2023 has been a pretty weird year for comic book movies. Marvel, once the most dominant force not just in superhero stories but in entertainment more generally, has had a pretty bad year, including two outright bombs (The Marvels and Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania) and one huge success (Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3). Even Guardians couldn’t be called an unmitigated triumph, though, because it was the end of a trilogy, and the creative mastermind behind the franchise left Marvel to run the company’s greatest competitor.
Outside of Marvel, things haven’t been great either, but one remarkable bright spot remains: comic book stories can still shine bright in the world of animation. Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse was one of the most dizzying and captivating superhero movies ever made, and it was topped by another comic book adaptation from outside the world of superheroes. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem was really the best comic book movie of the year, and here are five reasons why.
When Into the Spider-Verse hit theaters in 2018, it was an important reminder that all animated movies didn’t have to look like Pixar movies. It seems like Mutant Mayhem also learned that lesson and opted for a pretty unique animation style that feels like one part Spider-Verse and one part its own thing.
With messier borders around each character that sometimes feel unfinished, and strong coloring applied to each scene and location, the movie is always interesting to look at, and also knows how to handle the frenetic nature of its action sequences without allowing things to become overwhelming or confusing.
While there are plenty of celebrities or rising stars in the cast of Mutant Mayhem, the core ensemble is composed of four actual kids who are playing kids, and Ayo Edebiri’s April O’Neil providing support. Jackie Chan does some outstanding work as Splinter, but the emphasis is, as it should be, on the four teens at the center of the movie.
In allowing kids to voice these characters, you can focus on the characters they’re playing instead of constantly thinking about all the famous people at the mics. Mutant Mayhem gives new stars a chance to shine and creates compelling characters along the way.
Mutant Mayhem doubles as a remarkably solid action movie thanks to sharp animation and great action. Animation gives you the freedom to place the camera anywhere, and Mutant Mayhem takes advantage of that through its running time, whether the action spans an entire city or is a car chase where you have to follow multiple things at once.
In addition to its sharp action, though, Mutant Mayhem is a potent story about four teenage boys growing up and learning about the world. The movie’s core emotional conflict is about Splinter’s willingness to let the boys grow, even if it means they might not always be within arm’s reach. It’s a touching coming-of-age story and a great action movie all rolled into one great, pizza box-shaped package.
Although Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem may be a departure from dominant trends in animation, it knows exactly how to honor the characters it’s about. Splinter may be a father figure in addition to the turtles’ trainer, but most of the hallmarks of the TMNT universe are present here, including the underground base and the love for pizza.
While the movie definitely focuses on a few turtles more than others, the movie also goes to great lengths to make sure that these four boys are all distinguishable from one another. They have different quirks and personalities, and those traits pay tribute to who they were conceived of in their original comics run.
Across the Spider-Verse is totally magnificent, but the biggest knock against the movie is that it sort of ends in the middle of its story. Mutant Mayhem leaves room for potential sequels, to be sure, but it manages to spend almost all of its time focused on a single, smaller-scale story that can be neatly contained into a single movie.
The turtles come out of the shadows, recognizing that they have the kind of skills that can help them save those around them. They beat the bad guy, make a new friend, and reconcile with Splinter. It’s a beautiful story of family and one that knows exactly where to end.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem is now streaming on Paramount+.
- 10 best sci-fi movies of 2023, ranked
- The Night of the 12th is one of 2023’s best movies
- Across the Spider-Verse reveals a new, better future for comic book movies
- Is James Gunn’s top 5 favorite comic book movies list accurate?
- With its Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom ad, Nintendo just made one of 2023’s best movies