Ready for release since 2017, its path to cinemas has been complicated. The ordeal is over, but was it worth the wait?
Have you ever heard the saying that ‘food first enters through the eyes’? Or that ‘first impressions mean everything’? Well, leaving the philosophical and moral debates aside, these expressions circle the notion of superficiality. To give more emphasis to the outside rather than the inside; to worship form rather than substance. And when it comes to certain Hollywood studio movies, that matters—at least if we follow the logic of the status quo. The New Mutants, a product that is trying to capitalise in the colossal financial success of superhero intellectual property (who happens to be an overly saturated market for my taste), suffers from a visually unattractive marketing campaign and production design. The bait doesn’t look attractive enough.
I do believe the lack of visual appeal will hurt its overall reception, along with the deficit of “true” star power (Maisie Williams and Anya Taylor-Joy, the two relatively famous actors in the cast, do not have the box office pedigree to carry “big” projects and draw massive audiences by themselves, let alone the remaining members of the cast). To me, the whole project looks like it was made for the straight-to-streaming B-movie market such as the one run by companies like Netflix (with two recent examples in The Old Guard and Project Power). However, taking the superficial layers aside, the inside is not as bad as it may look from the outside.
In a loose sense, the movie is an origin story—at least from the audience’s perspective. After all, these characters are just making their big-screen debut in a lead role.1 Think of it as a spinoff of The X-Men series, but instead of having dozens of characters to present, the pack has been reduced to five. They are teenagers who have done bad things with their powers and have now been locked in what could be seen as a Juvenile Detention Centre. Suspiciously, there’s no one else in the facility except Cecilia Reyes (Alice Braga), the doctor in charge. If they behave good and can control themselves, the assumption is that they will “graduate” and be transferred to the Xavier Institute, the now-famous base of operations and training ground of the X-Men. But perhaps there are more sinister motivations at play.
The movie seems to guide us through two connected paths. The first one is the discovery of each mutant’s power, specifically the enigmatic abilities of Danielle Moonstar (Blu Hunt). And the second is the discovery of each mutant’s past event that leads them to be locked up in the first place. Because the movie essentially takes place at one location (and the hint is that there’s something “wrong” with the characters), it plays similar to a “mental hospital film.” I had quick flashes of Girl, Interrupted (1999). Others have mentioned One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975), but given that some of the marketing is aimed at present it as a horror entry, I suppose it has more similarities with—let’s say—Gothika (2003). These are extremely loose connections though, but you get the idea.
I would say the movie plays better as a mystery. I appreciate the fact that it focuses more on character development rather than exaggerated computerised visual effects and action set pieces (don’t worry, there is a couple of them anyway; they are okay, but nothing remarkable). A big blow to the film, however, is that Blu Hunt doesn’t display the acting “force” to carry the film (she functions as the lead mutant). The first half-hour is her weakest (there are some close-ups where you can tell she’s not compelling enough—check the crying scene). She gets better though, but I have a feeling that it’s more the work of the photography and the editing rather than her skills.2
Thematically, the movie runs on the same track as the X-Men movies have done in the past. What this one adds is a “software” update for the current woke generation (“inclusion,” “representation” and “gender politics”).3 At the end of the day, in the context of this movie, all these woke elements feel more like a tick on a checklist rather than meaningful human portrayals. Overall, the movie is entertaining, but it lacks the star and acting power to elevate it to the same league as other Marvel entries.4 While tolerable as it was, it just feels like an unremarkable B-movie. 4/10
For more content, be sure to follow us on Twitter at @9takes or, if you prefer, head over to Facebook and like our page. Later next week, we’re gonna publish our review of another Disney movie that, in some markets, skipped cinemas altogether: Mulan. And by the way, have you read our Tenet review? Well, here it is. Fresh out of the digital press. Now, what do you think of The New Mutants? If you haven’t seen it, does it interest you enough to make a trip to the cinema? Hey, leave a comment below and let us know.
THE NEW MUTANTS (United States of America, 2020) Director: Josh Boone Screenplay: Josh Boone, Knate Lee Cast: Maisie Williams, Anya Taylor-Joy, Charlie Heaton, Alice Braga, Blu Hunt, Henry Zaga, Adam Beach, Marilyn Manson, Dustin Ceithamer Cinematography: Peter Deming Editing: Andrew Buckland, Matthew Rundell, Robb Sullivan Production Design: Molly Hughes Music: Mark Snow Genre: Action, Horror, Fantasy UK Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Approx running time: 94 min Release date: 28 Aug 2020 (previews) 4 Sep 2020 (general) BBFC Certificate: 15 (Strong threat, bloody images, abuse references) Format: 2D Aspect ratio: 1.85:1
1. As I understand it, at least one of these mutants—Roberto da Costa/Sunspot (played by Henry Zaga in The New Mutants)—made his first appearance in X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014). However, he was a supporting character with little screen time. He was played by Adan Canto.
2. I’ve never seen any other work from her. My statement refers specifically to this movie. Regarding the photography, the general idea is that sometimes we look better at a certain angle or with the aid of other tools (lights, makeup, etc.). Perhaps in certain shots, these tools helped her look more “convincing.” Plus, the editor can cut at the right time and hide acting “imperfections.”
3. For those who don’t follow the comics that the movie is based on, reviewer Richard Whittaker points out that doctor Reyes’ character is supposed to be a Black Puerto Rican instead of Latina, while Sunspot (the human torch) was one of the first high-profile Black characters in a Marvel comic, but has now been similarly “white-washed.” From an adaptation point-of-view, he accuses the director of having no clue of what he was doing. Source: Richard Whittaker, “Movie Review: The New Mutants,” The Austin Chronicle, 28 August 2020. (Accessed 7 September 2020). Click here.
4. Okay, I’m not saying that Marvel movies are the Holy Grail of good acting (hardly so), but some of the lead actors that have appeared in them are certainly more experienced than any of the kids in The New Mutants. Plus, they have occasionally been given scenes that let them display that acting “power” (rarely, but it has happened) and they have done well. The only one that comes close in this movie, in my opinion, is Maisie Williams.