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  • Martin Cheney

The New Mutants: a diatribe


★½



The New Mutants features a star-studded line-up of formidable talent, including the likes of Anya Taylor-Joy, Charlie Heaton and Maisie Williams, all of whom give committed and fleshed-out performances. The plot, while certainly not reinventing any wheels, is a welcome spin on a tired genre, sharing tonal ground with films like Glass and Brightburn. There are a couple of nastily effective creature designs and the CGI is mostly well integrated. It's incredibly impressive, therefore, that the resulting film manages to be so aggressively, offensively stupid.


And yet, here we are - another superhero/pseudo-horror crossover, practically flaunting its ineptitude in your face every chance it gets. I use the prefix 'pseudo' in the strongest possible way; there is absolutely nothing even remotely scary or thrilling in a single, solitary second of this totally miscalculated snooze-fest. The only trace of real horror is in the realisation that director Josh Boone saw the final cut and decided he wanted other people to see it too, rather than just deleting it and wiping everyone's memory. Not even the fleeting whiffs of redemption listed in my intentionally deceptive lede could ultimately save The New Mutants from being one of the worst films of the year. To reinforce the gravity of that statement: Cats came out this year, too.


The film (tries) to tell the story of a handful of young mutants who are just discovering their powers and learning how to harness them at a facility designed to help them do this very thing. The dilapidated mansion-cum-hospital is led by Cecilia Reyes, who has a penchant for reminding everyone that she is a doctor. She does this by saying things like, "I'm a doctor." Our protagonist, Danielle Moonstar, joins their ranks after one of the most poorly-acted prologues in recent memory, and we spend the majority of the film watching the other characters try to discern what her power is, since she doesn't seem to know herself. There are a couple of subtle references to the fact that these young people may become X-Men one day, and these are bittersweet moments, because you remember you could be watching those films instead. Anyway, the personalities of all the obnoxious teenage mutants are typically contrasting so they push each other's buttons at just the right time to propel the story towards the final credits. Will the abrasive Russian girl come around and show some heart? Will the retiring wallflower of a main character eventually stand up for herself? Will the hot guy take his shirt off? You, too, can find out the answers to these questions and more by Googling the synopsis rather than suffering through this dreadful film.


Let's start by discussing the screenplay, something which the writers apparently neglected to do. It has been a considerable length of time since I've heard such predictable and stilted drivel. If I took my reviewing seriously, I would have had a pen and paper with me to record some of the most egregious examples. You'll just have to take my word for it. The muscles in my eyes (is that how they work?) are still sore from rolling so hard. In one particularly memorable example, Maisie Williams' character (she's a wolf of some kind, I honestly don't care to research any further), during a particularly uncomfortable confessional, is chased out of the church by a demon priest (indeed). Once outside, curled up on the grass, she comforts herself by repeatedly muttering, "demons can't come in churches," or some such mantra. The demon priest, who apparently can't go into the church, chased her out of the church, obviously after entering the church in which he cannot go, and now that she's outside the church, she feels safe because she's now out of the church, where the demon...can go. Later on, the main character pleads with Anya Taylor-Joy's abrasive Russian not to go after a large demon bear because he is magic, to which she responds (3-4 seconds after I said the line in my head), "so am I," BECAUSE, YOU SEE, HER EVENTUAL X-MEN NAME IS MAGIK. DO YOU UNDERSTAND?


I've mentioned the main character a couple of times. Blu Hunt is the actress with the dubious honour of bringing this lifeless plot device to...ahem...life, and unfortunately her performance is as unsuccessful as nearly every other element of the film (but, like, no worse, so that's something, right?). Hunt delivers her appallingly written lines (such as "let me out!" and "no!") with the earnest, can-do attitude of a teenager doing their best in a community production of Romeo and Juliet, but just doesn't have the screen presence to hold up a $67 million USD action flick, already groaning under the weight of its other inadequacies. I actually just felt sorry for her.


Another huge issue with this film is continuity errors, both physical and emotional. Taylor-Joy's abrasive Russian sometimes communicates with a purple dinosaur hand-puppet (because she needs to appear a little unhinged, you see). You may see this puppet as an X-Thing in the future, because it has the ability to move between Magik's hand and her back pocket in the blink of an eye. Magik's hair is also magic, because it can go from tiny little braid-knots (what even is going on there?) to dead straight in a matter of minutes without the need for a straightener or anything. She, truly, is a force to be reckoned with.


There does not appear to have been any attempt made to map out the emotional trajectory of these characters either, as in one scene they hate each other, and in the next they're all auditioning for The Breakfast Club, before they're back to plotting their revenge again. It is incredibly disorienting to be expected to believe in the heart behind the we're-all-in-this-together final showdown, when seemingly minutes earlier, one of them wanted to set someone else on fire.


I'm the first to admit that I actively dislike superhero films as a rule. I find them repetitive, derivative and frustratingly predictable (with some exceptions - interestingly, I actually love Bryan Singer's X-Men and X2). In the same breath, though, I believe in cinema as a medium for escapism, and so if you're into the boom-boom and the pew-pew and a couple of hours of popcorn-fluff release, then I love that for you and wish you all the best. However, this film contains so many flabbergasting examples of fundamental incompetence that I cannot understand how anyone could look past their frustrations and be entertained by it, let alone call it a decent example of either the superhero or horror/thriller genres.


The New Mutants is badly written, stiffly acted (not by the whole cast, but by enough of them to make it awkward) and erratically paced. I give it half a star more than Cats purely by virtue of the fact that it doesn't contain a partially-rendered Dame Judi Dench lifting her leg in appreciation - although, in retrospect, maybe that was the missing ingredient.


(PS: "Dr." Reyes, played by Alice Braga, has the most ridiculous run I have ever seen. The first time, I thought it was to provide some kind of comedic relief, but then she did it again and I realised, 'oh no, that's how she runs.' It is almost worth the ticket price alone. Almost.)



The New Mutants is in cinemas now.

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