The New Mutants Review
FYI I had the chance to see this movie at a drive in so I was social distancing. I do NOT condone attending this or any film in a movie theater! Stay safe and risking your life for a movie should not be even close to an option.
Let’s just get this out of the way; how many seriously doubted this movie would ever come out in any form?
Ok, I’m raising my hand also. Between Disney gobbling up Fox IPs, The last two X-Men movies being lukewarm with fans and critics, multiple reshoots, rewrites, reedits, a two plus year wait from first trailer to eventual release, the eventual integration of mutants into the MCU and a global pandemic this little movie just couldn’t seem to catch a break. Even the movie game I created was solidly against this film. Was the wait and any type of expectation that a fan would have for a New Mutants movie be worth it?
The answer is “no” with a but…
Now there could be a whole column about the crooked crooked path this movie has taken to get to movie theaters but not here. This is a review and as such the final product on the screen is what needs to be judged.
This movie doesn’t rewrite the rules of superhero cinema. The landscape won’t be fundamentally changed by its existence. Nobody will be clamoring for a “Boone cut” two years from now. The movie has the dubious notoriety for the length of time it took to reach the screen and being the last installment in the Fox X-Universe. Who knows when, or if, there will be a next time for these mutants in the movies at least they got this shot. It’s also good New Mutants had the final word and the franchise didn’t end on “Dark Phoenix.”
The idea of a superhero story as a horror movie has merit but putting teenagers with abilities like flying and burning hot as the surface of the sun has kinda the opposite of tension. The only reasonable angle to take is having these super powered kids dealing with their own inner demons. Fortunately, one character in The New Mutants is specifically tailored for just such a situation. Unfortunately, if you have even a little passing knowledge of The New Mutants you know inside the first five minutes what’s going on. This bleeds away the tension necessary for a horror movie. Kida explains the half hearted stab at the genre, that and the necessity of adhering to a PG-13 rating. Possibly the horror elements were more visceral three reedits ago but considering the explanation at play, it sorta makes sense to pivot away from a hard horror edge.
It also explains the choice of building the movie more as a soft teenage psychological thriller. The horror being a reflection of each character’s personal trauma. Mutans in the Marvel universe works as a metaphor for a great many things: civil rights, LGBTQI identity, racism, religious fanaticism, body dysmorphia. Traumatic childhood, guilt and the weird stuff that happens to you during puberty fits in the framework rather well. To New Mutants credit all that metaphor hovers just on the edges of the story, mostly.
As far as the story goes Dani Moonstar (Blu Hunt), the sole survivor of (what she’s told) a tornado dropping on her reservation wakes up in an asylum. The asylum has several other teens in it and is run by Doctor Reyes (Alice Braga). Reyes tells Dani she’s a mutant and is being kept at the asylum till they figure out the nature of her abilities. Then creepy things start happening and the other kids begin seeing stuff, personal, scary stuff. Even not knowing a thing about Dani’s unrevealed abilities you can figure out what’s going on pretty quick. It’s also no great leap to figure out that Reyes “Superior” she constantly refers to is not Charles Xavier, like all the teens assume. It’s also not much of a guess who her superior is if you’ve been able to ferret out clues buried in the overproduced mush that make up the last few X movies. Eventually things come to a head and the motley crew of traumatized teens come together to save their skins and help Dani come to terms with what she is.
I guess mutants can be a metaphor for friendships and finding your people too.
Look, it’s not terrible. The actors are uniformly good even with the compromised material they have to work with. Charlie Heaton nails the Kentucky accent and gives Sam Guthrie a soul. Maisie Williams finds the gentle, damaged heart of Rhane Sinclaire and her romantic chemistry with Dani is believable. Anya Taylor-Joy looks the part of Illyana Rasputin and mostly succeeds in escaping the mystery box, plot node trap her character serves. Smart move on downplaying the russian accent. Henry Zaga probably fares the worst as Roberto DeCosta mostly because there is no real arc for his character.
Ultimately New Mutants is neither this nor that. Probably a result of the constant tinkering and a movie studio’s need for a movie like this to be all things to all people. The fact that the movie has as much coherency as it does makes the film a worthwhile watch for a hardcore fan or, strangely, someone who knows absolutely zero about these characters. The whole thing is competently made. The film plays well as a little story residing in a corner of this world that we usually see on an epic, confusing and increasingly ridiculous scale. That’s the real innovation that The New Mutants brings to this uneven franchise.
The long awaited/ moderately anticipated X-Men spin off features mutants struggling against their personal demons, sinister organizations and a nightmarish release schedule!