Oh, the sad, strange tale of Fox’s New Mutants movie. The last of the studio’s X-Men related movies was delayed about two and a half years in total between the Disney buyout, planned reshoots, scheduling conflicts with other X-flicks, and COVID-19. It seemed destined for film purgatory–a film that was only ever going to be available in low quality online pirate copies, and which would never actually be properly released.
And then, in the midst of the COVID epidemic… it finally came out. Dropped to the world in a time in which cinema-going was still an untrusted quantity, New Mutants never really had a chance to succeed. Was the wait worth it?
Not so much, if you ask most. The reviews were widely critical of the effort. It seemed as though Fox’s tenure with the X-Franchise was going out with a whimper, and not the bang many had hoped for.
I have been excited for New Mutants for some time, to be honest! Sure I didn’t get around to watching it until it had been out for months, but that was more about hoping I’d eventually get to see it in the theater than have to rent it for $20 at home. And then, as the pandemic raged on, I had mostly just forgotten about it… until my wife wanted to rent a movie to watch tonight. New Mutants was now available for just $6! What a steal, right?
“This is supposed to be terrible,” I told her, “but I’ve wanted to see it for a while, so let’s give it a try”. She just likes watching new movies instead of whatever older offering I typically feel like catching up on at home, so she was all in.
And you know what? Maybe it’s the benefit of lowered expectations, but neither of us thought the movie was anywhere near as bad as its immediate reputation!
New Mutants focuses primarily on young, developing mutant Dani Moonstar, whose reservation is obliterated and her family killed in a mysterious attack of some sort. Dani flees the unseen terror before falling and knocking herself out on a rock. When she awakens, she finds herself in a hospital for young mutants. Dani and her fellow patients believe they are being groomed to eventually join the X-Men, but they also find themselves under siege from strange visions and attacks…
And it goes on. This movie is new enough that I won’t get into spoilers because there really isn’t much need.
This movie has bad scores, so let’s start with the negatives and see if we can’t figure out why.
The first of of the film’s flaws–which I will barely say is the film’s fault, as it has more to do with classic X-Men scribe Chris Claremont’s fascination with making the X-books feel so worldly–is that for a movie with so few characters, there is a disproportionate amount of distractingly bad accents going on here. Maisie Williams’ Scottish tinge to her natural British affection isn’t necessarily horrible, but Charlie Heaton’s exaggerated Southern drawl is way too fake to ever buy, and Anna Taylor-Joy’s Russian comes and goes with each scene. There’s no real reason given why this hospital has taken in only five mutants, but they span, like, four continents. If this was a huge, breathing setting with dozens of characters, it would be more believable, but for the layperson who isn’t a fan of the comic, it has to feel like the movie was just handing out weird vocal stunts to try out.
Aside from that mild annoyance, there is a fine layer of cheese to many scenes, especially in some of the moments between Williams and Blu Hunt. Nothing terribly eye-rolling, but just some lazily told tropes between them. The movie just never really tries to break new ground.
Lastly, Ms. Hunt is just not leading actress (even in an ensemble) material here. Dani is the core protagonist, but Hunt is just… adequate. I was never really as invested in her as the movie wants me to be, and her range across the scenarios of being chased, considering suicide, and finding young love seems to just barely extend beyond “kind of bored”. Nothing about her performance takes me out of the movie, but neither does it ever engage me.
And yet, pushing past all of that…
I actually enjoyed this flick. It wasn’t fantastic, but I was certainly never bored. While the movie never does become a full-on superhero/horror mash-up, it has some appropriate tension and creepy scenes. The Smile Face bad guys are creepy, and the demon bear is imposing and looks tremendous on screen. Blu Hunt may not have wowed me, but Williams and Taylor-Joy demanded your attention whenever they were present. They are the real stars here.
Honestly, the film does a good job at seamlessly blending the emotions of fun teenage antics, young romance and lust, and ethereal nightmares without ever feeling jarring or like any of the moods doesn’t belong. And at a run time of just a hair past an hour-and-a-half, it tells its story without over-staying its welcome. I could see more criticism for this if it had tried to pad itself out to two-plus hours, but as it is, it’s a solid way to pass ninety minutes. It came in, told its story, and ended.
It’s just… give it a shot. Maybe I am wrong, and you will hate it. But in the face of its criticisms, I was pleasantly surprised by this movie.
For even more New Mutants goodness, click HERE for Jabroniville’s Deep Dive into the comic franchise!