligator Leatherhead. 

Meanwhile, Maya Rudolph shines as stereotypical James Bond-style villain TCRI executive Cynthia Utrom, who is set on milking the teen turtles to make mutant super-soldiers with their blood. 

Mutant Mayhem is a pop-culture delight 

Before fighting crime, the turtles use their stealth skills to make the most of what New York has to offer including crashing Adele concerts and stealing groceries. The movie is stuffed with pop-culture references (and Easter eggs to previous incarnations) that create the foundation of the nerdy teen’s inspiration for their first stint at being heroes. From adopting anime monster slaying techniques to putting on a Batman voice to sound more menacing, the teens’ charm and ingenuity comes from their innocent childhood obsessions and ability to think on their feet.

Grounding the teens in a human world we recognize only makes the kids’ playful take on being superheroes more relatable. Yet, their hormone-driven dream to save a cancelled prom to win over high-school journalist April O’Neill soon escalates, as Superfly threatens to kill all humans and let mutants rule the earth.

Even though they’re overwhelmed by the weight of their world-saving responsibility, we watch as the kids channel their everyday strengths from years spent gaming, reading comics, and watching the MCU in the sewers to become the heroes, we already know they are.  

A still from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem

The teens aren’t alone in their endeavor either. Not only does the mutant army rebel against their misguided leader, but the humans also come to their aid too. In a relay reminiscent of the Avengers’ efforts to take down Thanos in Infinity War, the new team of mutants and everyday heroes work together to help the turtles get the anti-serum to destroy the now Godzilla-size threat, super-duper-Superfly.

Alongside the frequent references to Godzilla and Mark Ruffalo’s improvisation in Avengers: Endgame, it’s clear the writers want to acknowledge the tapestry of influences that have helped shape this new direction for the turtles. 

Undoubtedly, there’s also a Spider-Man: Homecoming quality to the teen heroes’ energy, with their constant excitement to contribute and inability to stop describing how awesome each fight is. Alongside this, the mid-credit scene of their home-video footage appears to be another nod to the web-headed hero, who was also thrown into the deep end and loved every second of it.  

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Mutant Mayhem review score: 4/5 

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem is a standout addition to the established franchise, set to bring in a whole new audience with its fresh narrative and glorious animation, as well as serve up a much-needed dose of nostalgia for all turtle-loving adults. 

It narrowly misses out on a perfect score as the script serves as an amalgamation of pre-loved mutant vs. human material following a similar narrative to X-Men 3. All while the film pays homage to superheroes and big-scale monster movies it wants to emulate, namely Godzilla and the Avengers. It’s not a perfect movie, but it’s certain to be one of the best Turtle features to date. The inspired cast, unique animation, and laugh-out-loud comedy is set to make this a sure hit for the summer. 

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem is in cinemas now. You can find out more about the movie here.