Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem
Featured voices: Micah Abbey, Shamon Brown Jr. Nicolas Cantu, Brady Noon, Ayo Edebiri, Jackie Chan, Ice Cube, Giancarlo Esposito
While it’s more likely to appeal to nostalgic adults than children, this reboot of the animated 80s cartoon, their seventh (count ‘em) big screen outing succeeds due to sprightly pacing, surprisingly heartfelt voice turns and some lovely animation.
An origin story, it begins with a flashback showing how lonely misfit scientist Stockman (voiced by Esposito) creates a mutant serum to literally make friends, starting with a housefly and a maggot. His former employer Techno Cosmic Research, who it is revealed Baxter had stolen secrets from, despatches a strike force to kill him. While they are carrying out the mission, the last canister of the serum falls into the NYC sewer coming into contact with four baby turtles and a rat.
Jump forward fifteen years where talking rat Splinter (a winningly humble Chan) is a father figure to the quartet of teenage turtles Michelangelo, Leonardo, Raphael, and Donatello (voiced by Brown Jr, Cantu, Noon and Abbey respectively). Conscious of their vulnerability after an upsetting incident with humans in the city, Splinter has the boys trained in Ninjutsu utilising retro VHS tapes.
On an excursion for supplies, the quartet are spotted by geeky schoolgirl and aspiring journalist April O’Neal (Edebiri, Sydney from ‘The Bear’) who, after the quartet help her retrieve her stolen scooter, becomes their human confidante. Deciding that becoming crusading heroes is the way to human acceptance the turtles begin a crime-fighting spree.
Meanwhile Stockman’s abandoned fly, Superfly (Ice Cube) now a hulking gangster plans to take revenge on the humans who have spurned them.
The mutants vs humans theme will be familiar to fans of the X-Men with Superfly serving as the Magneto figure here. Still, a surprisingly nuanced script co-written by director Rowe with Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg, Dan Hernandez, and Benji Samit, along with a righteously bellowing turn from Cube sells the concept anew. The outsider theme is nicely handled, while having the teenagers voiced by real teenagers imbues the characters with a garrulous charm. Edebiri is very engaging as the (ahem) adorkable April, and her yellow jacket/grey jeans/hightops combo is very much ‘a serve’.
It’s the distinctive animation, presumably inspired by the recent Spider-Man pictures, where the picture really excels, with a suitably stygian and scuzzy streetart style in which the images occasionally flutter as if pages are being ruffled. It’s a welcome contrast to standard pristine candy-coloured CGI landscapes.
The pervading air of gleeful silliness reaches its apotheosis in a frantic chase sequence scored to a bangin’ remix of 4 Non Blondes ‘What’s Up?’ Elsewhere, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’s soundtrack is bolstered by a choice selection of 90s hip-hop.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem is out now.
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