A whopping two years on from its original release date, The New Mutants has finally been belatedly let loose into the wild. With a stop-start production hit by Disney’s acquisition of 20th Century Fox (the release coming under the latter’s new banner, 20th Century Studios), you might have been forgiven for thinking that the film just might never see the light of day. And yet mercilessly thrown into struggling theatres it has indeed now been. And I’m sure that the powers that be over at Disney will be relieved to have shed the film from its release schedule, shrugging it off like the unwanted stepchild inherited from their marriage to Fox that it’s become.
And having now seen the film, it’s quite apparent just why Disney struggled to figure out just what to do with it. It’s too violent to fit in with their brand image and too loosely connected to the X-Men universe to be marketed as the franchise swansong that it ultimately is (and that Dark Phoenix had previously been touted as being). Release troubles aside though, the film’s issues run deeper. The New Mutants never really seems to know what kind of film it’s trying to be itself.
Whilst it postures as a dark offshoot of the X-Verse, this is a promise that it can’t entirely fulfil. Thematically it delves into deeper territory than most of the previous entries in the series – exploring abuse, depression, sexuality – but it all feels surface level. It opts to bring themes that have run through the subtext of X-Men stories for as long as they have been told and brings them to the forefront. And yet nothing is fleshed out past the point of feeling like a One Tree Hill, teen drama style subplot. Meanwhile, the setup; a group of teens with unpredictable powers, each haunted by their pasts, held against their will in a creepy asylum; lends itself perfectly to the films’ horror trappings, but it simply isn’t anywhere near as scary as you’d hope.
Its time that works against The New Mutants most of all. With a longer runtime, there might have been breathing room for the coming of age drama and good old fashioned scares to co-exist and thrive. It would have allowed for the rules of each character’s powers to be established properly, for their relationships to be developed more fully. It’s almost as though a full act is missing. One minute the protagonists are butting heads, the next they’ve apparently “let each other out of their cages”…have they? Reshoots on the film were mooted but cancelled and it shows (spare a moment’s thought for the never-shot post-credits scenes with Jon Hamm and Antonio Banderas that were rumoured to have been on the cards at one stage in production).
The film does have its upsides though. The chemistry between the young misfit mutants is decent, as is the cast; Anya Taylor-Joy is a cut above as the Russian sorceress Illyana Rasputina, while Charlie Heaton and Maisie Williams are the picks of the rest. The production design is suitably eerie, Peter Deming’s cinematography is oppressively gloomy, and the overall mood of the setting is well executed. It’s just a shame that a lack of clear direction and behind the scenes disruption stops The New Mutants from really falling together well enough to work as the closer that the X-Men franchise deserved. Let’s just pretend that it ended with Logan.
Rating (out of 5):