There’s a moment in The New Mutants where the main antagonist gets mauled by a bear. That’s how my eyes felt after watching this movie. The second I finished the Josh Boone-directed film, I thought what the X-Men franchise has stood for. It has always been about self-discovery and caring for one another while dealing with the difficulties of being different by way of superpowers. The problem with New Mutants is that while those themes are still apparent in the overall finished product, none of those characters are utilized in such a way that they reflect those themes.
This spinoff film concerns five teenagers sequestered in a hospital building. Dr. Reyes (Alice Braga) is consistently working with them to control their powers while keeping them out of public view. While we follow several characters, Danielle Moonstar (Blu Hunt) is the film’s lead. She’s also the only diverse character within the entire film, as she is Native American. Something killed all the people within Danielle’s village, including her father. Danielle was knocked out, which is what led her to the hospital, where she is being trained for bigger and better things.
My problem with this character is we don’t learn much about her until the end of the film. It’s not good storytelling. She’s our main protagonist, and the only thing we know about her is that she is still dealing with the loss of her father and has trouble issues. Those personality traits are not enough to get an audience to invested. The other four characters we’re introduced to are Illyana Rasputin (Anya Taylor-Joy), Roberto da Costa (Henry Zaga), Sam Guthrie (Charlie Heaton), and Rahne Sinclair (Maisie Williams). Each of these characters gets their own moment to shine, but none of it does anything to really showcase how they started to trust themselves with their powers and with the people they start becoming friends with.
The script by Boone and Knate Lee is a mess. The movie just starts with villagers running and screaming without giving you any sort of context as to why people are so afraid. Sometimes this tactic can work because what people cannot see may terrify them. However, throughout the movie, this motif continues to get repeated and grows tiring after merely the second time you see it. This film is supposed to be character-based, but every time the audience has a chance to try and engage with these characters, it seems like these young mutants have nothing new to say about how they are coping with their lives or what they look forward to.
The concepts I mentioned should be familiar to any audience member who has seen The Breakfast Club. John Hughes’ 1985 movie was a huge inspiration for Boone in terms of how he wanted to bring these characters together, despite the literal ‘X’ factor distinguishing them. The problem is, the movie falls flat because there’s nowhere in the hospital these teenagers haven’t already explored. All the questions the main character asked were answered long before she got there, so there’s nothing new to discover other than why the doctor is keeping them there.
It’s poor scripting 101 because there are so many other questions we could be asking about who these people want to be, and yet none of it is being explored. A better film would have expanded on these ideas and shown more of the characters’ backstories to create sympathy. Perhaps there were budgetary issues, but the film suffers, regardless.
Additionally, I was most annoyed with Illyana Rasputin, as Taylor-Joy’s performance was more cruel than wicked. She was always going for a fight when it wasn’t necessary. I’m not saying that the character should’ve been friends with everybody, but her bitterness and sass lasted almost the entire movie. Her behavior took me out of what I was watching rather than pulled me in further. Audiences may find themselves disengaged because of her actions.
Game of Thrones’ Williams may be the only credible star this movie has, but even she can’t save it from being as dull and lifeless as it is. The New Mutants really doesn’t work to build bonds between the characters until the final fifteen minutes. It should not take a film an hour and fifteen minutes out of a ninety-minute run time for characters to truly support each other. The Breakfast Club achieved that togetherness less than half that time.
For that film, you could see new character dynamics and friendships forming. Even when those characters were put in a situation where they were stuck and had already bared their, they had nothing to lose by supporting each other. Boone’s film never learns how to truly evolve its story and characters. If he had, this movie wouldn’t be such a disaster.
The New Mutants is also too dark in terms of the color palette. I know this film was meant to be edgy, but just because you change the palette of the film and make one of the lead characters a complete witch does not excuse the fact that your movie is all over the place and totally inconsistent from the story point of view. The New Mutants is ultimately a film of false promises with too much studio intervention and not enough innovative storytelling. If you want a better superhero movie, I strongly suggest you watch X-Men: First Class again.