To say that The New Mutants has had a bumpy road to the big screen would be an understatement. Originally planned as an X-Men spin-off film to be released in 2018 alongside Deadpool 2 and Dark Phoenix, the first teaser trailer for The New Mutants was released on 13 October 2017, with the film set follow on 13 April 2018. Then, it got delayed. And delayed again. And after planned re-shoots went awry, the entire 20th Century Fox X-Men franchise dissolved with an Avengers: Infinity War-style snap. Having finally been released on 28th August 2020 (a wider UK release is planned for 4th September), The New Mutants feels like a relic from a simpler time, when Covid-19 was but a horrible thought and 20th Century Fox was a film studio. Now, it acts as a finale of sorts to the 20-year-spanning X-Men film series under Fox.
The story sees young mutant Danielle Moonstar (Blu Hunt) awaken to find herself in an eerie hospital after a tornado ravages her home. She’s looked after by the slightly unsettling Dr Reyes (Alice Braga), and joined by other “new mutants” Rahne Sinclair (Maisie Williams), Illyana Rasputin (Anya Taylor-Joy), Sam Guthrie (Charlie Heaton) and Roberto da Costa (Henry Zaga). But the hospital is not what it seems, and soon each mutant is haunted by apparitions from their past determined to destroy each and every one of them. Can the new mutants band together and save themselves? Or will they succumb to the Demon Bear…?
Despite its complex production, co-writer/director Josh Boone clearly had some interesting ideas for The New Mutants – whether it be the mix of teen angst, horror and superheroes, or the rather touching romance between Dani and Rahne. Each character arrives fully-formed, but the script struggles to work out how to introduce everyone and explain their backstories. Many key character beats and story elements feel brushed over or simply ignored. And while the apparitions at first seem like the perfect opportunity to show rather than tell, they feel too brief to really add-up to anything. Illyana recollects being attacked by sinister smiling men (a reference to The Gentlemen from Buffy the Vampire Slayer so obvious that their TV counterparts are glimpsed on a TV by the leads shortly before appearing in the film), but it’s never explained who they are, why they attacked her or why this disturbs her so much – especially given that the character can transform her hand into a sword and slice them to pieces.
There’s also clearly some plot-points intended to tie-in to other X-Men films, with some flashback/dream sequence shots appearing to have been lifted straight from Logan, and a third-act reveal that ties in to the ending to X-Men: Apocalypse. Even with references to X-Men, mutants and a nod to Professor X, The New Mutants feels like its own beast, and does aspire to be a unique entry in the franchise. Unfortunately, the horror elements feel half-baked, the character development can be quite patchy at best, and the superhero elements only really manifest at the end. There are moments where it tries to raise the bar and become something truly special, but it ultimately has very little to offer. Even when the Demon Bear shows up, it feels so late in the day, with little screen-time, that it barely makes an impression; and if a giant bear attacking a haunted hospital can’t save a film, what can?!
It’s clear that there was a lot of passion for the film though, and the cast are all excellent in spite of some clunky dialogue. Blu Hunt is a very compelling lead (who strangely doesn’t get top-billing), while her chemistry with Maisie Williams feels appropriately awkward and lovely (even if it is clumsily foreshadowed by yet another Buffy the Vampire Slayer clip playing on a TV). Anya Taylor-Joy is clearly having a lot of fun as Illyana, and while the Russian accent feels a little over-the-top, she’s so watchable that I can’t really complain too much. When she jumps through a portal to fight a giant bear with glowing eyes, a dragon on her shoulder and a sword in her hand, one can see the film we could have had, but sadly don’t. Alice Braga is utterly wasted here, while Charlie Heaton essentially reprises his role from Stranger Things with a different accent and a seemingly-useless superpower, and Henry Zaga is saddled with the least-interesting character and the blandest ability. It wasn’t until afterwards I discovered that he was playing a character who previously appeared in X-Men: Days of Future Past.
Overall, The New Mutants certainly isn’t a bad film, but it’s so by-the-numbers that I can’t say it’s any good either. There are glimmers of potential, and is perfectly watchable – and thankfully not the travesty that Fantastic Four (2015) was – but it’ll be a struggle to remember it a week from now. The cinematography is dull and grey, Boone’s direction isn’t particularly stylish or energetic, and Mark Snow‘s score is just bland. There are clearly a lot of interesting ideas at play, and with a cast this good I could imagine The New Mutants spawning better – and more exciting – sequels, but alas this will never be. In a parallel universe, we’d probably be eagerly awaiting a second entry to this franchise, but in this universe The New Mutants is best left as an interesting experiment that never quite paid-off.