03rd Sep2020

‘The New Mutants’ Review

by Matthew Turner

Stars: Blu Hunt, Henry Zaga, Maisie Williams, Anya Taylor-Joy, Charlie Heaton, Alice Braga | Writteen by Josh Boone, Knate Lee | Directed by Josh Boone

Between postproduction issues, Disney buying Fox and the coronavirus pandemic, X-Men spin-off The New Mutants has been subject to so many delays that it was becoming the subject of internet ridicule (they’ll be “old” mutants by the time it comes out, and so on). Fortunately, the film is by no means the copper-plated disaster suggested by its postproduction problems. Instead, it’s an entertaining blend of YA horror, Marvel Comics action and teen movies.

Following a devastating tragedy, Native American Danielle ‘Dani’ Moonstar (newcomer Blu Hunt) wakes up to find herself held captive in Medfield State Hospital, an asylum run single-handedly by Doctor Cecilia Reyes (Alice Braga). The only other inmates are four fellow teenagers: Mean Girl Russian Illyana Rasputin (Anya Taylor-Joy), kind-hearted Scot Rahne Sinclair (Maisie Williams), withdrawn Kentuckian Sam Guthrie (Charlie Heaton) and jock-like Brazilian Roberto ‘Bobby’ da Costa (Henry Zaga).

Reyes informs Dani that she has the mutant gene, and that the facility is designed to help “new” mutants adjust to their emerging powers and learn how to safely control them. However, Dani’s arrival at Medfield coincides with a series of spooky goings-on, as each of the teenagers is tormented by manifestations of their greatest fears.

Director-slash-co-writer Josh Boone had a previous hit with YA adaptation The Fault in Our Stars and he brings a decidedly Young Adult vibe to this, complete with a same-sex romance angle and a toned down horror element that’s suitably creepy and visually striking, if never actually scary (think Goosebumps-level scary).

The script (co-written with fellow comics fan Knate Lee) does a good job of dove-tailing the horror elements with the usual themes associated with mutant characters (where it’s often a metaphor for being an outsider), so each character’s “origin story” is rooted in a deep-seated trauma that they have to overcome in the course of the story. That gives the film a strong emotional base, though it’s fair to say that a little more depth in that department would have gone a long way.

Clearly influenced by classic teen films like The Breakfast Club (most notably during an impromptu dance sequence after they’ve drugged Reyes), Boone captures the mismatched team of dysfunctional teens dynamic from the comics and stays commendably faithful to the source material. He also packs the film with fun references, including some memorable monsters from Buffy the Vampire Slayer (which plays in the background in two scenes) and a plot that explicitly echoes Nightmare on Elm Street 3.

The performances are excellent. Taylor-Joy, in particular, is a lot of fun as Illya and gets the lion’s share of the film’s best moments as a result. Similarly, Hunt makes an engaging lead, and Williams turns in a nicely empathetic performance as Rahne, sparking touching chemistry with her co-star.

On top of that, the effects work is superb, which maybe isn’t all that surprising, as they’ve certainly had long enough to work on it. Either way, there’s none of the dodgy CGI that often blights films like this – instead, some of the digital effects are jaw-droppingly impressive, particularly the manifestation of Bobby’s powers, the rendering of the film’s main adversary and…well, that would be revealing one of the film’s best moments. Suffice it to say that you’ll be able to tell the comics fans in the audience from the whoops of joy at a certain point.

In short, The New Mutants is a tightly structured fantasy thriller that’s sufficiently close to the comics to work as an X-Men spin-off, but also works just fine as a stand-alone teen horror. Which is probably just as well, because it seems like Boone’s planned trilogy of New Mutants movies is unlikely to go ahead. That’s a shame, because these are characters you definitely want to see again. Maybe they can find a home in Marvel’s rebooted X-universe? Here’s hoping, anyway.

***½  3.5/5

The New Mutants is in UK cinemas now.

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