One of the unfortunate side effects of a movie being stuck in development hell is that the knowledge of its production tends to alter audience perception. Over-hyping or lowering expectations of a film because of the awareness of the long and difficult road it has taken. The New Mutants (directed by Josh Boone) is the most recent example of this. A film that was delayed for over two years due to a combination of supposed reshoots and rewrites, a high profile merger between 20th Century Fox and The Walt Disney Company, ageing cast members and a global pandemic. After all this, now that the film actually has come out, it’s slightly anticlimactic to announce that film is… fine.
Really, that’s the most that can be said about The New Mutants. It’s a perfectly average superhero film with some redeeming character moments and initial ideas that make it fine to sit through. However, it is unremarkable, poorly structured and unambitious which results in the film being quite forgettable. I didn’t hate the film but have no desire to rewatch it and it’s probably not worth risking a crowded cinema for. Save it for when it joins Disney+ as the executives probably wanted it to originally, had it not been for a contractual obligation.
Anyway, the story revolves around an isolated hospital run by a seemingly kind but always controlling Doctor (Cecilia Reyes), that is supposedly designed to protect and train new mutants before they go on to a further facility, presumably the X-Men Mansion. When one new addition to the facility, Dani Moonstar (Blu Hunt) changes the dynamic of the hospital due to her unknown and uncontrollable powers, the situation turns far worse. As a result, the young mutants must overcome their personal demons and learn to work together to survive.
Let’s start with the positives, shall we? The film aims to recreate the original feel of what the X-Men franchise was supposed to be about, young outcast members of societies (usually a stand-in for oppressed groups) who find a place of acceptance with others. The film achieves this at times, particularly as a result of its diverse cast who all slowly open up and learn to feel more comfortable with each leading to some genuinely sweet moments. In particular, the central romance between Dani and Scottish mutant Rahne Sinclair (Maisie Willams) is very sweet and endearing to watch, far more so than many other romances within superhero films. It’s also very refreshing to get to see a same-sex romance within the genre, and I do hope this encourages more studios to do the same.
There are also some nice explorations of issues relating to mental health which, whilst not done perfectly (we’ll get to that), do offer up a strong representation of these subjects. They do reflect how someone can live with them whilst still having fulfilling relationships or risking hurting others as a result. Trauma, PTSD, self-loathing, survivors guilt and effects of abuse get showcased here and the effects are quite harrowing. The visualisation of much of this is somewhat impressive. In particular, the smiling men which occur towards the end as part of the trauma of another mutant, Illyana Rasputin (Anya Taylor-Joy), look very intimidating and have a great design.
Unfortunately, these positives can only carry the film so far. As I said, the attempts to deal with mental health may have noble intentions, but it’s undermined by the poor pacing and short run time of the film. Characters overcome major issues or go through sudden progress without much cause, presenting a very over idealised version of what mental health is. Equally, the delay in revealing issues for the purposes of suspense and tension just makes the film feel rushed. This leads to a conclusion where all the issues are resolved without any of it feeling earned, resulting in a very underwhelming conclusion.
The film is also very unambitious and unwilling to take advantage of either its horror or young adult style, jumping from one to the other without much subtle blend. For example, the character of Roberto (Henry Zaga) spends the first two-thirds of the film playing the stereotypical popular kid from every John Hughes film. Only later, the film eventually acknowledges his trauma and then resolves 5 minutes later.
The focus on the teen drama angle diminishes the effect of the mental health horror film and vice versa. It’s not as character-focused as it would like to be and not as scary or thrilling as it could be. The smiling men mentioned earlier look cool, but do nothing and are taken out within a couple of minutes. Consequently, there’s very little tension in the film and you end up guessing exactly where every plot point will go very early on. And if you’re wondering if the superhero aspect will help it out with some cool visuals or fight scenes, there’s none of that here.
Ultimately, The New Mutants will most likely be remembered for its troubling production history more than the film itself. If it’s remembered at all. It’s a shame because there are things to like here and the premise did have solid potential. With a stronger screenplay and a more comfortable horror director, this could have been something. As it stands, it’s a perfectly average film, the definition of mostly harmless.
Words by Mischa Alexander