The writers and film lovers here at Full Circle Cinema know that opinions on films are divisive and can get pretty argumentative. But to encourage friendly and lively debate, we have Full Circle Showdown. This series involves an in-depth discussion and collaborative review from two writers who have different opinions and ways of seeing films. On today’s Showdown, we’ll be looking at The New Mutants, the long-awaited superhero film that’s suffered through over two years of delays. Did the delays do anything to strengthen the film? Find out after the jump.
Review #1: Daniel Hrncir (Critic)
I do not have much interest in superheroes. I did not grow up with comics or the universes contained within those little pages. When I saw the cliffhanger ending of Avengers: Infinity War and the resolution of Avengers: Endgame, I did not feel much of anything. However, I could not place a finger on it. How could I feel so indifferent in those heated discussions after the credits rolled? How could I not be invested in the cinematic spectacles of our generation? And yet I could not lie to myself. I am just not that interested, and that is okay. It may feel a little isolating, sure. But these feelings do not have to last. And I think that I just found my fit in this ragtag band of outsiders in the much-anticipated The New Mutants.
Granted, I could also use ‘ragtag’ to describe this film. It does not quite fit in with the other superhero movies, neither in tone nor in character development. The New Mutants has an unruliness about it, and it does not care to submit to any of your preconceptions. Although I would not say that its unruliness extends so far as hardcore punk, it has some emo attitudes all the same. You will not find Spidey’s earnestness or the dignity of a Captain America here. Those other Marvel characters seem too perfect for me to relate to, and even their character faults seem too noble for normal people like us. Instead, I assure you to come in under the shadow of this Hot Topic with me. Don on a nose ring, and let me introduce you to these outsiders.
Our story begins with tragedy. Dani Moonstar (Blu Hunt) becomes the lone survivor of a horrific disaster that leaves her reservation in ruins. She hardly remembers much of the incident, but that it had something to do with a tornado. And to make matters more disorienting, she soon wakes up in an abandoned hospital, where a physician named Dr. Reyes (Alice Braga) informs her of her mysterious powers. Powers that Dani and Dr. Reyes have yet to discover and control under a rigorous protocol of lab tests. After all, it is not safe for a girl like Dani to walk among society without being first made aware of what she is capable of. Many more innocent people could die, and these teenagers have to suffer for what remains out of their control. They never wanted these powers, and yet these powers are tied to their very identities.
For The New Mutants to explore powers, we naturally have to focus on how these powers tie to the characters. What we have here is an unusual entry in the superhero canon. We do not really have external conflicts for the majority of this film. If anything, once we do encounter these external conflicts, they are all based on internal struggles. You won’t find villains for the sake of villains. And you certainly won’t find much of a fast-paced plot that will leave you gasping for air. Instead, we have a character drama. A drama that will let you reflect on the quiet moments of our characters’ listless lives in a madhouse.
I feel closer to Dani’s character than I ever did with anyone in the Marvel or DC universe movies. Although she may not seem immediately captivating, I find the smallness of her good intentions to resonate much larger than saving a falling city from the sky. She feels the most believable, and her heart so pure, that I cannot help but feel that my favorite heroine came too late in the game. Additionally, Hunt brings a gentleness here that I have so longed for in the genre. But that is not to say that she is weak at the conclusion of this film. Her vulnerability allows her to tame the greatest of her past demons. And she does not have to punch through a horde of bad guys to do it.
Unfortunately, the movie does not characterize the other mutants with the same amount of nuance. Instead, what we find is a group of teenagers defined solely by their past traumas. Director and co-writer Josh Boone has mistaken his characters as thematic accessories. They only exist for the sake of furthering one simple theme about conquering your fears. Our characters deserve better, and it quickly becomes apparent as you sit through these dull conversations. With such a particular emphasis on character interaction, you need thoughtful dialogue. I need wit. I want unanswered questions, and I surely do not need empty platitudes about the stars. Despite the script’s limitations, at least Maisie Williams and Anya Taylor-Joy compensate for it with their performances.
Ultimately, I feel conflicted about The New Mutants. It has all of the elements of my ideal superhero movie: an intimate experience founded on characters alone. Not once does it jolt us away from our characters’ feelings with action or adventure. However, Boone does simplify these same feelings. As a result, we never reach the emotional heights that I have come to expect from character-focused dramas. It might seem disappointing after many years of production hell, but I am happy to see that at the conclusion of the X-Men series, I found my kind of heroine. And her name is Dani Moonstar.
Critic #2: James Preston Poole (Lead Critic)
Since its inception, Josh Boone’s film adaptation of The New Mutants has been met with setback after setback. Recounting them all would make a whole article out of itself, so I’ll be brief. The film was supposed to hit theaters in April 2018. The film then suffered a series of delays due to 20th Century Fox wanting to do reshoots to amp up the horror elements of the film. Then, the Disney-Fox merger happened, scrapping the planned reshoots and putting the film on hold indefinitely until a release was set for April 2020. Then COVID-19 happened. And then, and then, and then… the point is we’re here. The New Mutants is finally out. Smooth sailing.
Nope. The New Mutants‘s opening weekend has been mired with controversy. Boone has come under fire for whitewashing characters in the film, flippantly responding to the accusations. Comics co-creator Bob McLeod has severe issues with the film, including the misspelling of his name in the credits. Even I suffered significant setbacks with trying to see this film, including the projector going out no less than three times with three different moves to other auditoriums. Seriously, it was an odyssey, and you can find it all chronicled in the thread below:
Yesterday I saw THE NEW MUTANTS. Things did not go according to plan. Here is my experience (THREAD) pic.twitter.com/V0P5FCDDBJ
— James Preston Poole (@JamesPPoole) August 28, 2020
After all that waiting, all that hassle, all that controversy, it’s disappointing that The New Mutants turned out to be so… dull. The core concept of the film is good; brilliant, even. Five teens with mutant powers are locked in a facility where they’re studied by mysterious higher-ups under the guise that they’ll be released when they get better. It owes a lot to A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, but hey, that’s a great film so emulating it is not a negative.
The only area where the film manages to get even close to what makes Dream Warriors work is in its performances. As Daniel so eloquently said in his review, Blu Hunt’s Dani Moonstar is a great protagonist for this story, whose quiet struggles give the only heart the film has. Maisie Williams and Charlie Heaton are both likable in their own ways while Alice Braga’s Dr. Reyes is a nice villainous presence and Henry Zaga does what he can with limited screentime as Sunspot. The best of the lot is Anya Taylor-Joy’s snarky, playful turn as Illyana Rasputin aka “Magik”, proving herself once again to be one of this generation’s top talents.
Most of the performances go to waste, unfortunately, in a coming of age narrative that feels very tired in this day and age. Like so many films before it, The New Mutants attempts to ape the coming-of-age John Hughes formula. While films like Spider-Man: Homecoming and shows like Stranger Things have done this to great acclaim, The New Mutants simply stumbles through its beats. The character development is there, I guess, but there is no sort of care or sense of reinvention. Characters struggle with their inner demons, start as enemies, become friends, the whole drill. It’s all just so half-assed.
This coming-of-age story is what’s supposed to make The New Mutants unique. And it does feel unique to other superhero films. What about to other films in general, though? Absolutely not. The narrative is generic, with no surprises to speak of or any of the soul that made the X-Men films popular in the first place. Visual effects work across the board is really shoddy, and for a film that is so set on characters coming to terms with themselves, the powers are barely even a factor in their story. And when the powers do appear, they look and feel weightless.
At least there’s the horror to save things, right? Therein the greatest disappointment lies. The New Mutants barely has any horror elements, and the ones that do creep their way into the final cut are cookie-cutter “creepy” images audiences have seen a thousand times before. Generic is the word of the day for this film as nothing can escape the shadow of mediocrity.
The New Mutants isn’t a terrible movie. But as a part of the franchise that started the superhero boom, it ends the Fox era of X-Men with the saddest of whimpers, and this is coming from the guy that loved Dark Phoenix! A delayed film has the opportunity to become good. Sadly, this was just not the case here. As we look forward to whatever Marvel Studios and Disney plan to do with X-Men, let’s hope that their new mutants are better than these ones.
Although both reviewers have praise for the performances and attempt to do something different from the genre, at the end of the day The New Mutants did not live up to the standard that its long delay suggested.
The New Mutants is now available in theaters.
The film stars Maisie Williams, Anya Taylor-Joy, Charlie Heaton, Alice Braga, Blu Hunt, and Henry Zaga.