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What is Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem about?
TMNT: Mutant Mayhem is a coming-of-age story that explores the importance of acceptance and community and how much fear can limit us. Splinter and Superfly, the film’s parental figures, have good reason to fear humanity—terrified mobs once attacked each of them. But context matters. Mutant Mayhem leans into the fact that people are, by nature, pretty idiotic when it comes to what’s different, but often capable of being good and decent. Even though we know how complicated that journey can be (and seemingly impossible for some), Mutant Mayhem gives humanity the benefit of the doubt and will, hopefully, inspire generations of kids to be more open minded.
Movie Guide table of contents
- Spinter – Jackie Chan
- Leonardo – Nicolas Cantu
- Raphael – Brady Noon
- Michelangelo – Shamon Brown Jr.
- Donatello – Micah Abbey
- April O’Neil – Ayo Edebiri
- Baxter Stockman – Giancarlo Esposito
- Superfly – Ice Cube
- Rocksteady – John Cena
- Bebop – Seth Rogen
- Mondo Gecko – Paul Rudd
- Leatherhead – Rose Byrne
- Genghis Frog – Hannibal Buress
- Ray Fillet – Post Malone
- Wingnut – Natasia Demetriou
- Cynthia Utrom – Maya Rudolph
- Written by – Seth Rogen; Evan Goldberg; Jeff Rowe; Dan Hernandez; Benji Samit
- Directed by – Jeff Rowe
The ending of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem explained
The end of Mutant Mayhem begins after the battle with the Godzilla version of Superfly. Initially, humans think the Turtles and other mutants are evil but April overcomes her fear of being on camera by hijacking a news report and telling everyone that the Turtles are good and trying to defeat Superfly. Once the humans understand, they overcome their prejudices and help the Turtles and other mutants inflict Superfly with the anti-ooze. New York City cheers on its newly discovered heroes.
The mutants join Splinter and the Turtles down in the sewers, creating a lively community in a space that was previously isolated and sad. Splinter begins a romance with Scumbug. The Turtles, just like they dreamed, get to go to high school and be normal kids. April is no longer Puke Girl but April O’Hero. Everyone is happy.
The Mutant Mayhem mid-credits scene gives us some details on what each Turtle is up to. Raph gets to rage as part of the wrestling team. Donny gets to geek out as part of the computer club. Mikey gets to yuck it up as part of the improv group (though is he properly utilizing “and then” etiquette?). And Leo continues to investigate the Techno Cosmic Research Institute with April. Leo asks April to prom and we end with the group having a great time at prom.
Lastly, we see Cynthia Utrom continuing to monitor the Turtles from TCRI HQ. Superfly is back to being an actual little fly and is in a holding container. Utrom says she needs to bring in someone to help. That’s when we cut to someone gazing upon the night-glow city from a distance. It’s Shredder.
The early portions of Mutant Mayhem establish how lonely the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are. They yearn to be part of society. To be normal rather than other. Splinter also begins in a place of fear, being extra restrictive because the one time he hoped for acceptance an angry mob attacked him and the boys. So there’s justifiable fear and trauma that’s then passed down to the next generation.
This mirrors the situation with Superfly and his family (who have, in other media, gone by the moniker the Mighty Mutanimals). Superfly brought them into public once and an angry mob attacked them too. While Splinter decided to passively hide, Superfly has been actively plotting to overthrow humanity.
Fear is at the root of how Splinter and Superfly have lived their lives. It’s also at the core of how humanity had responded to their mutant encounters. Scared of the unknown, lacking context of what the mutants wanted, the people defaulted to their worst instincts and sought to destroy what was different and other. But we see with April’s first Turtle contact that helping someone can dispel their innate prejudices.
That plays out on a larger scale during Superfly’s Kaiju transformation and attack on Manhattan. Humanity’s initial reaction: fear and negative labeling. But when one person takes the time to explain and humanize the Turtles/Mutanimals, everyone else gets on board. Together, they’re able to take down Adolf Superfly.
The larger lesson here is that different isn’t bad. It’s just different. You shouldn’t be the ignorant person whose first instinct is to attack what you don’t understand. With this being a movie, it of course leans into the idealization. It’s not saying you should lack common sense and extend a hand to a monster you just saw eat someone else’s hand. Only that you shouldn’t be so quick to judge someone.
We don’t have talking mutant turtles in our world (if only) but we do have people who feel different. That can be because of something physical, mental, existential, financial, etc. And it’s incredibly situational. Someone who is comfortable and confident at work might not be that way at school. Someone who is shy and scared in their hometown might move to a big city and thrive. Our self-esteem and confidence is often heavily affected by whether or not we feel part of a community. Even if we’re not socializing all the time. As long as you feel connected to the place, that can be tremendously uplifting. As opposed to living somewhere where you think no one understands you, no one likes you, no one is like you.
The conclusion of Mutant Mayhem externalizes and dramatizes a lot of these emotions. And can serve as an important double lesson to those who watch it—be open-minded to others and remember that there are people out there who will be open-minded to you. When you begin to lose faith in people, someone will surprise you.
The mid-credits scene shows how great school can be for this. As awful as kids often are to one another, there’s an opportunity to discover the ones who get you. Connection is possible. If you love Attack on Titan, there’s going to be someone else you can geek out with about it. Part of that is putting yourself out there. You can’t be seen if you never show yourself.
“But do I have to defeat a villain to get people to like me?”
No. Movies will always dramatize and exaggerate events. It’s not about the literal things that happen so much as the concept. If you can add value to someone’s life, they tend to like you. On the one hand, it’s a shame that people can’t just be cool and kind and caring. The idea that we have to prove ourselves worthy of basic decency and respect can be infuriating. On the other hand, that’s the complicated reality of human nature. There are countless articles about the phenomenon of people who hated each other eventually falling in love and getting married. There’s the famous book, by Doris Kearns Goodwin, about Abraham Lincoln, called Team of Rivals, that details how President Lincoln built out his Cabinet with men who didn’t agree with him and how this led to a synergy and success that ultimately benefited the country.
So, no, you don’t have to save the world. Holding a door for someone carrying boxes. Driving a co-worker to the airport. Knowing a restaurant to recommend. Taking a picture for a couple struggling to take a selfie. Genuinely being interested in and asking someone about the thing they’re a geek about. Helping someone learn a game that you know well.
There’s a cynical way to view this. That we have to essentially buy respect. But you can also look at it as simply an encouragement to add to the decency that there is in the world. And when one person does that, it encourages others to do the same.
The themes and meaning of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem
As we discussed in the ending explanation, Mutant Mayhem is primarily concerned with the idea of community. What does it mean to be part of a tribe? What happens when we feel isolated and treated as “other”? How do we make a community? One of the nuances of this has to do with labels. When you’re part of the group, the label is “one of us”. But once you’re labeled as something else, it’s easy for the group to dehumanize.
We see this with April O’Neil. It seemed like her life was fine until she tried to host the morning announcements, got nervous, then threw up. On camera. With the whole school watching. Instead of showing her compassion, people labeled her. Puke Girl. Being stuck with such a sad moniker is what causes April to investigate Superfly—bringing him down will make the city safe again which will mean prom is reinstated which means her peers should like and respect her once again. Instead of being Puke Girl, she’s the girl who saved prom.
This idea of labels comes through when April first brings the Turtles to the high school. Michelangelo signs up for improv under the name Michael Angelo. Then the group mocks Leonardo for being Leo Nardo. He clearly doesn’t like the name Nardo. Especially because it’s making him look uncool in front of April. When he throws out Leon Ardo, they shoot him down. April even starts to make fun of him. In a panic, he calls out Puke Girl, which makes April self-conscious.
We see in that scene how much the label affects both Leonardo and April. And how easy it is for April to do the same thing to Leonardo that her classmates did to her.
This even goes back to the very beginning of the movie where Leonardo tries to lead his brothers and they call him out for it. He wants that positive label but they won’t give it to him because he still hasn’t earned it. When he rats out his brothers to Splinter, they even sarcastically call him a leader as a kind of verbal revenge. Yet, by the end of the movie, Leonardo finally discovers how to lead, because he’s no longer doing it from a place of insecurity but out of genuine compassion and intelligence and capacity. That difference earns him the respect of his siblings and the non-sarcastic label of leader.
The conclusion to this thematic arc is April’s locker at the end of the movie. “Puke Girl” is gone. It’s replaced by April O’Hero. Which has to feel good.
One other important thing is the way in which labels can be self-limiting. Because of the whole puking incident, April labels herself as someone who can’t be on camera. Is that actually true? Probably not. Most of us get nervous the first time we’re on stage or on camera. It’s something you get used to. But if you label it as something you can’t do, then it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Thankfully, circumstances force April to get on camera, actively challenging the label she has for herself. That positive experience erases the limitation from her mind. She’s now someone who can be on camera.
Why is the movie called Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem?
After Godzilla Superfly attacks New York City and the Turtles and their mutant cousins try to stop him, the TV news report labels its coverage as “Mutant Mayhem”. Then frames what’s happening as a gang of mutants all attacking Manhattan. This initial misinformation and mislabeling of the situation causes people to fear the would-be heroes, treating them as a threat and reinforcing the idea that “different is bad”.
April solves this by hijacking the news report to let everyone know that the mutants are good, it’s just the giant who’s bad. Having the correct context and label causes the public to let go of their fear and help the mutants take down Superfly.
So, on the one hand, Mutant Mayhem is a fun marketing phrase as it appeals to kids who want to see cool mutants cause a ruckus, something the TMNT franchise has always been great for. It promises a lot of mutants and lots of mayhem. We get exactly that. On the other hand, it gets directly at that news report and the concept of labels and how much they frame our perspective on a situation.
Important motifs in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem
There are a few key scenes that reinforce how lovely it is to socialize. This is something that’s a generically powerful concept but feels doubly important so close to the COVID-19 pandemic. The first instance is the outdoor screening of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Even at a distance, watching a movie with a group of people makes the Turtles feel part of something.
Later, it’s bowling with the Mutanimals. For the first time, the Turtles get to be part of a mutant social circle and do something in the human world as if it were normal for them. It’s an important bonding moment that builds a sense of trust and camaraderie that makes it easy for the Mutanimals to side with the Turtles and Splinter against Superfly’s plan to get rid of all the humans and turn every other living thing into a mutant.
Then, lastly, it’s going to school, being part of clubs, and going to prom.
Just like the instances of positive community activities, we have examples of negative mob mentality. This mostly comes through the stories relating to Splinter, Superfly, and how humans treated mutants.
When Splinter and Superfly went to the surface with their family, what happened? People freaked out. One person escalated. Others followed. And suddenly the situation became violent, life-threatening. That’s classic mob mentality.
Because of that experience Splinter teaches the Turtles that the surface world is dangerous, that they can’t be part of it because evil humans will do awful things, including milk them. Splinter’s intense views cause the Turtles to spend 15 years hiding from people. Despite wanting to test it, risk it, try it, the Turtles have to constantly ignore their own feelings. They’ve succumbed to the hive mindset.
It’s the exact same thing with Superfly. Except instead of only hiding, Superfly actively gets the Mutanimals to participate in building a weapon to destroy humans. Even though the other mutants don’t want to do this, they go along with it because it’s what the group’s doing. The strong beliefs of the leader overrule individual beliefs.
When the Turtles challenge Superfly, it gives the Mutanimals a new group to be part of. A group that aligns with their own beliefs. Likewise, when April tells the public that the mutants are fighting Superfly, that they’re good, it gives the public an opportunity to adjust their mob mentality.
So we see the dynamic in how people are easily influenced by someone taking a strong action. And how that can be destructive or productive, depending on the person and the action.
Questions about Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem
Why did TCRI milk the Turtles?
It’s a bit bizarre but really they’re trying to draw out the mutagen/ooze from the Turtles. What will they use it for? Probably something bad.
Why did April O’Neil throw up?
Nerves! Being on camera frightens a lot of people. But you get used to it.
Now it’s your turn
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