The unfortunate swan song for FOX’S venerable X-men saga isn’t as bad as you’ve heard. It’s also the victim of a clear studio-mandated course correction that has doomed the film to genre confusion and ineffective scares. The New Mutants was intended by its creator as superhero moviedom’s first Horror with a capital-H offering (Blade and Hellboy were always pure action-adventure with mere horror trappings). Instead it’s Disney’s abandoned attempt at forging a new YA franchise out of Boone’s seemingly not-too-shabby material, thus producing the schizophrenic love child of an already troubled production and some marketing exec’s outdated idea of a sure thing. The New Mutants had potential as a psychological fright fest, and instead finds itself stuck in an unknowable genre abyss between what was salvaged of Boone’s work and the more safer elements that Disney and FOX apparently required of them. The clearest example of this would be Maise Williams’ character Rahne, also known as Wolfsbane in the good books. Early scenes paint a girl who can turn into a dog, not a wolf. Later scenes imply something closer to her vicious comic-book counterpart, a werewolf-like creature who at one point seriously wounds Alice Braga’s fake-doctor antagonist. So which is it, dog or werewolf? This is but one of dozens of narrative fractures that would inform even the most naive of moviegoers that something went amiss in the making of this picture.
That being said, there are surprises to be had. Dani and Rahne’s romantic connection is much more than an afterthought shoehorned for social justice points, and Stranger Things‘ Charlie Heaton is clearly very committed to the role of Cannonball, a young man beset by family trauma. His powers are underused, however, his internal woes are fleshed out through Heaton alone. But it’s Anya Taylor-Joy who steals the film as Russian bad girl Magik, an obvious candidate for fan favorite if The New Mutants could dream of garnering a fan base. Her role in a final battle royale is the lone bright spot, literally and figuratively (this movie is dark, way too dark), in a sequence that is otherwise anti-climactic. The film’s biggest problem, one likely the fault of Disney’s, is that it’s just not all that scary. That’s fine if you’ve got something to prove or something to say (Midsommar, for example), and it’s not fine if you’ve got scene after scene of young people stalked by a mysterious presence in the night, in dank and darkened hallways of a building that evokes feelings of a terrible mental institution. With werewolves, waking nightmares, and faceless Creepy Thin Man vibes, and more, you’d imagine more frightening bang for your buck. The stage is set, and yet a proper atmosphere is needed. As we know, poorly animated CGI monsters can ruin such an atmosphere pretty quickly. It’s the #1 Horror Movie Sin and yet studios and filmmakers can’t stop themselves apparently. The #2 Horror Movie Sin, or even Any Movie Sin? Poorly edited flashbacks. There’s some of that too. If only there was a movie all about Magik. I’d watch that right now.
P.S. If you’re in the DFW area, Galaxy Drive-in in Ennis is exactly what you look for in a drive-in experience: local flavor, rural charm, and a pretty sunset. However, not ideal for a dark movie like The New Mutants. I could barely make out what was happening in a handful of scenes.