Completely by accident, The New Mutants is the last gasp of the original X-Men film franchise. Previously, there has been successful one off X-Men spin offs such as Deadpool and Logan and while New Mutants can’t compare to those, it has its own distinct horror movie / teen melodrama vibe. Co-writer and director Josh Boone has made New Mutants a haphazard homage to The Breakfast Club, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and his own 2014 movie The Fault In Our Stars, with a lot of jump scares and characters plucked from X-Men canon. It works in fits and starts as there are some good performances from some moody mutants until things finally get rolling in the finale.
After Dani (Blu Hunt) is attacked by a mysterious force she awakens in an institution, overseen by Doctor Reyes (Alice Braga). Reyes tells Dani that she is a new mutant but her powers are unpredictable and she must be monitored. In the facility are other teen aged new mutants, the explosively propulsive Sam (Charlie Heaton), the immolating Bobby (Henry Zaga), the walking Scottish Catholic guilt manifesting as wolf transformation Rahne (Maisie Williams), and the outright weird and strangely powerful Illyana (Anya Taylor-Joy). They think they are going to join the X-Men but they’re stuck going crazy as Reyes refuses to let them free. Even worse, they are being haunted by monsters and the salvation that they think awaits them may be something more sinister.
The New Mutants has been repeatedly delayed over the years, its first trailer in October 2017 promised an April 2018 release, but corporate mergers and theatre closures pushed it all the way back to late summer 2020. It gives the movie a feeling of bad buzz that isn’t entirely earned; basically it got lost in the shuffle between Disney and Fox and had a lot of bad luck on picking release dates. Also since 20th Century Fox got gobbled up by Disney, this movie is the last remnant of the original X-Men movie franchise (give or take what eventually happens with Deadpool). New Mutants, through no fault of its own, basically feels like a promised start of a new X-Men spin off that will never be.
On the flip side, viewing the movie as a self-contained side-story for the X-Men movie franchise sort of works as the ending is fairly complete. New Mutants is definitely a part of the X-Men continuity as the X-Men and mutants are known to the characters. The post-credits stinger from X-Men: Apocalypse about the nefarious Essex Corporation gets a direct follow up here. Oddly, at one point in New Mutants, a character is having a vision of very bad things happening to mutants and the footage is literally of mutant experimentation in Logan. Which doesn’t make a hell of a lot of sense since Logan is set in the future but a mutant character randomly having visions of the future isn’t exactly out of the realm possibility in the X-Men universe.
Dani is sort of the main character mostly because she’s the point of view for introduction to the hospital. She romances the emotionally closed off Rahne that has Boone ripping off his own Fault in Our Stars by having the two looking up at the sky while thinking about their fates. There is a connection between Dani and the big monster which has a great emotional payoff even if it isn’t entirely explained. Rahne never quite fully gets to do badass werewolf stuff which is disappointing. Her Catholic trauma does offer some unique scare scenes like when she has a vision of a nasty branding priest. Braga as the doctor is subtly nefarious throughout and she has a great exit. Bobby’s whole bit about how he can’t touch anyone else is basically an X-Men trope that was done better with Rogue in the first X-Men movie. Everything with Sam feels like an afterthought, he is introduced as a powerful exploding mutant but Heaton’s extreme accent is distracting and he never quite gets to explode satisfyingly until the last 20 minutes. The most interesting character is Illyana who often talks to her purple dragon hand puppet Lockheed as Taylor-Joy gets to be a really fun live wire.
While the scares peppered throughout are okay the best stuff is saved until the end where the crew finally stops being terrified and comes together to beat the unholy hell out of an unholy creature. Since the stakes have been ratcheted up progressively it makes the final giant monster showdown to be appropriately emotionally cathartic and seeing Illyana let her powers go crazy is awesome. Also, she has one of the best lines when she is going to face down a demon bear and quotes Wizard of Oz with “Lions and tigers and bears, oh my.” which is a great superhero moment.
The New Mutants is a strange, one off entry in the X-Men film series that will probably be remembered more for behind the scenes drama and release delays than as an actual film. But as a side story in the X-Men universe, this has its own distinct flair. Too bad it lollygags a wee bit too long to get to the good stuff.
The New Mutants
Director: Josh Boone
Starring: Blu Hunt, Alice Braga, Charlie Heaton, Henry Zaga, Maisie Williams and Anya Taylor-Joy