Synopsis – 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.
My Take – I think many will adhere to the fact that unlike their counterpart the Disney owned Marvel Cinematic Universe, the previously Fox owned X-Men franchise, on a comparison scale, has been hit and miss at best.
Sure, the Bryan Singer directed 2000 film deserves all adulation for revolutionizing the superhero genre, and its 2003 sequel, X2, for setting even newer benchmarks at the time of its release, but with every high this 20-year long franchise hit with films like First Class, Days of Future Past, Deadpool, Logan, and Deadpool 2, it also disappointed with atrocities in the form of The Last Stand, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, The Wolverine, Apocalypse and last year’s franchise derailing Dark Phoenix.
Yet right from its first look, this Josh Boone directed film (which finished filming in 2017) stood out from the lot, as it seemed like everything the franchise and the audience needed, a fresh perspective in the form of an intimate YA-inflected horror story surrounding an unknown team of super-powered youngsters, leading to increasing curiosity as soon as the first trailer dropped. And then the release date shifts began.
With a record number of seven date changes, this last entry of the now-scrapped X-Men Cinematic Universe didn’t seem destined to release in theaters at all, but defying naysayers, it is finally out, that too right in the middle of a pandemic.
While I kept my expectations optimistic hoping that the film’s delay was solely as a result of the Disney/Fox merger and had nothing to do with the film’s quality and director Boon‘s vision, I am disappointed to say the final result is something that’s sure to irk hardcore fans and general audiences alike, with even original co-creator Bob McLeod taking a dig at its controversial casting and for misspelling his name in the credits.
Sure, the film deserves credit for attempting a creative approach to the genre, but unfortunately it just limps from plot point to point for 94 minutes until it unceremoniously ends. Feeling more like a great idea that just didn’t follow through.
The story follows Danielle “Dani” Moonstar/Mirage (Blu Hunt), a Native American teenager, who following her escape from a tornado attack on her reservation wakes up in a hospital run by Dr. Cecilia Reyes (Alice Braga), who not only informs her that she is the sole survivor of her community, but is also a mutant. And as she has not been able to figure out her abilities, Dani will have to stay in the facility in order to harness them, before she can considered safe to go back to society.
However, Dani is not the only resident and is quickly introduced to Rahne Sinclair/Wolfsbane (Maisie Williams), Samuel “Sam” Guthrie/Cannonball (Charlie Heaton), Roberto “Bobby” da Costa/Sunspot (Henry Zaga) and the incredibly callous Illyana Rasputin/Magik (Anya Taylor-Joy). All of whom who have been part of tragedies which has led to their institutionalization. At first the group seems positive about their ‘treatment’ which Dr. Reyes so strictly wants them to abide to, in order for them to move to the next facility run by Professor Charles Xavier, the renowned leader of the mutant superhero team X-Men, but soon enough they realize something malicious is haunting them bringing out their true fears in real form.
Conceptually the film has a lot of interesting elements, after all doesn’t a superhero horror film inspired from The Breakfast Club seem like a great idea? Unfortunately, these elements don’t proceed beyond the idea stage, as it never fully embraces this inventive opportunity, turning this Josh Boone directorial as messy as last year’s Dark Phoenix, albeit comparatively more entertaining.
The film just moves from scare scenes to a teen-flick with attitude, but never fully embodies one direction or the other, leaving it without any form of impact, along with a same-sex romance subplot that feels entirely cynical. The film also dares to touch serious topics like as suicide, trauma and racism, but they are quickly dropped within minutes.
The real problem with the film is a failure to evolve beyond the superficial, as here director Boone assigns teen mutants to teenage clichés, like the misunderstood jock or mean girl with a dark back story and expects the audience to feel something because there are violins playing in the background. And although she’s positioned as the lead, Dani is scarcely given any chance to grow as a character. All the film’s emotional development is done around her, by other cast members. It’s a missed opportunity for Dani and for the audience, and a real damn shame considering the absolute rarity of lead roles for Native Americans.
Coming to the horror, the biggest selling point of the film, is nothing but unimaginative and toothless, relying on the least inspired of tropes and doing nothing fresh or interesting with them. A confession scene, a slender man inspiration with sharp teeth beneath a smiley face, and a burnt, screaming CGI corpse didn’t have to be weightless and uninteresting, but the film surrounding them is a pace-less mess, that relies on loud noises, lots of running to falsely convey energy, and completely ineffective quick cuts that don’t disorient like they should.
In fairness, the film isn’t all bad, it is watchable, with the best element being the spectacle filled climax, which reveals the antagonist, Demon Bear, in full form, and sees our leads going up against him with their respective set of powers.
The performances are not bad too. Anya Taylor-Joy seems to have had a blast in role, mixed with rebelliousness and weirdness, while Blu Hunt, Maisie Williams, Charlie Heaton, and Henry Zaga manage to be likeable. However, Alice Braga is potentially wasted here. On the whole, ‘The New Mutants’ is a disappointing superhero horror which doesn’t deliver on its promised potential.
Directed – Josh Boone
Rated – PG13
Run Time – 94 minutes