The New Mutants (2020) Review
NOT QUITE WORTH THE
LONG WAIT (NOR THE HYPE)
The X-Men has certainly had a bump road throughout its cinematic run on the big screen. The comic book superheroes characters , the long running and beloved Marvel comic book property was brought to Hollywood’s silver screen in 2000, acting as the first well-thought-out and well-executed theatrical feature endeavor from a major Hollywood studio (i.e. released under 20th Century Fox studios) as well as appealing towards both fans of the comic book source material and the large public of causal moviegoers. Since its first release in 2000, the film franchise has taken off, expanding upon the comic book properties of the X-Men cannon and showcasing the variety of superhumans (dubbed “mutants) and how they interact with the rest of the world (be it good or bad). Each installment has showcased new adventures for the variety cast of X-Men characters to face off against…. whether the human opposition or one of their own. It’s been debated amongst many of the strength and vitality of this franchise, but it’s definitely has proven to be lucrative and popular movie series to follow for the last nineteen years. In addition, the X-Men movies, while being touted as blockbuster action endeavor of visual effects, have touched upon some worldly social commentary issue on society viewpoints, including acceptance, tolerance, and individuality. The long running franchise has indeed had its ups and downs, with some fans and moviegoers rejoicing over some installments and begrudgingly dismiss others, especially after the negative remarks / reviews of 2019’s X-Men: Dark Phoenix. Now, for better or worse, this cinematic universe of superheroes has reached its conclusion (due to Disney’s acquisition of 20th Century Fox Studios) as director Josh Boone presents the film The New Mutants, the thirteenth and final entry in the established X-Men film series. With so many delays to its release, is the film worth the prolonged wait or is it a unceremonious dud of a feature for the final outing of 20th Century Fox’s X-Men?
Dani Moonstar (Blu Hunt) is a young Native American teen mutant who’s suffered a family tragedy recently; finding herself in the possession of Dr. Reyes (Alice Braga), who runs a special facility for troubled mutants. Regaining consciousness, Dani joins fellow young mutants, including Rahne Sinclair (Maisie Williams), Illyana Rasputin (Anya Taylor-Joy), Sam Guthrie (Charlie Heaton), and Roberto “Bobby” de Costa (Henry Zaga), in Dr. Reye’s care, learning that she can’t escape the faculty’s grounds, with the medical professional trying to probe into each patient’s history and getting to understand their special powers / traumatic past that triggered it. Working on getting use to her surroundings and her fellow teen peers, Dani warms up to Rahe, who’s attempting to hide her gifts, while the rest of the gang deals with their strengths and insecurities as they slowly catch on to Dr. Reyes’s strange ways and her fixation on Dani’s history. As event unfolds, it becomes clear that Dani’s arrival at the faculty brings sense of foreboding danger as nightmares comes to life and deepest fears begin to materialize.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
Borrowing a few lines from what I said in my review for X-Men: Dark Phoenix…. I said it many times and I’ll continue to say it again…. I’ve always been a fan of Marvel superheroes. Definitely not a hardcore geek comic nerd, but more of an admirer of its vast properties of superhuman characters and how they all work (good or bad) within Marvel’s comic book universe. The same can be said within the theatrical feature films of these Marvel superheroes. Before Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, and even the Guardians of the Galaxy ever graced silver screen in the MCU, the X-Men franchise (as well as the original Spider-Man trilogy) really launched the 2000s era of superheroes for mainstream audience of viewers to really get behind and fully enjoyed. Yes, they’re aren’t quite as super intricate and had some mechanical film / story problems, but the X-Men film series has proven to be quite effective throughout its nineteen-year run. To me, the franchise various timeline aspects have been a bit confusing and a certain way to “reworked” and “erase” some of the errors and less unsavory moments that the series has produced, but it’s definitely for the better (in most cases). In the end, 20th Century Fox’s X-Men franchise has seen a lot, done a lot, made some mistakes, and even revigorated itself own cannon for moviegoers everywhere throughout its theatrical release timeframe; proving that the concept idea of “mutants” (as Professor Xavier says in X2: Men United) is as follows…..Are mutants the next link in the evolutionary chain or simply a new species of humanity fighting for their share of the world?
This brings up talking about The New Mutants, the latest superhero film and the very last movie of the 20th Century Fox iteration of the X-Men characters. This movie has certainly become infamous, but not for the reason one might think. Of course, like many out there, I do remember hearing about this film being made a few years back; a somewhat spin-off endeavor project from the already established X-Men universe and composed of “new” characters rather than the prominent ones featured in past titles. Naturally, the film’s trailer that was released back in October 2017 definitely gave off a different vibe from the big and boisterous blockbuster events that past X-Men titles presented; giving The New Mutants a certain horror-ish tone of scary elements thrown into the “mutant” problem. With this idea, the project was quite anticipated amongst many, with its theatrical release date set for April 13th, 2018. Unfortunately, the movie was delayed several times, which was most notably due to the fact the studio behind the film (20th Century Fox) was in a bidding more and eventually acquired under the Disney. This acquisition of 20 Century Fox caused a great shuffling of films and projects when the “House of Mouse” took control, including X-Men: Dark Phoenix (who also saw delayed releases as well) and The New Mutants. Plus, with rumors of reshoots and different cuts, it seemed like this particular movie was never gonna see a theatrical run. Then Disney finally gave the greenlight to give the project a proper theatrical release date, which was set for April 3rd, 2020, but then was delayed once again to the pandemic events of COVID-19; pushing the movie back and settling on a late August release date. It’s almost become a running gag to see when The New Mutants was gonna be released…. or if it ever was. Now, after so many delays to the film, The New Mutants is finally released and ready to seeing by moviegoers. And what did I think of it? Well….it was just okay. Despite its lengthy delay and on-going hype for the feature to be eventually released, The New Mutants is decent enough for new idea in the established X-Men film series, but not enough to captivate viewers in its off-shoot concepts of new characters. It’s nowhere as near as terrible as X-Men: Dark Phoenix was, but that’s not really saying much.
I should also mention before I dive into my personal thoughts about this movie that The New Mutants is my first movie that I saw since in theaters since the COVID-19 pandemic started; resulting in closing down the movie theater chains back in March. My movie theater nearby just opened up and I followed safety protocols myself and the theater facility and staff did as well. No complaints on either side.
The New Mutants is directed by Josh Boone, whose previous directorial works includes such films like Stuck in Love. and The Fault in Our Stars. With his background in the film world of both directing and script writing, Boone approaches the movie as perhaps his most ambitious project; one that delves into the superhero film genre of comic book characters as well as trying to make his own stamp on the industry. In this regard, Boone somewhat succeeds, but its kind of a double edge sword (more on that below). Suffice to say…. Boone takes a different stance on established X-Men cinematic universe, which is probably why he was chosen to helm the feature and to co-handle the script shaping. How so? Well, despite the commonplace conventions of superhero titles and those ones involving the X-Men, Boone strips New Mutants down to focus on its main character of a smaller roster and not so much on “world saving” plot devices. Yes, there is a main plot of which the film follows, but Boone keeps the feature a bit more character driven rather than plot driven, which is something that I liked. A fellow movie blogger described the project as a mixture blend of” Teen Wolf meets the Breakfast Club” and I certainly have to agree with that notion, with the movie focusing on youthful teens as the main cast, with antics and insecurities combating that them as well as their ultimate coming together as a group. It definitely seems the right path and decently works in the movie, with Boone playing up the components throughout. Also, I did like some of horror-ish scary elements in the movie, which certainly does make the film standout from the past entries in the X-Men film series. Plus, despite my knowledge of liking a lot of the X-Men characters (never read the comics, but know of the main players, a few minor ones, and big storyline arcs), I wasn’t familiar with the New Mutants property and its source material. So, it was kind of refreshing to see the movie introducing new / lesser known mutant characters (i.e. Wolfsbane, Mirage, Sunspot, Cannonball, and Magik) into this cinematic universe. As a side-note, there are few nods and winks reference made to the X-Men cinematic universe of which this movie is set in (obviously). However, I will not be spoiling them for you guys what they are and when they appear, but it would’ve interesting to see where the references connection pieces would’ve led to if the original planned trilogy was still a greenlight from the studios (a bit more on that below).
In the presentation category, New Mutants certainly does a decent job in crafting its setting and backgrounds (visually speaking). Yes, as mentioned above, the film is a bit of departure from the past X-Men installment features, with a more of a smaller scale adventure rather than a blockbuster fanfare. This pertains to the film’s budget, which was $80 million, rather than extravagant big budgets of the past superhero features, but I believe that Boone and his team smartly utilized what they had for this particular project and pulled off something rather decent in ways and means of production quality / presentation. This is most apparent in the film’s main set-piece, which was Dr. Reyes’s hospital faculty; offering up a dreary looking place that feels dark, dank, and a claustrophobic feeling throughout much of the movie’s background. Thus, a lot of the filmmaker’s “behind the scenes” team (costumes, art direction, production designs, set decorations, etc.), feel practical and appropriate for this project. Additionally, the feature’s cinematographer Peter Deming does offer a few slick styles of camera and cinematic movements that keeps the film invigorated in some of its scenes, especially during the action sequences. Also, the visual effect pieces of the movie are pretty good and get the job done when needed (not going blow anyone away by it, but neither make anyone disgruntled by their usage). Lastly, the film’s score, which was done by Mark Snow, proves to be a solid undertaking in helps compliments the feature’s tone and appeal throughout.
Unfortunately, The New Mutants doesn’t quite live up to its own inherit hype and ultimately comes across as a almost predictable hodgepodge mess of film genres and concept ideas that might sound good on paper, but lack the substance execution in reality to make everything flow properly. What do I mean? Well, as I said, the movie definitely has an intriguing approach for a superhero movie by taking more of smaller scale narrative that does away with large blockbuster “save the world” plot planning devices. It’s a great selling point and helps stand out, but its overall positioning in the film is rendered confusing throughout much of the feature’s runtime. In truth, the movie seems like a cobbled-up version of various idea of film genres and comes up short / empty handed in many ways. Is it a superhero drama? A coming-of-age tale? A horror flick? Or something else? All answers are somewhat correct, but really fail in coming up with solid execution to make all genre aspect to flow in a way that’s congealable and harmonize. The New Mutants, however, creates a jarring effect in this regard.
This results in the movie creating a disjointed feeling of colliding ideas and concepts of which many fall flat or just produced to mediocre fanfare. Who’s to blame? Well, its combination of several individuals, with the film’s screenplay, which was penned by Boone and Knate Lee, offering up a large portion of criticisms of these dueling ideas / concepts for a story. Over all, the ideas for New Mutants are alluring on paper, but the film’s script seems bland to the touch and seems to rush many plot points to keep the feature’s story moving from one scene to the next. Thus, a lot of character-built moments are quite throwaway and filled with melodrama dialogue that never really click together; presenting much in a hollow and less effective way. Plus, the script seems a bit uneven at times, with much of the action being placed at the end of the feature and more boring dialogue moments in the first two acts. In conjunction with that point, the story is quite formulaic / predictable and while there might have been a minor surprise here and there, it was quite easy for me to see what was eventually gonna happen…even without reading any type of source material or advance reviews for the film.
Boone’s direction also plays a part in the film’s criticism has he seems to wrestle with ideas in executing the movie properly. Perhaps that’s the best way to explain much of New Mutants’s problem…. its overall execution, which seems to lack a proper focus. Boone seems to struggle with carving out a path for the feature to follow and instead gets entangled with developments and hodgepodge ideas that never truly flow correctly. Also, much like the main problem with 2017’s IT and 2019’s IT: Chapter Two, the story of New Mutants gets a bit repetitive as the film’s characters wander off and explores their own personal nightmares / fears to focus. This goes on throughout film’s first two acts and slows down the feature’s pacing. Speaking of pacing, the first two acts of the feature seem to drag, which is strange as the movie’s runtime is only 98 minutes long in length (rather lean for a superhero feature). Boone himself is partly to blame for this, the movie itself has certainly going under scrutiny with studios exces and the delaying of the film’s release. As mentioned, the acquisition of 20th Century Fox to Disney played a major part in pushing New Mutants back as well as several reshoots from both studios, including reshoots and scrapping ideas for other ones. This is probably why the movie feels disjointed in various areas as the switching up of scenes and concepts seem to create a feature that seems at odd with each other; resulting in a movie comes up with a “identity problem”.
Lastly, on the critical points of the film, is what could’ve been for the New Mutants….as a whole and for future installments. With Disney acquiring the film and the “House of Mouse” stating that have no plans of continuing the already established X-Men film franchise cannon (mostly likely to reboot the idea / concept for the MCU), it’s quite apparent that there will be no New Mutants planned in the foreseeable future, which is disappointing as the original plan for this spin-off mutant tale was to be a trilogy. What was planned? Where would the story go? How the characters would develop? How new characters (both heroes and villains) would’ve been brought in? I, for one, would’ve been interested to see where the next two films would’ve gone, even with the film’s flaws and disjointed problems. Thus, by the time the movie reaches its end credits, it’s almost a disheartening feeling that these characters / acting talents will never grow or become fully rounded, with New Mutants being a “one and done” endeavor.
While I do praise the film for keeping its character roster minimal and bloated with unnecessary side characters like past X-Men movies, the cast in New Mutants is a balance okay to good and, while the selective cast does what they can in the movie, I believe that they are hampered by both the film’s messy script handling and lack of character development, despite the feature focusing heavily on characters rather story driven moments. This is probably most apparent in the movie’s main protagonist character of Dani Moonstar, who is played by actress Blu Hunt. Known for her roles in The Originals, Another Life, and Stumptown, Hunt is merely adequate in the lead role of the film; making Dani the accessible character for us (the viewers) to follow as she comes into her own (as a mutant) and discovers Dr. Reyes’s facility and teens that take up residence there. She’s quite the straightforward protagonist, including a dark past of sorts of which she has to confront during the film’s climax. However, its all relatively bland to the touch and her character arc seems to rely on cliched tropes of the past “coming-of-age” youth’s molds. Plus, Hunt seems rather ill-equipped for the lead role, which makes her portrayal of Dani rather uninteresting and one dimensional.
Perhaps the only one character that stands out the most (both in being memorable and well-rounded) is in the character of Rahne Sinclair, who is played by actress Maisie Williams. Known for her roles in Game of Thrones, Doctor Who, and Gen: Lock, Williams has developed her acting talents throughout her career and it clearly shows in New Mutants; giving Rahne a sense of warmth and vulnerability. Heck, I was more impressed with her character than what I was with Hunt’s Dani. Of course, many will remember her as Arya Stark from Game of Thrones, but Williams’s portrayal of Rahne is clearly the well-played by the actress. Her character might borderline a bit conventional manner (especially for modern times) that some might argue, I enjoyed her character in the movie. Somewhat similarly, actress Anya-Taylor Joy proves to be having the most fun in the movie by playing the role of Illyana Rasputin. Known for her roles in Spilt, Glass, and Emma., Joy’s easily chews through dialogue scenes with gleeful joy by drumming up the stereotypical Russian speaking voice, but carries it in a amusing way. However, unlike Williams’s Rahne, Joy’s Illyana is quite stereotypical as the toughie / mean girl that picks up on the protagonist character throughout most of the feature, including a tragic past nightmare that haunts her. Still, she certainly stands out in the movie, especially since she perhaps has the mutant powers over the entire cast of characters and visually is fun to see it during the film’s climax portion.
The other two “new mutant” teens in the movie (Same Guthrie and Robert de Costa) are simply window dressing for the feature and don’t stand as much as their other co-stars. Sure, actors Charlie Heaton (Stranger Things and As You Are) and Henry Zaga (Looking for Alaska and The Stand) are capable young actors respectfully, but have difficulty in making their characters stand out in the movie…. barring a few character-built scenes for them. Like the others, the script hampers their potential.
Looking beyond those characters, the last character to discuss is perhaps the most “seasoned” acting talent of the film, with actress Alice Braga playing the role of Dr. Cecelia Reyes, the overseer / medical doctor of the facility of which the “new mutants” are held in. Known for her roles in I am Legend, Predators, and Elysium, Braga is veteran of the feature and certainly shows in various scenes throughout the movie; managing to pull off Dr. Reyes’s cold-ish / nonsense demeanor. However, Braga can only do so much with the character as the film’s script obviously paints her as the somewhat antagonist of the film and does little to standout behind the commonplace clichés of medical doctor baddie. Additionally, as a side-note, singer / actor Marylin Manson provides the voice for the enigmatic being known as the Smiling Man and surely nails it, despite only moaning, groaning, and slight garbled dialogue lines.
The X-Men film franchise that began back in 2000 reaches its finality conclusion with its last entry closing out the cinematic tale of young mutants and their powers in the film The New Mutants. Director Josh Boone’s latest film sees the return of the mutants and their superpowers, but from a different angle; focusing one a new roster of characters to play around with and explore their powers. Unfortunately, despite having good ideas for this film, a good presentation (visually speaking), and a few likeable acting talents, majority of the movie falls into several pitfalls, with most notable ones being the feature’s story progression, predictable beats, choppy meshing of film genres, pacing issues, and bland character developments. Personally, I just thought that this movie was just merely okay, but a little bit on the disappointing side of things. Yes, it had some decent parts that ultimately worked, but I felt that the film wasted its potential of what could’ve been something truly unique. Well, that’s part of the problem with everyone’s expectations, with this particular movie being hyped up due to multitude of reshoots and delays. In truth, I’m kind of wondering what the original story of Boone / Lee for the movie as well as planned storylines for the two follow-up sequels. Alas, those planned installments will probably never see the cinematic light of day. Thus, my recommendation is a weak “iffy choice” as some viewers might enjoy it for what it is, while other will be disappointed that the movie doesn’t live up its own hype. It’s definitely not the “worst X-Men movie out there” as some are claim it to be, but its nowhere as near as some of the greater past entries were able to achieve. Regardless, The New Mutants marks the final entry in the 20th Century Fox established X-Men cinematic universe and, despite having some interesting concepts and ideas, renders the project a bit moot and leaves an already unsatisfying taste on the franchise following the reception of X-Men: Dark Phoenix. In short, despite all the delays and hype for the movie’s release, The New Mutants wasn’t exactly worth it.
3.0 Out of 5 (Iffy Choice)
Released On: August 28th, 2020
Reviewed On: August 31st, 2020
The New Mutants is 100 minutes long is rated PG-13 for violent content, some disturbing/bloody images, some strong language, thematic elements and suggestive material