Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem movie review (2023)
As I sat in the theater, the dialogue in Jeff Rowe’s “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem” rushed by like the hyperactive energy of my kids after downing a bottle of Prime, the latest energy drink. The film seemed to be in a hurry, but it made me ponder the distinction between being fast-paced and simply hyperactive within the context of such movies. Comparing it to the likes of “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” and its remarkable sequel, or even “The Mitchells vs. the Machines,” it’s clear that speed can be an asset when fueled by creative ingenuity, whereas “Mutant Mayhem” appears to be sprinting aimlessly. The film’s frenetic pace tries to mask its lack of substance, resulting in a thematically shallow experience.
Set against a backdrop of familiar origins, “Mutant Mayhem” is the seventh installment centering on these iconic characters. Jeff Rowe and his co-writers take us back to the beginning, introducing us to Baxter Stockman (Giancarlo Esposito), a scientist responsible for the ooze that transforms ordinary creatures into mutants. The ensuing chaos spills the ooze into the sewers, setting the stage for the emergence of our four heroes: Donatello (Micah Abbey), Michelangelo (Shamon Brown Jr.), Leonardo (Nicolas Cantu), and Raphael (Brady Noon).
Among the cast, fans of the franchise recognize that the turtles’ mentor, Splinter (Jackie Chan), is an indispensable character. Transformed by the same ooze, Splinter becomes the fatherly figure guiding the teenage mutants and teaching them the art of ninjitsu. Overprotective by nature, he urges them to avoid humans at all costs, fearing exploitation. The turtles’ longing for a normal teenage life, juxtaposed against their secluded existence, adds an intriguing layer.
Concurrently, one of Baxter’s experiments takes a distinct approach to the divide between mutants and humans. While Splinter advocates for concealment, Superfly (Ice Cube) embraces vengeance. He unites a formidable group of mutants, including Genghis Frog (Hannibal Buress), Leatherhead (Rose Byrne), Rocksteady (John Cena), and more. As the narrative unfolds, “Mutant Mayhem” gains momentum with the inclusion of these characters, showcased through excellent voice acting and visually stunning animations.
The film’s visuals truly come alive with the introduction of Superfly’s gang. The animators skillfully blend comic book aesthetics with dynamic character designs, reminiscent of the acclaimed “Spider-Verse.” The seamless transition from hand-drawn to stop-motion-like animation keeps the audience visually engaged, injecting life into every frame.
Nonetheless, the film’s splendor is hampered by its lack of character development and narrative depth. “Mutant Mayhem” attempts to navigate the treacherous waters of the coming-of-age genre, spotlighting the four turtles as they yearn for a reality between Splinter’s caution and Superfly’s aggression. While this theme carries potential, the execution falls short, catering to a younger audience while neglecting the potential complexities that older viewers can appreciate.
A notable shortcoming is the insufficient exploration of the turtles themselves. Leonardo’s responsible demeanor and burgeoning affection for April provide some insight, but the remaining trio scarcely receive attention. Unlike the masterful handling of character growth in “Mitchells” or “Spider-Verse,” “Mutant Mayhem” sacrifices depth for velocity.
In conclusion, “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem” races through its narrative like an overcaffeinated teenager. While boasting impressive visuals and spirited voice acting, the film’s hyperactive nature obscures its thematic hollowness. The coming-of-age tale fails to reach its potential, leaving characters and story beats underdeveloped. Despite its entertaining moments, “Mutant Mayhem” ultimately lacks the substance needed to make its mayhem worthwhile.
“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem” hits theaters on August 2nd.
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