The New Mutants finally have their own movie, but is a horror/thriller what we really wanted?
Updated: Jan 20, 2021
The New Mutants have been around since 1982, when Chris Claremont and Bob McLeod created them to capitalize and expand on the massive success of the Uncanny X-Men, the title that revived Professor Xavier's mutant superhero team, with a new international line-up of characters. It took nearly 30 years for the X-Men to make it to cinemas, and with the high box office numbers of their movie series, it seemed only a matter of time until a New Mutants movie would be made. A coming-of-age action movie featuring teenaged mutants seems like a sure-fire hit. However, it wasn't until 2020 before it happened, and the repeatedly-delayed film we have received from 20th Century Fox (not Marvel Studios) is certainly not what any fan of the Marvel mutant team could have ever expected.
What writer/director Josh Boone created is a movie that is a horror/thriller at its core. It's essentially a bunch of teens trapped in a haunted house with something evil messing with their minds and trying to kill them.
The movie opens with a terrifying, violent attack from an unseen source on a home with a father and daughter trying to outrun the destruction. The daughter sees her father killed before her eyes before everything goes black. The movie is told through the eyes of this girl, with her occasional narration.
She awakes, shackled to her bed, in a hospital-type room. A Dr. Reyes (Alice Braga) enters and tells her she is safe, and is in a facility that searches out and helps young mutants develop and control their abilities. This news doesn't seem to surprise the teenager however, so we suspect she already knows she isn't quite normal.
However, this new "patient," Native American Dani Moonstar (played by Blu Hunt), doesn't know what her mutant ability is, as we discover in a group session that serves to introduce us to her fellow "patients." Sam from Kentucky (Charlie Heaton of Stranger Things) is bruised, beaten, and depressed. Rahne (Maisie Williams of Game of Thrones) is Scottish and friendly. Ilyana (Anya Taylor-Joy) is Russian and full of attitude, and has conversations with her dragon puppet. Roberto (Henry Zaga) is a popped-collar, upper crust Brazilian. No clues are given what the other teens' abilities are; Dani will find out what each one's powers are right along with the viewer. "Patients" is in quotes because none of these teens can leave this place. There's an impenetrable force field surrounding the compound. They're more like prisoners.
The group is the original 1982 lineup of The New Mutants, with Karma being replaced with Ilyana, who would join later and become their leader. The cast do a decent job with the accents of the nationalities they play, with the exception of Roberto, who doesn't sound a bit Brazilian. Perhaps he learned English in a posh American school, since his family is filthy rich. Their mutant abilities and physical appearances are also very faithful to the comics, and the CGI effects are decent as well, especially in the climactic battle scenes. LOVED Ilyana's bangs and Rahne's messy haircut.
In the comics, Dr. Reyes is one of the good guys, and Professor X is the one who gathers and trains the young mutants. But in this movie, the benefactor of the facility is never named specifically, so we have no idea if their intentions are good or evil. The teens' every movement is monitored, and sophisticated scanners study them day and night. However, other than some outdoor exercise by Sam, the only sign of any training or helping these teens develop their abilities is a single meditation session to develop control. Is that why they are really there? Or is there another reason?
Each teen has had a disturbing childhood, or a bad first experience with their mutant powers that haunts them, and has brought them to this mysterious facility. Those memories and dreams are now becoming stronger and more disturbing, and even manifesting while they are awake. Are these attacks coming from the outside, or from within?
Without spoiling it, the plot seems to borrow greatly from a prominent storyline in The New Mutant comics, but has been morphed into a horror story with psychological terrors.
It's also a "bottle show"...the old tv term where a story is created that won't require costly location shooting, but stays on a single location or soundstage ("in the bottle"). Unfortunately, it gives the film a small, B-movie feel.
New Mutants fans will certainly find plenty to satisfy their desire for fun Easter eggs, some super-powered action, and titillating teen drama. It's just too bad there are no costumes or codenames. Maybe next time.
The New Mutants can be seen in theaters and on YouTube, Vudu, Google Play, and Amazon Prime.