SPOILERS FOR THE FILM BELOW
In the span it took New Mutants to get from pre-production to being released to our homes, we saw a presidency change, Tony Stark go from prehensile suits to nanobots, a pandemic turn the world on its head, as well as saw the X-Men franchise crash and burn to die a sad death. That said death got marked by the release of New Mutants, a film plagued by endless delays whose final output is a new kind of low for the franchise. From the studio that gave us X-Men Origins: Wolverine, that’s saying something.
Directed by Josh Boone, best known for his work on the hit teen drama The Fault in Our Stars, New Mutants is Fox’s somewhat commendable attempt to do something different with their IP of X-stories. The plan was to make a horror teen movie but in the vein of The Breakfast Club using Chris Claremont and Bill Sienkiewicz‘s Demon Bear Saga as the basis of the film. Interesting enough to stand out in a market chock full of superhero IPs, right? Fox disagreed.
An in-depth report by Vulture detailed just how rocky the development process of New Mutants was. Basically, the studio didn’t exactly gel with the Breakfast Club horror take and meddled with it heavily. The studio’s mandated changes were endless as uncredited writers were hired left and right. Judging from the report, it seemed like Fox was still the quintessential villain for the X-Men once more. But as the Vulture report states, even Boone was making some questionable decisions, such as turning Storm into an evil jail warden. So yeah, everything that led up to this home release was a shit show, and the finished product shows it in strides.
From the get-go, the core premise of the film gets barred with contrivances. For example, the film tries to play with the idea of these kids getting confined to this limited space. Trapped against their will, they live in this institution with nowhere to go and no means of escape via an energy barrier created by the baddie Dr. Reyes. This notion of isolation should work if it weren’t for a couple of egregious things. For one, the hospital seems to be criminally understaffed, with Dr. Reyes being the sole person lording over these kids. Where are the nurses? Why wasn’t there any security personnel? I get that they want this to be the Breakfast Club of superhero films but did they have to make this setting feel like juvenile middle school detention?
The idea of their every movement being scrutinized and observed also gets rendered pointless when they can roam around free on the premises like it’s a damn mall. They sneak out in the evenings to hang around and party but only when Dr. Reyes is asleep. WTF?! If Dr. Reyes falling asleep gives them the freedom to party around the hospital, why shouldn’t it allow them to, you know, actually escape the premises? They explicitly state at some point in the film that incapacitating Reyes would mean the barriers outside would disappear. Why don’t they do anything about it? There’s literally no one around to stop them. It’s easy as spiking Reyes’ drink as Magik revealed! The setting is entirely moot with these contrivances that they practically have no reason for it to take place at a hospital. You could have told a more interesting story by setting it in the X-mansion.
That in itself brings up another major blunder for the film: there’s no agency for the characters, let alone meaningful arcs. Dani Moonstar is sent to this institution after a tragic incident befalls her reservation and kills her relatives. She wakes up from those events and finds herself strapped to a hospital bed. Dr. Reyes explains the situation and Dani just accepts it without question or any desire to fight this circumstance strange people are enforcing on her. The same sort of goes for everyone else. There’s no clear point as to why they’re all in that institution – being experiments and test subjects don’t count because we never actually see it count – so it’s more baffling to see everyone just shrug and accept their situation. Hell, except for Wolfsbane and Moonstar, we don’t even see the characters have any meaningful relationships with one another. Early in the film, Magik and Sunspot are being explicitly racist towards Moonstar. Magik, in particular, consistently bullies Moonstar, treats her like shit, and at one point, tries to murder her in front of everyone. The film makes no attempt to reconcile their relationships or even redeem these bad traits, but, somehow, they’re all besties when the movie ends. It’s maddening to see the filmmakers miss the obvious marks that made The Breakfast Club such a great film.
The film also seems to be interested in exploring some of the trauma of these by having them face it via nightmare sequences. That’s a neat idea in itself, as we’ve seen it done decently in Avengers: Age of Ultron. The problem is that facing the most terrifying ghosts of their past doesn’t amount to any growth or change. There’s never any reflection of what they saw or how they want to overcome it. Sunspot sees the undead corpse of his ex-girlfriend one moment, and the next, he’s back to washing dishes listening to some tunes. These characters have such interesting backstories! Show us what life was like for them before they entered the institution or what they want for themselves.
All these problems contribute to the baffling fact that there’s practically no plot in this film. Like I said above, there’s no agency for any of the characters to consciously move forward and progress their story. The entire time it is just them waiting for shit to happen. The shit being these nightmares unintentionally caused by Dani Moonstar. The film plods like this: the new mutants hang around, bicker like teens, and then something scary happens to one of them. Rinse and repeat until the movie ends. That’s pretty much the entire movie. There’s no sense of discovery or even a semblance of a goal for the team.
A lot of people often give the MCU shit for forcing moments in favor of the more organic fanservice pay-off. New Mutants has a bunch of them that are pretty bad. Remember that absolutely lame post-credits scene in X-Men: Apocalypse with the Essex Corporation? That makes a return in a smug wink-wink moment where they unveil that Dr. Reyes’ superiors are, gasp, The Essex Corporation. Like no one gave a shit about it when it was a post-credits scene, so why would they think it’d be cool to revisit it this time? The film also tries to have its Avengers Assemble moment where Magik finally comes into her own and unveils in slow motion just what her powers are. It’s an undeniably sick looking scene, made better by the fact that Anya Taylor Joy is pitch-perfect for this role. The only problem is that we see her use her power multiple times before that scene, making that big slow-mo reveal a laughably flat moment. Imagine if Cap said Avengers Assemble three times in Endgame before that final fight. Moments like these are aplenty in the movie; unearned character needle drops or pay-offs for things that weren’t even seeded in the first place. Even the Breakfast Club montage in the film doesn’t work because these characters simply don’t have the chemistry for it to be believable.
I’d remiss if I didn’t give credit where it’s due. Blu Hunt, Anya Taylor Joy, and Maisie Williams are bar none the best aspects in this movie. Williams is fantastic as Rahne Sinclair, and she brings so much heart to a dull fart of a film. Her character’s relationship with Moonstar, while rushed, is the only relationship in the entire film that feels tangible and real. Hunt’s film debut as Dani Moonstar is enough for me to want to see her more in the role. Anya Taylor Joy is slowly on her way to becoming a massive superstar right now, but ever since The Witch, I’ve wanted her to be in a superhero film. Magik is the perfect role for her to play that I kinda want to see this role salvaged over to the MCU along with the two other female leads. Charlie Heaton is just okay as Sam Guthrie. He brings that very likable “aww shucks” demeanor he’s been known for in Stranger Things but doesn’t get to do anything substantial in the film. The less that can be said about this version of Sunspot, the better. Director Josh Boone‘s comments on ignoring the racism dark-skinned Brazilians face in favor of casting Henry Zaga are now more embarrassing in the face of how bland his performance is. Alice Braga gets no quarter playing the most boring comic book movie villain in years; it’s baffling how they settled on such a boring character when the X-Men stories are filled with compelling and fascinating villains. Hell, because Fox has such a boner for Essex Corp, they might as well have put Mister Sinister as the big bad.
In a franchise filled to the brim with bad films, I don’t know why I expected anything better from New Mutants. Maybe it was the idea of seeing something different that drew me into feeling hopeful for this film, despite all the troubles it faced during production. The Demon Bear Saga is one of Claremont’s classic X-stories. A story in theory that shouldn’t be that big of a tall order to adapt compared to, say, Dark Phoenix. But somehow, everyone involved in the decision-making managed to turn a story of a bunch of superpowered teens dealing with their worst nightmares in a horror into a total bore.