The New Mutants (2020)
Written by Josh Boone & Knate Lee
Directed by Josh Boone
And so the 20th Century Fox X-Men franchise comes to a strange, pitiful end. Dark Phoenix came out last year and appeared to be the intended conclusion, made and edited with the end of the series in mind. However, multiple delays and then COVID-19 caused The New Mutants to make a three year trip to the big screen. The signs that the X-Men film series was over were apparent years ago with X-Men: Apocalypse, a movie that seemed conflicted about what is trying to be or how it would fit in the post-MCU landscape. I would argue that, despite a few highlights along the way, the X-Men film series was always disappointing and felt like it belonged to another era gone by.
Dani Moonstar (Blu Hunt), a teenage Cheyenne, is caught amid a storm that kills her entire community and leaves her waking up unconscious in a strange medical facility. She’s under the care of the only adult in the facility, Dr. Cecilia Reyes (Alice Braga), who intends to examine her charges and give them threatening guidance on their mutant powers. Dani sparks a romance with fellow patient Rhane Sinclair (Maisie Williams) while getting into a rivalry with Illyana Rasputin (Anya Taylor-Joy). Rounding out the patients are Sam Guthrie (Charlie Heaton) and Robert DaCosta (Henry Zaga). The hospital is surrounded by an invisible force field of unknown origin, which leads to more uneasiness. Even worse are the manifestations of people’s greatest fears that come out at night. As these new mutants learn about their powers and explore the mystery of this facility, they are on a crash course into the maw of the Demon Bear.
The New Mutants is a total waste of resources on characters that deserved so much better. Boone & Lee take elements from the Chris Claremont/Bill Sienkiewicz run on the title but remix them in a wholly uninteresting and cliched way. The interpersonal dynamics feel half-hearted, and cookie-cutter, especially the way Illyana is presented. She’s a boring angsty edgy mean girl with past trauma that only works to make her “badass.” It’s eye-rollingly simplified and betrays a more complex portrayal that she deserves. Roberto and Sam are almost non-characters in the picture, so bland and relegated to the background. There’s no effort to build on the relationship between these two, an element that resonates with them to this day.
The movie’s main characters are Dani and Rhane, and they are slightly more interesting and better handled. We get our first onscreen LGBTQ relationship in a Marvel-based property. I have gotten to the point that I am sick of queer-baiting in these big-budget franchise pictures. We’ve seen it most notoriously in the Star Wars pictures as the writers and directors tease about how intimate certain relationships are. It’s incredibly sickening and is fueled by a corporate need to ship films to China where LGBTQ representation is abhorred. I suspect it was allowed in this film because it was a lower budget and not expected to do well worldwide anyway. I am happy we got it, but it’s a shame that it shows up in the dying light of a film franchise that is over. Will Marvel seek to expand on this in its prominent films? That remains to be seen, but I am worried the answer will be more queer-baiting.
The affair feels like a mediocre young adult novel, characters that exist more as types than fully fleshed-out people, and the plot is very predictable, full of cliche dialogue and ham-fisted plot beats. That is deeply disappointing after reading through the Demon Bear Saga in January and seeing what a well-written and beautifully illustrated story it was. There is no realistic way to adapt that story whole cloth while trying to do an origin story for the team, but I would like to think it could be better than this. I think the artwork of Bill Sienkiewicz should have had a much more considerable production influence than it did because it is so different than what you expect when you pick up a comic book. While the film was sold in marketing as a superhero/horror hybrid, it is most certainly a superhero movie with minimal horror.
So, there you go. The New Mutants finally came out and basically met the lowered expectations I had after the first pull from the release schedule. It fizzled as most X-Men movies have in the last five years. I am curious to see how the MCU handles the property now that is out of the hands of Bryan Singer & company. My fear is that it will end up a well-made bland product rather than anything with a sense of life and energy. You will have snarky characters cracking jokes with each other surrounded by good special effects and little else beneath the surface.