The New Mutants (2020), now available on demand, is not nearly as bad as the early reviews might have you believe. Fortunately, I avoid public spaces like the plague (it’s funny because, you know), so I’m late to the party. This gives me the objective eye to report that New Mutants is not a trainwreck. It’s just a meh execution of a great premise.
The New Mutants focuses on five, uh, new mutants, who are being kept in a hospital under the watch of Dr. Cecilia Reyes (Alice Braga). There’s the new girl, Dani (Blu Hunt); the hot virgin, Roberto (Henry Zaga); the southern boy, Sam (Charlie Heaton); the pixie Catholic, Rahne (A Girl Has No Name); and the mean girl with a puppet, Illyana (Ana Taylor-Joy). It’s the quirky, Hot Topic version of The Breakfast Club (1985). Oh, and it’s also a superhero origin story. Oh, and it’s also an X-Men spin-off. Oh, and it’s also an intended franchise maker. Oh, and it’s also a horror movie.
The New Mutants is a lot of things. So many so that it doesn’t quite capture the magic of any of them. It’s not an outright failure in any particular area, it’s just too overstuffed with ingredients to be an effective ninety-minute thriller. The problems, therefore, start with the script. In addition to trying to cram too many elements into the narrative, the script just feels a bit first drafty, which is the last thing you want to hear about a movie that was in production for 42 years. The balance issues drill down from the overall story into the dialogue. Frequently, confusing fantasy elements that could use clarification go unexplained, and inconsequential moments are over explained. For example, in a sequence with a lie detector, there are multiple lines of dialogue about the lie detector being a lie detector just in case you didn’t know it was a lie detector. Lie detector.
The most intriguing element of the film is the generic intention. Had the film focused more on its horror components, it likely would have been more effective. There are not a lot of scares to be had, but the individual trauma origins for each character are at least eerie, and the X-men franchise is ripe with horror potential. Many of the mutant powers cause monstrous appearances or the opportunity for freaky body horror. I mean, Mystique is practically the Creature from the Sexy Lagoon. The New Mutants begins to touch on this in the intimate scenes (a callback to Rogue’s prologue in the first X-Men film), but just before we really get into the strangeness of it all, we have to move to the next ingredient.
Speaking of intimate moments, it is imperative to highlight the prominent lesbian romance. No, this isn’t a Power Rangers (2017) throwaway line, the actual primary romantic storyline of the film is between two of the female leads. The X-Men have always been the gayest of the superheroes, so it’s time the franchise put its mutants where its mouth is. As she tries to figure out each of her new hospital-mates, Dani forms her closest bond with Rahne, and the two share a tender, teen angsty-romance, and that completely avoids its male gazey potential. Should this be a milestone? No, girl, but here we are, and I’ll take it.
- All of the relatively accomplished young actors give solid performances, but it can be hard to read through their games of accent hopscotch
- I feel like the actual X-Men references could have been cut when Disney signed the check, right?
- The “I don’t think this is a hospital” bit is completely unnecessary because DUH. There are five patients and one doctor in a 7000 square-foot building.
The Final Tea
The New Mutants is notable for many things. One, it’s the first wide release movie distributed during the pandemic. Two, it’s the final entry in Fox’s X-Men franchise. Three, it was delayed, reshot, not reshot?, recut, delayed, delayed again, delayed again for fun, and maybe delayed another time. You’ll notice none of these three elements regard the actual film.