Well, I had planned to review two movies this week. But as often happens when a film really piques my interest, I end up getting a little rambly and I don’t leave myself enough writing time to talk about anything else.
That was definitely the case with this week’s movie, which is the final X-Men film produced under the 20th Century Fox banner.
So without any further ado, let’s get straight to the review.
The only movie this week is “The New Mutants.”
Five teenage mutants, Danielle (Blu Hunt), Rahne (Maisie Williams), Sam (Charlie Heaton), Roberto (Henry Zaga) and Illyana (Anya Taylor-Joy), undergo treatments at a secret institution that promises to help them manage their dangerous powers.
Invited by Dr. Cecilia Reyes (Alice Braga) to share their stories, their memories soon turn into terrifying realities as they start to question why they’re being held and who’s trying to destroy them.
I finally watched it.
After years of production, planned reshoots, a studio wide acquisition placing the film’s future in jeopardy, and to top it all off a pandemic, delaying the film’s release once again, I finally got to see it.
Granted, the movie has been out for a while now if you’re someone brave enough to venture into a movie theater. Like many during this pandemic though, I am not.
Fortunately, the wait for this film to release on home video wasn’t too terribly long. And now after years of waiting, curious souls like myself can finally see exactly how this much maligned movie ended up.
To be honest, I was prepared for the worst.
As many of you probably already know, “The New Mutants” is a property of Marvel Comics, a publisher famous for many of your favorite superhero characters like Iron Man, Captain America, and the rest of the Avengers.
However, even though “The Avengers” and “The New Mutants” both share a Marvel origin, they do not inhabit the same movie universe.
Back before Marvel became the cinematic juggernaut it is today, it ran across a number of financial woes during the 1990s, licensing off a number of their most popular characters.
This included Spider-Man, which eventually ended up in the hands of Sony Pictures. Plus the Fantastic Four and the X-Men, both of which became properties of 20th Century Fox.
So, for the past 20 years or so Fox has made the most of their acquisition, arguably starting the comic book movie renaissance back in 2000 with the first “X-Men” film, and continuing to a varying degree of success with a pair of X-Men trilogies, plus spin off films featuring their most popular characters like Wolverine and Deadpool.
That’s where this film comes in.
Much like “Deadpool,” “The New Mutants” was supposed to bring a different tone than you might expect in your typical superhero movie.
But instead of going the comedic route like with “Deadpool,” Josh Boone, the film’s writer and director, sought out to make something a little more unique for the comic book movie genre. He wanted to create a horror movie.
I distinctly remember watching the first trailer for this film, all the way back in 2017 and thinking “well that’s different.” It was a distinctly horror trailer, complete with jump scares and a creepy rendition of “We Need No Education” by Pink Floyd. There’s no mistaking the tone the filmmakers were going for here.
Of course back then, the complete and total abject failure that was 2015’s “Fantastic Four” was also still very fresh in our minds, which, as I mentioned before, is also a Marvel property produced by Fox.
“Fantastic Four” was another film infamous for its production woes, including studio mandated reshoots that drastically altered the director’s original vision, and release date delays. It was also a terrible, unfinished, mess of a movie.
For me, hearing reports that “The New Mutants” was also getting reshoots, and rumors of the studio attempting to change the tone of the film, gave me nothing but flashbacks to what happened with “Fantastic Four.” And the seemingly never ending delays did nothing to dissuade my concerns.
Interestingly enough though, after all the dust had settled and the movie actually released, not much actually changed from the director’s original vision.
Thanks to Disney’s acquisition of Fox, the film’s production was halted, and those scheduled reshoots people kept going on and on about never actually ended up happening.
They didn’t even go back to shoot pickups, which are only minor scenes to help fill in the blanks during editing.
Boone said by the time the merger between the studios was done, the cast of “The New Mutants,” which were supposed to look like teenagers, had gotten older. Old enough that I assume new footage wouldn’t look natural next to all the scenes already filmed.
So after all that drama overblown by entertainment news outlets and social media, it seems Boone got to pretty much make the movie he originally wanted to make, with all the footage he originally shot back in 2017.
Basically, it was a whole lot of bellyaching over nothing.
But enough rambling about the movie’s production, I suppose I should say what I think about the movie itself.
To be honest, I just think it’s fine.
It’s not amazing. It’s not even what I’d call good, but it wasn’t exactly bad either and it certainly doesn’t languish in the depths of terrible films like 2015’s “Fantastic Four.”
The movie has a fairly cohesive narrative, there’s generally an okay flow from scene to scene, and there aren’t any sudden time skips that fast forward the film a year into the future out of nowhere, so the movie already holds a decisive edge over “Fantastic Four.”
Performances wise, I’d say most of the actors are okay. They have their weaker moments, and some of the dialogue here definitely doesn’t help their case.
I’m gonna be honest. Blu Hunt, the actress who plays the film’s main character Danielle Moonstar, is pretty rough for most of the movie.
The film throws her straight away into some very strong emotional scenes, and sadly she just lacked the conviction needed to sell moments like that. It’s far from the worst acting I’ve ever seen, but it’s not exactly the performance you want out of your film’s lead.
Maisie Williams, of “Game of Thrones” fame, does a decent job here. In fact, as far as acting goes, she was probably the most consistent of the group.
Anya Taylor-Joy is also here, playing a Russian teenager named Illyana. Anya has quickly become a bit of a favorite actress of mine due to a number of excellent performances, most recently in a wonderful show on Netflix called “The Queen’s Gambit.”
After watching that show, it was frankly quite jarring to see her here. It’s such a different character. One that wasn’t exactly written to be terribly likeable.
Illyana’s role is basically to be antagonistic towards Danielle every chance she gets. Sure, they try to give her a sad backstory as the movie goes on, but by then the movie’s already established her as the “mean girl.”
There just isn’t enough time dedicated to making her sympathetic, which is a shame because she’s an interesting character in concept, with what looked like an interesting backstory that the film only briefly touched on.
Though I suppose the selling point here from the director wasn’t necessarily the characters, it was the genre. So just how much of a horror movie is “The New Mutants?”
Well, I’d say not too much.
Sure, there are some horror elements here. There’s some creepy visuals, and there’s some genuinely terrifying looking creature designs here and there.
But at the end of the day these characters are all superheroes.
There’s not really an existential threat shown here that these teenagers can’t handle. They might run scared for a moment or two, but later they’ll just turn around and absolutely demolish whatever dared to threaten them.
It’s just not scary.
During the film’s climax, the movie basically transitions straight into another typical giant comic book movie slugfest. Which looks pretty cool visually, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not exactly what I’d call horror.
Fortunately, the writers here didn’t make the common mistake of raising the stakes for our young heroes too high.
There isn’t a giant blue space laser shooting up from the sky, the fate of the world doesn’t solely rest on their shoulders. They’re just a group of kids dealing with their inner demons, just more with their fists and less with their feelings like typical teenagers.
So in the end, this movie, which has been a curiosity of mine for the past three years, ended up being neither exceptionally good or unbearably bad.
It’s just okay. Which is oddly a little disappointing. Even if it was outright terrible, at least it’d probably be more memorable, though for not so great reasons.
I suppose this film will just have to be remembered for being what it is. The final movie of a 20 year era of X-Men under 20th Century Fox.
It definitely won’t be the last we see of these characters. With Disney gaining the film rights to the entire catalogue of X-Men, it’s only a matter of time before we see our favorite mutants appearing in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
But it’s still a goodbye to this particular film universe, under a studio that seemed more willing to take more risks than Disney does, to both very good and very bad results.
I doubt a movie as bad as “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” would have ever seen the light of day under the MCU banner. Then again, I don’t know if a film as raw and gut wrenching as “Logan” would get made by them either.
For all their many faults, it was nice to have Fox out there, trying new things, stumbling occationally, but still pushing the genre forward.
As much as I like the idea of eventually seeing the X-Men team up with The Avengers, I worry we lost something we’ll never see again with this merger. I suppose though, in the end, only time will tell.
“The New Mutants” is rated PG-13 and is available to rent on video-on-demand for $5.99.