Finally – The New Mutants has arrived in theatres. Sort of. Yes, the last of Fox Studios’ stand-alone X-Men movies has endured a troubled journey to theatres. Recall The New Mutants was original slated for an April 2018 release. Negative rumors and speculation accompanied numerous scheduling changes and re-shoots. Initially, the studio pitched the movie as a Rated-R horror-inspired comic movie. But the studio would later announce that the movie came with a PG-13 rating. Yet marketing materials still drew comparisons with The New Mutants‘ setting and plot with A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors. Then COVID-19 threw every studio’s release schedule into chaos. Now after all these twists and turns, The New Mutants quietly became one of the few new movies to actually get a theatrical release. Was it worth the wait? Or is the latest X-Men spinoff as bad as anticipated?
Following a mysterious tornado that destroys her reservation, Dani Moonstar wakes up strapped to a hospital bed in an isolated facility. The only medical personnel, Dr Cecilia Reyes, tells Dani she is a ‘mutant’ and the facility is a ‘safe place’ for her to learn control her powers. Soon Dr Reyes integrates Dani into the facility and introduces her to the other four young mutants under her care. None of the gifted teens knows where they are or for whom Dr Reyes works. In fact, the only thing anyone seems to know is that they can’t leave. But when horrifying visions begin haunting the captive patients – awake or asleep – the urgency of their situation rapidly escalates.
The New Mutants Struggles to Find an Identity For Itself
Most viewers won’t get too far into The New Mutants before it becomes clear that the movie seems uncertain about what it wants to be. Both the well-orchestrated intensity of its opening and the mysterious setting grasp for a horror vibe. Aside from some of the more obvious overlaps with genre, particularly Elm Street 3, The New Mutants often embraces horror aesthetics. Thought there’s a lack of real scares, some of the imagery and aesthetics beg for a more visceral approach to the material. But director Josh Boone forces other sub-genres – including fantasy, superhero sensibilities, and teen melodrama – into the pot. Not all of these story components mesh together well. Not surprisingly, Boone, who previously helmed The Fault in Our Stars, seems most comfortable with character moments. It’s the movie’s quieter moments that tend to work best.
…director Josh Boone forces other sub-genres – including fantasy, superhero sensibilities, and teen melodrama – into the pot. Not all of these story components mesh together well.
However, The New Mutants tonal inconsistencies can’t be entirely heaped onto Boone. Like any comic book adaptation, Boone was working with source material spanning four decades. An ongoing comic series has multiple issues, sometimes over years, to flesh out characters and story arcs. Moreover, what works in the pages doesn’t always translate to the screen. Case in point, Anya Taylor-Joy’s Illyana Rasputina feels like she belongs in a different movie. In particular, the character’s role in the climax is a jarring contrast to the other action. Among its other issues, the movie’s attempts to connect wider X-Men mythology feel half-hearted. Nothing really extends beyond name-dropping, leading one to wonder why any effort was made.
What Works in New Mutants Doesn’t Work Often Enough
While it rarely fires on all cylinders, The News Mutants is never terrible or dull. Occasionally, it even manages to hit a stride, particularly in its horror-themed scenes. Boone doesn’t necessarily execute all his scares, but he’s able to draw you in more often than not. Comparatively, Boone never quite demonstrates a good feel for the movie’s more action-oriented scenes. Some of the problems stems from The New Mutants’ confusing depiction of its protagonists’ “gifts” – it’s not always clear what kind of powers are possessed by each character. In addition, budgetary limitations obviously impacted the climax. But Boone’s also less comfortable with the superhero scenes, which exacerbates the tonal inconsistencies in the movie.
Newcomer Blu Hunt also impresses – The New Mutants tasks the young star with carrying much of the movie’s emotional core and she proves to up to the challenge.
Much like the ‘hit-or-miss’ nature of its individuals part, The New Mutants gets some of its characters right, and others not so much. None of this is the fault of the cast. Aside from Charlie Heaton’s (Stranger Things, Marrowbone) iffy southern accent, the cast is uniformly good. Not surprisingly, Anya Taylor-Joy (The Witch, Glass) and Maisie Williams deliver compelling performances. Newcomer Blu Hunt also impresses – The New Mutants tasks the young star with carrying much of the movie’s emotional core and she proves to up to the challenge. Neither Heaton nor Henry Zaga make as much of an impression as their co-stars. Such is the nature of an ensemble movie, however, that has a lot of different boxes to tick off.
The New Mutants Exceeds Expectations, But Doesn’t Offer Much Else
Maybe there was post-production tampering during re-shoots. Or perhaps creative differences about tone and direction surfaced. Regardless, The New Mutants feels like a disjointed movie, but not necessarily a bad one. A few characters hit the right notes and, hopefully, they’ll find their way into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Conversely, the screenplay underserves other characters. And even without the R-rating, The New Mutants feels like it missed an opportunity to embrace its horror roots, thereby separating itself from a crowded superhero market. Ultimately, the end result is a perfectly watchable, if not instantly forgettable, movie.