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Review: The New Mutants

August 28, 2020

By John Corrado

★★½ (out of 4)

The “cursed film” trope is one that applies to those movies that just can’t seem to catch a break, either due to problems on set or constantly shifting release dates. In the case of The New Mutants, we have both; a film that faced widely publicized production troubles, and has had its release date shifted no less than five times over the past few years.

To put things into perspective, the first trailer for the film, which is a spinoff of the X-Men franchise that Disney acquired from 20th Century Fox during the acquisition deal, was released all the way back in 2017. It was initially supposed to be released in 2018. Then 2019. It was finally set to be released this spring, only to have its release date pushed back once again due to COVID-19.

Now the film is finally opening today, carrying the distinction and heavy burden of being one of the first movies to open in theatres after months of them being shutdown due to a global pandemic that is still rampant in some areas. This puts a lot of undue pressure on a film that was likely never going to live up to it. I saw the film yesterday, (while wearing a mask at a socially distanced press screening that served as my first time being back in a movie theatre since the beginning of March), and it’s fine, I guess, but hardly worth such a long wait.

The film opens with a Native American girl named Danielle Moonstar (Blu Hunt) escaping from a raging storm on her reservation, only to wake up chained to a bed in a mysterious psychiatric hospital run by a woman named Dr. Reyes (Alice Braga). As it turns out, this facility actually serves as a supposed safe place for young mutants whose powers are just starting to emerge. But Danielle soon realizes that it’s surrounded by a force field and functions more like a prison.

Danielle finds herself locked up with a collection of other mutants who have been sent there to try and control their various powers, including Rahne Sinclair (Maisie Williams), Illyana Rasputin (Anya Taylor-Joy), Sam Guthrie (Charlie Heaton), and Roberto da Costa (Henry Zaga). As the various mutants start to realize how trapped they are, they band together to rise up against Dr. Reyes, who runs the facility with an iron fist and is constantly watching them through security cameras, to plot an escape.

I do like the idea of taking superheroes and putting them in a horror movie, and there are scenes here that show potential. The interactions between the young characters are generally decent, and I did enjoy parts of the film. Director and co-writer Josh Boone, who previously made The Fault in Our Stars, does get points for trying to do something different by making a comic book film that also functions as both a teen movie and a psychological drama. The story basically serves as an allegory for conversion therapy, and while it’s somewhat clunky, the film does deserve credit for not shying away from depicting a same-sex relationship between Danielle and Rahne.

But The New Mutants also feels somewhat like a byproduct of clashing influences, with Boone setting out to make more of a full-on horror movie, and the studio expecting him to tone it back somewhat to keep it at a PG-13. There were reports of extensive reshoots being planned for the film to make it scarier and more in line with the creepy tone of the original trailer, which was released to capitalize on the success of It in 2017, but these reshoots never actually happened.

Boone finally finished the film in March of this year, and the production troubles are felt in the finished product. There is a rushed quality to the film that keeps it from going as deep as it could have. The film is just over ninety minutes long including credits, and it feels short, with some pacing challenges along the way. It was initially being planned as the first in a trilogy that is now unlikely to happen, and it feels like a lot of buildup without the necessary payoff. Some of the dialogue is also pretty cheesy.

What we are left with is a film that is imperfect but not outright bad, neither the best nor worst entry into the X-Men franchise. While The New Mutants still passes the time well enough for fans until the next superhero movie comes along, its shortcomings are also quite noticeable and give it an air of disappointment. It’s okay, but ultimately feels like a film that would have benefitted from just being released on a streaming service several months ago.

The New Mutants is now playing in theatres. It’s being distributed by 20th Century Studios.

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