In rebooting a decades-old franchise with “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem” (Paramount), director and co-writer Jeff Rowe has the titular testudines take a meditative turn. What should they make of humanity, they wonder. And what does the future hold for them?
The familiar quartet of anthropomorphised, masked, sewer-dwelling reptiles, each named for a master artist of the Italian Renaissance, surfaces in this CGI animation, their seventh big-screen outing, with all their trademark characteristics intact. These traits include gravity-defying ninja skills, as well as a weakness for pizza and Doritos.
Now 15 years old, they have been told all their lives by their adoptive father and mentor, a giant rat named Splinter (voice of Jackie Chan), that when it comes to humans, “to interact with them is to die.” Yet they have begun to harbour regrets about their isolated, seemingly anti-social lifestyle.
People, after all, always look like they’re having so much fun, and the turtles’ longing to interact is primal. Thus, at one point, Leonardo (voice of Nicolas Cantu) expresses his sense of confinement by way of an existential put-down.
“I can’t live a happy life,” he observes to one of his companions, Michelangelo, Donatello and Raphael (voices of Shamon Brown Jr., Micah Abbey and Brady Noon) – though to which specifically is not made clear – “knowing that your face will be the last thing I see before I die.” Ouch.
Even older children may not know what to make of that. But they will probably appreciate the knockabout adventure to which most of the running time is devoted.
As scripted by Rowe in collaboration with Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg, Benji Samit and Dan Hernandez, moreover, the movie contains little to make parents uncomfortable, a touch of seemingly requisite gross-out humour aside. But the proceedings are too tumultuous for younger children.
Seth Rogen is fulfilling something of a childhood dream by being involved in the film. Like many children from the 1980s, he grew up wanting to be a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle. “I grew up with them. And I grew up loving them,” Rogen recently told Den of Geek. “I could not have absorbed it more thoroughly.” He also spoke of the ‘wild energy’ and ‘fun’ present in making the film.
“Everyone is just so funny and we really had fun with it. I think part of the spirit that we were trying to capture honestly was to make the movie fun and to give it this wild energy,” Rogen told MarkMeets.com. “That was something that we talked about: how do we make it feel fun and silly and obviously have a good story and good plot and all the things that the movie needs to have, but also have this kind of reckless weirdness that’s almost like a kid playing with their toys.”
The solution to the foursome’s plight turns out to lie in befriending April (voice of Ayo Edeberi), a high schooler and budding journalist who wants to write about them. She’s out to gain fame but also, presumably, to portray the turtles in a positive light as likable and potentially popular.
The turtles’ journey of self-discovery is interrupted, however, by the arrival of villains, particularly Superfly (voice of Ice Cube). This outsized insect and his evil cohorts have a scheme for-what else?-world domination.
The mayhem promised by the subtitle ensues, consisting of high-speed chases, encounters with humans who, just as Splinter predicted, want to kill the interlopers, rapid-fire cultural references that never seem to land and a lot of manic martial arts. Still, amid the chaos, the screenplay encourages respect for education, social interaction and the wisdom of older characters.
The film contains intense action sequences, a restrained scene of torture, a couple of mild swear words and vomiting played for laughs.
Picture: YouTube Screengrab from trailer