Four Star Rating: **
Starring: Maisie Williams, Anya Taylor-Joy, Charlie Heaton, Alice Braga, Blu Hunt, Henry Zaga
Director: Josh Boone
Screenplay: Josh Boone & Knate Lee
Based on: New Mutants (comic) created by Chris Claremont & Bob McLeod
Producers: Karen Rosenfelt, Lauren Shuler Donner & Simon Kinberg
Music by: Mark Snow
Cinematographer: Peter Deming
Editor: Matthew Rundell, Robb Sullivan & Andrew Buckland
Production Company: 20th Century Studios
Distributed by: 20th Century Studios
Genre: Science Fiction/Action/Horror/Superhero/Fantasy
Rated: 14A (Ontario)/PG-13 (United States) - Violence, Frightening Scenes, Mature Content, Coarse Language
Release Date: August 28, 2020
Run Time: 94 minutes
In 20 years if you watch several movies from 2020 and you are quizzed on which one had been pushed for several years and had some production troubles then without any research or background knowledge you'd likely choose The New Mutants. For over a year, there had been reports that the movie was set for reshoots, but the movie actually feels incomplete with missing scenes and a sporadic tone that still needs to be defined. It is not hard to believe the movie had input and tweaking from various places but never someone able to fully create a cohesive final film. Sadly, we end up with a movie that Disney wanted nothing to do with because it was a work from the studio they'd acquired and they just wanted to unload it as quickly as possible so they could move the mutant into their Marvel Cinematic Universe.
It is unfortunate because the concept is interesting with a The Breakfast Club meets The Nightmare on Elm Street. It looks at what happen when teenage mutants, who are dealing with hormones and still figuring out their powers, are stuck in a facility that may not be what it claims. It is even more unfortunate the story doesn't come together when it has some actual diversity with a female Native American lead, which is something I don't think has happened on a big blockbuster movie level, and a teen lesbian romance that is presented like a heterosexual romance rather than some big social talking point. None of it lands because it lacks a single character that feels real rather than just pawns for the plot.
We start with Dani Moonstar (played by Blu Hunt) running away from an apparent tornado that growls that destroys her reserve and kills her family, then wakes up handcuffed to a hospital bed. This is the first real issue, we as viewers are supposed to believe the teen mutants are staying at a facility that is trying to help them figure out their powers. It is established as a safe place with the teen's interests in mind. A person waking up being handcuffed to a bed then later finding out is trapped in the hospital by force field instantly makes the place seem sinister. Not to the mention that the hospital only has one staff member, the halls look like something from a haunted house and has testing that seems more than a little suspect. Yet the characters are trusting of the place at first, which makes them way behind the viewer who knows devious things are creeping about.
The even bigger issue is that this is a coming of age tale that is lacking characters with believable emotions or motivations. There defining traits are mostly defined by their powers with Rahne Sinclair (Maisie Williams) who can transform into a wolf, Illyana Rasputin (Anya Taylor-Joy) can transport to other dimensions, Sam Guthrie (Charlie Heaton) can blast himself through the air and Henry Zaga (Bobby da Costa) is all kinds of hot. Moonstar doesn't yet know her power, but it hints that she may be the strongest of the bunch. The paper-thin characters then have friction and arguments that feel contrived and forced since there feels like several character development scenes that were left on the cutting room floor. Alice Braga is completely flat as Dr. Cecilia Reyes because the narrative is so forced on keeping her mysterious that she becomes almost pointless to the story.
The mystery is one of the issues here. Creepy things happen to each of the teens and there is some kind of supernatural force that is haunting them. Except you can probably figure out the cause halfway through the movie, but the reveal is waiting to be a giant non-surprise in the finale.
This may not be a problem if the elements tormenting the teens were actually scary. The movie has been marketed as the first superhero horror movie. It has horror beats you've seen in countless past horror movies and it will remind you of things like The Nightmare on Elm Street or Insidious but without the atmosphere or actual scares. It is all about the token jumps scares with spooky thing appearing out of nowhere or figure sauntering in the background or creepy creature lumbering down the hall, but none of it is set up or paced to actually deliver scares. Plus, none of it matters when there isn't the time to make you care about those being tormented.
By the time we hit the climax, it become the usual team must get together and vanquish the big evil special effects wham-bam spectacle. In all the attempts to try to be something different, it falls into generic by-the-number superhero formula.
The New Mutants has fine performances, decent special effects and is well paced to the point it doesn't overstay its welcome. But it isn't memorable, and we don't connect with anything other than watching a special effects pictures with a few big visual moments here and there. This is disappointing after director Josh Boone made us care about his characters in his past movie, The Fault in Our Stars. He knows how to capture the teen emotions and need for relationships, but it gets lost in the superhero formula here. In the end after the several years long wait and all the behind the scenes drama, The New Mutants will largely just be a forgettable addition to the superhero genre.