New Mutants is an experience so many of us have been waiting for, even if you don’t care about the movie, because it’s a return to the cinema. That is, on top of a movie that has been in delayed and development for years, even after being completed. That makes it all the more exciting and terrifying to see how if it lives up to any sort of hype.
Following Danny Moonstar, a girl whose reservation is destroyed in a tornado, she awakens in a strange facility and learns she’s a mutant. She’s allowed to work on training her still mysterious powers, and meet with the four other mutants at the facility in hopes of leaving to join a second school. Unfortunately her appearance at the facility has coincided with strange visions and haunting dreams arresting the patients sanity. Now these new mutants must find the source of the nightmares and find out who is truly running the facility in order to be free.
The film is strongly compelling. Not necessarily in any bad ways, but more in how it feels like a movie that was supposed to be realessed years ago. A movie late to a trend that it should have rode to great success but now is stuck in this limbo state as Marvel and Disney come up with plans for the X-Men in the MCU.
New Mutants is much more of a hang-out, talk-it-out mood piece with horror elements than it is a horror film, or action film. This works to its benefit in setting up the cast. Each of the five mutants feels very distinct and accurate to their comic counterpart. That accuracy does not make it good, but shows the team mining material already there to give a more grounded spin. This results in a film that focuses on the real trauma people would have when they find out their mutants. The damage, dread, and regret that is only ever hinted at in the pages of the more mainstream books is brought fully out and on display. They’re all tragic figures trying to work out their deal and be better. That is all present and feels X-Men.
The particulars of that, and how a story like this: one more comfortable having characters hold conversations about how damaged they feel and why they may or may not be able to movie on, deals when it has to end with a big climax and have twists to reveal is less than satisfying. Without giving anything away, the source of the monsters is revealed just as the true purpose of the facility is exposed to them. This leads to a climax where the group must come together and finally use their powers to help save their friend. It ends well enough and is resonate with the theme of understanding and patience over force but is lacking.
It reminds me in some ways of Project Power. The difference is that Project Power needed a climax and came up with a boring solution. This film felt like I should have had a climax, or, if it did, it should have been something far more subdued. Instead the film feels like it was forced to find a way to have a big action scene at the end and did their best with it.
All of this makes it a compelling movie now, but should have been a better movie at release. The more grounded, character driven, slow burn origins were all the rage. Heck they tried and failed to do that with Power Rangers, but this one had a chance. These characters do honestly come alive as their guarded personalities fall to reveal their true selfs and they bond to form a team. It feels purposeful, with the horror only used to accentuate and manifest what the characters are feeling. Turning the abstract in the physical. It works at that, but does feel compromised to get it there.
Also, despite the long production time for the film, none of that time was used to clean up the effects. Some, like spoilers for X-men fans I won’t give away, look good. Others are very bad and hinder the horror when it looks far more cartoony than scary.
This movie wanted to be Buffy. I don’t mean that in the sense that most things want to copy what Whedon and his ilk did with their respective shows. I mean Buffy, literally. They play it all the time in the background and it is distracting (because I’d rather watch that. It’s season 4 if you’re interested). It makes diagetic sense, but also is used as foreshadowing. The issue is that Buffy, though dealing with the same general theme, is far more focused on building a threat to fit the story and arc, not the other way around. Buffy doesn’t spend its time talking until a monster shows it. It’s about the monster in all of us. New Mutants is about that too, but doesn’t hit the mark.
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