Perhaps the big reason the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have been a long-running hit is because it regularly gets revised to recognize what each new generation is into. Because the latest film, subtitled Mutant Mayhem, is more hip hop and ethnically diverse than anything else, today’s target audience is most likely to enjoy this take.
However, long-time fans won’t all be interested in director Jeff Rowe’s vision and Seth Rogen’s narrative choices. As for what I enjoyed from it is the grunge art. This style isn’t all that different from the early comic books. Although it’s not as dark, the Island of Dr. Moreau style of elements are at least a step in the right direction. The rough textures and lower frame rate the film presents itself on the big screen helps make the work look like claymation. Sadly, no effort was put into making it all come alive in 3D. The addition had barely enough pop.
I was even more disappointed because of the lack of respect paid to the martial art heroes genre. Another issue concerns the ooze. We don’t really need to know it’s an intelligence and humanoid DNA making booster. Baxter Stockman (voiced by Giancarlo Esposito) deserves the credit, but unfortunately, the TCRI believes he should not wield the power. After invading his lab and causing him to lose a vial of that mutagen, that intro sets a very different tone from what original creators Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird envisioned!
As a result, Splinter (Jackie Chan) the rat is no longer a sensei. Although he was never called Master in this film (only father was used), not even a willing suspension of belief can save this film from what’s essential to the wuxia genre. The fact he and the turtles trained at the same pace and sources implies he never earned a black belt. When he has no maxims to impart to the kids, he’s just another doting parent.
As much as I adore Chan in other animated works, like in Kung Fu Panda, he’s out of his league here. He doesn’t convey the right gravitas to be the turtle’s father, and to a lesser degree their sifu. As an actor, he rarely plays roles that are unique. I want to hear Donnie Yen, who’s best known as the IP man! Alternatively, had Paul Dobson been hired, I’d be snickering lots. Just because Chan voiced Sensei Wu in the cinematic version of LEGO Ninjago doesn’t mean he’s the right choice here.
As a result, this movie doesn’t truly offer a complete Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles experience as the comics and past works define it. Instead, this film is more of a standard coming of age tale. Here, Michelangelo (Shamon Brown Jr.), Leonardo (Nicolas Cantu), Raphael (Brady Noon), and Donatello (Micah Abbey) simply want to be accepted for who they are. Because their father says humanity will reject them, they stay in the shadows rather than try to integrate.
Their friendship with April O’Neil (Ayo Edebiri) is also pivotal. While I’m impartial towards her ethnic origins as that’s often changed over the decades, she’s still the budding reporter. And to have help is needed if she’s going to succeed as a newscaster with an eye in the sky.
While the first film sets up to reveal that mutants live amongst us, what’s next isn’t too much of a mystery for those in the know. Although they’re not like Morlocks from the X-men, the fact they exist is a cause for concern for Cynthia Utrom (Maya Rudolph). She works for the Techno Cosmic Research Institute (TCRI) and their reason for being includes keeping tabs on them, along with maybe being aliens living on Earth!
Although this narrative has simliar beats to the world as defined in Palladium’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles & Other Strangeness RPG and its supplement, After the Bomb, I’d be over the moon if that’s the direction the films are going in! The techno punk concept is very appropriate when considering what got built that the turtles have to shut down, and only time will tell if that’s where the writers are getting their ideas from.
After this film, however, I’m more inclined to revisit the original content. I enjoyed the cartoons since it was goofy, simple fun about turtles saving the day like the Ghostbusters cartoons from long ago. As for serious type of content, my money is on Batman vs. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and the 2007 standalone movie (Amazon links). Instead of treating the heroes like teens, they’re at the cusp of adulthood. Also, this franchise always recognized a multiverse exists, and some fans will want to know where this latest fits in the larger scheme of things.
3 Stars out of 5