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‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem’ Review: Seth Rogen Reboot



It began as a joke. Approach again within the ’80s, the phenomenon we now name “superhero fatigue” was already a factor, not less than amongst comics afficionados. Pissed off with pulp creators recycling the identical previous concepts, Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird hatched the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The thought was to poke enjoyable at how lame mainstream heroes had gotten, however the parody received so in style, it spawned a mini-empire of its personal: films, video games, TV sequence and an entire lotta merch. At a sure level (across the time Michael Bay received concerned), the model received out of hand. Time for a reset.

With “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem,” Nickelodeon Motion pictures takes the fertile turtle property again to its roots: Tapping “permanent teenager” (because the trailer cleverly dubs the previous “Freaks and Geeks” star) Seth Rogen to provide, the toon studio commissioned an animated reboot that focuses on the ooze-boosted vigilantes’ awkward adolescent identities, whereas giving the franchise a recent comic-book look.

Behind the scenes, helmer Jeff Rowe takes the unfastened, pseudo-hand-drawn type of “The Mitchells vs. the Machines” (which he co-directed) and pushes it even additional right here, such that each body has a scribbled, street-art aesthetic. It’s a radical alternative — in each the strategic and surfer-speak senses of the phrase — given how same-samey most big-budget computer-animated films look as of late (Pixar’s “Onward,” Netflix’s “The Sea Beast” and DreamWorks’ “Ruby Gillman” might as properly have been made by the identical studio). And it couldn’t be extra completely different from the darker vibe and photorealistic textures seen within the Turtles’ final two theatrical outing.

As a substitute of being shredded martial arts professionals, the foursome — named, as you already know, after Renaissance painters, however barely distinguishable past their desire of weapons and eyewear — are introduced as endearingly immature and understandably hormonal. They’re youngsters, in spite of everything, itching to get out of their shells … and the sewer the place they’ve been raised by rodent sensei Splinter (voiced by Jackie Chan).

With a welcome dose of self-deprecation, the script by Rowe, Rogen, Evan Goldberg, Dan Hernandez and Benji Samit recaps the reptiles’ backstory, the waits a beat. “If you think about that, it couldn’t make more sense,” Chan quips, primarily acknowledging that all the pieces concerning the Turtles’ origins is ridiculous — however that doesn’t imply the film can’t have a humorousness about itself. “Mutant Mayhem” could be a blast at instances, and exhausting at others, because the 4 guys jabber on prime of one another, as within the film’s thowaway “bacon, egg and cheese” gag.

The bickering and bonding tickles greater than the principle story, which entails a mutant fly (Ice Dice) and a handful of different critters we see being experimented upon by mad scientist Baxter Stockman (Giancarlo Esposito) when the villainous Cynthia Utrom (Maya Rudolph) and her stooges from the Techno Cosmic Analysis Institute burst in. TMNT followers know what the title “Utrom” means, although that twist should anticipate a sequel or TV spin-off (each of that are coming, per a latest Nick announcement).

For now, the movie focuses on the mutant fly, which Stockman’s analysis swole right into a jive-talking blaxploitation hulk who calls himself “Super Fly.” His plan is to mass-produce the ooze and launch it into world, turning all creatures into freakazoid variations of themselves. The Turtles intervene, leading to a singalong (to 4 Non Blondes’ “What’s Going On”) that mutates right into a surreal automotive chase — simply this absurdist comedy’s most memorable scene.

The film works greatest when its creators permit themselves to get actually, unapologetically bizarre. (The battle scenes are fairly superior as properly, mixing the toon’s uncommon look with some very dynamic digital digital camera strikes.) Much less efficient is the factor that Rogen and Goldberg have made their signature, however which now feels extra like shtick: specifically, all of the “teenage” stuff, which is neither relatable nor particularly authentic.

I’m fairly positive you possibly can ask ChatGPT to put in writing a TMNT script within the type of Seth Rogen and get one thing simply as humorous. There’s even one second, mid-finale, when aspiring reporter April O’Neil (Ayo Edebiri) glances up on the now-kaiju-sized Tremendous Duper Fly and delivers what ought to’ve been an epic catchphrase. The 5 guys credited with the script might have give you one thing extremely authentic for this second, however as a substitute, she yells, “Not on my watch!” (a line Rogen himself screamed in “Pineapple Express”).

Whereas members of the Writers Guild of America are on strike, demanding (amongst different issues) safety from AI, right here’s a script that was made by human brains in an oddly related manner: It’s wildly authentic in locations, and a recycled glob of drained clichés in others. The movie’s distinctive look raises related questions of how people and algorithms work collectively, suggesting that animators took what the pc rendered after which retouched each body by hand. In reality, the job nearly actually concerned a extra advanced combine, the place individuals made the judgment calls, however relied on filters and instruments to render the consequence.

In any case, the film’s largely simply meant to be enjoyable, and that it’s, skewing younger whereas giving lifelong followers (together with those that grew up on the Turtles) lots to geek out about. Right here, within the yr 2023, the underlying IP feels drained, and but, liberated by Sony’s “Spider-Verse” films, Rowe and firm shake up how studio toons can look. By extending the fabric’s anarchic spirit to the animation itself, “Mutant Mayhem” units the course of not simply TMNT sequels, however future studio toons as properly.

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