THE NEW MUTANTS (2020)
Five young mutants, just discovering their abilities while held in a secret facility against their will, fight to escape their past sins and save themselves.
Based on the comic-books by Chris Claremont and Bob McLeod, first published in 1982, The New Mutants started development around the time X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014) was released to widespread acclaim. 20th Century Fox had successfully combined the past and future casts of its esteemed X-Men franchise, and then found equal success with their edgy spin-off Deadpool (2016) and mature drama Logan (2017).
In competing with the Marvel Cinematic Universe (which their Marvel characters existed outside of due to a licensing agreement), Fox was making good progress in broadening their X-Men universe. A spin-off focused on younger characters seemed like a great idea (as the character of young X-23 from Logan had proved popular), but The New Mutants’ slow birth happened as Disney bought Fox and X-Men suddenly belonged to Marvel Studios. Suddenly, it didn’t seem like a new beginning for fresh characters running parallel to the tentpole X-Men saga, but a project commissioned by now impotent studios bosses whose longterm plan couldn’t be fulfilled.
A test screening for The New Mutants apparently went well, but after the success of It (2017) they produced a trailer that played up the horror elements to appeal to that audience. This had been director Josh Boone’s original intention when he co-wrote the screenplay, but it wasn’t how filming had been allowed to proceed, so reshoots were requested by Fox to add more scares and darken the tone. Unfortunately, once Fox were absorbed into Disney, the new studio bosses didn’t want to finance those expensive reshoots, believing they wouldn’t salvage something they didn’t have much faith in. And The New Mutants was now part of an X-Men continuity that just flopped at the box office with the critically reviled X-Men: Dark Phoenix (2019).
Eventually, after significant delays (exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic closing cinemas around the world), The New Mutants shuffled onto US cinemas in August 2020 (alongside Tenet) and was greeted with a collective shrug. But did audiences miss a good film because of bad management and a stench of failure it couldn’t shake before its belated release? Sadly, no.
Dani Moonstar (Blu Hunt) awakens inside a hospital after surviving a tornado that destroyed her family home, before her father was killed by some unseen entity. Dr Reyes (Alice Braga) is assigned to Dani’s care, explaining she’s a mutant with unspecified abilities, so she’ll have to be assessed alongside the other patients: a Scottish girl called Rahne Sinclair (Maisie Williams) who can transform into a wolf; Russian sorceress Illyana Rasputin (Anya Taylor-Joy), who can teleport and has a small purple dragon; Sam Guthrie (Charlie Heaton), who can become indestructible once propelled into the air; and Bobby da Costa (Henry Zaga), who manipulates solar energy.
The New Mutants is a long-running comic-book with plenty of fans, so the premise of this film is on solid ground. It’s The Breakfast Club (1985) with superheroes, only with a tone closer to Nightmare on Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors (1987). The X-Men series could easily involve young teenagers, but it primarily focused on the older students or teachers, so a movie with a more youthful perspective on this universe sounds promising. And it’s even juicier to know these are troubled kids, who pose more a threat to themselves or others because they have dangerous mutant abilities to lash out at authority figures with.
The problem is, The New Mutants is incredibly boring. The characters are established well enough (particularly Blu, Rahne, and Illyana), but so much of this film relies on their interpersonal stories taking place in a single location. There have been many films set inside asylums and hospitals with an intimate cast, but they all contain fascinating characters and staff members. The New Mutants just doesn’t have anything of interest to show us, despite having assembled a talented mix of young actors doing their best with the material they’ve been given.
It also doesn’t help that Dr Reyes is the only person who seems to work at this facility, so The New Mutants spends too long with decent characters doing nothing in particular. And when you’re going into the film knowing it’s part of the X-Men universe, there’s unavoidable expectations with that brand which this film fails to deliver on. I have no idea how it cost a reported $67-80M to make, as it often doesn’t feel any grander than an average television pilot. Ironically, that would probably have been the best place for this idea, telling a story over numerous instalments that pass the spotlight around to each character and fully explore their backstories. Condensed into 94-minutes, there isn’t enough time to build satisfying connections with anyone before a climax arrives that’s full of VFX but boils down to a skirmish inside a church against a phantom Bear. It’s a sequence that’s fun to watch (it feels like an oasis in a desert) but difficult to care about, as you’re not the invested in anyone involved in the fight.
It’s difficult pin down exactly why this film went off the tracks so badly, as the project was clearly dealt some difficult blows along the way. Josh Boone’s darker vision was met with resistance from Fox, who annoyingly backtracked when it had already been shot (just because they saw It make money), and then the acquisition by Disney added further complications because nobody at Marvel was particularly thrilled to have this remnant from Fox’s X-Men era hanging around without a future. It only got released in cinemas rather than Disney+ or Hulu because of a contractual obligation with Boone himself.
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USA | 2020 | 94 MINUTES | 1.85:1 | COLOUR | ENGLISH • PORTUGESE • LATIN
Whatever its shortcomings as a film, The New Mutants has a great transfer in 1080p HD Blu-ray, despite its somewhat dull colour palette. Flesh tones are natural, contrast is excellent, and there are fine details in the shadows without things appearing too washed out.
The DTS-HD 7.1 Master Audio soundtrack is also strong, with dialogue anchored nicely and enough movement across the speakers to be entertaining during the occasional instances of action. Dynamic range is fantastic and the music integrates well with the sound effects and dialogue.
Bonus material is listed below, but was unavailable for review due to the COVID-19 pandemic:
The film is also available on 4K Ultra HD.
director: Josh Boone.
writers: Josh Boone & Knate Lee (based on ‘New Mutants’ by Chris Claremont & Bob McLeod).
starring: Maisie Williams, Anya Taylor-Joy, Charlie Heaton, Alice Braga, Blu Hunt & Henry Zaga.