The New Mutants REVIEW – Not The Worst X-Men Movie Ever
Spoilers for The New Mutants follow.
The New Mutants will finally be entering UK cinemas on September 4th after a long period of uncertainty that began in May 2015, when Josh Boone and Knate Lee officially signed with 20th Century Fox after pitching a horror trilogy. The movie was originally scheduled for release on April 13th, 2018, until it was delayed twice to August 2nd, 2019 to avoid other movies. During this time, multiple stories came out discussing many reshoots, suggesting that horror-focused trailers had been so popular that Fox decided to align more in tone with the trailer. This was eventually hindered by Disney acquiring Fox Studios, as The New Mutants had to be incorporated into Disney’s already busy schedule.
Twenty-eight months passed before the film was finally released, and during that time, there was an insurmountable amount of hype. The expectation increased and grew to the stage that when the film came out, it seemed people wanted The New Mutants to prove it was worth the wait. When it isn’t, the instant reaction seems to be to lambast it, Forbes decrying it as the “worst X-Men movie ever”. But the truth is that the only thing the film is guilty of is being a victim of circumstances, specifically a ridiculous amount of delays and being released in cinema in the middle of a global pandemic.
The New Mutants may not be a game-changer, but it is also not a terrible movie. Instead, it’s an average movie that is nothing unique but solidly made with several positives. The film throws you quickly into the action with its claustrophobic atmosphere through the eyes of Danielle ‘Dani’ Moonstar (Blu Hunt in her film debut). After an unknown attack on her reservation that kills her father and leaves her the only survivor, Dani is sequestered to an abandoned hospital controlled by Dr Cecilia Reyes (Alice Braga). There, she is informed that she is a Mutant with an unknown power, and these early scenes utilise the already established close-up shots to convey the enclosed walls of the hospital. In fact, in the first half, the only wide shots are used to minimise Dani in comparison to the massive locations outside, helping demonstrate her overwhelming situation.
These early scenes are vital as they actually inform the intent of the film, which is a character piece that is using horror to focus on real life issues. This is quite reminiscent of the Buffy The Vampire Slayer series from the late 1990s, which used metaphors to convey subtextual issues. Some examples are the feeling of high school being hell, so it’s set on the Mouth of Hell, or the issue of feeling ignored manifesting in turning invisible. In fact, there’s an episode in the first season where a young child is in a coma and his nightmares begin to appear in reality.
Here, Dani’s issues of survivor guilt begin to eat at her, which, combined with her newly burgeoning psionic mutant abilities, cause her to create living nightmares that endanger herself and the other patients. Her relationships with the other patients range from the antagonistic Illyana (Anna Taylor-Joy), to the growing friendship with Rahne (Maisie Williams), but each patient has their own trauma to deal with. Rahne is especially fascinating with her background of being branded as a demon by the Reverend of the strict religious Scottish village she resided in. The conflict of her religious beliefs and her Mutant power of transforming into a wolf is quite reminiscent of real life battles for people from religious upbringings.
This conflict gains more prominence through the relationship between Dani and Rahne, who both begin to help each other heal. At a time when she’s lost her father and is all alone, Dani is comforted by Rahne, while Rahne feels seen and appreciated as her true self. Their development from strangers to friends is gradual but comforting, and they have a lovely scene lying under the force field that prevents their escape, opening themselves up before they kiss. As the first LGBTQ+ couple to headline a superhero film, they bring the subtext of the comics to the forefront.
I actually could have watched a romance of just those two, as both Hunt and Williams have a gentle chemistry that feels natural. In fact, Hunt does better in these moments than the action scenes; she has an innate kindness that shines through. Williams is unsurprisingly her normal solid self, her Scottish accent wavering slightly once or twice, but her shy nature reflects her fearful personality. Her growing confidence is cemented when, despite the horrors she’s experienced, she confirms to Dani that she isn’t afraid of her. A sequel is unlikely, but I would have liked to see where the relationship went from here.
Illyana is volatile and lashes out multiple times, but she’s a survivor of child slavery, having used her teleportation powers to create a limbo that protected her from the horrors she suffered. Her attempts to assert her dominance over Dani are a byproduct of Illyana’s need to protect herself and leads to their clasing. Taylor-Joy balances the nastier elements with moments that detail the trauma she suffered and how damaged she still is. She comforts herself with a hand puppet of a purple dragon called Lockheed, a fan favourite inclusion, a treatment that has previously been cited for helping with child trauma.
The two males are polar opposites in the sheltered, slightly hickish Sam (Charlie Heaton) and the confident lothario Roberto (Henry Zaga), but their friendship and mutual respect surprised me. This subtly enforces the similarities between them instead of the differences, their polarizing backgrounds belying the struggles they both suffered from. Sam’s fear of the dark and lack of control of his launching powers made him cause a mine cave-in that killed his father and mining team, while Roberto accidentally burned his girlfriend. Both of them are afraid of their powers and the lives they could hurt, but their belief and support of one another culminates in them working together to battle antagonistic forces.
And that is the intent of the movie, not to scare the audience, though there are some creepy and unnerving antagonists involved, but to act as a character piece. The culmination of the movie isn’t a giant battle in the sky, or an army advancing. It’s five teenagers able to confront and overcome the issues they’d suffered, becoming stronger in the process. I would have liked to have seen more scenes of the cast interacting, as there are slight jumps in relationships at times, but the briskness of the movie means it doesn’t overstay its welcome.
I entered this film having already heard of the negative reports, and suspected beforehand that The New Mutants would likely turn out to be average more than anything. The entire way through the film, I found myself invested, having fun and curious to see what the issues could have been that caused such vitriol. In the end, I realised that while the film is uncomplicated and relatively generic in its storytelling while still enjoyable, mainly due to the strong cast of talented individuals.
A harmless film that entertains for 100 minutes, The New Mutants is a smaller, more contained story that became weighed down by time, delays, and rumours until eventually it became impossible to succeed. It may not be a classic, but it succeeds with its intentions and breaks down the door of LGBTQ+ representation. Maybe one day, away from the context of the hurdles it encountered over the last twenty-eight months, The New Mutants can gain the appreciation it deserves.
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Bolstered by a strong cast and a heartfelt romance, The New Mutants is a solid character drama with hints of horror. With its use of the supernatural to analyse the deep set traumas of the characters, The New Mutants may reward viewers with surprising depth.
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