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Sunday, May 26, 2024
The Observer

‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem’: Go, ninja, go!

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After a strong summer of releases, “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem” kicks off the school year with a bombastic reboot of the TMNT franchise. Starring Jackie Chan as Splinter, Nicolas Cantu as Leonardo, Micah Abbey as Donatello, Brady Noon as Raphael and Shamon Brown Jr. as Michaelangelo, the film features a mix of celebrity and voice talent. But is the film appropriate for children? And how does it measure up to prior entries in the series?

In contrast to its predecessors, the animation in “Mutant Mayhem” is flashy and claymation-inspired, similar to films like “Paranorman” (2012), which makes it stand out amongst its contemporaries. The style suits the tone perfectly while retaining the conventions that make TMNT familiar. Each turtle maintains his characteristic color and weapon, April O’Neil (Ayo Edebiri) wears a yellow jacket and Splinter is clad in red. Despite this familiarity, however, the film isn’t afraid to harken to older elements of the TMNT canon which youngsters may not know of. April’s ethnicity is changed to match her original comic book appearance, and villains Bebop (Seth Rogan) and Rocksteady (John Cena) return from the ‘80s cartoon. This gives the film a sense of identity without forgetting to pay respect to its legacy.

Likewise, the characters are alive with personality, each bringing their own sense of humor to every scene. Their chemistry is a delight to watch, with my favorite character being the mutant fly, Superfly (Ice Cube). Though he curses a lot for a PG villain, he’s full of charisma with a sympathetic backstory and a threatening presence. He and Splinter share a human-hating philosophy, showing the danger of allowing radical ideas to be carried to their extreme as Superfly prepares a weapon to mutate every animal on Earth and annihilate humankind.

While the film has a lot of comedy and visual appeal, it’s stuffed with references past the point of cringe. Nearly every line contains a nod to a famous movie, TV show, anime or game, most of which will fly over the target audience’s head with the exception of an “Among Us” reference early on. Additionally, there’s a running joke of Splinter being afraid of the boys being “milked” by labs for their blood which is … uncomfortable. And while there are ties to earlier entries, the team’s origin is overhauled entirely. Splinter is no longer Hamato Yoshi, but a plain street rat, and Shredder is replaced by the shady Techno Cosmic Research Institute. One of the most unfortunate holdovers from previous TMNT media is Leonardo’s unrequited crush on April, a subplot thankfully forgotten before the film’s last quarter.

Speaking of subplots, the film’s writing leaves something to be desired. The turtles crave acceptance from humans and earn it by defeating the villain, but this lesson in the importance of not judging a book by its cover can be misinterpreted and lead one to believe that acceptance is only granted to those who are worthy of it. Humans, with the exception of April, are characterized as fearful and intolerant until the final fight with Superfly, where their perspectives are completely changed by a broadcast from April, who has no evidence to substantiate her claim that the turtles are the good guys. But even April has a tendency to be rude and dismissive of the turtles, and outright admits she wouldn’t befriend them if they did not help get her stolen scooter back. Overall, it feels rushed, in need of more time to show the good in humans and characterize the villains past their introductions. The film could be so much more cohesive if it made room for plot instead of cramming in references.

While there’s a lot to love in “Mutant Mayhem,” the mild swearing, references and inappropriate jokes could make it unpalatable to some families, and older fans may be left underwhelmed by the shallowness of the plot. But for those looking for a blend of action and comedy, “Mutant Mayhemis the perfect way to kill a Saturday night, preferably accompanied by greasy pizza and a younger sibling. You’d be hard pressed to find another film quite as energetically reverent for pop culture as a whole.

Title: “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem”

Starring: Jackie Chan, Nicolas Cantu, Micah Abbey, Brady Noon, Shamon Brown Jr., Ayo Edebiri, Seth Rogan, John Cena, Ice Cube

Director: Jeff Rowe

Shamrocks: 4 out of 5