It’s something of a small miracle that The New Mutants was even released.
For months, if not years, it was starting to look like the X-Men movie would never be projected to on a cinema screen, despite having wrapped up principal photography (the main parts of filming) three-and-a-half years ago.
Originally slated for release in April 2018, The New Mutants’ circuitous route to its release this week involved reshoots, several scheduling delays, a studio merger and then the pandemic. It was starting to take on that label no movie wants: cursed.
All that drama is the set-up for what could generously be termed as low expectations. Studios don’t tend to sit on movies they’re super excited about, at least before COVID uprooted entertainment business models.
As long as The New Mutants wasn’t as garbage fire as Apocalypse and Oscar Isaac’s big blue smurf – and it’s not – then it’s almost a pass mark.
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Sitting within the same shared narrative universe as the X-Men movies, The New Mutants is centred on a group of five teenagers: Dani (Blu Hunt), Rahne (Maisie Williams), Illyana (Anya Taylor-Joy), Sam (Charlie Heaton) and Roberto (Henry Zaga).
They’re mutants with special powers, caged within an abandoned hospital with Dr Cecilia Reyes (Alice Braga), who tells them they’re there so they can learn to control their powers before moving onto another facility owned by her “superior”.
Dr Reyes’ supposed benevolence hasn’t fooled any of the youngsters, who are contained by a force field, locked into their rooms at night and threatened with solitary if disobedient.
Dani is new to the group and her powers have yet to reveal themselves. But her arrival has coincided with strange happenings within the hospital, as if everyone’s fears are manifesting right before them.
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That’s the horror aspect of The New Mutants, which the director Josh Boone leaned into during reshoots and retooling.
There are some malicious bald monsters with languid limbs which are clearly inspired by The Gentlemen from Buffy the Vampire Slayer – and in case you missed the reference, that specific episode of Buffy is playing in the background of a scene.
But for the most part, the jeepers creepers are all pretty toothless, unlikely to frighten even a casual thriller audience, let alone a horror fan.
The dialogue is limp, the pacing drags (for a movie that’s only 90 minutes, it feels long) and the final act is, reliably, overblown. But perhaps The New Mutants’ core flaw is that it hasn’t invested enough into each character so that you actually care what happens to them.
They’re severely underwritten and flat to the point that they don’t even reach archetype level – and it’s a waste of performers including Taylor-Joy who deserved better than a generic coming-of-age story.
The ensemble is packed with actors who were considered Bright Young Things when they were cast almost four years ago and, happily, some of them have done admirable work since this was filmed. Otherwise, the association could’ve been a serious dampener on their careers.
There was speculation that The New Mutants could be punted to Disney’s streaming service, Disney+, much like Artemis Fowl (included in the cost of subscription) and Mulan (an extra $34.99 to watch) were.
But this is a movie that doesn’t fit within Disney’s family friendly streaming brand. Sure, it’s essentially a young adult vibe whose two burgeoning romances (one same-sex) are chaste, but there are at least three scenes too violent for the Disney crowd – and a subplot heavily hinting at child sex abuse.
So, not for nothing, The New Mutants has a M rating in Australia.
Rather than a springboard for a fresh generation of superheroes, The New Mutants is now an anticlimactic end to a film franchise that started in 2000 with X-Men.
Those iconic characters including Wolverine, Professor X and Magneto are expected to be reset and incorporated into the Marvel Cinematic Universe now that the rights have reverted back to Disney following its buyout of 20th Century Fox.
The New Mutants was the last holdout, and a planned post-credits scene teasing the next villain (Antonio Banderas had reportedly been cast) never eventuated.
It’s not an ignominious end because the X-Men franchise has had an equal number of misses as it has had hits, but it’s a shame that the series didn’t go out on a Logan high point.
So here we are, closing the book with not a bang but a whimper.
The New Mutants is in cinemas now (except Victoria)
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