Updated: Sep 16, 2020
Directed by: #JoshBoone
In a world where the superhero blockbuster genre is dominated by the Marvel Cinematic Empire, Twentieth Century Fox desperately clings onto one of its few remaining Marvel Comic properties by releasing Josh Boone’s “The New Mutants” to socially distanced theatre goers; and that desperation certainly shows on screen.
The latest film in the ever-dwindling Fox-Produced X-Men Universe, The New Mutants follows five super-powered teenagers as they attempt to learn to control their various dangerous abilities. Set almost entirely within the sterilized halls of a remote Victorian hospital - picture Arkham Asylum meets the X-Mansion - the young patients are guided by a lone Dr. Reyes towards their hopeful re-integration into normal society, and perhaps even into the ranks of the illustrious (and briefly mentioned) X-Men. However, as the film progresses, the young mutants begin to question whether they are truly patients of this kind Dr. Reyes, or are in fact her prisoners.
The casting for this film is inspired: Maisie Williams, fresh off her completion of Game of Thrones, headlines with Anya Taylor-Joy (The Witch, Emma), Charlie Heaton (Stranger Things), Henry Zaga (13 Reasons Why) and relative new-comer Blu Hunt (The Originals). These young actors are complemented by the experience and overall acting chops of Alice Braga (I am Legend, Elysium), who plays Dr. Reyes. Despite the level of talent available for this piece, the performances feel for the most part wooden and uninspired, especially from our young lead (Blu Hunt). While there are still moments in the film where the performances reach heights you would expect from such an energetic young cast, these are few and far between.
With a relatively low budget of 67 million USD (Dark Phoenix by comparison had a budget of 200 million), the film still manages to retain some semblance of a summer blockbuster. The CGI is more than passable and - at times - inventive, with a large variety of creatures and horrors who appear to have been completely rendered in post-production. However, the lack of overall screen-time afforded to these impressive designs feels like a missed opportunity for the film to have expanded further on some of its more horror-centered themes.
From the outside it appears as if this film isn’t brave enough to fully commit to its identity as a horror movie, this being how it was primarily marketed leading up to its release. It instead lives somewhere in the category of the Harry Potter films, with our young characters running into one or two frightening monsters, but being an overall un-frightening movie. The scariest part of this film is how underused the creepy, “Slender Man”-like creatures from the trailers turn out to be, whose truly terrifying design could have lent genuine fear to this otherwise “faux” horror movie.
Unsurprisingly, Josh Boone (who is primarily known for directing The Fault in our Stars) puts excessive effort into kindling teenage romances between almost all of our young mutants. Rather than this adding depth of character and raising the stakes for our few action set-pieces, these budding romances feel fabricated and shoe-horned into an already distracted premise.
This movie further cements the fact that what made James Mangold’s Logan so successful wasn’t the grit and gore of the “Old Man Logan” style, but the heart that each one of those beloved characters brought to the story. In many ways, this film lacks heart, and while The New Mutants is being distributed by Disney Studios, it also lacks any of the showmanship that has made up for any missing substance in some of the lesser instalments of the recent MCU and Star Wars films which Disney also circulates.
Overall, this feels like a film that is trying to do too much, and failing at the majority of those attempts. Look at the success of similar genre blockbusters, specifically Mad Max: Fury Road and the aforementioned Logan. Both these films have expertly trimmed-down narratives: driving across a wasteland to freedom, then seeking revenge on an individual who has wronged you. These are simple, almost primitive narratives, and yet the beauty of these pieces comes from allowing their characters and plots room to breathe. This allows for character beats and emotional stakes to develop naturally as they go along their journey, rather than having those beats be the character’s journey. Had this film embraced what it was originally advertised to be - a horror movie set in the X-Men universe - instead of bothering with all of the other elements it attempts to juggle, it could have been a refreshing take on an exhausted formula. Instead, it exhausts that formula to the brink of collapse.
After Disney’s acquisition of Twentieth Century Fox, and the reunion of the X-Men and their mother company Marvel, it seems increasingly less likely that we will see any more of these Fox style “X-Movies.” And while audiences will surely cry out for more of the foul-mouthed, fourth wall breaking Deadpool, this writer hopes that the critical reception to The New Mutants will cause producers to let the dust settle on what was once a ground-breaking series of superhero films, before the inevitable reboot some years down the road.