THE NEW MUTANTS Spoiler-Free Review; "Compared To DARK PHOENIX, It's A Huge Upgrade"
The New Mutants is Fox's final X-Men movie before Marvel Studios reboots the franchise, but does it ensure that era of stories goes out on a high? Honestly, this one might just end up surprising you...
The New Mutants has been hit by delay after delay, but it's finally in select theaters after endless rumours which pointed to everything from a Disney+ debut to the movie being transformed into a Hulu TV series. It's been reported that before the Disney/Fox merger, the plan was for 20th Century Fox to order extensive reshoots, and make no mistake about it, this feels like a movie that needs them. The version released in theaters is reportedly the same one director Josh Boone delivered to the studio a number of years ago, but had it ever made it in front of test audiences, that feedback no doubt would have helped flesh certain characters out, better explain confusing key plot points, and likely help the filmmaker find a better balance between horror and the Young Adult themes on offer here.
Despite that, the final X-Men movie from Fox's "X-Men Universe" is by no means a disaster and a million miles ahead of last year's barely watchable Dark Phoenix (a lack of reshoots also help ensure that The New Mutants isn't on the same level as 2015's messy Fantastic Four reboot). Picking up with a group of young mutants who have been sent to a facility where they can learn to control their abilities before presumably "graduating" to Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters, The New Mutants definitely brings some fresh ideas to the table, and there's are a couple of neat twists along the way. The Demon Bear and Dani Moonstar's powers aren't particularly well explained, but as events in this former asylum start to spiral out of control, the story builds to a mostly satisfying conclusion which was clearly meant to set the stage for more stories to come. Had this been the opening episode of a new Marvel TV series on a streaming service, chance are you'd be hooked already.
As a horror movie, there's nothing overly scary about The New Mutants, but it does often make for tense and exciting viewing. More scares were definitely needed for this adventure to be considered anything more than a bit creepy, and it's arguably the YA side of things which work best, particularly thanks to the talented young cast members. The dynamic they share is great fun to follow, with the burgeoning romance between Dani and Rahne Sinclair a highlight, and the movie at its strongest when the focus is on the teens and the bond that slowly unites them.
Though Alice Braga is a little underutilised, there's not a bad performance to be found here, with Maisie Williams, Charlie Heaton, Blu Hunt, and Henry Zaga all doing these characters justice even when the movie doesn't. The first teaser trailer for The New Mutants was criticised for not showcasing any superpowers, and those are sadly few and far between in the finished product. The final act does go some way in making up for that, and it's here - and throughout the rest of this origin story - that Anya Taylor-Joy really gets the chance to shine. The actress is a highlight as Illyana Rasputin/Magik, and someone it's hard not to be desperate to see more of by the time the credits roll. Effortlessly portraying the damaged, no-nonsense mutant, the actress steals the show, and is clearly having fun. Lockheed, unfortunately, is nowhere near as memorable, though the way he's brought to life is definitely clever.
With some solid visuals and strong character work, Boone's take on The New Mutants is one it would have been fun to see explored as originally planned, though he's clearly not cut out for horror. This was definitely a franchise with potential, and it's a shame it had to end when it did because what works here, works well. Because of that, it's fair to say that if you're a Marvel Comics fan, then you need to check it out, and fans of The New Mutants and X-Men will love it (none of the characters suffer anywhere near as much as many of the other mutants Fox botched on the big screen, while references to the wider "X-Men Universe" are fun to keep an eye out for). Far from a disaster, but nowhere near as good as what fans are used to from Marvel Studios, The New Mutants franchise is now, appropriately, in limbo. What a waste.
The New Mutants fails as a horror film, but compared to Dark Phoenix, it's a huge upgrade, and the young cast deliver in a way that ensure these characters get the big screen treatment they deserve...even when the movie lets them down.