TMNT: Mutant Mayhem Is The Rebrand The Franchise Needed

TMNT: Mutant Mayhem Is The Rebrand The Franchise Needed

Reimagining the turtles in a playful light, TMNT: Mutant Mayhem recaptures the spirit of the late 80s. In a nutshell, the film features a more diverse and realistic cast of characters. By getting back to the basics of having fun, getting into action, and eating pizza, TMNT may be able to recapture the popularity it enjoyed decades ago. 

Over the past 40 years, the four martial arts-skilled amphibian youth known as the TMNT have certainly changed. Did TMNT: Mutant Mayhem bring the infamous four back to life? Well, back in the early days of TMNT, creator Kevin Eastman, along with co-creator Peter Laird, railed against the trend in late 80s Marvel comics that only featured teenage mutants and ninjas. Now with the release of the latest TMNT project, Mutant Mayhem, there’s an obvious far-reaching impact on the franchise. 

A Little Backstory: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles The Origin

TMNT: Mutant Mayhem Is The Rebrand The Franchise Needed

It’s long been a well-kept secret that the origin story of the original 1984 TMNT comics borrowed heavily from the Marvel comics. The chemical canister that sprays the two titular heroes in the sewers is the same as the one that sprays a young Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox). Splinter is the name of the turtles’ mentor, while Stick is Murdock’s mentor. Altogether, a lot of Daredevil‘s plots also center around a clan of ninjas known as the Hand who are fighting for the underground control of New York City.

Unfortunately, when producers borrow narratives like this, it’s always a limiting factor when it comes to world-building. For example, in TMNT, the ooze canister is never explained. Plus, future mutants require increasingly complex riddles to explain their existence. To be fair, the origin of the TMNT comics was never intended to make sense to readers. Over all, it was meant to be a fun pastiche of the comics of the period.

TMNT: Mutant Mayhem Offers A Backstory That’s Less Dependent On Marvel

TMNT: Mutant Mayhem Is The Rebrand The Franchise Needed

There was a lot to relish with the new TMNT: Mutant Mayhem. However, one of the most refreshing features of the films is the changes in the origin story. For example, it’s Stockman’s mutation that causes the TMNT to transform. At the end of the day, this makes a lot of sense, and is equally good for the franchise. It keeps the origin of the characters in-house, so they don’t have to rely on what’s already out there.

It also adds to the world-building by bringing together different characters and stories into one. Most importantly, it frees up TMNT to tell its own stories without worrying about how it might fit affect the MCU narrative. Plus, New York has seen its fair share of bad luck in the MCU, from alien attacks in The Avengers to the mirror dimension stuff in Doctor Strange and Iron Fist‘s fight scenes. Now that TMNT exists as a separate entity, it can make New York into whatever it needs to be.

Splinter’s Backstory Changes… Again

TMNT: Mutant Mayhem Is The Rebrand The Franchise Needed

Splinter’s origin varies from one iteration to the next in the TMNT franchise. In the original Mirage comics and the 1990 movie, Splinter is portrayed as Hamato Yoshi’s pet rat. Then in the 1987 animated series and the current IDW comics, he is Hamato Yoshi. Either way, he’s a character that is inextricably connected to Shredder’s mortal enemy.

The original comic had a weird premise that was inspired by Kurosawa-style violence. For example, Splinter was a rat who watched his master learn ninjutsu and then moved to New York when his master was killed. He taught the turtles ninjutsu for one reason — to get revenge on the guy who killed his master. He didn’t have any other goals in mind. After Shredder dies, the turtles are just like Ronin, trying to survive in a world that doesn’t understand them. 

However, TMNT: Mutant Mayhem doesn’t follow that pattern. According to the movie, this version of Splinter voiced by Jackie Chan, has no relationship with Hamato Yoshi at all. He’s never been a human, and it looks like he was just a rat living in New York before he was exposed to TCRI. We know that he became a martial arts master because he was agoraphobic and didn’t trust the people around him. Altogether, it’s a lot less complicated and sometimes ‘simple is better’.

The Absence Of Splinter’s Nemesis

TMNT: Mutant Mayhem Is The Rebrand The Franchise Needed

In addition to Splinter being a totally different character, the movie also takes a different approach to Shredder — Splinter’s nemesis. In most of the TMNT movies, he’s usually the first major baddie the turtles face. He’s usually the one who brings them out of the sewer and into a fight with the Foot clan, but in this movie, he’s barely mentioned at all. It’s something other than the status quo, which opened up a world of possibilities for the franchise.

Let’s Not Forget The Rich And Diverse Cast

TMNT: Mutant Mayhem Is The Rebrand The Franchise Needed

Given its relatively short runtime, the sheer number of TMNT characters featured in Mutant Mayhem is mind-boggling. From the likes of Bebop, Rocksteady, Leatherhead, and Mondo the Gecko, it’s almost impossible to keep track. How does one manage such a large cast? Well, it all comes down to having a common origin. All of the characters in Mutant Mayhem are descendants of the research that was done by Baxter Stockman (played by Giancarlo Esposito) and Superfly (played by Ice Cube). There’s also April O’Neil played by Ayo Edebiri who’s also a teenager on the film. In other variations of the film/series, April is either a young reporter or a lab technician. 

The Crowning Jewel: The Teenage Ninja Turtles And Splinter’s Relationship

TMNT: Mutant Mayhem Is The Rebrand The Franchise Needed

The most significant alteration was in the relationship between the turtles and Splinter and the origin of their training. Instead of being a ninja rat trained to kill his opponent, Splinter is a caring father. His first venture into the human world was a disaster and taught him to be overprotective of the four reptiles that he considers his children. He instructs them in martial arts through watching old films, which anyone who grew up with TMNT would likely have watched. Sure, it returns the origin to something overtly silly, but oddly more credible than anything that preceded it.

Ultimately, Mutant Mayhem building its own lore is the best thing that has happened to the TMNT franchise. It maintains the story’s structure and internal consistency and more closely ties the setting to New York, which viewers will recognize. Most importantly, it reinvents their training into something that any child can relate to. All in all, it leaves behind one of the most entertaining summer movies and the finest iteration of the turtles so far.

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