I almost never thought I would say this but: The New Mutants is finally out! Originally scheduled for 2018, it was delayed so many times and with so many news (whether true or false) of re-shoots, re-edits or just plain giving up on it that I almost thought my most anticipated X-Men film in a while would just never see the light of day. Turns out it did see the light, albeit in the middle of a pandemic.
In any case, the (probably) last X-Men film we’ll see in a while after Disney’s purchase of 21th Century Fox is an intimate horror drama by Josh Boone (“The Fault in Our Stars”, “The Stand”) set in the same universe as the main film series but without any of its characters or landmarks beyond mutants with powers.
We follow teenager Danielle Moonstar, played by Blu Hunt (“The Originals” (TV), “Another Life” (TV)), sole survivor of a mysterious storm that decimated the Cheyenne reservation on which her and her father lived. She wakes up in a psychiatric hospital run by Dr. Reyes, Alice Braga (“I Am Legend”, “Elysium”) in which four other young mutants live: Rahne (Maisie Williams: “Game of Thrones” (TV), “The Falling”), Illyana (Anya Taylor Joy: “The Witch”, “Split“), Sam (Charlie Heaton: “Stranger Things” (TV), “Shut In“) and Roberto (Henry Zaga: “The Stand”, “Looking For Alaska”).
Each have their own powers, ranging from very original to ones we’ve seen in other films before. The discovery of each of these powers, sometimes both for the audience and the character, is part of the fun of the film which is why I won’t describe them.
Besides the introduction and a few short flashbacks, the entirety of the story takes place inside the hospital, where its few inhabitants (there literally are only five patients and one doctor) are forced to face their biggest fears and unravel the mystery of Danielle’s unknown powers and of the hospital’s true intent. Plot-wise, there isn’t much to sink your teeth into, and I spent a large part of the film actually wondering if there was any. Fortunately, and I think this is partly the film’s intent anyway, The New Mutants is far more about its characters than about a wider story to tell. On that point, it entirely succeeds. All five mutants are intriguing off the bat and soon very endearing. Illyana is the stand-out, her strong personality tempered by a hidden vulnerability that Anya Taylor-Joy conveys perfectly – all of it topped off with very cool-looking powers.
Like any good X-Men adaptation, The New Mutants focuses on characters that are outcasts; but unlike the main series of X-Men films, this goes beyond the mutations. The X-Men have always been an allegory for marginalized groups, and this time the film intricately mixes minorities and mutations. Rahne’s Christian upbringing, for example, is a source of trauma as her Church reacted violently to her powers. She is also a lesbian, and while the film never delves into homophobia, the link is very easy to make.
Not every character is such an easy allegory, but all of them are outcasts in their own ways, with their mutation being only half of it. It is also worth mentioning that besides having a Native American protagonist in Danielle – a rarity in itself – the main romantic relationship of the film is a lesbian one. Like I mentioned, X-Men has always been an allegory for marginalized groups, and it is fitting and beautiful to see that after the famous subtext of the original trilogy (Bobby “coming out” to his parents as a mutant) and the side lesbian character Negasonic Teenage Warhead in Deadpool, the franchise finally fully stepped up.
Despite being so focused on characters at the expense of the plot, The New Mutants naturally evolves into the horror genre the original marketing promised, and then finishes with a big action sequence, so every spectator will find something to like. Unfortunately, the horror elements are pretty scarce overall, and while the action sequence is enjoyable, the ending is abrupt and unoriginal.
These are probably remnants of the film’s production history, but given the history in question, the fact that these are the film’s only big flaws is a feat in itself. At no moment did I feel like something was completely out of place or an obvious re-shoot.
Not only did the film looks almost unscathed, it actually is a pleasant watch with plenty to offer, as well as a call for other genre-bending super-hero films and, in its own way, a beautiful goodbye to Fox’s X-Men saga. Not the film of the year, but a nice one to see for people who can return to theater after such long months of absence.
4th September 2020
THE QUICK SELL
Five young mutants, just discovering their abilities while held in a secret facility against their will, fight to escape their past sins and save themselves.