Editor’s Note: This review of The New Mutants was made possible thanks to the proper safety measures and social distancing implemented in the re-opening of theaters. The review below, no matter the opinion, is not meant to make the reader undermine these crucial feats in the fight against COVID-19. Continue to practice proper health etiquette and remember, no movie is worth getting sick over.
As fans eagerly awaited, director Josh Boone’s The New Mutants became infamous as a film that audiences were wondering if they would ever actually see. Several trailers, posters, delays, and one Disney acquisition later, the film became slated to release almost two and a half years after its original 2018 release date. This effectively turned it into the final chapter in 20 Century Fox’s 20 year X-Men film franchise after Dark Phoenix.
The question on everyone’s mind: is The New Mutants worth the wait? Well, I’m sorry to say we waited three years for more generics under the guise of something different. Despite its best efforts, there is nothing new about these mutants.
It would be an overstatement to say that this movie was doomed from the beginning, but it’s really not that far off. The film opens with wooden narration by Blu Hunt’s Danielle Moonstar that unfortunately sets the bar for the script’s quality in the rest of the 98 minute runtime. Though things appear to get more interesting after the Dani-centric prologue, it doesn’t get that much more interesting. Especially with the inclusion of connections to other films in the X-Men franchise that make it all the more confusing, and downright bizarre.
The first act functions as a scene setter for each of the five new mutants, as it should, and starts with Anya Taylor-Joy’s Illyana Rasputin, aka Magik. This introduction is much less than stellar, as it bastardizes the character’s twisted abrasiveness by making her throw derogatory comments about Native-Americans towards the Native-American lead. While quite frankly unnecessary and offensive, these comments are also incredibly out of left field, seeing as Illyana isn’t like that at all for the rest of the film. Taylor-Joy does great work with her better scenes, which is to be expected from her, but you can’t help but feel uncomfortable knowing that the character was written with racial prejudices for no reason other than to make the her more edgy than she is.
The rest of the cast aren’t treated that much better, except perhaps with the exception of Maisie Williams’ Rahne Sinclair, aka Wolfsbane, who serves as Dani Moonstar’s anchor after arriving at Dr. Cecilia Reyes’ hospital for young mutants. Rahne and Charlie Heaton’s Sam Guthrie, aka Cannonball, are some of the only characters who don’t falter too dramatically from miscasting or very poor writing, but the bar for that in The New Mutants isn’t particularly high to begin with.
In comes Roberto da Costa, aka Sunspot, played by Henry Zaga. Coming from a rich Brazilian family, Roberto is a mutant who can control solar energy with his body. Now aside from material that gives his character all the depth and charm of a typical horror film jerk, Zaga is miscast to the highest degree. Roberto was created by Chris Claremont and Bob McLeod with an Afro-Brazilian background, something that Zaga does not share with the character. For a group of young superheroes that were created with the intention of championing diversity and representation, this casting is a tasteless move that Boone should not have had the audacity of recently defending.
Now, let’s dive into the horror aspect of The New Mutants. We were promised a psychological horror film starring superheroes. The initial trailers showcased some pretty freaky material that showed potential. Unfortunately, Fox (or what’s left of it) gives us their own Avengers: Age of Ultron, as all the darkest material was shown in the trailers. The actual tone of the movie is more akin to a superhero soap opera, which really works against almost every aspect that they try to explore. Instead of waiting for jump scares, I was waiting for this painfully non-suspenseful story to wrap up.
The selling points of this film were the psychological aspects of all the young mutants. They’re all traumatized, but it’s a whole lot of implication and very little actual exploration. This particularly applies to Illyana and Rahne’s backgrounds. Very twisted, traumatic things are implied to have happened to them before they were sent to the hospital, but these implications only lead to confusion on what actually happened. Showing versus telling has a very conflicted balance in how Josh Boone presents his leads, and in a film that is primarily exposition, that weakens every character dramatically. Though some may say that the runtime was too short, it’s more arguably clear that the runtime was grossly misused.
The shining star of The New Mutants is ironically not Sunspot, but surprisingly… Cannonball. Heaton manages to work around a very wooden script and gives a depth to his performance that unfortunately none of the other actors have the benefit of being able to maneuver. Sam Guthrie is presented as the most consistent and human character, due to Heaton’s ability to convey emotions that the script itself doesn’t present to him. Another high point is the natural on-screen chemistry between Blu Hunt and Maisie Williams, but none of these redeeming aspects can make up for the many flaws.
The New Mutants tries hard to be something that it’s not. And even with a very simple plot that should work, it’s dragged down by an inconsistent and boring script, underdeveloped characters, various unfulfilled promises, and unnecessary subplots that will now forever go unanswered. What could have been a brilliant and unique take on young superheroes became an incredibly generic mess, and a blatantly offensive mess at that. Not even the beautiful post-credits art by Bill Sienkiewicz is able to save it. Like it’s discount version of Sunspot, this film brings Fox’s X-Men franchise to a close with less of a burning flame, and more of a depressing sizzle.