The New Mutants Review: The unfortunate mess it was sadly meant to be
Look, there’s no getting around the fact that Fox’s last X-Men movie, The New Mutants, has not had the easiest road to getting released. With major reshoots, the film getting delayed a bunch of times after it was supposed to be released in 2018, and so-so reception when it finally was released, things just weren’t looking good for The New Mutants. Even Disney acquiring Fox didn’t help the film since they didn’t express interest or confidence in the film and it didn’t really have a place in the MCU since it was meant to take place in Fox’s X-Men universe. However, I still had some hope that The New Mutants could beat the odds because it was something that showed a lot of great potential.
As a horror fan, how I deny the desire for wanting a comic book movie with some horror infused action that’s reminiscent of A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors. Right from the first trailer all the way back in 2018, I was hooked on what New Mutants could offer with a much grimmer, scarier, and haunting superhero story, but after all the delays, even I lost hope that we would ever even see the film – especially with the COVID-19 Pandemic shaking up the film industry. However, when the news finally broke that the film was getting one last release date in August and that director Josh Boone said that the version we were seeing was the one he envisioned so my hope was quickly revitalized. While I didn’t want to see it in theaters, I was happy to hear that the film was having a quick turnaround to VOD and now that I’ve seen it, it’s sad to say that it’s just as disappointing as feared.
The film’s reminiscence of Dream Warriors are felt simply within the film’s description. A group of five teens with uncontrollable mutant powers are placed within an isolated psych ward under the care of the mysterious Dr. Reyes (Alice Braga) so that they can control their powers. The teens consist of Illyana (Anya Taylor-Joy), a vindictive Russian mutant that can teleport and always has her dragon puppet Lockheed by her side, Rahne (Maisie Williams), a Scottish mutant that can turn into a wolf, Sam (Charlie Heaton, a Kentucky born mutant that can propel himself at intense speeds, Roberto (Henry Zaga), a Brazilian mutant that can burst into flames, and Dani (Blu Hunt), a Native American who is new the facility and whose powers are unknown. As Dani arrives in the facility, the group begins to experience nightmares that connect to the horrors that brought them there and they begin to wonder why they’re exactly at the facility and what Dr. Reyes plans are for them.
Frankly, there’s a lot of great potential in this premise that’s surprisingly interesting. There’re some solid connections to the other modern X-Men films through the appearance of Essex Corporation, the evil entity that’s been seen in films like Logan and Deadpool 2 and that’s very well known for being run by the notorious Mr. Sinister, and some strong potential for these five to start a new age of heroes in this universe. It’s could’ve a really cool start for something new, but it’s almost lucky that this won’t actually happen because it wouldn’t really deserve it.
The film fails to build its own world and create intrigue around its characters as it doesn’t really flesh out their stories and develop a personal connection or growth. A lot of times it just shoves in a moment for them to be in the spotlight and then never really touches on them again. One second were watching Dani and Rahne have a discussion about their lives and then suddenly we watch Sam deal with his tragic past of accidently causing a mine collapse that killed his father for a brief moment and then never really touch on it again. The tragedies and issues these characters have faced and are ultimately what brought them here are so bland and flat that the big moment where they try to confront their fears and come together is totally unearned. Even the relationship that develops between Dani and Rahne isn’t fully developed and comes off forced with how the film just puts them together all the time. It’s honestly strange to me that this relationship fell so flat with Boone previously directing The Fault in Our Stars, but these characters are given such little time and depth that it’s hard for Hunt and Williams to really bring any real love outside of wandering looks and smiles.
Having little to work with and very little time to show their characters emotions towards their fears, New Mutants sadly doesn’t utilize the talented cast it has. Most of the characters are basically stuck with the first impressions they make and end up being unable to make a deeper connection as a result. Illyana is just incredibly cold from the start, acting on a total power trip and making derogatory comments towards Dani, and it makes it hard to sympathize with her when she talks about her fears. Honestly, it’s really hard to sympathize with anyone since, outside of Sam, they don’t really care or feel that bad about the horrors that brought them there. It actually wastes a lot of potential for interesting conflicts and culture clashes with them coming from different parts of the world and it could’ve been a more organic way for them to open up, learn from one another, and help each other grow through their horrors.
There’s also never any real time dedicated to the group understanding their powers, so Reyes’ whole concept of them being dangerous and uncontrollable just comes off like total bullshit. Reyes, in general, just doesn’t come off all that intriguing and her “real plan” is so obvious that it makes all the effort to make it mysterious to the characters completely pointless. It doesn’t help that the film just constantly zips through its story beats way too fast, making it impossible to connect with the story and make the overall boring tone more engaging.
This film utterly fails as a horror and superhero movie with how its scares are so bland and uninteresting and the action being non-existent until the end. Without any sort of engaging characters or story, the film is forced to rely on its horror to get add any energy to the film and it doesn’t work. The suspense it attempts to build is pitiful, the creature designs are bland and unoriginal, and although it has a daunting presence in the Demon Bear, its never utilized well and just kind of appears at the end. It’s really easy to forget about the Demon Bear entirely until it just shows up at the end. Thankfully, it does though as the final battle scene isn’t half bad. The Demon Bear does look cool, the effects aren’t half-bad, and the fighting is solid. It’s a little dumb that they suddenly just understand their powers for the final battle, but honestly after the slog of everything prior, it was just nice to finally get a pulse. However, it becomes totally underwhelming with how it concludes and attempts to give Dani a sense of growth that’s just adds to the dissatisfaction the lack of character growth in this film brings.
The New Mutants is sadly the mess it was expected to be as it can live up to the minimal potential it builds and is utterly devoid of solid scares, characters, or ambition. For a film that is the last in Fox’s legacy with the X-Men series, it’s only represents the reasons that many fans are happy the property is no longer in their hands.