REVIEW: The New Mutants (2020)
There are two instances in Josh Boone’s The New Mutants – the X-Men spin-off that’s been on the bricks since 2018 – that we get a glimpse of the very sort of vibe he was aiming for through another band of misfits. In between what we can only assume is the final X-chapter before Marvel take the reins, Maisie Williams’ sweet, but occasionally snarling Rahne is curled up on the sofa watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Joss Whedon’s 90s-tastic staple of teenage angst and terror. While this first snippet of Sunnydale is a little on the nose, it unknowingly sets a bar that aware audience members will unintentionally hold up and this long overdue installment can’t reach. That’s not a detriment to the movie as a whole; this nearly forgotten film has moments where it stands on its own, but whether it was worth the wait to see it is another question entirely.
A murky mutation of Buffy, The Breakfast Club and Glass (the latter of which Anya Taylor-Joy also stars in), The New Mutants drops us in an abandoned hospital after Dani Moonstar (Blu Hunt) escapes a tornado that destroys her village and leaves her as the only survivor. Her time to grieve is cut short when Alice Braga’s Dr Reyes reveals that Dani is in fact a mutant, and will be monitored along with a group of other gifted individuals in her age range that also reside there. There’s Rahne (Williams) who can transform into a wolf at will; solar power-possessing Bobby (Henry Zaga); Russian dimension jumper, Illyana (Taylor-Joy), and Sam (Stranger Things’ Charlie Heaton) who can propel himself through the air at high speed. Haunted by their own pasts that brought them here, together these gifted individuals are forced to work together to overcome their own demons, and a far more mysterious force that’s at play.
So far, so X-Men? Sure. The difference is that this entry has a horror element that Boone makes an effort to apply, but doesn’t lay it on quite as thick as he could’ve done. The stage is undoubtedly set given the location these characters are forced to wander around in; rather than the polished and pristine X-mansion we’ve come to know, this is the sort of place Rogue and the rest of Xavier’s students would dare each other to spend the night in. All flickering lights and grotty hallways, it’s definitely up to code as abandoned hospitals go (which makes one character taking a dip in its swimming pool a bit questionable). However, as a result, this Dream Warriors-like establishment starts to show not only cracks in its walls, but also in its script as well. The collaborative effort from both Boone and Knate Lee breaks its own rules on a number of occasions, boxing characters into corners when they have every reason to bust out of them. This frustration is only forgivable thanks to the promising young talent at the centre of it all, fighting to keep things going.
While there’s likely more frights to be had from clearing out your loft, its thanks to The New Mutants themselves that keep the tension level as high as they can and have you feeding off their fear. This small ensemble are a likeable, albeit slightly generic bunch you want to get to know more of, particularly as we start to learn their individual history and personal horrors. Praise in particular must go to the likes of Heaton’s rough around the edges Sam, that feels like a scuffed up version of his Stranger Things role, and Maisie Williams unsurprisingly giving the goods as the tender girl with hidden turmoil of her own, which she unloads on love interest Dani.
Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for Zaga’s scorched frat boy type, and the film’s lead Blu Hunt, who doesn’t quite have the chops to get to the same level as her co-stars, often having her spotlight stolen entirely by Anya Taylor-Joy as Illyana. Channelling a mutated version of Villanelle from Killing Eve, she’s unquestionably the film’s biggest draw both in plot and performance and the one character you want to see more of. The bittersweet truth of it all of course, is that while these unorthodox X-characters have a lot of potential, the chances of seeing them again are slim to none. Like their story, they’re a forgotten band of teens that deserved more attention, but instead have to deal with a middling installment that won’t get a chance to leap forward.
MCU later, muties.