The New Mutants and all the images you see in this review are owned by 20th Century Studios
Directed by Josh Boone
I was going to the movies multiple times a week for YEARS before this pandemic hit, and one of the things I kept seeing over and again was trailers for this movie. Every few months there’d be another one but with a different release date on it, and it got so ridiculously long that I vowed to be there opening day to see what kind of nonsense they were trying to cover up in post-production. Then the world came to an end and wouldn’t you know it? One of the first movies to go to theaters AND NOWHERE ELSE happened to be this one. All was not lost however as it turns out there’s a drive in theater nearby (the ONLY place I’ll go to see a movie right now) and they actually had this movie on their schedule, and so I was able to go out and keep that promise I made to myself all those years ago without having to take an unnecessary risk of CATCHING A POTENTIALLY LIFE THREATENING DISEASE in the process! So with all that buildup, with all the shakeups at the studio, and with all the world events that have broken the world between the first teaser trailer to now, does the movie manage to be any good? Did all the extra time working on it prove to be a fruitful endeavor, or are they hoping that the threat of getting sick would be enough for them to sneak this out without anybody noticing? Let’s find out!!
Dani Moonstar (Blu Hunt) finds herself stuck inside of a hospital of some sorts with a bunch of other young people under the watchful eyes of Dr. Reyes (Alice Braga) who informs her that her family is dead and that she’s here because she PROBABLY caused it. Why? Well because she’s a mutant of course, and so is everyone else here! We’ve got Sam (Charlie Heaton) who can go fast and make things explode, Illyana (Anya Taylor-Joy) who… has some sort of teleportation and sword fighting powers, Roberto (Henry Zaga) who’s the most dudebro dude ever and also might have fire powers, and Rahne (Massie Williams) who is… well she’s just a werewolf. I didn’t realize that fell under MUTANT powers, but I guess you can call anything a mutant power if you try hard enough. In any case, they’re all stuck in here with the discount Nurse Ratched who’s trying to get them to learn to control their powers through… group therapy sessions I guess, and clearly has some sinister motivations for keeping them all there that they’re vaguely aware of but none too concerned about. Dani, still trying to figure out exactly what happened to her father and not even knowing what her own super power is, tries to make the most of this very bizarre situation which only gets more disturbing once everyone starts having terrifying dreams or something relating to their past traumas which is certainly not making the overall dingy atmosphere of this place any more cheery. What exactly are Dani’s powers and are they in any way connected to the strange goings on at the hospital? What does Dr. Reyes have planned for them once she’s deemed them to be “better”, and is it somehow worse than having stay here? Are they actually stuck in some sort of Groundhog’s Day time loop which is why it feels like this movie’s been around for a hundred years!?
I’ll admit that I didn’t have the BEST experience watching this movie at the drive in as the screen was murky, the car the muggy, and the food was rather disappointing, but even if things were back to normal and I could see it at a high end theater with food that WOULDN’T leave me questioning my life choices, this is just another in the long line of movies that I sat there watching with barely a thought in my head other than asking myself when it would be over. It’s not without its high points and the third act genuinely entertained me, but there was a reason they didn’t bother releasing this at a time when people could go out and see it. I couldn’t tell you exactly what went wrong or why they felt the need to keep pushing it back and pushing it back, but the two things that are obvious when watching this is that it was a nightmare to edit and that they really shouldn’t have bothered trying so hard. I cannot fathom a version of this movie so bad that they had to go back and fix it for two years, nor what version of this movie they THOUGHT they could get if they gave it just one more pass before release. I rewatched that first trailer and there’s nothing in that that looks substantially different from what we eventually got which again, isn’t even close to an AWFUL movie! Heck, unlike say The Snowman which was a top to bottom utter catastrophe, the worst you can say about this movie is that it’s a bit of a mess and kind of dull. Two years of buildup and several pre-release controversies all amounting to one big squib of a movie which… well I guess is fitting considering that’s most of what I ended up seeing at the theater anyway
The problem with the movie is how hard it’s trying to be something that it’s not particularly good at; namely a psychological horror film. It’s been touted as such by its director and the pieces are all there for it to BE a horror film, but only in the most conventional and shallow ways imaginable. Now I’ll admit that the drive in screen was dark and murky the whole way through, but even looking at the trailers the aesthetic is utterly laughable; opting for an asylum look that was outdated even in A Nightmare on Elm Street 3 which by the way is the most obvious inspiration here. Every room in this asylum is either dark or bathed in a sickly green lighting, the rooms are just cots with basic sheets and maybe a sadness window despite the place clearly being a repurposed mansion, and perhaps I missed a time card at some point in the movie but I couldn’t tell you when this movie took place. Sure the bad guys have supercomputers and all that, but I take that as read in any era for a superhero movie. Aside from that, the most advanced technology that I recall seeing in this was a freaking 4:3 flat screen TV; the kind they haven’t made for about fifteen years now. It’s the kind of sloppy theming you see from directors who don’t know how to look past their own childhood aesthetic to accurately reflect what world the characters are supposed to be living in, which is why that Fantastic Four reboot had a young Reed Richards tying up a dozen Nintendo 64s in what had to be 2008, or how Jerrica Benton’s childhood in that Jem and the Hologram movie appears to have been in the early 90s despite being a teenager in 2015
Beyond its utterly silly attempts to be scary which frankly call to mind the Flatliners remake more than anything else, the film is just dreadfully dull for so much of its running time. The characters overall are FINE in that they genuinely feel like people with rough edges stuck in a crappy and boring situation, but it’s so drab, so plodding, and without much of a narrative structure to grab onto, that there’s so little there to build on past whatever one paragraph discerption we’re given at the start of the movie. Things start to get a bit better as the intrigue builds and the scares start to escalate, but I think there’s something MISSING here that undercuts even that tension. Perhaps it’s the fact that they ALL have superpowers (and very good ones that) which undercuts any sense of genuine vulnerability and danger, but again; it’s all just the most basic trappings of horror storytelling that it stand out against a narrative that seems in no hurry to get the audience’s attention. There are moments that work in the story as I think that Alice Braga is a compelling antagonists when she’s allowed to be and the relationship between Rahne and Dani at least shows some humanity and levity in an otherwise dour film, but for too much of its runtime I was as bored and listless as the characters in the movie itself.
Where the film FINALLY comes to life is in the third act where we start to get some action and the stakes feel genuinely raised. Sure, the FINAL BOSS as it were was kind of laughable when it gets revealed, but there’s a genuine eye for superhero spectacle here that I’d like to see in more movies going forward; especially X-Men movies as the last few films have had increasingly anemic and uninteresting action set pieces that could use a bit of the slightly harder edge that this film brought to them. I couldn’t exactly tell you if the effects were CONVINCING since again, I was watching it on a dark and murky drive in screen, but ideas at play and the overall pacing were enough for me to stay engaged for the entire sequence. It also helps that the characters are allowed to come out of their shell a bit more here which I guess is kind of the whole point of the arc they were building up to (especially for Charlie Heaton and Henry Zaga’s characters), but it still doesn’t retroactively make the previous two thirds any less dull; it just contrasts how much stronger the actors are when they are given better and more energetic material to work with.
A bad ending can weigh down an otherwise good movie and a good ending can uplift an otherwise mediocre one. This film has a lot going against it, both off the screen and on it, but in the end I think it’s JUST competent enough to not dismiss out of hand. I would certainly wait to see it once it gets a VOD release as you shouldn’t be visiting theaters right now (and even with drive-ins the experience can be hit or miss), but even then it’s not something you need to rush out and buy as soon as you can. You’d either sit there rather bored for the first two thirds or you’d end up fast forwarding right to the third act; neither of which sounds like a good enough reason to put down whatever price they come to whenever they eventually relent and put it on VOD. If Marvel Studios is going to move forward with these characters in whatever the X-Men universe is going to look like now, I wouldn’t be opposed to it because there’s enough character work and certainly enough acting talent there for someone to make it work; just not with THIS particular team of creatives who didn’t seem to know what they were getting into and spent a few years floundering about trying to get it to work. Say what you will about that mess of a film Venom; at least they knew the kind of mess they were making!