The X-Men have faced many an obstacle in their long and varied career that includes everything from Magneto’s latest hissy fit to Mojo desperately needing more attractive mutants to puff out his fall line up; but surely the most persistent problem for the graduates of Xavier’s School For Gifted Children is their on screen fortunes of late. Even if we wasn’t taking into account the woefully bad critical receptions to the release of the last two X-Men movies (I’m referring to Apocalypse and Dark Phoenix – Logan is a god-damn modern masterpiece and therefore exempt), the tortured and protracted journey of Josh Boone’s New Mutants to the screen that took TWO YEARS after filming was completed only goes to show that the power has drained out from the long running franchise.
After a horrible not-so-natural disaster wipes her reservation and her entire family off the map, Native American teen Dani Moonstar awakes to find herself sequestered in a weathered mental institution along with four other similarly aged mutants. Greeting her on her arrival are timid Scottish shapeshifter Rahne, brattish Brazilian pyrophore Roberto, clumsy human rocket Sam and metaphysical Russian nut job Illyana who each have suffered traumatic pasts linked to their highly destructive and out of control powers. Under the watchful eye of the force field projecting Dr. Reyes (seemingly the only member of staff present) the children assume they are being groomed to eventually join the X-Men but weird shit starts to occur when each of the kids are forced to relive past horrors thanks to an evil force enveloping the hospice. As the group learn to trust not just in their powers but in each other as well, the real intentions of Dr Reyes is revealed; but even this pales into insignificance in the face of a psionic assault from the immense, demonic force Dani knows as the Demon Bear…
Essentially the last piece of Marvel themed output from the studio formally known as Twentieth Century Fox, there is a distinct feeling that New Mutants is essentially being hurled out to the masses in the middle of a pandemic simply so Marvel Studios can finally proceed with integrating the children of the atom into their history changing franchise and due to this, the movie feels horrendously disposable. Saddled with no real set up (the mysterious “superior” of Dr Reyes was first hinted at in the post credit scene of Apocalypse back in 2016) and no real future thanks to the Disney purchase of Fox, the film is forced to stand on it’s own despite the fact that a lot of it’s secrets and payoffs are obviously never going to see the light of day and as a result feels somewhat half-baked.
The first half plays into Josh Boone’s wheelhouse (he did direct The Fault In Our Stars, after all) nicely, giving us a decidedly different kind of X-Men movie loaded with childhood trauma that strives to be Marvel Girl, Interrupted or One Bamf-ed Over The Cuckoo’s Nest but instead feels oddly cheap and sparce in a way that makes it feel more like a 00’s TV pilot with noticably better CGI. This feeling is all the more bolstered by the distracting lack of cast (despite no one being around except the doctor and her 5 patients, Roberto is constantly washing dishes – so who the hell is cooking? The trauma loaded kids?) and the movie’s insistence on having Buffy The Vampire Slayer be the only thing on their tv.
The cast attempt to build their characters as best they can but can’t avoid the weird lurches in their personalities when the movie suddenly demands that they all automatically become selfless heroes in the third act whether they’ve earned it or not. Anya Taylor-Joy’s teleporting Soviet psycho is obviously supposed to be the movie’s badass Wolverine-style character much in the vein of Angelina Jolie in Girl, Interupted, but the script gives her no reason to stop being a horrible, smug, bully other than she wants to fight a giant supernatural bear because it sounds cool. It’s pretty much the same with the other characters too, who all pull sudden 180° personality turns simply because the story demands it but Blu Hunt and Maisie Williams as Dani and Rahne manage to rise above things somewhat thanks to their rather sweet relationship which, again, would have paid off later.
Unfortunately, the where the character stuff feels a little cramped and rushed at the same time, the superhero stuff also fails to stick with the movie stubbornly refusing to explain some of it’s own science to any bewildered members of the audience who’ve never read a New Mutants comic in their life. Elements like the Smiley Men, the Demon Bear, Limbo and a cameo from beloved X-Men mascot Lockheed pass by barely explained while incomprehensible fight scenes play out almost entirely smothered in CGI snow leaving any laymen in the vicinity completely perplexed as “stuff” randomly plays out on screen and you find your attention frequently drawn elsewhere… like, why does Alice Braga’s Dr Reyes run so weird. Is she not used to wearing heels?
However, it’s not all THAT bad. There’s a couple of genuinely cool moments and the very concept of the film is still intriguing and even though the movie fails to fully nail it’s brief of merging horror with the superhero genre, it’s still a good idea which draws a lot of it’s best ideas from the third Nightmare On Elm Street movie. Plus it’s nice to see an X-Men movie not suck up so much to the central team for a change (I’m looking at you Deadpool 2) and maybe if things were different and Boone ever got to realise his proposed trilogy (containing Mr Sinister and Warlock no less), some of those irritating wrinkles could have been ironed out; but of course, it’s never going to happen. Disney, much like the Scarlet Witch at the climax of notorious comic arc House Of M, looked over Twentieth Century Fox’s 20 year X-Men catalogue and simply stated three words: “No more Mutants”.
Not everything that’s transpired is obviously the filmmakers fault (The Demon Bear has his moments but even you can’t put a global pandemic at the feet of his immense paws) but even so, if New Mutants was going to be the best the studio had planned for the future of this franchise then I guess the MCU takeover is going to be the best for everyone; because between this, Dark Phoenix and Apocalypse, the X-Men are more than used to protecting a world that hates and fears them, but fat lot of good that’s going to do if that includes the audience as well…