On the Screen: ‘Turtles’ reboot a fun and fresh take on familiar story

The Turtles don’t exactly have a sterling reputation on the silver screen

“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem” is the best “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” movie. That’s not the highest bar to clear.

Before “Mutant Mayhem,” the franchise’s fourth reboot, there were six “Turtles” films, all of which I watched in recent years during the COVID-19 pandemic. At their best, they’re fun relics of the ‘90s. At their worst, they’re Michael Bay-produced messes — with all that entails.

The Turtles don’t exactly have a sterling reputation on the silver screen. Somehow though, “Mutant Mayhem” has always had me excited.

That excitement, from the film’s initial announcement, stemmed from the creative team. Seth Rogen wrote and produced the film, alongside writer and director Jeff Rowe, who got his start writing on the excellent “Gravity Falls” and later wrote and co-directed the also-excellent “The Mitchells vs. the Machines.” There’s talent there with a clear interest in delivering a more interesting take on the characters.

“Mutant Mayhem” follows the familiar four, color-coded turtles, Leo, Raph, Donnie and Mikey. It also tells a very familiar story, as the brothers together pine for life above the sewers. They meet student-journalist April O’Neil and begin fighting crime to earn acceptance.

The crime boss opposing the quartet isn’t the familiar Shredder, instead a gross anthropomorphic fly called Superfly, realized in a very fun performance by Ice Cube. He’s backed by a crew of mutants, largely a reason for silly voice cameos from John Cena to Paul Rudd.

What impressed me throughout “Mutant Mayhem” was the visuals — a unique blend of three- and two-dimensional animation. There’s a hand-drawn lighting effect used in nearly every shot of the film that wowed me every time. This film, and its take on New York City, is beautiful when it’s not trying to be gross.

The action, too, is dynamic and fun, especially in a standout montage sequence.

More often than not, the writing impresses. The jokes are clever and funny when they’re not just trying to stuff in references to celebrities. It’s also working with interesting ideas about prejudice and family, though it doesn’t say anything particularly novel. The film stumbles, slightly, as it retells a very familiar origin story — the turtles being exposed to ooze and taken in by Jackie Chan’s Master Splinter.

At the heart of the film is the relationship between this latest take on the turtles. In this adaptation more so than any of the others, the focus is on the “Teenage” in “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” and the film really shines for it. They deal with silly insecurities, odd hobbies and a complete lack of experience.

“Mutant Mayhem” is a fun and charming outing for the enduring heroes; at only 100 minutes in length, it breezes by without overstaying its welcome. It didn’t leave me wholly reevaluating my appraisal of the franchise, but it’s a visual marvel with heroes I’m more than willing to see more of.

“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem” will be playing this weekend at Homer Theatre.

Reach reporter Jake Dye at jacob.dye@peninsulaclarion.com.