Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse came out in 2018. It received immediate and intense praise and seemed like a gauntlet toss to the entire animation industry. “Do you see this? Do you see how cool this sh*t looks? Your turn.” I kind of hoped we’d get a whole Spider-Verse like sub-genre. 5 years later—almost nothing. There was the Netflix Kid Cudi film Entergalactic. But for movie theaters? For the big screen? No one did anything.
And then. Suddenly. Out of nowhere. We got one. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem. But is it any good? (check out my ranking here)
The good things about Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem
The list is long. I think Mutant Mayhem is awesome. The thing that made Into the Spider-Verse so special was that it combined a serious, high-level art direction with quality, all-ages storytelling. There are plenty of animated movies that do one but not the other.
When I say “high-level art direction” I don’t just mean “the graphics are good”. Like The Incredibles and The Iron Giant are fantastic movies that have terrific stories and a great look. But I don’t think of their imagery as daring or dynamic or on par with the cinematography of Roger Deakins. But Into the Spider-Verse and TMNT: Mutant Mayhem? Yeah. They just have stellar shot after stellar shot after stellar shot. I could watch Mutant Mayhem on mute and be completely blown away because the visuals are that good. The art. The interesting angles. The flow. The composition. All of it is so top-tier.
And then the action sequences are all pretty fantastic. There’s even an Oldboy hammer-fight-in-the-hallway homage. I’m decently snobbish when it comes to fight choreography. If it’s not on par with The Raid or The Raid 2 then I’m not going to be all that impressed. Obviously I’m not going to hold Mutant Mayhem up to the same level of scrutiny as, say, a John Wick movie. But I’m not not hoping for something stellar. And I think they nailed it. Every action sequence is full of micro-narratives that give each scene a backbone of beginning, middle, and end. And within that, usually each character has their own little mini arc. Can you not do that and still have a good movie? Yeah. But is this the kind of stuff that turns a good movie into a great one? I absolutely think so.
When I saw Mutant Mayhem, I didn’t know the Mighty Mutanimals were a thing in the TMNT universe. I recognized a few of them as villains from the OG cartoon and videogames so thought the team behind the movie made a radical choice to turn these B- and C-tier villains into part of the gang and give them something meaningful to do. That blew my mind. It’s a little less impressive now that I know they were incorporating a known entity into the franchise. Regardless, I still appreciate how they handled the Mutanimals. I liked all of them, wanted all of them to be happy, and was overjoyed with how it played out. Great way to extend the main themes of isolation, connection, and community.
And then the cast. Everyone hit a home run. From the veterans like Rose Byrne, Jackie Chan, Ice Cube, and Ayo Edebri, to the newcomers who played the Turtles: Nicolas Cantu (Leonardo), Shamon Brown Jr. (Michelangelo), Micah Abbey (Donatello), and Brady Noon (Raphael).
Mutant Mayhem is one of my favorite movies of 2023.
The bad things about Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem
My only complaint is that I didn’t really like three character designs: Bebop, Rocksteady, and Superfly. To me, Bebop and Rocksteady were always cool, but the Mutant Mayhem design had them a bit blocky and odd. And then Superfly was just hard to figure out. There was so much going on. I guess there’s a horror factor to it that’s neat? And he’s so ugly that it plays into the plot point of how could anyone accept the mutants into human society. I guess I could talk myself into it but my initial reaction was more like “That’s what they went with?” rather than “Whoaaaaa.”
It’s the same with Godzilla Superfly. He looked a bit lame to me. They also made the choice to have him amalgamate with all these animals but then never gave us a closeup of what that looked like. You’d expect some shot of him rising up from the zoo and we get close ups of the legs, arms, torso, head, and it’s weird but neat especially because all the animals are okay at the end. If you’re not going to do that, what’s even the point? I guess maybe something that bizarre got nixed because it is still a movie for kids? But I found it to be a missed opportunity.
And one small, small, small criticism—the whale made it back into the water because of a random street crack that somehow connected to the river? I get that it’s a nitpicky thing but the movie is so careful and smart, so it was just a tad surprising for it to have a moment of “We don’t know what to do with this now so uhhhhh here’s something.” I appreciate them at least offering something. That’s better than nothing. But they kind of wrote themselves into a corner with that one.
The ugly things about Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem…or a haiku
Nothing ugly about this one (except Superfly). So a haiku it is.
Ninja turtles slice
up a pizza, on a roof
weapons tossed aside-Chris Lambert