I started covering the entertainment industry nearly four years ago, in the fall of 2016, when I was first hired as a writer at ComicBook.com. A lot has changed in that time, in both my personal life and the world as a whole. Very few things are the same now as they were four years ago, save for The New Mutants. We covered the development of The New Mutants all the way back in 2016, just before filming started, and we're still talking about it now. In a way, the movie has felt like a personal white whale of sorts, something I would always chase after but never catch. Well, the whale has been hooked. The New Mutants is actually here and, after all this time, it's just as painfully average as people expected it would be when it was first announced.
The New Mutants, a spinoff of Fox's previous X-Men franchise, is a teen-centered horror drama about a group of young people who are discovering their powers in a testing facility/prison disguised as a hospital. Dr. Reyes (Alice Braga) administers tests on the young people to "help" them control their powers, but things begin spiraling out of control when Danielle Moonstar (Blu Hunt) and her supernatural abilities arrive on the campus. The teenagers begin seeing their darkest fears come to life as they realize that the hospital is hiding plenty of secrets of its own.
On a conceptual level, The New Mutants is an absolute home run. It's Breakfast Club, but with students who have superpowers they can't control, haunted by manifestations of their most personal insecurities. There's so much to work with there! Nothing like that had ever been done in a mainstream superhero movie before, so there was an opportunity to build something wholly unique and exciting. Sadly, writer/director Josh Boone doesn't come close to realizing the potential of his pitch.
Whether it's because The New Mutants didn't really have a normal post-production process, or because the movie was just subpar to begin with, nothing about the enticing idea is fleshed out in the final product. It's a slow-moving chore of a film for the first 45 minutes, using weak dialogue to attempt to set up a compelling conflict between characters. We've seen catty teenagers snap at each other before, oftentimes with way better insults, so the game here is nothing new.
It's easier to see mistakes in the first half of the film than enjoyable moments. Many of the young actors, despite being dynamite in their other projects, struggled to create compelling characters on-screen. Charlie Heaton attempts a southern accent throughout the film that never once sounds like anything but over-the-top Kentuckian satire. Anya Taylor-Joy, who easily has the strongest resume of the bunch, fails to bring any sort of humanity to Magik until the final act. There really isn't a standout performance in the ensemble, which is truly a shame given the talent of that cast.
There were so many rumors about reshoots and behind-the-scenes issues regarding The New Mutants that the idea of said reshoots feels like beating a dead horse. The thing is, though, this movie really could have used some reshoots. I'm not talking about massive, story-overhauling things, either. Just normal, "clean up the edges" reshoots that every movie goes through. There are several instances where the voiceover performance doesn't match up with the character on-screen and it's mind-boggling that those scenes were allowed into the final cut of a studio picture.
The third act of the film is easily its strongest. When the nightmares come to life and the mutants actually start using their powers, it's pretty enjoyable. Demon Bear is incredibly well-designed, the Smiley Men are terrifying, and Magik's Limbo is one of the most beautiful CGI comic sets I've seen in a while. When this movie is good, it's genuinely exciting. But that excitement only takes up about 20 minutes of its run time.
These final-act triumphs are frustratingly hampered by an ending that's nothing short of lackluster. It just fizzles out into nothing until the credits roll. Boone was clearly trying to give it an ending with purpose and meaning, but it's hard to find purpose in the stories of these characters when they are never given the chance to complete any of their individual arcs, or experience any type of actual growth. All of their fears and issues are set up early on, but most are never addressed or conquered. Yet, there they are in the final scene, acting as if they've all been through some personal revolution.
Regardless of its quality, The New Mutants will leave behind a complicated legacy, one that we will likely talk about years into the future for a multitude of reasons. The New Mutants was always "the movie that would never be," and we will remember the saga of its journey. It's a movie being force-fed to an audience in the middle of a pandemic when theaters aren't actually all that safe, just because its new studio parent just wants to be rid of it. It's in the middle of a social justice tug-of-war, guilty of whitewashing multiple roles but also featuring a compelling lesbian love story with its two central characters, the only comic book movie to ever do so.
This ongoing saga of The New Mutants has been a long and dramatic one, and it's a story that we'll remember for quite a long time. The film itself, however, it's simply forgettable.
Rating: 2 out of 5
The New Mutants is now playing in theaters.