And so, after two decades, the X-Men Cinematic Universe comes to a close with the much delayed and debated The New Mutants. It’s not the finale anyone expected, but at least the series bows out with a noble and entertaining effort. As the film begins it’s odd to see an X-Men movie without the 20th Century Fox logo slowly fading to a solitary X (in the hands of Disney the studio is now officially 20th Century Studios).
Teenager Danielle Moonstar (Blu Hunt) wakes up to find herself in a hospital after a traumatic evening. Doctor Reyes (Alice Braga) tells her that her family is dead and that Dani is in fact a mutant. Behind the locked doors of this hospital it is hoped that she, and the four other young mutants in residence, can learn to master their deadly powers before moving onto a more advanced school for the “gifted”. And it’s a strange group. There’s the blonde and bitchy Russian Illyanna Rasputin (Anya Taylor-Joy), the meek Rahne Sinclair (Maisie Williams), the swaggering Roberto da Costa (Henry Zaga) and the damaged Sam Guthrie (Charlie Heaton). Slowly Dani comes to learn everyone’s powers while trying to figure out her own.
Much has already been said about this superpowered The Breakfast Club and director and co-writer Josh Boone plays up to the YA style and it works. The New Mutants is a charming teen film with enough jump scares to give it an edge without going full-on Blumhouse. Just as Deadpool expanded the X-Men franchise with non-stop self-referential humour and a hard R rating, so The New Mutants could have seen a more teen-friendly spin-off series grow into its own.
The cast are mostly great and I’d have happily spent a second film with the majority of them. There is plenty of ground it could have explored (at a svelte 94 minutes there’s little time her for a deep dive into anything – in fact you can tell some scenes are missing entirely as the movie jumps around and scenes from the early trailers seem to be absent). Sadly The New Mutants is let down by a central performance straight from the school of soap opera acting that robs the story of an emotional core (X-Men: Dark Phoenix suffered a similar fate).
While there is a conspicuous lack of chemistry at the film’s heart, everything around it is terrific. Each teen has their own guilt that manifests in different ways like an X-Men version of Flatliners. Anya Taylor-Joy and Maisie Williams are both on fine form, giving their characters a real spark and everyone’s mutant powers are nicely realised.
And the X-Men franchise FINALLY comes out! After using mutants as an allegory for “queerness” in The New Mutants we get the first bloom of a lesbian relationship that is sweet and integral to the plot. The New Mutants has some nice continuity links to the wider franchise while keeping things safely at arm’s length but a slightly clunky script filled with plot holes (if Illyana can teleport what’s the point of locking her in a room?) give the impression this would have been better off as a blockbuster TV pilot rather than a feature film. Continued references to Buffy The Vampire Slayer are cute but may be a sign that Boone is wearing his influences on his sleeve.
So, after 13 films that have defined what superhero movies can be, hit the box-office heights, delivered some absolute turkeys and made a superstar of Hugh Jackman, the X-Men have been taken off the field to rest till the team at the Marvel Cinematic Universe figure out what to do with them. The New Mutants may not be the franchise’s best, but it’s a good excuse to put on a mask get out to a socially-distanced cinema near you.
By Chad Armstrong