Sometimes, you can only laugh at just how much of a sick sense of humor the universe has. The New Mutants, which was arguably the biggest victim of the Disney/Fox merger, had numerous delays, production reshoots scheduled AND canceled, casting controversies, and was ridiculed to the point where it became a practical joke to Marvel fans, movie fans, and comic book fans. Yet, despite a freaking pandemic grinding Hollywood and cinemas to a halt for half a year (and still for much longer), this was the movie that welcomed people back into cinemas in the United States. Not Tenet. Not Mulan. It was The New Mutants (we’re not counting Unhinged).
You can’t help but laugh at just how everything has played out. Nobody was rooting for this movie to succeed. It had all of the odds stacked up against it and whatever fans it did have were in the clear minority. I was one of those fans!
The cherry on top of this insane production should have been that the movie that nobody wanted to see actually turned out to be a great movie, maybe even one of the best movies of 2020. Wouldn’t that just be the ultimate punchline for this saga?
Yeah, that’s not how this story ends.
The New Mutants
Director: Josh Boone
Release Date: August 28, 2020
Before getting into this review, I just wanted to say to please consider your health before going to see this movie. We’ve reiterated this numerous times on this site, but no movie is worth dying over, so please make sure that IF you are seeing The New Mutants, or any other major movie, do so in a safe environment. If a new release has a digital alternative, try to view it there. I personally saw this movie at a local drive-in (which was awesome for the record), but if you’re going into an AMC, Cinemark, Bowtie, Regal, or what have you, please be sure to follow all safety protocols, wear a mask, maintain social distancing, and wash your hands. Or just wait until it gets a digital release. Trust me, you’re not missing out on much here.
Anyway, the story of The New Mutants centers on one Dani Moonstar (Blu Hunt), a Native-American teenage girl who wakes up in a psychiatric hospital after the Cheyenne reservation she lives on is destroyed by a tornado. The head physician there, Dr. Reyes (Alice Braga) informs her that she’s a mutant and she’s at the facility to better control and identify her powers before they can emerge and potentially cause harm to others. There are four other teenagers there that are all displaying mutant powers but each of them slowly begins to see various illusions and monsters that are tied directly to their past. All the while, the group is wondering if they’re at Dr. Reyes’ facility to get better or to be imprisoned.
The New Mutants is pretty upfront about it having a more horror-centric depiction of superheroes. None of the characters admit to being heroes — there’s no spandex or cool one-liners — and are instead trying to overcome the trauma of their pasts. All of the main characters’ respective traumas are explored to various degrees, but they never feel substantial in any meaningful way. Out of the five, Roberto da Costa (Henry Zaga) has the clearest arc, where his combustion powers led to his girlfriend dying, hence his hesitation to ever use them. The rest of the quintet never truly feel fleshed out by the end fo the movie, instead using their personified fears as set dressing without ever exploring what makes them tick.
I’m kind of blown away by just how hard it is to follow what happened in The New Mutants. The movie somehow manages to take a simple premise and complicates it without actually explaining half of the things it establishes. Some characters receive very little, if any, development, some powers aren’t explained, and major revelations that feel like they should be groundbreaking have little impact.
It’s clear that director Josh Boone’s planned reshoots would have helped to alleviate this problem, but that in itself is one of the biggest problems that The New Mutants has: it meanders without any real goal. Most of the time is spent just hanging out with the characters as they sit in half-assed therapy sessions and watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer instead of actually advancing any plot. By the time we’re an hour in, the movie practically trips over itself to deliver a climax that is equally ridiculous and nonsensical. It almost entirely abandons the little horror elements that were present just to make sure that the people who were expecting action scenes got their fill.
While we’ll never know the true extent of the reshoots outside of attempting to deliver more horror, they probably would have helped to flesh the plot out significantly. Actually, let’s take a step back and talk about the horror since that was the key selling point on the movie for me. Boy, that horror sure is there alright! I like the design of the Smiley Men, although their presence is convoluted, to say the least, and they vanish almost as quickly as they appear. Besides some dingy environments and a few “creepy” sequences at the very beginning of the movie, this isn’t even close to being scary. It’s an accessible horror fit for a YA audience with no bark and very little bite.
I do like the central relationship between Dani and another patient, Rahne Sinclair (Maisie Willaims). They develop a genuine bond and for what little time the two shared with each other, I had to crack a smile and hope that these two would turn out alright in the end. Granted, Maisie Williams donned a pretty lackluster Scottish accent for the part that seemed to fade in and out in between scenes, but I’ll take what I can get.
It’s almost a shame that so much was riding against this movie, to the point where it’s almost impossible for me to see it in any meaningful, positive light. I gave it a fair shot, went into it thinking that it would rise above all of the negativity, but it just couldn’t do it. As much as I hate to admit it, The New Mutants is bad.
Oh, it’s not as bad as Dark Phoenix or Apocalypse, the two previous X-Men movies, but to not be as bad as those two is weak praise. It’s not as if there are horrible character moments, terrible special effects, a weak plot, or an over encumbering specter of continuity hanging over The New Mutants like a sword of Damocles. It functions, but it’s wholly unremarkable and fails to do anything meaningful with its horror infused premise. It felt like something you would watch on the Syfy Channel. After two decades of Fox produced X-Men titles, the fact that this is how it all ends is just depressing.
After a saga that took years, I wanted to be the one to boldly claim that The New Mutants was something worth seeing. Given that the movie released right in the middle of a pandemic, has a crippled final cut that feels emaciated, and there are absolutely no plans to expand upon this movie via MCU integration, I can’t in good conscious say that it was worth the ridiculously long wait. The New Mutants will be a footnote in the superhero genre as an example of how everything that can go wrong in a production will go wrong.