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Monday, November 16, 2020

[Review] ‘The New Mutants’ Is a Messy and Weak Horror-Lite Superhero Origin Story

After a series of lengthy delays, planned reshoots that never came to pass, and a studio acquisition to boot, The New Mutants finally saw release amidst the chaos of a pandemic. It marks a strange end to Fox’s era of X-Men film adaptations. The final product, hitting the Blu-ray and DVD shelves on November 17 after a brief theatrical release, feels like an apropos representation of the production’s tumultuous journey to the screen. Far removed from the 1982 comic by writer Chris Claremont and artist Bob McLeod, designed to bring about the next generation of X-Men, The New Mutants aspires to exist at the crossroads of a John Hughes coming-of-age teen drama and a horror flick. It doesn’t succeed at either, though there’s enough visual flair and interesting plot beats to tease potential.

In a grim opening, Danielle “Dani” Moonstar (Blu Hunt) wakes in the middle of the night to her reservation being torn asunder by an unseen assailant in the middle of a freak snowstorm. Whatever it is, it’s big and unstoppable, and it leaves Dani as the sole survivor. She next wakes in an isolated, heavily-secured facility run by Dr. Cecilia Reyes (Alice Braga). Dr. Reyes explains that she’s in a program for young mutants struggling with their budding powers, kept far removed from civilized society for safety purposes. In other words, these teens are dangerous until they can control themselves. Dani gets introduced to her fellow wards; the racist and abrasive Illyana Rasputin (Anya Taylor-Joy), southern bumpkin Sam Guthrie (Charlie Heaton), erstwhile playboy-type Bobby da Costa (Henry Zaga), and Scottish Catholic sweetie Rahne Sinclair (Maisie Williams). Soon after Dani’s arrival, though, the fivesome becomes terrorized by the physical manifestation of their worst fears and memories, forcing them to reckon with themselves and those holding them captive.

Director Josh Boone (2020’s The Stand TV series), who co-wrote the script with Knate Lee, spends a lengthy first half attempting to build character dynamics, focusing on the budding romance between Dani and Rahne. The problem is that there’s not much characterization on the page, nor is there much chemistry between any of them. It’s a small cast of thinly written, stock character types without much of an arc and there’s no depth at all to be found, all of them given tragic pasts seen only in glimpses but never fully explored in any meaningful way. Accents are employed in place of personality. Sam and Bobby are all but sidelined completely.

The most egregious frustration is that Boone renders his teen protagonists as absolute morons. It takes them nearly the entire movie to figure out what the audience grasps within the first ten minutes; the facility is terrible news, and the fear-induced specters haunting them result from Dani’s power. Fans of the X-Men comics will want to tear their hair out when they see “Essex Corporation” in Dr. Reyes’ computer correspondence. Watching them sleepwalk through the empty halls of a high-tech facility, so thoroughly oblivious to anything outside of their petty infighting or posturing, might be very appropriately adolescent. Still, it doesn’t make for an engaging watch in a superhero movie.

As a coming-of-age story, The New Mutants rings hollow. The horror elements don’t fare any better. Each young mutant sees their past come back to frighten them. It’s so sparingly handled that it doesn’t feel like much of a threat outside of Illyana, whose childhood sexual trauma somehow provides the most significant recurring nightmare fuel. It’s a little tone-deaf.

Luckily, when the third act finally arrives, The New Mutants sparks to life. Sure, it’s the requisite big VFX spectacle showstopper that most superhero movies adhere to, but it also injects the danger and stakes missing from the previous two-thirds. More importantly, it finally gives the full scope of these teen powers, for better and worse. Illyana may be a rotten person, but the narrative could’ve benefited from seeing more of her unique abilities and world-building skills. Even just for her beloved dragon Lockheed, alone. Or simply injecting more action or horror into the mix to break up the lifeless drama.

The concept behind The New Mutants is a solid, intriguing one that could’ve reinvigorated the familiar origin superhero story. Instead, Boone opts for genericism. The creature designs are great, and Dani’s powers could’ve made for an excellent Dream Warriors-style action-horror movie had it been treated with more finesse that didn’t render its protagonists as unintelligent. It’s technically executed well enough, the cast tries their best, and the big finale brings some fun. There’s just a lot of missed opportunities that make you mourn the horror superhero story that could’ve been, ending the X-Men franchise with an angsty-teen whimper.

The New Mutants arrives on Blu-ray and DVD on November 17, 2020. 



source https://bloody-disgusting.com/reviews/3641581/review-new-mutants-messy-horror-lite-superhero-origin-story-weak-end-franchise/

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