Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem — watch in theaters or wait to stream?

(L to R) Michelangelo, Donatello, Leonardo and Raphael standing with their weapons out in a doorway in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem
(Image credit: Paramount via YouTube)

As a child of the 1980's, I didn't know what to expect when I saw Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem in theaters this past weekend. It's been decades since I watched the quartet and their wise leader in their original live-action films and the animated series that came around the same time. Many variations on the TMNT have come and gone since. 

Watch or Wait?

Welcome! This column is part of a series where we aim to help you determine if the latest movies are worth seeing in theaters or if you should wait until they are available to stream in the comfort of your own home. Be sure to check out our previous entry where we looked at Barbie.

Between its announcement and its release, I slowly began to learn enough reasons to give it a chance. A Ninja Turtles script co-written by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg (Superbad, Pineapple Express, This Is the End), with a cast that featured the voices of Jackie Chan as Splinter, along with The Bear's Ayo Edibiri as April O'Neil? Plus, a score from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross (The Social Network)?  

Then, when I actually saw the footage of the movie with its grimy and visually rough aesthetic, which seemed like a different take on what the Spider-Verse movies are doing? I had to go. Now that I've paid to see it early, I can let you know if you should go or skip.

Why I think you need to see Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem in theaters

The new Ninja Turtles movie is basically a soft reboot, with some things changed up front, and an ending that truly shakes up the TMNT formula. I'll save my spoiler-free thoughts on that for below.

The basics, though, are still the same. A neon green ooze falls upon four tiny turtles and a rat, mutating them into a walking, talking family. The rat, Splinter (Chan), raises the boys as his sons, and names them Leonardo (Nicolas Cantu), Michelangelo (Shamon Brown Jr.) , Donatello (Micah Abbey) and Raphael (Brady Noon). They live in secrecy in the sewers of New York City, and the boys love pizza. 

(L to R) Michelangelo, Donatello, Raphael and Leonardo look confused in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem

(Image credit: Paramount via YouTube)

What's different about this outing is that the boys are all a bit younger — or at least feel that way, as I'm much older than I was when I first 'met' them. So too is April (Edibiri), who's currently a high school student, trying to prove herself after an embarrassing moment gives her a new nickname. 

All the while, New York City's press and cops are concerned about a new threat named Superfly (Ice Cube), who's actually a giant mutant fly. He's got a huge gang of mutant thugs: Rocksteady (John Cena), Bebop (Seth Rogen), Genghis Frog (Hannibal Buress), Leatherhead (Rose Byrne), Mondo Gecko (Paul Rudd) and Wingnut (Natasia Demetriou).

(L to R) April, Leonardo, Michelangelo, Donatello and Raphael in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem, huddled around a phone

(Image credit: Paramount via YouTube)

If this all sounds like too much, I have good news. The 100-minute Mutant Mayhem flies by  — so much so that the waiters at the Alamo Drafthouse theater warned us order early to make sure we got our drinks on time. 

The better news, especially for the parents of kids who feel left out because Barbie isn't for them? Mutant Mayhem is hilarious. I frequently felt surprised by the quips and one-liners, before remembering this is a Seth Rogen joint. 

The third act gives you a big battle scene that lets New Yorkers get involved. It felt reminiscent to some of the best Spider-Man movie scenes.

On top of that, Mutant Mayhem is a love letter to both New York City and the rap and R&B of my younger years. I won't spoil all the needle drops, but you've got everything from "No Diggity" by Blackstreet to Ol' Dirty Bastard's "Brooklyn Zoo" helping this movie feel more alive. 

And if you look closely? You'll see references to classic NYC institutions, such as the L&B Spumoni Gardens pizzeria, found deep in Brooklyn in the neighborhood known as Gravesend.

The pepperoni on top, at least for me? The third act gives you a big battle scene that lets New Yorkers get involved. It felt reminiscent to some of the best Spider-Man movie scenes.

Who should skip Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem?

Splinter in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem

(Image credit: Paramount via YouTube)

After leaving Mutant Mayhem practically levitating off the ground, I didn't expect to hear someone say a bad word about the film. Sure, it wasn't perfect, but when a colleague countered my praise with fistfuls of frustrations, I had to listen to see if I was missing something. 

For starters, these Turtles were too young and jokey for my coworker. At least for him, Mutant Mayhem changed the story too much. I'll agree that its ending is a bit far-fetched, but I was OK with that because a story of turtles who walk upright, talk and fight is always going to be silly. Mutant Mayhem sets up a very different sort of Ninja Turtles story, even though its post-credits scene (which I loved) is notably predictable.

Outlook: Give Mutant Mayhem a chance

One of the first things I did after seeing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem was text a friend to make sure he sees it with his younger nephews, who I bet will love it.

Sure, there will be some die-hards who think that Mutant Mayhem is made by people with no love for the source material. I get that. But I'd bet Mutant Mayhem will be a hit with the wider audience.

If your vision of the Ninja Turtles is on the "more adult" side, you may want to sit this one out at home. I'd still say give it a chance, though — even if I understand those who are disappointed. 

If I had to give it any criticism, I'd say that I want more of the individual heroes' personalities to feel fleshed out. But I'm more than happy to save that for the inevitable sequel.

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Henry T. Casey
Managing Editor (Entertainment, Streaming)

Henry is a managing editor at Tom’s Guide covering streaming media, laptops and all things Apple, reviewing devices and services for the past seven years. Prior to joining Tom's Guide, he reviewed software and hardware for TechRadar Pro, and interviewed artists for Patek Philippe International Magazine. He's also covered the wild world of professional wrestling for Cageside Seats, interviewing athletes and other industry veterans.