“The New Mutants” stars Maisie Williams, Anya Taylor-Joy, Charlie Heaton, Alice Braga, Blu Hunt, and Henry Zaga. Released on August 28, 2020, the film has a group of mutants fighting their way out of a secret facility.
The film is directed by Josh Boone, who also directed “Stuck in Love” and “The Fault in Our Stars”, and it is based on the Marvel Comics team of the same name created by Chris Claremont and Bob McLeod. It turns out that the members of the X-Men aren’t the only ones who are cursed with mutant powers. The X-Men film franchise from Fox may have gone under thanks to the underwhelming results of “Dark Phoenix”, but there’s at least one more mutant-related story to tell within that universe before Disney reboots it for their humongous beast that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This film went through a pretty unusual process to get itself released to the public, ranging from its planned reshoots to the constant release date changes, with the latter being a big thorn on its side. Originally slated for a 2018 release, the film was delayed numerous times for a few reasons such as the planned reshoots as mentioned before, the process of Disney acquiring 20th Century Fox, and the COVID-19 pandemic. These delays caused people to believe that the superhero horror film is “cursed” and that it will never be shown to the public. Luckily, the studio behind the film was able to still push forward with a theatrical release despite the rumors about releasing it on streaming services. After two years of patience (and five months of staying home due to the pandemic shutting down movie theaters), the film has finally made its way to the silver screen. That’s right, folks, the theaters are finally starting to open back up, which means that this will be my first review of a theatrical release since the pandemic shut everything down back in March. With that said, was this latest superhero film worth a trip back to the cinema? More importantly, was it able to bring Fox’s mutant franchise to a suitable close? Let’s find out.
Described as a horror film set in the X-Men universe, the story follows five teenagers who have been gifted, or in this case, cursed with unusual abilities. Rahne Sinclair (Williams) has the ability to turn into a wolf, Illyana Rasputin (Taylor-Joy) has magic powers and can open portals to the Limbo dimension, Sam Guthrie (Heaton) can fly really fast, Danielle Moonstar (Hunt) can create illusions based on people’s fears and desires, and Roberto da Costa (Zaga) can manipulate solar energy. They are held in a secret facility helmed by Cecilia Reyes (Braga), a medical doctor who serves as their mentor. When they discover the secrets that lie within the facility, the mutants must join forces with one another to escape their prison. Along the way, they are forced to confront the sins from their past. After making a name for himself with his works in the romance genre, Josh Boone made an unexpected shift from making audiences cry with the lovey-dovey stuff to scaring the pants out of them with creepy imagery. Considering his filmography, I still find this shift to be an unusual surprise. A superhero film with horror elements isn’t entirely new as this genre was already explored in other films like “Blade”, “Ghost Rider”, and last year’s “Brightburn”, so if you’ve seen any of these films, you might know what you’ll expect from “The New Mutants”. Unlike the other installments in the X-Men franchise, the film is a self-contained and eerie superhero film that favors atmospheric hauntings over giant action set pieces, which makes itself stand out above the typical big-budget superhero blockbusters we all know and love. While I can admit that the creepy atmospheric shots were nicely handled by Boone, I happened to find myself a bit mixed on the overall experience. The story represents these characters dealing with the fears that have haunted them due to their mutant abilities, which is not uncommon in a world where humans live alongside mutants. To its credit, the film did make some sort of effort in creating a tolerable plot and making the main characters likable, especially Danielle, who serves as the main focus of the film, and Rahne, one of the patients that Danielle befriends. It started out with some promise, but once the second half kicks in, it unfortunately went downhill from there. There were definitely some moments that kept me engaged for a little bit, but other than that, this is another generic X-Men installment that didn’t exactly live up to its full potential, mostly because of its familiar genre elements and its failure to generate more depth in its characters. As something that looks and feels like a horror film, this has got to be the least terrifying thing I have ever experienced. Then again, nothing really terrified me that much except “The Lighthouse” and "Hereditary". It didn’t have a lot of false jump scares, so I applaud the director for not going down that route, but his execution on the scares just didn’t work for me. Even the creatures shown on screen, such as the Smiley Men, weren’t that horrifying despite the designs and the CGI being “okay-ish”. When I first saw the Smiley Men, which were demonic creatures from the Limbo dimension, the only thing that came to my mind was “Slender Man with a mouth” and nothing else. It’s more weird-looking than scary, and that, to me, is why it failed to make the horror genre work well with the superhero elements. There were also some scenes that tried to generate some humor into its tone. Those scenes alone were a bit amusing in my eyes, but I don’t think everyone else will feel the same way. For the most part, the main cast worked really well together in terms of their performances. Williams and Taylor-Joy delivered some passable performances as Rahne and Illyana respectively, even though their accents were on the “okay” side on the accent scale. Blu Hunt made her first film debut as Danielle, and I thought she did a pretty good job. It’s nothing too special, but like the other newcomers, she impressed me well enough to make me want to see more of her in the future. As I mentioned before, I did appreciate the authentic atmosphere that Josh Boone brought to the film’s simplistic location as well as the lighting and its decent cinematography. It’s too bad that he wasn’t able to generate some proper scares with these technical aspects.
Overall, “The New Mutants” has an interesting premise with a decent cast and a brooding atmosphere, but it wasn’t able to fully capitalize on it as it went on. Like “Dark Phoenix”, the film failed to bring the mutant-filled cinematic journey that started with the first “X-Men” movie to a satisfying close. Despite a tolerable cast, Boone’s handling of its atmosphere, and some passable visuals, the film is a generic, yet watchable, superhero film that’s overwhelmed by subpar plot elements, bland scares, and a disappointing second half. While I wouldn’t say that it’s as mediocre as “Bloodshot”, I would say that it’s not a great way to close off Fox's “X-Men” film series. The franchise started out as one of the key elements that put the superhero genre on Hollywood’s map only to have faltered across the finish line with the likes of “Dark Phoenix” and this film. Definitely not the way to finish things off on a high note, Fox. It’s definitely a roller coaster that everyone will remember for a pretty long time…at least until Disney reboots it for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. If you’re still interested in seeing it, I would say it’s worth waiting until it’s on television. I don’t think it’s worth going back to the cinema for in the midst of the pandemic, in my personal opinion.