Tuesday, September 1, 2020

The New Mutants: A Review (Review #1419)


I don't think I would have imagined that a film that had been held back for three years would be the film to almost essentially reopen cinemas after the COVID-19 pandemic/panic. However, if 2020 has shown us anything, it is that this year things are completely bonkers. The New Mutants is not a good movie, but tales of it being a horror or a disaster are grossly exaggerated. 

After her reservation is wiped out, Native American teen Danielle Moonstar (Blu Hunt) finds herself in a hospital that specializes in mutants, people with specialized physical powers. Under the watchful but benevolent eyes of Dr. Reyes (Alice Braga), Danni slowly starts accepting her situation. There are four other teens in the hospital: an enemy in the Russian Illyana Rasputin (Anya Taylor-Joy) but a friend in Irish Catholic Rahne (Maisie Williams). There's also Kentucky hick Sam (Charlie Heaton) and hot Brazilian Roberto da Costa (Henry Zaga).

As we keep flashing back to their pasts, we find that there is an evil force chasing after each of them. We also see that things may not be what they appear to be, that perhaps these new mutants are not being prepared for a future as X-Men, but instead part of a secret sinister corporation bent on using them for their own nefarious plans. Danielle herself may be unwittingly the source of the danger, putting her in danger herself. The kids now join forces against their enemies to save themselves and find their true purpose.

The New Mutants is almost delightfully misguided because it does not play as a feature film. Instead, it plays like the opening to the planned/hoped-for trilogy the film was meant to create. We get not a real story but introduction to the characters who are thrown into a situation close to a surprisingly short running time.

With perhaps one exception these are not characters but types. Roberto's main characteristic is his hotness (literal and figurative). Sam's main characteristic is his hick accent. Apart from that we kind of forget to give them personalities or anything close to interesting roles.

It may be a positive that The New Mutants sidelines the men to focus slightly more on the women, but even then the actresses are given so little to work with apart from one-note characters (Rahne: guilt-ridden, Illyana: angry, Danielle: frightened, Dr. Reyes: stern) that they become dull. 

A lot of The New Mutants is surprisingly cheap-looking, probably because the film is dominated by grays and the very small cast. The climatic battle is not great but serviceable, nothing exceptional but nothing horrible. I can see the actors really doing their best but sometimes it felt as if they did fend for themselves.

In a lot of ways, The New Mutants felt like The Breakfast Club blended with One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and threw in a superhero veneer on it. There's really little here: a little teen drama, a little superhero world building, hints and bits of things to come that will never come.

Out of the cast Maisie Williams is the best, her conflicted emotions of guilt about her powers colliding with deep Catholic faith a well-acted role. It's curious that while Rahne feels guilty about causing a death, her lesbianism mixing with her Catholicism does not, or at least appears to. The Rahne-Danielle romance seems a trifle tentative but it gives Williams and Blu their best moments.

Apart from that though I think the actors did their best with what they had. The men fared worse: Heaton's Southern accent a bit comical and Zaga all but disappearing for long stretches, with his only real sequence being an obligatory shirtless scene. Braga I think tried to be serious but she all but signals "I'M DANGEROUS!".

I am mercifully too unaware of these characters to offer views on the controversies over Roberto being "whitewashed" (I understand in the comics he's Afro-Brazilian vs the lighter-skin but still Brazilian Zaga), Danielle also being "lighter" in skin tone or the Rahne-Danielle romance not being more prominent. All this I figure would bother those who know the characters, but those of us unaware would not give it any thought.

The New Mutants feels more like a television pilot than a film, let alone the opening of a new franchise. The actors really tried their best but director/co-writer Josh Boone (writing with Knate Lee) did not give them or the audience much to work with. Whether people want to risk going to theaters in-person to see The New Mutants is up to individuals. I took the risk and hope to be with you in two weeks time. 

It's worth a rental if there is nothing else to see, but don't expect much. 


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