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If you’ve ever wanted to see a giant mutant played by Ice Cube destroy New York while quoting rap classic “6 ‘N the Mornin”, TMNT: Mutant Mayhem is the film for you.

Not sold yet? What if I told you that there’s a hippie gecko played by Post Malone? Or that Donatello wears a Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure hoodie and uses Attack on Titan to form a battle strategy at one point?

TMNT: Mutant Mayhem is full of personality, from its East Coast hip-hop-saturated soundtrack to the infectious chemistry of the main cast. Even the animation, while grotesque, has an odd kind of charm to it. 

Any of these elements individually would have made the film worth a watch, but when combined, create a delightful mutation that might just be the best piece of TMNT media yet.

Putting the “Teenage” into TMNT

While the crew’s full title is “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” it would be fair to say they haven’t really felt like actual teenagers in most adaptations.

The original 1980s cartoon had the turtles play video games and consume copious amounts of pizza, but it felt more like an adult’s idea of teenagers. Later adaptations added more personality, such as teenage-style bickering, but the characters still felt flat at times.

In fact, this film is the first time in TMNT’s history the turtles have been played by actual teenagers. Previous adaptations were voiced by adults, and the difference is staggering.

Most animated films have voice actors record their lines separately, but the Mutant Mayhem directors chose to let the Turtles’ voice actors record together to better showcase their chemistry.

Supposedly, the director would ask the cast how to use certain slang terms he heard them throwing around and would then incorporate them into the script. The result? You get to hear the turtles use the term “rizz” and spend far too long twerking while roasting each other.

In any other film, this could easily come across as an out-of-touch attempt to reach a younger fanbase, but it works beautifully here. To put it simply, teenagers are awkward, and letting the turtles embrace that awkwardness makes them more relatable.

The same goes for Ayo Edibiri’s April. Her initial appearance received some backlash for shifting how previous versions looked (largely by being Black and somewhat larger in figure). But in many ways, April’s character feels more realistic than almost any previous portrayal.

While other versions have featured April as a conventionally attractive reporter brimming with confidence, this April is an awkward high schooler who’s afraid of public speaking. She’s pretty, but in a way that makes her look more human and less like an unrealistic fantasy.

More importantly, her awkwardness makes her relatable to both the turtles and the audience (this writer in particular can relate to the experience of being an awkward student journalist).

Whether it’s April’s experience of struggling to fit in or Leo’s nervousness surrounding leadership, the characters feel like someone any real teenager could see themselves in.

New York, New York

The characters aren’t the only ones with unique personalities, however. New York has been the setting for too many superhero films to count, but it’s rarely felt this grimy.

While the film’s animation takes clear inspiration from the Spiderverse series, the depictions of the “Big Apple” could not be more different. Where Spiderverse depicted New York in bright, optimistic colors, Mutant Mayhem is full of twisted figures and dirty streets.

This does a lot to make New York feel hostile to the Turtles as they attempt to find acceptance in human society. Even though the humans look grotesque in their own way, the mutants look downright horrifying, making full use of the cel-shaded animation style. 

The Turtles slowly grow to love New York over the film, and the animation slowly grows on you. It embodies a very “New York is grimy and gross, but it’s our city” mindset that seems to call back to Sam Raimi’s Spiderman series at one point.

The animation really highlights the film’s fight scenes. Each Turtle moves somewhat differently, showcasing their different training and personalities. Even Master Splinter moves in a way you might expect from an elderly rat who’s mastered Kung Fu.

But these fight scenes (and New York) would be nothing without some pulse-pounding East Coast hip-hop, and the film delivers this in spades. The soundtrack features DMX, Ole Dirty Bastard and A Tribe Called Quest.

Much like the Spiderverse films, the music makes New York feel like a city brimming with culture rather than just a flat setting.

New Turtles for a New Generation

Unfortunately, the film is likely to upset some longtime fans of the franchise. While many of the characters remain accurate to the lore, the creators took more than a few liberties with this adaptation.

Some of the changes help the film feel grounded, such as slightly adjusting Splinter’s origin story. But many fans will likely be disappointed to find out Giancarlo Esposito’s Baxter Stockman only plays a minor role rather than his usual status as a major villain.

While the film is far from lore-accurate, most of the changes work beautifully in a standalone film. Having the Turtles face other mutants in their first outing allows for a more morally complex narrative as they decide to help the humans who shunned them. 

This won’t be a film for everyone. Even if you’re not a longtime fan of TMNT lore, it can feel a bit insulting to watch Jackie Chan in a movie about accepting differences when Chan allegedly disowned his own daughter for being a lesbian.

But if you can put aside somewhat questionable casting choices and lore changes, TMNT: Mutant Mayhem maintains the spirit of the franchise while also bringing it to a new audience.

With a more diverse cast than any other film in the series, Mutant Mayhem offers a chance for new fans to see themselves in the characters. And if old fans are willing to give it a chance, they might just find that there’s more than enough turtle power to go around.

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