28th August 2020 (UK)
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.
Maisie Williams, Anya Taylor-Joy, Charlie Heaton, Blu Hunt, Alice Braga, Henry Zaga
You’d be hard pressed to find a film from this century with a more troubled production than The New Mutants. .
First shot in 2017 with sights on an April 2018 release, X-Men spin-off The New Mutants was given time for re-shoots to shift the tone from the initial Young Adult one it possessed to a more horror orientated picture. Re-shoot
s to tweak the final product are not uncommon and happen all the time, or in the controversial case of DC’s Justice League a chance for a complete do-over of the film. The successes of films such as It and Get Out were said to be a key reason for this change. So in January 2018, to allow for the new scenes to be filmed as well as avoiding clashing with being released alongside another Marvel property in Deadpool 2, The New Mutants was given a new space on the slate: February 22nd 2019. But this would not be the last move for the Mutants.
Merely two months after the announcement of a February 2019 release, Fox shifted The New Mutants once again, this time to August of the same year. Much like the first move, this was due to an overcrowding of Marvel films, with franchise cousin X-Men: Dark Phoenix now landing in the February spot where the Mutants once dwelt. Not only that, but the planned re-shoots were reportedly more extensive than first thought. No doubt feeling as unwanted as the characters it portrays, The New Mutants took its place in the August 2nd 2019 slot. An industry altering shake up was yet to come, however, and The New Mutants would arguably be its biggest casualty.
In March 2019, as part of a wider acquisition, Disney would come to own the 20th Century Fox film studio. This would again delay the release to April 3rd 2020 due to now attempting to fit it in around Disney releases as well as Fox’s. By this point, the film had been delayed four times and none of the scheduled re-shoots – first pencilled in to happen nearly a year and a half prior – had been completed. It was becoming more and more difficult for them to come to fruition too; the majority of the cast (and even the director, who had begun working on the TV adaptation of Stephen King’s The Stand) had moved on to other projects and, inevitably but somewhat ironically, noticeably aged since the cameras first rolled in 2017. The worst was yet to come though, with an event so monumental it would close cinemas completely. I’m talking, of course, of COVID-19.
With the shuttering of multiplexes for the foreseeable future in late March 2020 as a safety measure to prevent the spread of Coronavirus, The New Mutants once again found itself in limbo. Sensing the impending closures, Disney removed the film from their release schedule completely on March 12th. Rumblings of a straight-to-VOD route emerged, a release method employed by Universal and Warner Bros among others for Trolls: World Tour and Scoob!. Stubbornly sticking to their guns though, and potentially seeing a window of opportunity to take advantage of slim cinema pickings, The New Mutants, along with Christopher Nolan’s Tenet, became one of the biggest releases in the wake of cinemas re-opening – with no re-shoots ever taking place.
You may be surprised to hear then that it isn’t the catastrophic mess that its production may suggest. It’s not particularly great either. It’s a middle-ground movie of neutral entertainment value, neither here nor there, which could be said is worse than being a certified failure or success.
The story follows five young mutants who find themselves trapped in a secret facility, unable to escape because of an invisible dome surrounding the grounds. But when their darkest fears begin to manifest, it becomes a fight for survival and a quest for answers as to what’s happening to them all – and a voyage of self discovery as they come to terms with their powers.
The New Mutants is a very confused movie. It’s a few genres mashed into one and none of them ever really becoming the dominant force. There is, of course, the Young Adult vibe as the moping group of adolescents sit around and talk about their problems as well as forging romances and flinging testosterone around (metaphorically! Get out of the gutter, slime balls). It laughably tries to tackle tough issues such as mental health problems and suicidal thoughts, but they feel like nothing more than box ticking.
Then there’s the horror aspects which the film is priding and selling itself on as being the ‘first franchise superhero horror’. Is it though? Are we forgetting the likes of Blade, Darkman and possibly even The Toxic Avenger and Brightburn? But I digress. It is indeed Marvel’s (as we know it in the 21st Century, anyway) scariest film ever. But that’s a bar so low that you could step over it. The frights come mainly from one of the character designs: The Smiley Men. Standing at seven-feet-tall, with no eyes and teeth as sharp as ice-skate blades, they sure are imposing figures. Their real reason for being hint at an infinitely darker Universe and crushingly, its its quest to appease a variety of audiences, it’s one The New Mutants fails to embrace. The other scenes of horror are little more than hurried jump scares, given little room to allow any tension to build for a genuine chill.
What of the mutants themselves? Their powers are fairly impressive (except for Game of Thrones and Departures actress Maisie Williams’ Rahne Sinclair who, from what I gathered, basically just turns into a dog), with Anya Taylor-Joy’s (Split, THE VVITCH) Illyana Rasputin being the highlight with her dragon puppet Lockheed and ability to warp into different dimensions. The focus is mainly on Blu Hunt as Danielle “Dani” Moonstar, whose powers aren’t fully revealed from the get-go, while Stranger Things’ Charlie Heaton as Samuel “Sam” Guthrie can propel himself through the air. Henry Zaga plays Roberto “Bobby” da Costa, a mutant who can heat up like a living sun – to unfortunate consequences for a former flame of his. Mostly though, they’re a forgettable bunch for sure. We’re given rushed backstories as to why they may be so troubled but none of them ever really connect in a meaningful way.
To its credit, The New Mutants does succeed in feeling contained. It’s an assuredly smaller-scale outing for Marvel, so if you’re expecting the kind of wanton destruction as seen in the wider MCU, you’re going to be disappointed. The likes of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, The Shining and The Breakfast Club have been cited as influences and I can see why. The threat never really leaves the building and it’s refreshing to see it’s not the Universe at stake, but the characters we’re spending time with. It’s just a shame then that more time isn’t given to fleshing them out so we truly care about their fate. On the other hand, the final twenty minutes or so do make up for the slow craw of its opening hour. Once the mutants have a grasp of their capabilities and the true villain is in place, The New Mutants hits its stride and is – dare I say it – immensely enjoyable.
The New Mutants truly is an anomaly of superhero movies. It should be commended for branching out from the formula which made it so successful, but it still suffers heavily from studio butchering and the scars are on show. It’s a movie whose legacy won’t be the final finished piece, but the long and winding road it took to get to the big screen.
Small scale stakes works in its favour
Action packed Third Act finale makes up for the slow slog of the first hour
Mishmash of genres, none of which ever dominate
Rushed characterisations means lack of emotional connection