Going Out With a Bang – New Mutants (2020)

When a movie gets shelved repeatedly for two years it’s never a good sign. It’s tough to tell where to begin, but it’s painfully obvious why The New Mutants wallowed in post-production for so long. It’s spread far too thin in different directions and lacks a solid identity. Sadly, it doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be and everything suffers as a result.

There’s a lot to go over and the vast majority of it isn’t good, so let’s start with the positives. The digital effects are incredible. This particular collection of mutants had a fun power set to portray and the overall visual aesthetic is great, all the way down to the setting. Medfield State Hospital is a fitting backdrop for this story to unfold. The former insane asylum sits on a sprawling Massachusetts property that visually resembles the X-Mansion but strikes a symbolic, thematic contrast. Little things like this let me know the movie was made with good intentions.  

Alice Braga was a good fit as Dr. (Celicia) Reyes, whose methods are questionable and motives are suspect. She cleverly walks the line of ambiguity between being an authority figure and an adopted mother for these “gifted” youths. Both she and the story could have benefitted from some more character foundation but she makes the most of it and delivers the strongest performance in the film. 

The general lack of connection to the larger X-Universe didn’t do this movie any favors either. There is the acknowledgment of the X-Men and the larger mutant presence in the world. It’s mainly lip service and there’s nothing tangible that tethers it to the many other films in the franchise. None of the characters’ code names are even mentioned (except one) so you need to be familiar with the source material to connect the dots. However, it’s not like the X-Men film franchise had any equity left with the public anyway, but there may have been (probably was) more connective tissue at some point. Regardless, it’s not the kind of thing that should have been withheld, and Josh Boone and Knate Lee should have recognized that when they wrote it. There’s barely a sense of humor in the script and that causes issues when trying to relate to and empathize with the characters. 

Reportedly, this was pitched as a cross between a John Hughes’ style teen comedy and a low budget Blumhouse horror film. Marrying those two styles was never going to be easy, but that was good enough for Fox at the time. However, rumor has it that the studio wasn’t happy with early drafts of the script and brought in a bunch of writers to rework things. With that kind of baggage, production was bound to have issues and test screenings reportedly didn’t go well.

After that, I’m guessing the studio pushed back the release to figure out whether or not things could be fixed in the editing room or if they’d have to invest in reshoots. Then the whole Disney deal came to the table and I’m sure Fox wasn’t interested in investing anymore at that point, so the film got bumped again. I doubt Disney was excited about it either but they were contractually obligated to give it a theatrical release and slated it for early 2020. Then Covid-19 rolled around and it was shelved once again. However, the public’s appetite for new movies has grown a lot over the last few months so Disney targeted a late August release, rolled out a drive-in movie campaign to go along with it, and here we are. 

Some elements began to point towards something compelling but it all just sort of skips off the surface. It’s certainly not the horror movie the intriguing trailers made it out to be, and it’s not a coming of age teen comedy, and it’s not team-based mutant adventure thriller either. I don’t have a problem with blending genres when it’s done effectively, but this tries to dip its toe in everything without wanting to commit to anything. Boone is reportedly a big fan of the comics but, as the director, his ambivalence is readily apparent. I’m surprised Fox decided to stick with Boone through principle photography since they were allegedly never on the same page. 

With casting the relative star power of Maisie Williams (Game of Thrones), Anya Taylor-Joy (Split), and Charlie Heaton (Stranger Things), it was an odd choice to have Blu Hunt in the lead role. Credit to the casting team for hiring a Native American actor to play a Northern Cheyenne character (Mirage), but unfortunately she wasn’t good. The character’s mutant power is crucial to the story they’re trying to tell, so I’m guessing that’s why they decided to go that direction but Hunt wasn’t strong enough for the lead. The filmmakers had to see it as they watched the dailies but didn’t or couldn’t course correct. If you go back to the very first X-Men movie, the audience is introduced to the team through a young female mutant (Rogue) who’s dangerous to those around her and central to the story but Anna Paquin wasn’t responsible for making everything else work.

The accents…FOR THE LOVE OF GOD…the accents!! 

Russian has to be one of the toughest fake accents to pull off. It can make or break not just a performance but an entire movie as well (see: Red Sparrow). I like Taylor-Joy and she’s enjoyable as Illyana Rasputin (Magik) overall but her Russian accent is a struggle for the entire hour and 38 minutes. Plus, at no point does the film ever stop to mention her brother is Colossus, so they could have very easily ditched the accent altogether (see: Scarlett Johannson as Black Widow). To a lesser extent, we’ve got Heaton (Cannonball) doing a very twangy Kentucky accent that certainly isn’t great either, but he’s not saddled with as much of the dialogue so it’s more palatable as things go on. Williams’ (Wolfsbane) Scottish is passable in comparison but we’re also used to her having an accent from her Game of Thrones days. Then there’s the Brazilian character, Roberto (Sunspot). He surprisingly has no accent at all, despite actor Henry Zaga being born in Brazil. It’s all quite baffling and makes you wonder how nobody behind the camera raised any concerns about it.

There’s more sexuality in this movie than anything we’ve seen from the X-franchise so far. It fits with the Hughes-style teen movie Boone wanted to make but not with what we expect from our superhero movies. There’s also a love story that doesn’t have much foundation and doesn’t land with any significant impact as a result. There’s a couple of flare-ups but there’s not much chemistry and very little of the fundamental establishing characteristics of a good love story along the way. Credit for the bold approach and it could have been meaningful if it were an essential part of the story. However, it came across as a bit of tokenism and ended up as yet another unrefined direction. 

This film had so much potential, but you can see all the issues that haunted it. All things considered, it’s not the worst film under the X banner. It’s still somewhere near the bottom of the list but you have to give some credit for trying to take some risks. 

Recommendation: See it if you’ve been on board with all the other films in the franchise or if you’re desperate for something new.

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