At long last, the final film in the 20th Century Fox X-Men line of films, The New Mutants, has been released. Set in a dilapidated mental healthcare facility, the film focuses on the titular team of young mutants uncovering a sinister conspiracy while also fighting their own personal fears and demons. With a promising cast and beloved comic book property, this movie was hotly anticipated… until Disney decided to buy Fox and shelved the movie. After its April 2018 release date was postponed 4 times, The New Mutants then spent three years in limbo before Disney decided to dump it in theaters this past weekend on Friday, August 28th, 2020. And ‘dump’ is more than appropriate when describing this movie.
Originally marketed as a horror movie due to the success of IT (2017), the final product jumps rapidly between being a horror movie, a superhero action movie, and a bizarre combination of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and The Breakfast Club. There are moments where the characters suffer through psychological horror, followed by a tense group therapy session, followed by the teens dancing and bonding over sneaking around their caretaker’s back, followed by a battle between the mutant teens and a gigantic grizzly bear made of smoke.
Starring Split’s Anna Taylor-Joy, Game of Thrones’ Masie Williams, and Stranger Things’ Charlie Heaton, the film squander’s it’s impressive cast with a lazy script and by turning them into tired clichés. Taylor-Joy’s Illyana Rasputin is characterized relatively faithfully, being a reclusive goth, until she opens her mouth and delivers a contrived racist joke aimed at the one Native American character, which she does multiple times in the movie. Williams’ Rahne Sinclair and Blu Hunt’s Dani Moonstar enter a romantic relationship in the film (something that hasn’t happened in the comic book source material), which could have been an effective way for these two traumatized individuals to heal each other and themselves, if the relationship wasn’t so forced and rushed. Heaton’s portrayal of Kentucky-born mutant Sam Guthrie isn’t terrible, but his laughably bad Kentucky-Fried accent distracts from the character's already sparse emotional arc. Henry Zaga’s Roberto “Berto” Da Costa is barely there other than to dress like a preppy rich white kid from the 1980’s, not to mention the fact that Zaga is not Afro-Brazilian, an important aspect of Berto’s comic book counterpart. And the less said of the film’s unfaithful portrayal of Alice Braga’s Dr. Cecilia Reyes the better.
Most of the film’s plot revolves around Dr. Reyes trying to figure out Dani’s powers while the group’s deepest fears haunt them throughout the hospital. Great emphasis is put on Rahne’s struggle trying to reconcile her mutant abilities to turn into a wolf and her Catholic faith, which manifests as her old reverend branding her with a “W” iron. Illyana’s trauma derives from serial abuse as a little girl by gangly creatures called “The Smile Men”, resulting in her creating an alternate world to hide in with her pet dragon, Lockheed. And then the movie gives up by giving Dani, Berto, and Sam the same origin: their powers manifest at puberty, and they end up accidentally killing someone they love because of it (for Berto it’s his first girlfriend, and for both Sam and Dani it’s their dads). And if the laziness wasn’t already apparent, the movie ends with the characters standing up to their fears… without showing us how they get to that point.
Dani spends the movie being terrified of the legend of the Demon Bear, only to manifest the Demon Bear and terrorize her new friends, and then she defeats the Demon Bear by telling it “I’m not scared anymore”, even though she was absolutely terrified until the movie decided she wasn’t anymore. Illyana is so traumatized by her abuse that she actively antagonizes her fellow patients until she just decides they’re her friends. Berto spends the movie being too scared of using his powers until he isn’t anymore, Sam feels guilty about killing his dad until he isn’t anymore, and Rahne feels guilty about her sudden feelings for Dani until she isn’t anymore. And there’s no justification for any of it. There’s no lesson that teaches them not to be scared or guilty, no profound journey they take to realize this, nothing. It happens because the movie needs it to happen.
Jon Hamm was originally going to provide a small cameo in this movie as the villainous Mister Sinister, but it got left on the cutting room floor, and he should be thanking his lucky stars his name is not associated with this movie. It should’ve been dumped on Hulu, or gone straight to DVD, or better yet just scrapped all together, but definitely not released in theaters for thirteen dollars a ticket. Do not go see this movie in theaters, it’s not worth the risk of potentially getting COVID-19. In fact, just don’t watch this movie. It’s disappointing, a drag to sit though, and not worth talking about any further.