Nearly two-and-a-half years after it was originally intended to be released, the latest X-Men title, The New Mutants, finally arrives in theatres. Given just how much this film has suffered in trying to secure a release date (and this was before COVID-19) one would be forgiven for expecting a trainwreck of a movie, and whilst The New Mutants is far from being top-tier Marvel fodder, it’s not as awful as it should be. Sadly, it’s not as good as it could be either.
Given that the film has a solid source of catalogue material on hand and a relatively strong cast, The New Mutants certainly can’t say it wasn’t equipped for the job. Whilst the characters the film does focus on all have their own supernatural alter-egos at the ready, Josh Boone and Knate Lee’s script never investigates them enough for us to truly care, nor even learn their names; players such as Wolfsbane, Magik and Cannonball all appear here, but only ever addressed by their human monikers.
Those aforementioned X-Men-in-waiting are instead known as Rahne (Maisie Williams), Illyana (Anya Taylor-Joy) and Sam (Charlie Heaton), who alongside Dani (Blu Hunt) and Roberto (Henry Zaga), are being held in “protection” in a safe-house facility overseen by Dr. Reyes (Alice Braga). Initially it would appear as if Reyes is only holding them for their own safety – it’s noted at how unpredictable they are when it comes to honing their own superhuman abilities – but as the film plods along throughout its relatively tight 94 minutes it becomes evident all is not as it seems within their contained walls.
Dani, whose better known as Psyche in the comic series, emerges as the story’s main focus, and though Hunt is serviceable in the role, she’s a character whose power we’re unsure of for the majority of the narrative. And then once it’s revealed, it’s never explored nor utilised in a manner that’s remotely interesting. Arguably the strongest player of the group, the film seems more interested in displaying her helplessness, wandering aimlessly around the halls whilst her fellow inmates throw exposition at her, or, in Illyana’s case, bitchy, racist comments that are never justified; the only narrative arc the film handles with any care is the blossoming relationship between Dani and Rahne, which further leans into the mentality of young adults coping with newfound powers acting as a metaphor for questioning their sexuality.
As each character starts to unravel as their deepest fears start to manifest in reality, the film moves towards the inevitable showdown – with a giant animal, no less – before puttering out with a standard sequel-suggestive final shot that will now never come to fruition. Boone, who rose to prominence off the back of the YA tear-jerker The Fault in Our Stars, has so much potential at his fingertips here that it’s even more disappointing that he can’t create any type of personality behind the camera. With the film’s marketing hyping up the more horrific elements the story suggested, the fact that the disturbing thematics present fail to illicit any type of emotional reaction only adds to Boone’s misguided handling of what should have been a superhero effort that truly thrived in taking risks.