Starring Maisie Williams, Anya Taylor-Joy, Charlie Heaton, Alice Braga, Blu Hunt. Directed by Josh Boone.
So, it finally arrived, the final film in the Fox (Studios) X-Men universe, showing how the merger with Disney somewhat kills the franchise just when it was getting interesting.
The New Mutants follows a group of adolescent mutants in an Asylum as they attempt to come to terms with their burgeoning powers and understand the motivations of their captor, Dr Reyes.
The film has had a slew of negative reviews from critics proclaiming it to be the worst X-Men film in the series – this isn’t the case, Dark Phoenix, The Last Stand, Apocalypse and Wolverine are worse, but it is a case of wasted potential. The idea of making the film a horror film sets it apart from the other X films, in the same way that Logan is a western.
The film focusses on five mutants: Maisie Williams’ Rahne, Anya Taylor-Joy’s Illyana, Charlie Heaton’s Sam, Henry Zaga’s Roberto and Blu Hunt’s Danielle. Blu Hunt anchors the film as a Native American mutant who sees her family wiped out and needs to uncover the secret of what happened.
The film plays on some interesting ideas, and it’s not afraid to delve into the darker territory that the asylum setting allows for; it’s a clear riff on A Nightmare on Elm Street 3, and that works well. It’s when the film tries to be a superhero film that it fails – more on that later. In her lead role, Hunt is absolutely electric, showing both vulnerability and strength in equal measure as her mutations manifest. Her burgeoning relationship with Williams’ Rahne is quietly moving, and shows the teen angst element that the film is aiming for.
There is also an interesting look at abuse, manifesting with Taylor-Joy’s Illyana and her history with strange Slender Man-like creatures. The backstories and mutations slowly revealing themselves work as things pile on top of each other. The scenes that work best are The Breakfast Club style ones in which the cast are simply teens interacting with one another.
The film suffers from a lack of confidence, as despite the small cast it feels like the film doesn’t know how to juggle all of them at once, and the lacklustre opening characterisations show this clearly. It’s unfortunate that the film feels the need to resort to one character calling another “Pocahontas” or “Standing Rock”. Once the film does away with boring cliche and moves into the idea of deeper fears becoming a reality, the film does pick up.
There is also the issue of whitewashing Roberto, which undermines the LGBT+ / Native American communities and their steps forward in film. The antagonist in the form of Dr Reyes is also underserved; there is a clear illusion to Nurse Ratched from One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest but for all the work that Alice Braga is doing, the film is still painfully unable to give her the sort of villainous turn in the third act where she could really have chewed the scenery.
Still, the film is not a total flop, it could have lead to more interesting work later on, and the central turn from Blu Hunt is an incredible star-making turn. It might have done better if it was put on Netflix, or something, but even as it is it’s a solidly enjoyable time that sits within the X-universe as what might have been.