Director: Josh Boone
Stars: Blu Hunt, Anya Taylor-Joy, Maisie Williams
Given that the combined efforts of the MCU and DCEU (is that right?) have bludgeoned virtually all enthusiasm to watch superhero movies from my shambling body, my very visit to see The New Mutants is as much a surprise to me as anyone. Especially given how downright forgettable I’ve found every X-Men movie I’ve come into contact with (yes, even the ‘good’ ones; put a gun to my head and I couldn’t tell you a single plot synopsis). However, this one sticks out for a few reasons:
- It’s horror-themed and I’m a sucker for anything that way inclined
- Anya Taylor-Joy is in it and I hold a rather basic bias there
- The sheer struggle it seems to have taken to get this to us, only for it to be dropped the same weekend as Tenet during a fricking pandemic.
If I drove I guess I’d be the type to slow down to see the wrecks.
The New Mutants isn’t coy about it’s relationship to X-Men, and the large-looming Marvel Studios logo at the beginning rather helpfully underlines that. Yet giving superheroes a horror spin at least shows sign of trying to spice up an exceedingly tired formula. With their younger audience in mind, director Josh Boone and his team have molded this into a kind of YA or ‘gateway’ horror; seasoning a fairly routine story with a few of the tropes of Hollywood’s glossier genre pieces. It feels similar, in that respect, to last year’s Scary Stories. And its about as effective.
Danielle Moonstar (Blu Hunt) is the lone survivor of a mysterious disaster that befalls a Cherokee reservation. She wakes in a kind of psychiatric facility supervised by a lone physician, Dr. Reyes (Alice Braga). There, she is told she has manifested mutant powers, and is ‘sequestered’ in a program that hopes to help her understand and control her burgeoning abilities. In the common room she gets to meet her new peers; Wolverette Rahne (Maisie Williams; accent unknown), Brazilian human torch Roberto (Henry Zaga), coal mine cave-in survivor Sam (Charlie Heaton) and a sock-puppet-sporting Russian brat named Illyana (Anya-Taylor-Joy). Soon – very soon – all of them begin suffering serious nightmares that bring their dark pasts back to haunt them, with some very real-world consequences.
The asylum setting evokes a mood of morbid severity all of its own, but otherwise The New Mutants struggles to pick a tone, torn as it is between playing dress-up as a horror movie and deferring to it’s natural roots; the comic-book flick. The young actors are a mixed bunch. Perhaps tellingly, the more seasoned here come off better. Taylor-Joy has presence, and of all these fledglings, only her Illyana carries the potential for workable spin-off stardom. Get past her dis-associative approach to accent(s), and Williams also shows that she’s got a bit more to her than Arya Stark. Hunt and Zaga struggle to bring much to the table beyond the wide-eyed earnestness of the young and the pretty.
Where The New Mutants fares better is with its interest in these youngsters. It’s a slim movie, but it takes the time to encourage us to care, particularly for the furtive relationship that grows between Rahne and Danielle; something keyed in not just by the actors but a pointed detour into Buffy the Vampire Slayer reverence. Strangely, this comes up again later on when a cadre of beasties from Illyana’s subconscious attack, taking a form not wholly dissimilar to The Gentlemen from the series’ episode ‘Hush’… which plays on the screen (rather distractingly) just moments before all hell breaks loose. The point of the story isn’t that Joss Whedon’s TV series is coming to life, but a case could be made. And, between her flourishing sexual preferences and indigenous heritage, Danielle at least shows some effort on Marvel’s part to broaden their palette.
Ultimately, the proto-horror trappings are just costuming for some fairly standard origin-story hi-jinx. Come the third act showdown, The New Mutants reverts to type, corralling its bickering heroes into working together to defeat a supernatural baddie. Still, this is handled fairly nicely and comes with both a sledgehammer life lesson in accepting yourself and plenty of cheesy dialogue exchanges. With franchisability established, the curtain goes down on what seems intended as the first in a slew of adventures…
Though we’ll probably not see what could’ve come next. Thanks to the weighty lore that has surrounded the dogged production and protracted release, The New Mutants has entered the collective consciousness as an assumed failure. It is rather tepid, granted, but it’s by no means the worst offender in the cluttered histories of either superhero movies or horrors for that matter. Some scene transitions feel stilted and choppy (one gets the sense this went through the wringer a bit), but on the whole and given the circumstances, this could’ve come out much worse.
Instead of the one gawking at a wreck, it turns out I’m the guy waving you on your way, cautioning, “Nothing to see here, folks”. But peeking won’t hurt.