The New Mutants was supposed to come out three years ago but has had a whole series of things keeping it out of cinemas. The most recent of these was obviously COVID-19 but while it might feel like it the pandemic hasn’t been around since 2017. Before this the film suffered production delays, rewrites, scheduled reshoots that never happened and as a part of the wider X-Men story it was held back following concerns with how Dark Phoenix went down with audiences. In fact this was supposed to take this twenty year/twelve film series off in a new direction but as it is, it has become part of its enervating and spluttering ending. Tied into this demise is the Disney/Fox merger that put The New Mutants on the shelf for a while too. All in all, new is not as appropriate an adjective for the title as had been intended.
Inevitably with all of this the movie has earned itself a bit of a reputation even before anyone saw it and with all the faltering, people had assumed it was going to be rubbish. Sure enough, now it is finally on screens it is getting torn apart by the retractable claws of the critics. The reaction of Maisie Williams, one of the film’s young cast, to this was dignified yet resigned, responding to The Negative Forbes review on Twitter by saying, ironically or otherwise, that it sounded like a must see (a smart move on her part that will no doubt actually help the box office). My response in these situations, consciously or otherwise, is often to leap to a movie’s defence (see my reviews of Cats, Jupiter Ascending, A Million Ways to Die in the West and indeed Dark Phoenix) but sadly in this case I can’t. The New Mutants is terrible.
The narrative has Dani Moonstar, a Native American teenager committed to a high security hospital having been the only survivor of some event that destroyed her reservation. There she meets Dr. Reyes and four other people her own age; Rahne played by Williams, Charlie Heaton’s Sam, Henry Zaga’s Bobby and Anya Taylor-Joy as Illyana Rasputin who brings all the Russian stereotypes you’d expect from a character of that name. Of course every single one of them has superpowers of some kind or another but the doctor is trying to help these adolescents cope with their abilities, or is she?
I went in optimistic, I swear I did, but early on the script started to annoy me. Everyone was having conversations that they just wouldn’t have in real life, or even in this fantastical setting, or at the least they were talking about things most of them would have discussed already. Seriously, one of the kids is new to the institution but they are all suddenly having the conversations about their past and backgrounds that they surely would have done when they were committed. Maybe they are only opening up now she is there but there is no clue as to why this might be the case. It is as if they’ve just met when really it is exposition to help us because we have just met them. The individual lines are corny too, highlighted most in the scene where two of the kids become romantically connected, and the acting is totally over the top. Anya Taylor-Joy, who has been exceptional in everything else she has done, is particularly unsubtle and it is a surprise to see this follow her performance in Emma., although of course this was made first.
The biggest problem though is where the story goes. It follows cliche at every step but it just becomes so ridiculous. There can be an issue with comic book to film adaptations as what works on the panelled page doesn’t necessarily translate to the screen. Some of the powers and events depicted in the comics, especially with Marvel, are just too much and it can come across as silly in live action. The MCU has trod this path and somehow stayed upright but X-Men: Apocalypse fell hard at the same hurdle and this movie also ends up face down in the dirt. The special effects are mostly impressive, although the design of the animalistic powers a couple of the teens have doesn’t work, but it is all just laughable. You’ve got to know your medium to pull these epic, cosmic, supernatural battles off in cinema and if you don’t it just looks stupid.
The makers of this film only compound their failure by explicitly linking their movie to the Buffy the Vampire Slayer television show. Seriously, inviting comparisons to this series, that also dealt with teenagers with extraordinary powers fighting monsters but did so with incredible wit, charm, emotion, metaphor and intelligence, does this no favours at all. On at least two occasions the film plainly says ‘Buffy did this and look we are doing it too’ but they cannot do it well enough. It’s like Katie Price stopping in the middle of one of her ghostwritten Pony books, adding a few Shakespeare soliloquies and then thinking she can have a go at the same thing. I’m not kidding, they actually show the gentlemen from Buffy playing on a TV screen before introducing their own versions of these creepy demons and it is embarrassing.
It is a shame that after some great films the Fox X-Men films are finishing with this. They really should have ended on a high with Logan, which incidentally is the one this movie most closely ties in with again not helping with comparisons, but instead it closes on a real low.
Sounds like a must see. Get your tickets now.
The Ripley Factor:
The New Mutants has a number of strong female characters but it also has teenage girls in the shower, pouty Russian sexpot swimming pool fantasies and women defined by the men in their lives so I don’t think I can applaud it for its gender politics either.