Movie Review: The New Mutants starring Anya Taylor-Joy, Maisie Williams, Charlie Heaton & Alice Braga

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The New Mutants

Distributor: Amazon Prime Video
Production Company: 20th Century Fox
Director: Josh Boone
Producers: Lauren Shuler Donner, Karen Rosenfelt & Simon Kinberg
Writers: Josh Boone & Knate Lee
Cast: Anya Taylor-Joy, Maisie Williams, Charlie Heaton & Alice Braga
Release Date: September 4 2020
Running Time: 94 Minutes
Certificate: 15

After twelve films within the X-Men franchise, which includes the Wolverine trilogy and two Deadpool movies, The New Mutants lands at unlucky number thirteen. Delayed a total of four times after originally slated for release in April 2018, New Mutants seemed for a time as if it would never see the light of day. But the last film set within 20th Century Fox’s X-Men universe was finally made available to the public in September of this year. When a film has so many behind-the-scenes issues, it tends to generate just as much curiosity from the audience as it does hype. People were generally more interested in what could possibly have been so awful with a completed film, in an established franchise, that the studio would let it sit on the shelf for over two years. Well, as it turns out, it’s not all that much.

Synopsis

Envisioned as a cross between The Breakfast Club and The Shining and set entirely within the grounds of an asylum, The New Mutants is a different take on the superhero genre. There’s no world to save, no civilians to protect and no megalomaniacal baddie to defeat. There’s just some young adults ostensibly being assisted through their transition to mutant-kind. We are introduced to this world through the innocent eyes of Dani Moonstar (Blu Hunt), a young native American whose entire reservation was destroyed leaving her as the sole survivor. She wakes up in the asylum with no memory of what happened or how she got there. She is quickly introduced to the quirky band of misfits she’s been locked up with, plus the soothing, cool-headed Dr. Reyes (Alice Braga) who is their psychiatrist-come-prison warden.

Joining Dani in group therapy are four other troubled young mutants. First up is Rahne, played by Game of Thrones’ Maisie Williams, a young Scottish girl with the power to turn into a wolf. Next is Sam, played by Stranger Things’ Charlie Heaton, a broken and bruised Kentuckian with the explosive ability to blast himself forward with tremendous force, a power which was previously given to the Negosonic Teenage Warhead character in the Deadpool films. Then there’s Roberto, played by Henry Zaga, a handsome and tortured soul with the semi-uncontrollable ability to ignite himself on fire. Fans of the franchise may recognise the character, as he was formerly played by Adan Canto in X-Men: Days of Future Past. And last but not least is Illyana, played by the ever-rising star Anya Taylor-Joy, a Russian girl with many special talents, including teleportation and manifesting an armoured pauldron and a magic sword.

Analysis

The film is a slow starter but, from the ever-diminishing returns of the X-Men franchise, I’m sure most viewers were willing to give it a chance to do something different. Over the course of the film, our new mutants begin experiencing living nightmares of their worst memories, reminiscent of the Nightmare On Elm Street films from which the director, Josh Boone, intended to take inspiration from. The gang now must try and convince their warden to let them go, find out why they’re being kept there and find out where the nightmares are coming from. The pretence about them being locked away in the asylum for their own wellbeing until they can control their powers is quickly dropped, and most audiences probably would have seen through it immediately anyway. It seems to me that the setting would have been better served if the atmosphere was altogether more sinister from the beginning, as this revelation was predictable and more of a detriment to the pacing than the effective reveal that it should have been.

The horror elements throughout the film are done quite well and add to the general creepy ambience that I assume the director was attempting to go for. But, unfortunately, this all happens far too late into the film, with the main focus early on being generally about the asylum itself or the characters rather boring origins, rather than the reality-bending terrors. Although the film isn’t scary, there may be one or two jumps scares depending on your constitution. It is interesting to see superpowers used against new kinds of enemies on-screen. Most superheroes in films tend to fight enemies pretty similar to themselves in terms of powers and abilities (Captain America, Iron Man, Black Panther, Ant-Man, Doctor Strange, Superman etc; the list goes on). It is always interesting to see what writers and directors can come up with when you have characters with vastly different skillsets coming into conflict. The actors all do a generally good job as their respective characters, even when dealing with trite dialogue and clunky exposition, but nobody is truly given the space to become interesting except Illyana, and even her backstory feels truncated and crammed in unceremoniously.

Although there are only six characters for the majority of the film, there doesn’t seem to have been much consideration given to who these people are beyond their traumatic mutant ability-related pasts. Throughout most of the story, certain elements seem very poorly-paced, not only for the film as a whole, but for character moments too. For instance, Illyanas’ remarkable abilities are shown off to us, almost immediately leading to her heroic stand in the third act to feel ultimately unremarkable. Roberto’s powers are a slow burn (pun intended), but again in the third act, he is underutilised and eventually falls rather flat. The film doesn’t know when to show, when to hide, when to give or when to wait, and in the end, it comes together feeling a tad disjointed. It never becomes as exciting or as terrifying as it could be, either pulling its punches on the horror or underutilizing the characters’ powers, but it is also never overtly bad. We move from one predictable scenario to the next while the plot just kind of happens. The characters make few choices that impact the story while also not seeming overly concerned by their predicaments either.

Summary

It’s hard to believe that a film that took over two years to be released can feel so rushed. It’s clear to see that some ideas were never given their fair shake. Director Boone had mentioned feeling as though his hands were tied with the American rating of PG 13, but the film isn’t even as mysterious as it’s presented to be, and the characters go from antagonistic towards one another to best friends in the blink of an eye. Over twenty years, Fox’s X-Men franchise gave audiences all kinds of cinema, ranging from the exceptional to the forgettable to the downright bad. Luckily for the thirteenth entry into the series, the odds are on its side, because it’s not the worst. Yet, for a story about people being haunted by memories, they’d rather forget this film. Therefore, The New Mutants lands firmly in the forgettable column.

Notes

Target Audience: Ages 15+
Content: Strong Threat & Bloody Violence
Recommendation?: No
Overall Rating: 5/10 – Average

Further Details

For more information about The New Mutants, click here.