ThinkMovies: The New Mutants

ThinkMovies: The New Mutants

by Alan Grant
article from Thursday 10, September, 2020

The New Mutants didn’t have an easy journey to cinemas. Each and every stage of development and production faced setbacks, revisions, and a raft of other issues and complications that such an innocent little flick really didn’t really deserve to have to deal with. To that end, it’s tempting to want to be nice to this horror picture from Marvel Studios before the opening sequence even begins just based on the adversity it’s faced in getting onto our screens in the first place. A less dedicated team would have given in well before now and there must surely be points for that? 

Based in the X-Men wing of the Marvel intellectual estate, The New Mutants centres around a breakfast club of teens with superpowers who find themselves in a medical facility, overseen by Alice Braga’s Dr Reyes, under the pretence that they are there to be helped to control their powers. Our supernatural scooby-gang have the ability to manipulate the minds of others, burst into flames, pull magic swords from other dimensions, and launch into the air like a rocket… and you thought your high school days were tough? Once the group realises that all is not as it seems to be, particularly with the good doctor, they must put their differences aside and team up to set things straight and find out what’s going on. 

At the core of the group is Dani Moonstar, the sole survivor of a terrible accident that killed her entire reservation, who also has to find out what her power is and how to use it. Ably played by Blu Hunter, Dani is joined by an angry Russian, a cocky preppy Brazilian, the son of a Kentucky miner, and a quiet but warm-hearted Scottish lass in her journey. It’s a veritable Guess Who? of angsty teens complete with Chuck Taylors, oversized sweaters, big headphones, and the other aesthetic touches one would expect from the X-Men as depicted by Tik Tok. In short, if those damn kids with their iPhones and trendy jeans get on your nerves – give this one a miss.  

There’s something rather brave about The New Mutants which really endears me to it. While it could quite easily have been a rather smug teen movie based on lesser-known Marvel characters, The New Mutants is an unapologetic horror flick and Josh Boone and Knate Lee’s writing is packed with tension, scares, and genuine chills, all backed by competent production and some very clever design – particularly when it comes to the look and feel of the picture. Given that audiences have come to expect a certain kind of warm fuzziness from Marvel, choosing to go into genuinely scary territory is both bold and refreshing – because it works! 

Moreover, the cast is not only well-chosen but does a lot with what could have easily fallen into cliché territory. Admittedly, the setting of a spooky mental hospital and the inclusion of the Slenderman-like Smiley Men villains do occasionally flirt with the banal but they’re so grittily produced and dealt with in such an interesting way by a young but confident cast that they work. In particular, Hunt and Maisie Williams do a great job in telling their stories, which come with the added bonus of an LGBT positive storyline that helps us root for them and become invested in their plight. 

Also, Williams deserves extra kudos for achieving that rarest of goals… a non-Scot performing in a Scottish accent that doesn’t make me want to rip my seat from the floor and hurl it at the screen.  

Sure, there are some drawbacks, as there almost always are. In addition to the aforementioned flirting with cliché, some of the effects come across as a bit silly in a way that comic book fans will enjoy but others will probably find just too goofy. In particular, the presence of a demon grizzly bear towards the end of the movie feels a little too slapstick at times. This will come down to a matter of personal taste; it works for me but I can see how others would find it a bit hard to take seriously. 

Also, while some ambiguity and absent information is needed to make any suspenseful plot work, The New Mutants feels a little stripped down. This is most likely an editing issue that resulted in too many scenes being left on the floor. In an ideal world, the general release of The New Mutants will be followed by an extended or director’s cut version that fleshes out some of the moments and pushes the runtime a little to give the whole thing a more weight and impact. 

None of this really detracts, however, from the fact that The New Mutants is a good movie and holds the distinction of being the first of this year’s releases that I’ve been to see twice.  

It works in what it tries to do and represents the flexibility that the Marvel material can have when given to a director and cast who are willing to try something a little bit different. I’m not sure we’re going to see more of these characters in the near future, which would be a shame, but it does finish at a point at which it would be reasonable to conclude. 

I suppose that rather summarises my general feeling about The New Mutants; I enjoyed what I had but I would like to see more. If there are to be criticisms, and that is why I’m here after all, that’s not a bad one to have.  

Alan Grant, our resident ThinkMovies critic, can be found here with a new review every Thursday evening. @alangrantuk #thinkmovies 

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