Director: Josh Boone
Writer: Josh Boone, Knate Lee
Producer: Simon Kinberg, Karen Rosenfelt, Lauren Shuler Donner
Stars: Maisie Williams, Anya Taylor-Joy, Charlie Heaton, Alice Braga, Blu Hunt, Henry Zaga, Adam Beach
Teenage mutants battle manifestations of their greatest fears when a new girl arrives at the remote facility where they¡¯re monitored by a mysterious doctor.
¡°The New Mutants¡± was cursed. Dearly departed Fox certainly treated the property like the redheaded stepchild of their X-Men film franchise. The movie went through so many rewrites, reshoots, re-cuts, and release date changes, fearful fans couldn¡¯t help but conclude that ¡°The New Mutants¡± was destined to detonate a bomb no matter when Fox finally got around to lighting the fuse.
What¡¯s funny about a teen-focused feature that was shot in 2017 being released in 2020 is seeing actors you¡¯ve watched ¡°grow up¡± de-age without CGI. ¡°The New Mutants¡± cast was red hot when the film first went in front of cameras. ¡°Game of Thrones¡± was TV¡¯s most talked about show and there were still two years to go before Maisie Williams would slay The Night King. ¡°Stranger Things¡± hadn¡¯t even aired its second season yet, but Charlie Heaton was already on his way to becoming one of the notable non-kids. Anya Taylor-Joy was also just beginning to break big with prominent roles in titles like ¡°The Witch¡± (review here) and ¡°Split¡± (review here).
Fox could have taken advantage of connective pop culture popularity in umpteen ways. Instead of capitalizing on that shrinking window of timeliness however, suits saw fit to embark on a three-year tinkering trip that initially downplayed director Josh Boone¡¯s ¡°Nightmare on Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors¡±-inspired idea to produce a full-blown horror show, then embraced it, but ultimately diluted everything into a dull origin story that saved everything sexy for a superior sequel that will never happen because they neutered the first film so badly. Factor in a planned April 2018 release that moved to two different months in 2019 to protect X-films Fox had more faith in (¡°Deadpool 2¡± and ¡°Dark Phoenix¡±), then two more dates in 2020 due to COVID-19, and it¡¯s no wonder interest waned to the point where people presumptively, but not incorrectly it turns out, panned ¡°The New Mutants¡± sight unseen.
I was never much of a New Mutants fan as a kid. My local library stocked their comic books. But I saw those early covers featuring plain-faced people in identical black-and-yellow uniforms and thought they looked boring. I preferred my mutants with blue fur, steel skin, shooting crimson blasts out of their eyeballs, and generally just looking cool and colorful. The New Mutants never appeared uniquely distinctive to me.
Funnily enough, that¡¯s what¡¯s wrong with their film adaptation. These young men and women are a mass of typical teen tropes in casual clothes who barely use their powers, don¡¯t have a big bad to battle, and mostly mope around a supposed superhero horror movie that¡¯s in desperate need of more superheroics and horror.
After a supernatural ¡®Demon Bear¡¯ destroys her Cheyenne tribe reservation, 16-year-old Dani Moonstar wakes up chained to a bed in a rundown old hospital in the middle of nowhere. If that weren¡¯t weird enough, the facility has only one staff member and no one asks anything other than cursory questions about these incredibly alarming conditions.
In addition to the mysterious Dr. Reyes, Dani meets four mutant teens like herself, at least 50% of whom immediately treat Dani like an assh*le. Illyana instantly acquires ¡®new girl envy,¡¯ hassling Dani out of the gate and only opening up an alliance if Dani knows how to grow weed, which Illyana assumes is likely due to Native American stereotypes. Roberto laughs at Dani¡¯s name before lewdly licking his lips while wondering aloud if she might be a drug-addicted nymphomaniac.
I get that these are troubled youths who have to overcome angst-fueled attitudes to become heroes. But is there no better way to present such personalities without establishing two of them as entirely unlikable bullies?
Sam mostly keeps his mouth shut, which is wise since when it opens, Charlie Heaton speaks in the phoniest Kentucky drawl imaginable. Meanwhile, Rahne watches a quick clip of Alyson Hannigan and Amber Benson kissing on ¡°Buffy¡± in what feels like a confused motivation for why she takes a lesbian liking to Dani. As in, was Rahne specifically watching this episode for reflective representation or did she happen to see it on TV and think she¡¯d try that too? However it¡¯s intended, it¡¯s a jarring bit of foreshadowing.
On the subject of odd inclusions, it¡¯s questionable for a movie made by an adult male majority to feature 16-year-old female characters in the shower not just once, but twice. Of the 15 people who reportedly took a crack at the script, surely someone could come up with a way for Dani to notice Rahne¡¯s shoulder brand that doesn¡¯t involve teen bodies in towels surrounded by steam. And unless the sequence was chopped up and repurposed, Rahne definitely doesn¡¯t need to be in the shower again later when she confronts a frightful vision. Particularly at a time when ¡°the male gaze¡± is under more scrutiny in cinema, this is uncomfortable staging given the age group depicted coupled with who is doing the depicting.
Superhero adventures are often only as exciting as their super-villains. Why is Lex Luthor prominent in Superman stories? What would Batman epics look like without Joker? So who do the New Mutants have as their opponents? Er, themselves. Every single one of the teens killed people in his/her past, mostly inadvertently, and Dani unknowingly has the power to make them confront those memories when she is unconscious, which is frequently. It¡¯s one thing to forego conventions like costumes. Foregoing an active antagonist too is a recipe for dried-out action devoid of rich intrigue.
What¡¯s truly shocking about ¡°The New Mutants¡± is how cheap it looks for a major studio movie that supposedly had somewhere north of a $50,000,000 production budget. Other than brief flashbacks and fast flickerings of creature performers, there are only six actors. Outside of those same flashes, the entire thing takes place inside one dingy building. FX are so stingy, Sam only uses his full power in a single static shot where a pink blur simply whips around the screen. Illyana¡¯s dragon Lockheed remains a hand puppet for most of the movie. I mean, if Beast Boy can become a mutant monster on the ¡°Teen Titans¡± TV show, then Rahne should be able to transform into a wolf that¡¯s more impressive than a regular animal rented for an afternoon. Unless each of the young actors made ten million each, I¡¯ve no idea where the money went. It¡¯s certainly not on the screen, and that¡¯s a cardinal rule of filmmaking.
Another rule is to make an entertaining movie audiences actually want to see. ¡°The New Mutants¡± doesn¡¯t do that either. History might be rewritten to blame the film¡¯s failure on indecisive futzing and an inability to stick to a single slot on the calendar. Truth is, a snoozer story centered on unbelievably bland boys and girls sentenced ¡°The New Mutants¡± to death long before distribution delays did.
Review Score: 40