• Nate Adams

Review: Edgy 'The New Mutants' tries to find its place in the world


Courtesy of Twentieth Century Studios

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****


It’s hard to believe “The New Mutants” - from director Josh Boone - is finally seeing the light of day. Considering its release plans have been scrapped, re-tooled, and then the final product was tweaked numerous times in post-production, some wondered if Fox’s “X-Men” spinoff would ever see the light of day. Then the Disney merger happened and it became the assumption the “X-Men” franchise would be absorbed into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, leaving the still unreleased “New Mutants” in limbo. And so, like the bastard child it is, Disney has basically given the film its obligatory, contractual, theatrical run, but no movie has ever felt “dumped” on the calendar quite like this project. Not to mention landing in theaters where only 62% of the markets are open feels like the final nail in the coffin for the troubled “X-Men” franchise. 


So that begs the question: is the film any good? Well, It’s decent. 


You can tell “The New Mutants” is desperately trying to find its place in the world, when the film was made in 2016 (orginally scheduled to come out in 2018 but then underwent supposed “reshoots” to make it scarier because “It” was a huge success) it was pitched as an edgy spinoff akin to “Logan” where Fox and producer Simon Kinberg could eventually mold these characters into a cinematic universe all their own. But alas, you can’t watch “The New Mutants” and ponder what could have been, as now, four years later, it’s a fish out of water. 


Still, Boone has competently made the film and the cast turn in respectable performances. Basically, it’s “The Breakfast Club” with mutants, but your enjoyment of the picture will likely steam from the medium in which you see it. I screened “The New Mutants” at a drive-in where it enhanced the horror vibes and amplified certain elements that might have stalled in a traditional setting. 


The film opens with a hurried scene with Dani Moonstone (Blu Hunt) being whisked away by her father (Adam Beach) as they try to flee an unseen catastrophe that’s raging through her Native American community. When she awakens, handcuffed to a hospital bed, it’s clear she’s the sole survivor of whatever event wiped out her reservation. 


Dani is now the newest patient at a facility led by Dr. Reys (Alica Braga) where mutants are hospitalized and monitored for their abilities. Inside, she meets fellow “new” mutants Rahne Sinclair (Maisie Willaims), who shapeshifts into a giant, husky, wolf; Illyana Rasputin (Anya Taylor-Joy), a bully that transforms into a killing machine on a dime; Sam Guthrie (Charlie Heaton) who I’m not entirely sure what his “power” is, but he’s the only mutant in the film who believes he’s a threat to the world; and finally there’s Roberto da Costa (Henry Zaga) a human torch knockoff. 


Like Dani, all of these teens are struggling with their own trauma and torment. They’re all inside the hospital for a reason, but it isn’t long before we understand Dani’s true abilities and why, suddenly, spooky things are going bump in the night. 


Based on Marvel’s comic book created by Chris Claremount and Bob McLeod, “The New Mutants,” isn’t so much a superhero movie than it is a teenage horror fantasy. If you take away the three references to the “X-Men,” it wouldn’t have the name brand recognition and stand on its own. 


Boone, who directed 2014’s excellent “The Fault In Our Stars,” knows a thing or two about adding teenage angst and romance to his pictures. But he’s able to inject a few decent horror sequences into the picture as well. Himself and writer Knate Lee aren’t afraid to tackle the metaphor of how adolescence can be uncontrollable and scary, including sexuality and self identity. 


With the inclusion of a same-sex romance between Dani and Rahne, “The New Mutants” represents the rare PG13 Marvel superhero flick to be LGBTQ-inclusive, which is worth celebrating and showcases a progressive element the franchise desperately needed. All the more tragic when you realize we probably won’t get to see these characters develop beyond this film. 


The performances are all steady: with Hunt and Willaims having the strongest chemistry among the teens, and Taylor-Joy’s campy menace is pure pulp. Meanwhile, Heaton, of “Stranger Things” fame, is dabbling with a muffled southern accent that doesn’t look good on him, but at least he’s trying, and Zaga gets the short end of the narrative leash. 


Suffice to say, the film isn’t for everybody, more so for those eager to see the last silver of Fox’s “X-Men” canon before it gets, inevitably, rebooted, than for passive moviegoers. It’s a major step in the right direction from the blunder that was “Dark Phoenix,” and though the film has the energy of an unfinished pilot episode with major potential, this film’s legacy will likely live on in the form of late night bar trivia. 


Grade: B- 


THE NEW MUTANTS is now playing at drive-ins and theaters that are open across the country.