At one time there were big plans for “The New Mutants”. It was originally slated as a full trilogy – a stand-alone extension of the X-Men universe that would tell darker stories from an array of new characters. It had its script and the backing of 20th Century Fox. Then the wheels began to come off. Rewrites, recasts, reshoots, and genre tweaks led to numerous delays. Then Disney acquired 20th Century Fox adding more uncertainty and in turn more delays. People wondered if “The New Mutants” would ever see the light of day.
Well, it’s finally out and let’s just say it takes no time for its rocky development to show up on screen. It pains me to say it but “The New Mutants” is a perplexing and frustrating slog. It’s a film categorized as superhero horror which is an intriguing selling point. The problem is it lacks all of the energy and wonder of the superhero genre. Even worse, you won’t find a single scare or the slightest bit of tension. This is horror in the barest and most ineffective sense.
“The New Mutants” is considered to be the last of 20th Century Fox’s X-Men films, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find much of a connection. The X-Men really have nothing whatsoever to do with the story outside of a couple of fleeting mentions. Being mutants is the most relevant and obvious link, but don’t expect this film do anything new or interesting with the subject. Instead all we get is a something akin to a bland YA drama minus any of the genre spark it advertises. And it plays more like a mediocre television pilot for The CW than a need-to-see big screen experience.
The story begins with Danielle Moonstar (Blu Hunt), a teen of Cherokee descent, being shaken from her sleep by her father (Adam Beach) as a computer-generated “tornado” ravages their village. Her father gets her out, but Danielle is knocked unconscious while trying to escape. She wakes up in a high security hospital single-handedly (somehow) operated by Dr. Cecilia Reyes (Alice Braga). The remote facility takes teenage mutants and teaches them how to harness their nascent powers, both for their safety and everyone else’s.
Danielle has yet to fully understand her power but Dr. Reyes seems to have an idea and immediately begins working to help the new mutant. Danielle is introduced to the other four patients. There is Rahne (Maisie Williams), a soft-spoken Scot with wolf powers. We get Illyana Rasputin played by Anya Taylor-Joy with a thick Russian accent and a hand puppet. Her powers are never really explained, but her arm turns into armor and a magic sword appears. Sam (Charlie Heaton sporting a wildly fluctuating southern drawl) vibrates really fast which enables him to speed around and tear things up. And then there is Roberto (Henry Zaga) who gets the short end of the superhero stick. Basically he gets really hot when excited. Sorry dude.
The teens cover many familiar archetypes. There’s the shy one, the bad girl, the big brother, and the jock. Much of the film is spent with them hanging out, arguing, venting frustrations and growing closer in the process. Kinda like “The Breakfast Club” minus the fun personalities and the great Simple Minds track. But when their greatest fears from their pasts suddenly come to life, the five teen mutants must fight together within the confines of the hospital (the only remotely creepy thing in the film), embracing their powers in order to survive.
That doesn’t sound half-bad, right? You can see the ingredients for something fun and unique. That’s why it’s so disappointing to get a story that’s so flat and lifeless. Much of it goes back to the shallow, bullet-point characters and their unconvincing, superficial relationships. From a half-baked romance to the overall camaraderie, it’s hard to invest much into them.￼ And relevant chunks of their stories seem to be missing, namely them facing and then reckoning with the tragedies of their past. Some get a few words and a quick scene, but so much more time could have been (and frankly needed to be) spent on them coming to grips. Especially Danielle who ends up being the biggest casualty.
It’s also worth noting that “The New Mutants” ends up feels incredibly dated, even as you can see director Josh Boone playing with several new ideas. Visually it’s a downer, with its drab colorless pallet and so-so special effects. And it misses so many story opportunities. For example it does nothing with the mysterious organization Reyes works for. It leaves her character hollow and with no sense of importance.
I really feel for Josh Boone who clearly had big things in mind for this film and the potential sequels that would follow. It’s pretty clear the countless production hurdles and delays took their toll. He still deserves credit for sticking by the project and all those involved and seeing it through. I just wish the results were better. Instead “The New Mutants” is a hard-to-embrace grind – the beginning and end of a once promising spinoff series. “￼The New Mutants” is now showing in theaters.
VERDICT – 1.5 STARS