Published Aug 28, 2020Director Josh Boone's most recent film was 2014's The Fault in Our Stars. This means he's a slightly odd choice to helm a horror-tinged superhero movie, but it certainly helps to explain The New Mutants' awkward YA tone.
This teen-driven X-Men spinoff (which, incidentally, was shown in Toronto at a socially distanced press screening, unlike what has been apparently offered to critics in the U.S.) follows a group of youthful mutants who are being held in a mysterious facility while they attempt to gain control of their burgeoning powers. Danielle Moonstar (a.k.a. Dani, played by Blu Hunt) is the only survivor after a mysterious tragedy wipes out her entire reservation, and she wakes up to find herself in the medical care of Cecilia Reyes (Alice Braga). Dr. Reyes, who can generate forcefields, explains that Dani is in the process of manifesting as-yet-undetermined superpowers, and she shows her around a spooky hospital that seems an awful lot like a prison.
There, she meets four fellow mutant teens: canine shapeshifter Rahne (Maisie Williams with a half-decent Scottish accent), magical warrior Illyana (Anya Taylor-Joy with a dubious Russian accent), rocket-powered Sam (Charlie Heaton with an absolutely fucking terrible Kentucky accent) and fire-starter Roberto (Henry Zaga, who is Brazilian and the only one not doing a silly voice).
At first, the story has the dynamic of a classic teen melodrama, with superpowers that are purely incidental to the plot and serve no function other than to bring the characters together in this eerie, claustrophobic hospital. Illyana is a stereotypical mean girl with an added dash of racism, Roberto is a lecherous Lothario who talks a big game, and Rahne (known to comic readers as Wolfsbane) is by far the most compelling on-screen presence as she enters a cute, curious flirtation with Dani. There's even a teenage rebellion scene set to "Bastards of Young."
Things take a tonal shift in the final act, as The New Mutants finally turns into the horror promised by the film's Wikipedia page. It's not a full-blown scare-fest, but some smiley-faced creepers (who look like a cross between Jack Skellington and Pan's Labyrinth) are genuinely alarming after all of the teens-being-teens bullying and bonding that preceded them.
Neither the YA nor the horror elements fully gel. The New Mutants doesn't have enough syrupy sweetness for the former, nor the claws to pull off the latter. The story never properly ties into the X-Men universe, creating the sense that this is a non-canonical spinoff for kids — these X-Teens can't quite hang with the real X-Men, so don't expect to see them in the MCU.
Still, with its Breakfast Club-like teenage dynamic, compelling leads and a gratifyingly lean runtime, this is a nice enough way to kill an hour an a half (at home, after the film inevitably fizzles out of pandemic-stricken theatres and plops onto Disney+). (Twentieth Century Studios)