31 Jul 2023
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem
The ninja turtles are back — and frankly, it’s like they’ve never left. In the last decade alone, the pizza-loving heroes-in-half-shells have enjoyed two live-action films, two animated series, toy lines, comic books, theme-park rides — even a straight-to-DVD movie in which the turtles team up with Batman for some reason. Do we really need more? It’s a testament to Mutant Mayhem, the seventh feature-length turtle outing, that it feels as fresh as it does.
For one, it’s very lovely to look at. Building on the remarkable industry-shaking innovations of Into The Spider-Verse, director Jeff Rowe (co-director on the brilliant Mitchells Vs The Machines) leans even heavier into that scruffy, hand-drawn aesthetic, the scribbled lines heartily embracing teenage-scrapbook imperfection.
It’s that adolescent experience that keeps this latest entry feeling more alive and engaging than it has any right to. Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, co-writers of the script and avowed fans of this franchise, are no strangers to teenage coming-of-age stories, and as well as sprinkling some of their witty, self-aware comedy into the mix — there are knowing nods to the strangeness of the turtles’ origin story — this adolescent outsider tale feels of a piece with Superbad or Blockers.
Casting actual youngsters as the voices of the four heroes is an inspired move.
Casting actual youngsters as the voices of the four heroes is an inspired move, too; the four largely unknown actors given ample room to goof around with the script, talk over each other, squabble and enjoy an easy level of banter. There is splendid voice work across the board, in fact, including a very funny turn from Ice Cube as the villainous Superfly, in a role seemingly written for him; plus Paul Rudd as a scene-stealing stoner mutant gecko named Mondo.
Perhaps best of all is Jackie Chan as Master Splinter, who transcends the slight sense of stunt-casting with a genuinely warm and funny twist on the mentor character: the kung-fu-master mutant rat, respun as a kind of first-generation immigrant dad, his turtle sons the second-gen kids better at acclimatising to a hostile environment.
It doesn’t quite hit the narrative ambition of this summer’s Spider-Verse movie, and the last act moves so speedily and messily that the fights can sometimes veer on incoherent. But these are forgivable quibbles. A well-worn lunchbox franchise has made one of the more lovable family films you’re likely to see this year. Pass the pizza.