The New Mutants, 2020.
Directed by Josh Boone.
Starring Blu Hunt, Maisie Williams, Anya Taylor-Joy, Charlie Heaton, Henry Zaga and Alice Braga.
A group of teenage mutants are housed and observed within a purpose-built hospital as they learn to control their dangerous powers.
Moreso than Tenet or Bill and Ted or any of the other movies being used to reopen cinemas in the UK, it was a surreal feeling to watch The New Mutants. Josh Boone’s teen movie take on some of the less well-known X-Men was shot way back in the summer of 2017 and, quite frankly, seemed as if it was never going to come out. It was delayed first for reshoots that never happened thanks to the inherent scheduling issues of having an in-demand cast of rising stars, then the Fox-Disney merger and, finally, as a result of the ongoing global health emergency. Now, though, the wait is over and the movie has been rather unceremoniously dumped into multiplexes.
Thankfully, though, director Josh Boone’s intention remains clear. This is an X-Men movie chucked into a turkey baster with One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, The Breakfast Club and, most brilliantly, the third Nightmare On Elm Street outing – 1987’s gloriously batty Dream Warriors. While the movie never quite embraces its horror trappings with full-throated brutality – it’s still a PG-13 in the States, despite its 15 rating on British shores – there’s plenty of darkness to chew on.
Refreshingly, the movie has a Native American protagonist in the shape of Dani Moonstar (Blu Hunt), who witnesses the death of her father and everyone on her Cheyenne reservation in a destructive prologue that is officially blamed on a tornado. A likely story. Dani wakes up in a hospital under the care of the mysterious Dr Reyes (Alice Braga). She will be taught to control her powers alongside her fellow “new mutants” – lycanthrope Rahne (Maisie Williams), rocket-propelled Sam (Charlie Heaton), fiery Brazilian posh boy Roberto (Henry Zaga) and the chilly, psychopathic Ilyana (Anya Taylor-Joy). Despite Dr Reyes’s pleasant bedside manner, force fields prevent any of the teens from escaping the facility.
The New Mutants is a high school movie unfolding within the gloomy environs of a grotesque quasi-hospital. These characters have romantic entanglements, bitchy interactions and spend a great deal of time just hanging out. The chemistry between the young cast is nicely sketched out, even if many of them are saddled with an Achilles Heel accent, a dodgy wig or, in Williams’s case, both at the same time. Boone and co-writer Knate Lee are at their best when they’re writing these scenes and the cast clearly relish them, with standout performer Taylor-Joy delivering Ilyana’s acidic put-downs and threats of violence with icy venom and wicked charisma.
Boone showed a sure-footed grasp of teen love with the YA weepie The Fault In Our Stars and deploys considerable tenderness here in the budding romance between Dani and Rahne. In an age that often imbues superheroes with entertaining snark, there’s a pleasant simplicity and vulnerability to the performances of both Hunt and Williams that makes their relationship really work. As the stakes and spectacle inevitably rise, Boone maintains a grasp on this emotional fulcrum that carries the movie through some of its more ludicrous flourishes.
But this was sold as superheroes meet horror and, while it delivers flashes of genuine scares – an army of “Smiling Men” with vocal rasping provided by Marilyn Manson won’t be forgotten in a hurry – it feels like it soft-soaps this element a little. Peter Deming’s cinematography is suitably atmospheric, though a few flashes of the colourful nightmarescape of Dream Warriors – hinted at via Taylor-Joy’s ability to access a fantasy realm – wouldn’t have gone amiss. The lower budget rears its head in the chaotic climax, but there’s more than enough flair to paper over the moments of slightly shonky CGI.
It’s a shame that The New Mutants took so long to arrive because, before it aged into irrelevance thanks to Disney’s new plans for the X-Men, this laid promising groundwork for a franchise. In the space of a tight 90 minutes or so, Boone introduces half a dozen intriguing characters and positions them ready to spread their wings into a world that is still grappling with the opportunities and dangers of mutants.
It doesn’t reinvent the superhero wheel perhaps as much as you might hope, but this is an engrossing and entertaining dip into an entirely different corner of this well-worn universe. And sadly, a dip is all we’ll ever get.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Tom Beasley is a freelance film journalist and wrestling fan. Follow him on Twitter via @TomJBeasley for movie opinions, wrestling stuff and puns.