No One Is Coming to Save Humdrum Hero-Horror The New Mutants (2020) From Itself
Title: The New Mutants
First Wide Release: August 26, 2020 (Theatrical Release)
Director: Josh Boone
Writer: Josh Boone, Knate Lee
Runtime: 94 Minutes
Starring: Maisie Williams, Anya Taylor-Joy, Charlie Heaton, Alice Braga, Henry Zaga, Blu Hunt
Where to Watch: Check out where to find it here
After watching her town get destroyed by a terrifying supernatural force, Dani Moonstar (Blu Hunt) awakens in a hospital room with no recollection of she got there. She meets Dr. Reyes (Alice Braga) who explains that a terrible tragedy has claimed the lives of everyone in her village and that she was taken to an institution for uncommon teenagers with special abilities. Dr. Reyes introduces Dani to four other patients: Rahne Sinclair (Maisie Williams), Ilyana Rasputin (Anya Taylor-Joy), Roberto da Costa (Henry Zaga), and Sam Guthrie (Charlie Heaton). They all believe that Dr. Reyes is there to help them, until they begin to experience intense hallucinations that manifest from their deepest fears.
The New Mutants is an almost enjoyable film that gets frustratingly close to something special.
After years in development hell, Josh Boone finally gets to see his The New Mutants come to life onscreen. Unfortunately, the re-writes, re-shoots, and changes likely altered this dark superhero movie to a point where no one could save it. I don’t want to use this as an excuse for its clunky story or awkward characterizations, but rather have it served as an explanation why a film loaded with so much talent could fall so far.
There’s a distinct lack of identity within The New Mutants. Some of this may naturally arise from the film’s premise of young adults grappling with their burgeoning powers and coming-of-age in a perilous environment. It tries to sell the intrigue of a superhero film while pushing for the creepiness of a horror flick and the sentimentality of a coming-of-age film. It doesn’t really do any of them justice. The story changes direction so often that it gets hard to pin down exactly what is happening.
We also learn very little about the characters which makes it harder to care about their motivations. It never really focuses on a central antagonist to root against. There’s this constant shifting between character, entity, or idea that none of them feel credible. Dr. Reyes is particularly sidelined. Her arc never really amounts to much, which is disappointing considering that she was lifted up as one of the central threats for the longest portion of the film.
Once we get closer to the end of the film, things continue to fall apart in the worst ways. The dialogue gets cringier, the emotional weight is lacking, and the monster at the end doesn’t land right. While it doesn’t look bad, there is something intrinsically non-threatening about the spirit bear. It kept my attention the entire way through, but it was mostly from interest in the material rather than anything the film did on its own merits.
I would love to see what the original film looked like without the studio interference. I presume some of my complaints would still be present. Hunt’s performance, while great for her first feature film, does leave something to be desired for a film’s lead, and the direction of straddling of too many genres without committing fully to any are two issues I feel would be present in the original cut.
There are some bright spots in the film. Taylor-Joy and Williams both give incredibly nuanced performances with the little material they are given. The lighting is appropriately moody and provided a sinister and threatening ambiance through the entirety of the film. Top notch special effects and set pieces are used to elevate the film’s horror edge to an enthusiastic level. I am particularly fond of Ilyana’s alternate dimension, as it struck the right balance of terror and marvel.
At the end of the day, it all comes down to your expectations. If you are a fan of the comics, you will likely find that it does not live up to the potential of its premise nor the quality of its source material. For casual filmgoers, the experience may be confounding due to lack of context or moments of fan service. It’s not the worst film of 2020, nor is it the best. The New Mutants is an otherwise average film inhabiting a more special and powerful universe than it could replicate.
Overall Score? 5.5/10