First things first, like many I’m unfamiliar with the source material for The New Mutants and while I am acquainted with slight X-Men-esque connections, these specific characters were new to my world. While I heard numerous reports and reasons for delays over the theatrical release, which in fairness came down to a few things that scattered across production and then ‘2020’, this then created an equal mix of expectation and unease for what was coming.
As an initial reaction, I found The New Mutants reasonably ordinary in the world of comic-book adaptations, which never really excels on either side of the good/bad spectrum and was rather a simple watch, with the usual comments on self-worth, internal strength, and the literal desire to fight off unwanted demons that lurk within and, in this case, gestate into the form of real ones. The setup is this: We follow a group of five who are under the medical wing of Alice Braga’s Dr Cecilia Reyes in an old military hospital that’s in a secret location, but only 15-20 miles away from civilisation.
The five youngsters are Dani Moonstar (Blu Hunt), Rahne Sinclair (Maisie Williams), Sam Guthrie (Charlie Heaton), Roberto da Costa (Henry Zaga), and Illyana Rasputin (Anya Taylor-Joy). They’re at this facility to go through treatment to help them with their mutant powers, to discover how to manage them and move off into their individual worlds or, you saw it coming, are they?! Of course, there are other stories at play here – and you’ll learn what their powers are – as the film ends up going down the road of questioning what’s real and what’s isn’t. To a certain degree anyway.
Director Josh Boone keeps the visual palette dark and his script, co-written with Knate Lee, involves classic teenager banter back and forth, in ways we’ve heard before. There are no real surprises, as the obvious ‘new girl’ isn’t trusted by those already there and, specifically Anya Taylor-Joy’s IlIyana takes it on herself to be the nasty one, not excessively but just enough to cause friction that will – of course – lead up to some kind of fight or confrontation. Whether these New Mutants are an allegory for any of the classic tropes of ‘fighting’ something within isn’t really questioned, because it clearly is the theme here.
Despite it taking a while to really get going, and for some reason it reminded me of films like Gothika, i.e you’re not quite sure if what you’re seeing is truth or their mental well-being, The New Mutants is watchable, and not actually as offensive as I thought it would be. There are questions over IIIyana’s obvious racist behaviour towards Dani and while it exists, Dani does get an opportunity to shut her down… and she does. The role of Illyana as a protagonist to rile the rest is easy enough, and when you’ve got someone as good as Taylor-Joy in that place, well, she’s always going to succeed at whatever she’s portraying.
While I guess the themes in The New Mutants are supposed to be deep, they’re mainly put forward on a flat playing-field, they’re never overly provocative, nor too complex. There may be a suggestion of depth, yet it never dives in beyond the obvious suggestion, so gives us surface level character work. The only relationship that really hits home with real heart is between Maisie Williams’ Rahne and Blu Hunt’s Dani, when delving into their true feelings with honest conversations.
Overall, each character does have their own ‘moment’ in and out of their darkness, and it’s all very acceptable. It’s possible the disconnection to everything comes from not really knowing ‘why’ they have their power, whatever that power is, it’s just there and they’re working out ways to use it – plus some Stranger Things-esque monsters that don’t even feel part of the scene later on. Too often it feels like a late-night Channel 4 soap edition of the original X-Men with a younger cast, and while there are decent performances from the women involved, the male roles are quite underwhelming and, as a whole, it’s all a bit forgettable. One positive? It’s got an impressive CGI bear.