THE NEW MUTANTS ½
2020, PG-13, 113 mins.
Anya-Taylor Joy as Illyana / Alice Braga as Dr. Reyes / Blu Hunt as Dani / Maisie Williams as Rahne / Charlie Heaton as Sam / Henry Zaga as Roberto
Directed by Josh Boone / Written by Boone and Knate Lee
THE NEW MUTANTS - which marks the thirteenth installment of the longstanding X-MEN cinematic universe - is one of the many films this past year that was a victim of horrible release timing as a result of our current global pandemic, not to mention that it faced the added burden of being caught between a very public and recent acquisition of all of the Fox studio properties by Disney.
Shot way, way back
in 2017 with an initial release year of 2018, this Josh Boone (THE
FAULT IN OUR STARS) directed comic book inspired effort was then
shuffled to February of the following year, but competing directly against
the juggernaut that was DEADPOOL 2
seemed silly, so it was delayed yet again. Then Disney swooped in and became the film's new owner, and
despite early test screenings of THE NEW MUTANTS going well (it apparently
tested as strongly as the first DEADPOOL),
the House of Mouse thought it had limited box office appeal.
Boone's film was officially removed from release, and then COVID-19
hit and the rest is kind of history, culminating with Disney
unceremoniously dumping it in cinemas with little fanfare late last week.
No VOD or Disney+ streaming options were made available to
This seems like a
lot of prologue and build up for a review of THE NEW MUTANTS, but, to be
fair, when a film is made and then shelved for years it's typically not a
great sign of quality (Disney also, in a highly polarizing and
controversial move, didn't allow for proper physically distanced
screenings for critics, which further showed their apparent lack of faith
in the product). After
finally seeing the film for myself at a local cinema with strict COVID
measures and protocols in place, I can state that THE NEW MUTANTS is
certainly no where near as awful as its troubled release woes would
indicate. It does several
things absolutely right, like trying to be a bit more insular and intimate
with its storytelling (it's essentially limited to one setting
throughout), not to mention that it has a solid ensemble of young actors
that mostly give thanklessly good turns in their respective roles.
Plus, THE NEW MUTANTS deserves serious credit for being an awful
lot more progressive minded than just about every other theatrically
released super hero property out there (DC and Marvel included) when it
comes to its fairly frank and sincere portrait of two key LGBT characters.
Regretably, though, THE NEW MUTANTS is just too egregiously short
in its running time and far too malnourished on scripting and character
development fronts. The core
ingredients are here for a uniquely memorable X-MEN universe centered
outing, but, for the most part, this resulting film comes off as rough
first edit material needing embellishment.
The set-up here,
though, is quite good and I liked the genre mashing as well (think THE
BREAKFAST CLUB meets ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST meets (uh huh) THE
X-MEN and you'll kind of get the idea.
And, as mentioned, the smaller scale and focus here is a nice
antidote to the bloated extremes of most other comic book extravaganzas.
The story introduces us early on to the tragic circumstances of
Dani (a fine Blu Hunt), a Native American that has suffered a huge family
loss becomes of some supernatural entity ravaging its way through her
reservation. Dani ends up
finding herself in the "protective care" of Dr. Reyes (Alice
Braga), who runs a secret and deeply secluded facility for troubled and
alienated young mutants. Dani
should be initially suspicious of the fact that Reyes appears to be the
only person working at this hospital, not to mention that it's far removed
for the rest of civilization. But
the doctor seems kindly enough and pleads to help Dani discover her hidden
mutant power, which seems to manifest itself at the least convenient times
and may or may not have had something to do with that hellish ordeal back
at her home that killed her family.
As days pass Dani
is introduced to the other mutant "patients" at the facility,
which includes Rahne (GAME OF THRONES' Maisie Williams), Illyana (Anya
Taylor Joy), Sam (Charlie Heaton) and Roberto (Henry Zaga) all of whom are
slowly trying to acclimate to living daily with their extraordinary - and
sometimes deadly - powers. For all of these "new mutants," life at the
hospital feels more like a prison than a place that aims to help them
(none of them are allowed to leave and escape from the grounds proves to
be next to impossible). As
most of these youth attempt to deal with the complexities and thorny
issues associated with their abilities, Dani finds solace in a romantic
relationship with the also outed Rahne, and both troubled spirits use
their bond to fight their sense of hopeless isolation at the compound.
Unfortunately for all, Dani's true power begins to burst out in
ways that begin to affect everyone for the worse, and exacerbating all of
this is the discovery that the outwardly congenial doctor has more
sinister motives up her sleeves.
For the most
part, I think that all of the characters here, on paper, are compelling
enough in showing them struggling with their own uncertainties and
anxieties regarding their powers that have been kept secret from the
world. Roberto, for instance,
comes from wealth and is a hot hunk to the extreme...like, literally
hot (he can't control his temperature, which means that if he's trying
to get to even first base with a girl then he lights up and goes super
nova). Sam is a traumatized
southerner with a bad past and an inconsistent ability to control his
super speed and strength. Illyana
is the Russian born diva of the group that relishes in causing all sorts
of social chaos at the hospital (she can also morph her arm into metal and
can create a burning sword at will to brandish in her iron hand).
Then there's Rahne, who can turn herself into a teen she-wolf, but
just not at the right opportunity or time.
element of THE NEW MUTANTS (which Disney has utterly avoided in any
pre-release marketing) is the lesbian romance that occurs between Rahne
and Dani, which is delicately rendered and gives this super hero outing
some much needed freshness of prerogative and approach.
Rahne is kind of an endlessly intriguing and rich character in the
sense that (a) she struggles with her own Christian faith while being a
homosexual and (b) being brandied as a witch has tainted her, which comes
from a deplorable priest back at her Scottish village.
Her emotional struggles mirror Dani's, who's dealing with the
unfathomably guilt of being the lone survivor of her clan and possessing
strong psychic abilities that may have saved her people.
In many respects, the budding romance between Rahne and Dani helps
the pair deal with their nagging sense of uncertainty of where they place
in a world that seems to hate them. At their best, the X-MEN films
use the plight of mutants to parallel real world issues of alienation of
those deemed different and misunderstood in the world.
From what I know, this might be the very first openly gay set of
main characters in a theatrically released comic book film from Marvel. THE NEW MUTANTS, because of this alone, can't be deemed as a
wholehearted creative failure. And
considering the lazy spinning of the genre wheel of, say, last year's DARK
PHOENIX, this represents a marked conceptual improvement.
Where THE NEW
MUTANTS does fail is in how the whole endeavor built around the wonderful
character dynamics of Rahne and Dani seems woefully unfinished and rough.
Outside of those two and perhaps Anya Taylor Joy's itchy trigger
fingered mutant vixen, all of the other personas populating this film are
just not interesting or inspired. The
male characters alone are pretty bland compared to their female
counterparts, leaving Heaton and Zaga trying to do some heavy lifting with
undeveloped roles. Braga as
the Nurse Ratched inspired villain of THE NEW MUTANTS also leaves a lot to
be desired and seems oddly miscast here (she doesn't have the internalized
intensity or quiet spoken chilliness that the part requires).
The film builds, as most super hero fare does, to an obligatory
climatic showdown between its band of misfits and evil forces beyond
recognition that want to destroy them (to be kind, the VFX of the
nightmarish visions and monsters here at pretty top notch, and the
showdown between them and the newly bonded together mutants has some
visual potency), but it's all so perfunctory and stale.