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A-Ron’s New Movie Reviews: “The New Mutants” (2020)

After it’s three year delay, Marvel’s “The New Mutants” has finally arrived. Those going in expecting a complete disaster such as the Josh Trank “Fantastic Four” fiasco, thankfully won’t get that but what they are getting isn’t great either. So don’t get too excited. With a more seasoned filmmaker on hand and a better thought out script, it might’ve led to that envelope pushing entry into the “X-Men” universe.  “The New Mutants” falls more in line with a Young Adult novel turned movie. “The Fault In Our Stars” director had envisioned “New Mutants” as a sort of “Breakfast Club” tale of teen angst, coming off the wild success of “IT” and “Stranger Things”. Boone uses a structured approach from all of the aforementioned films within it’s blend of teen drama, horror and “X-Men” mythos. The big idea behind “New Mutants” was to build a horror movie centered on super powered teens, but it feels more like a tv pilot for a soon to be canceled series. The horror scares aren’t impactful and the teen bonding is a snoozer that’s led by clunky dialogue. Boone spends too much time with explanation and scenes that question one another’s identity and history, leaving only the most action heavy moments within it’s final twenty five minutes. It’s a good practice run for him but he is painfully ill-equipped to handle the genre demands of something as big as “The New Mutants”. For a movie that was delayed three years it’s not excruciating to sit through but it does end up as a plodding viewing experience, even with your lowered expectations.

It’s difficult to talk or review “The New Mutants” without going into its long troubled history. But you don’t need to talk to be reminded of it as the film constantly reminds you of it on every level. Filmed back in 2017 and originally set to open a year later. Those going in expecting a complete disaster such as the Josh Trank “Fantastic Four” fiasco, thankfully won’t get that but what they are getting isn’t great either. So don’t get too excited. Given the circumstances and the unceremonious dumping by Disney in the midst of a pandemic. With a more seasoned filmmaker on hand and a better thought out script, it might’ve led to that envelope-pushing entry into the “X-Men” universe. 

Director Josh Boone’s “The New Mutants” falls more in line with a YA (Young Adult) novel turned movie, much like the 2018 “X-Men” inspired “The Darkest Minds” (which I think is a better picture). Not surprising that “The New Mutants” is structured like another YA tale, since Boone’s biggest claim to fame was the tear jerker “The Fault In Our Stars”. Boone envisioned “New Mutants” as a sort of “Breakfast Club” tale of teen angst, coming off the wild success of “IT” and “Stranger Things”. Boone uses a structured approach from all of the aforementioned films within it’s blend of teen drama, horror and “X-Men” mythos. 

The big idea behind “New Mutants” was to build a horror movie centered on super powered teens. While it isn’t new territory, it’s territory rarely captured on the big screen and the premise has a lot of potential to it. Boone gets an uneven balance; where the scares aren’t impactful and the teen bonding is a snoozer that’s led by clunky dialogue.

Disney had seemed unsure of what to do with this project that they’ve begrudgingly inherited. With more theater delays than you can count on one hand they refused to give into fans demand and release it on one of their streaming platforms (which is where it belonged). Even streaming is too good for it and instead is a better fit for television, as Boone has made a network tv pilot for a soon to be canceled series and not a big screen experience. 

The story is largely told from the perspective of Dani Moonstar (Blu Hunt), a Native American girl whose entire reservation was decimated by a supernatural force. She wakes up in the facility and in the care of Dr. Cecilia Reyes (Alice Braga), who appears to be the lone adult and staff person. She watches over Dani, perhaps too closely and the other mutants in her care. They include Illyana Rasputin (Anya Taylor-Joy), a demonic teleporter with a chip on her shoulder and plush dragon friend fans of the “X-Men” comics will recognize immediately; Sam Guthrie (Charlie Heaton), a Kentucky native with propulsive powers; Rahne Sinclair (Maisie Williams), a shy, devout girl hiding a feral side and Roberto da Costa (Henry Zaga), a Brazilian rich kid who likes to heat things up in more ways than one.

While “New Mutants” is in the “X-Men” universe, just imagine it as an “X-Men” film, without any of the “X-Men”. They’re referenced to, but you never see any of them. There isn’t even any real villains either, although there is Braga’s character who works for the Essex Corporation. Any threat that Braga and the corporation pose is ditched in the finale, which pits the teens against a giant, super-powered and supernatural bear.

Even with Charles Xavier sitting this one out, it feels as there was an intended cameo; as the movie seems to take place around the same time as “Dark Phoenix” in it’s continuity. The ending leaves what looks to be a supposed lead in, right into an expansion and sequel, but that seems to have been excised with its abysmal reviews and box office take. The cast themselves is nothing to go crazy over, with a lot of the issue coming in the way of their the accents. 

Heaton sounds ridiculous, with a southern drawl that’s more Mayberry than reality. The biggest star of the cast is Anya Taylor-Joy, who is currently earning rave reviews on Netflix’s original series “The Queens Gambit”. Taylor-Joy is similarly way over the top in her accent as the Russian mean girl (or at least she’s mean until all of a sudden she’s not). You can’t totally discredit her because she seems to be the only one having the most fun as the Soulsword-wielding Illyana. Newcomer Blu Hunt is the stand out here, who is fantastic in all of her scenes and is headed for more roles in the future. Sadly she is sidelined in the finale and doesn’t get in on the fight very much. But at least the romance between her and Rahne is rushed but handled sensitively. 

Apparently there’s a lot to explain when highlighting these mutants and their bizarre gifts, and the screenplay by Kanye Lee and Josh Boone does just that. Which the picture ends up becoming 75% exposition and 25% underwhelming action. Boone spends too much time with explanation and scenes that question one another’s identity and history. “The New Mutants” is fairly light on incident, trying to build frights with periodic visits to dark memories, while the main attempt at a visual fright come in the form of some misshapen antagonist demons known as “The Smile Men”. 

Reportedly budgeted at around $80 million, it’s clear that Boone was feeling the strain to make the movie look as good as possible. There are only a couple of really big set pieces, but the biggest and the most action heavy is within it’s final twenty five minutes as the mutants confront the monstrous supernatural grizzly bear.

Josh Boone is clearly working on a low budget and doesn’t do too much to make it visually appealing. He keeps it to never leaving its single location, a decrepit psychiatric hospital ripped straight out of Martin Scorsese’s “Shutter Island”. Boone has a history directing melodramas and is not a visual effects guy or even a horror maestro. It’s a good practice run for him but he is painfully ill-equipped to handle the genre demands of something as big as “The New Mutants”. 

References to the adult heroes are everywhere and fans of the films will dig the surprising connectivity, some of them direct and others teased for sequels that will never happen. It’s a nice attempt at something different, even with it’s clunky acting and screenwriting. While the sound and light show isn’t dazzling, being handled by a director who doesn’t have the money or training to really kick it full throttle with an “X-Men” universe extravaganza. For a movie that was delayed three years it’s not excruciating to sit through but it does end up as a plodding viewing experience, even with your lowered expectations.

GRADE: ★★☆☆☆ (2 out of 5)

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About Aron Medeiros

Aron Medeiros
Aron Medeiros is the movie critic for Maui Watch. He lives on the beautiful island of Maui and is also a member of the elite Hawaii Film Critics Society and an active cast member of the NerdWatch pod cast. He is a 2003 graduate from King Kekaulike High School. His favorite film of all time is “Back To The Future”. He has worked at Consolidated Kaahumanu Theaters for nearly 13 years as a Sales Associate and making his way up to Assistant Manager. He has loved movies since he was a young boy, where his Grandfather started his love for the movies.

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