The Plot: Danielle (Blu Hunt) is the sole survivor of a disaster on her Native American reservation. She’s transported to a remote psychiatric hospital headed up by Dr. Reyes (Alice Braga). There’s no escape though, as a force field holds everyone in place. Danielle has special, potentially-destructive powers that require containment. She’s not the only young person though – there’s also Rahne (Maisie Williams), Illyana (Anya Taylor-Joy), Roberto (Henry Zaga) and Sam (Charlie Heaton). As Danielle strikes up a friendship with Rahne, she begins to understand her mutant powers and whether she can control them before it’s too late…
The Verdict: It’s finally here. After sitting on a studio shelf and suffering seemingly interminable delays, X-Men spin-off The New Mutants has arrived in cinemas. Quietly crawled off the shelf might be a more accurate description, as it’s being released to little fanfare after 20th Century Fox was gobbled up by Disney and then re-branded with a slightly-altered name. The first trailer appeared way back in October 2017 and the studio hated it so much that they almost ordered what was shot to be scrapped and a full re-shoot to begin. Did the film really deserve such ire and its unwanted label? Not so it seems. For while the finished film undeniably has flaws, it also has enough of the good stuff to warrant it as a curiosity.
Responding to negative reviews calling it the worst X-Men film ever, Maisie Williams tweeted ‘Sounds like a must see! Get your tickets now’. Nah, Dark Phoenix easily takes that worst-entry mantle. You have to at least admire the concept behind it, shepherded through by long-time X-producer Simon Kinberg (who also unfortunately wrote and directed Dark Phoenix). He was trying a different approach towards the superhero film, going for something darker and more mature. A superhero film channelled through the dungeons of conventional horror filmmaking. The imaginative Brightburn came and went with its reverse-Superman angle, not exactly prompting further installments. The New Mutants was meant to be the start of a new trilogy, but the future direction of the X-franchise is uncertain given Disney’s overlord attitude and reluctance to push beyond its family-friendly label.
A film ultimately flies or crashes on the basis of its script. Co-writer and director Josh Boone knows a thing or two about depicting troubled teenagers, having also made The Fault In Our Stars. His script at least manages to get in the air and stay up throughout, but only just. The lead character is not the best-known acting name here, which is a change of perspective. That grounds the audience in a story about unleashed potential power and whether it could be destructive or redemptive in Danielle’s character arc. The tender romance that develops between Danielle and Rahne is just that and doesn’t feel the need to address anything more. A progressive move forward. A film that has a romantic stargazing scene set in a moldy old graveyard at least deserves some credit for being off-beat. If only Boone had pursued more of that spiky, anarchic tone instead of throwing in conventional sub-plots that don’t add up to much.
While it’s in the air, the filmmaking mechanics sputter and nearly stall. There’s no convincing antagonist / big bad here – just a clutch of potentials which end up in an unconvincing swirl of CGI in the climax. There’s only a tentative connection to the greater X-Men universe, with the film seemingly preferring to be something of a black sheep in the family. According to Boone and his cast, this is mostly his original cut of the film. It’s bracingly short, hinting at a trimmed backstory for the new mutants themselves. What’s left is a half-baked franchise X-periment, mixing together some decent thrills and good acting with unscary Slender Man-type figures and a horror angle that comes across as bolted on rather than properly developed. The New Mutants is not the disaster that was feared, but neither is it anything special. Just distinctly average.
Rating: 2.5 / 5
Review by Gareth O’Connor
The New Mutants (USA / 15A / 94 mins)
In short: Half baked
Directed by Josh Boone. ,
Starring Blu Hunt, Maisie Williams, Anya Taylor-Joy, Charlie Heaton, Henry Zaga, Alice Braga.