Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem

As the leads in Jeff Rowe’s “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem” spoke with all the momentum of my kids when they have a bottle of Prime—it’s a new energy drink for those out of the loop—I thought about the difference between fast-paced and hyperactive when it comes to this kind of movie. “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” and its incredible sequel are undeniably fast-paced, but the momentum is right for the material. “The Mitchells vs. the Machines,” co-written by this film’s director, also packs so much into its runtime that it’s impossible to catch it all on first viewing. Those films are fast because they’re fueled by so much creativity that you can see their ideas bursting off the screen. “Mutant Mayhem” is fast because it thinks it should be. There’s a difference. Using its hyperactive nature to disguise how there’s not much going on, “Mutant Mayhem” is a pretty shallow venture thematically. Having said that, it also has undeniably strong visuals and enough creative voice work to make it tolerable on a hot August day when families need an air-conditioned theater for a few hours. I wish the mayhem of it all led somewhere more rewarding.

Yes, it’s another origin story. Despite being the seventh film to feature these characters, Rowe and co-writers Dan Hernandez, Benji Samit, Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg go back to the beginning of the TMNT saga, opening with a scientist named Baxter Stockman (Giancarlo Esposito) creating the infamous ooze that turns ordinary creatures into mutants. When the authorities break into Baxter’s basement lair, the ooze is spilled into the sewers, and the rest is comic book history as a quartet of turtles becomes fast-talking humanoid creatures named Donatello (Micah Abbey), Michelangelo (Shamon Brown Jr.), Leonardo (Nicolas Cantu), and Raphael (Brady Noon).

Fans of the franchise know that the turtles are nothing without their leader, Splinter (Jackie Chan), a rat who was also transformed by the ooze and became the father to the teenage mutants after teaching them the ninja skills to protect themselves. Splinter is extremely overprotective, ordering the boys to stay away from human beings at all costs or risk being milked by them (don’t ask). A flashback reveals that Splinter tried to introduce himself and the turtles to the humans, but they were somewhat understandably terrified. Now they all live underground, as the turtles sneak out to get supplies and wish they could have a normal teenage life beyond the sewers.

Meanwhile, one of Baxter’s experiments responds very differently to the chasm between the human race and the mutants now living underground. Whereas Splinter wants to hide, Superfly (Ice Cube) wants something closer to vengeance. He’s assembled a group of mutants that include Genghis Frog (Hannibal Buress), Leatherhead (Rose Byrne), Rocksteady (John Cena), Wingnut (Natasia Demetriou), Ray Fillet (Post Malone), Bebop (Seth Rogen), and Mondo Gecko (Paul Rudd). Throw in Maya Rudolph as a mysterious figure trying to find the turtles and Ayo Edebiri as April, the human being who befriends the turtles and tries to introduce them to the above-ground world, and you have a stellar voice cast. Once Superfly and his cadre of creatures join the action, “Mutant Mayhem” gets exponentially more fun as each great actor is allowed fun voice beats to shine.

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