With four turtle-teens, one rat-man, and a whole team of celebrity-voiced bad guys, trailers for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem haven’t been lean on characters. But there’s one Ninja Turtle mainstay you won’t see in Mutant Mayhem: the team’s traditional arch-nemesis, Shredder.
Instead, Mutant Mayhem pits the heroes in a half-shell against fellow mutant Superfly. And there’s a reason for that, director Jeff Rowe told Polygon when we chatted in June.
It’s not at all because Rowe and his co-writers, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, didn’t try to fit Shredder into the story. When asked if there had ever been a version of Mutant Mayhem where Shredder was the main villain, Rowe answered immediately.
“Absolutely. Shredder? That was our first impulse: OK, yeah, the villain is Shredder. It’s got to be Shredder. And then we were like, Well, who is the character of Shredder and how does he relate to these kids? And it’s like, Well, he’s… an adult? Why is he crossing paths with the team? It was just so hard to write. It didn’t feel organic.
“And then we introduced, like, Well, maybe we could also have Baxter Stockman, and maybe [he and Shredder] work together. That’s a tried-and-true thing; in ’90s Batman films where you have two villains, like Riddler and Two-Face, it’s great.”
Baxter Stockman is a frequently recurring Ninja Turtles character, though you may not be familiar with him if you haven’t watched the cartoons in years, or are most familiar with the turtles from their ’90s live-action flicks. Just about the only consistent thing about him is that he’s a mad scientist. Often, he works for Shredder. Sometimes, he’s the guy who created the mutagenic ooze that created the franchise’s mutants in the first place. And usually, these days, he’s a horrible human-fly hybrid.
Mutant Mayhem takes things a step further by separating the man from the fly, with Stockman voiced by Giancarlo Esposito, and Superfly voiced (with gusto) by Ice Cube. And Rowe says that split is what allowed the Mutant Mayhem team to crack the movie’s story.
“We ultimately found ourselves needing to make the villain a mutant, like the turtles — someone that could relate to them over that. Someone who had a really similar backstory to them, where they also felt alone and alienated and had this mistrust of humans. That is what led us to Superfly, and once we once we had that, and that started connecting, everything else had to drop out to support that.”
So don’t expect to see much of Shredder at your Mutant Mayhem screening. You’ll have to wait for a sequel — which, fortunately, is on the way. Paramount recently greenlit a sequel film and a two-season animated Paramount Plus series called Tales of The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles that will reportedly serve as a “bridge” between the two flicks. Better luck next time, Shredder — but at least there’ll be a next time!