Directed By Josh Boone
Starring – Maisie Wiliams, Anya Taylor-Joy, Charlie Heaton
The Plot – Five young mutants, just discovering their abilities while held in a secret facility against their will, fight to escape their past sins and save themselves.
Rated PG-13 for violent content, some disturbing/bloody images, some strong adult language, thematic elements and suggestive material
– Brooding atmosphere. Similar to a teenager’s transformation throughout the most difficult years of their life, the movie’s consistency for dark, foreboding tonal capacity feels effective while documenting the nightmarish surrealism in being one of the gifted. What’s especially pleasing about this is thematically and creatively it is unlike anything in the X-Men collection of films, allowing itself to succeed on its own directive merits if for nothing else other than refusing to be a conveyor belt film taken from its previous inhabitants. There’s certainly evidence of that R-rated cut of the movie that Boone and the production were so excited about early on, but what remains captures the helplessness and hopelessness of the environment effectively, all the while preserving itself as a metaphor of sorts for puberty, and how controlling your newfound identity can work as your only remedy.
– Special effects. This is perhaps the biggest surprise for me, because what I saw in the trailers were anything but captivating of the computer generated technology that resonates currently within the superhero genre of films. But thankfully the abundance of time delivered towards the production’s illustration of such brought forth a fantastical approach to these special gifts that balanced power and ingenuity accordingly, and outlined as much context for believability as possible with something of this magnitude. The weight inflicted on each devastating blow is impactfully articulated, instilling visual proof for the brunt power that comes from these small people, and the assortment of colors is a much-needed visual flare for a movie with no shortage of lighting problems in the foreground. While nothing exceptional compared to the kinds of things Marvel and D.C are currently doing, “The New Mutants” roars with a kind of genetically enhanced intensity that satisfies when it finally does decide to show up, and proves that these kids can more than hold their own against those who came before them.
– Unconventional antagonist. One genius take that I commend the movie for was the bigger picture with the film’s villain than the one that elicits itself from a predictably bland second act plot twist. Instead of what’s material in physical form before these mutants, the film preserves their biggest adversities in the tortured pasts still on repeat in each of their minds. What I love about this is it not only forces each of them to confront their most jaded memories in a therapeutically releasing kind of way, but it requires them to do it together, which builds the chemistry of the group dynamic accordingly to where it needs to be by film’s end. This uncovers some much more dark and gritty material than we’re typically used to in a world as colorfully animated as Charles Xavier’s group of extraordinarily ladies and gentlemen, but establishes the human element in each of them that they can’t let go of before reaching for much bigger heights. It fleshes out trauma in a way that balances emotional trauma and character empathy simultaneously, and is much bigger than any baddie that this film could’ve possibly manufactured.
– Elements of horror. If it were up to me, this film would be entirely like an homage to “A Nightmare On Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors”, and thanks to some sturdy elements of production there’s room to believe this ambitious direction could’ve succeeded in garnering the originality needed to make its mark. The film plays really well to the horror aspects of cinema, mainly in its claustrophobic one-stage setting, no shortage of scares used to build tension, and ominous musical score from composer Mark Snow, who built a career orchestrating the creep factor on “The X-Files”. It’s not only a different take for the superhero genre, but also one for Disney who now unfortunately owns the project, and is undoubtedly the reason for many of its sharp contrast direction changes that the film can’t escape from, despite glimmers of hope like these decorated throughout.
– Episodic exposition. Easily the biggest problem for me was the unfolding narrative for characters’ past histories that was shoe-horned with the kind of subtlety as a Mack truck exploding through a nitroglycerine factory. The first act is full of momentum-halting flashbacks and intention-heavy exposition, which not only fleshes out the predictabilities of the character directions, but also alludes to no interaction feeling believably synthetic in the eyes of the audience. This very much feels like a hack and slash screenplay where everything felt expendable with the exception of the pasts that constantly override themselves into everything in the current day narrative. It’s convoluted to the fact that you can predict each and every time it is going to pop-up, leading to insurmountable problems where the movie isn’t building as much towards its third act conflict as it is repeatedly filling in the gaps of the movie’s epilogue.
– Ugly aesthetic choices. You could’ve told me that “The New Mutants” was held back as long as the early 2000’s, and I would’ve believed you. I say that because it is saddled with a dark and abysmal color scheme and mundane cinematography that often hinders what you’re looking at within the context of the scene. This is no more evident than during the third act fight sequence, when the film is throwing everything that it can at the screen to see what sticks, and all of it coming across as this shadowy blob that lacks routine definition to properly telegraph. Aside from that, the entire film tries a bit too hard to capture the brooding element of atmosphere that I previously commended it for. Scenes outside during the daytime maintain this unappealing shadow where the sun never shines despite not a cloud being resonant in the sky, and the lighting scheme inside of the asylum establishes reality inside of every asylum from every movie you’ve ever seen. Its lack of creativity is only outweighed by its obviousness to cloud reality, making this one of the more uglier superhero films that I can remember in recent memory.
– Emotionally flat. This falls on the shoulders of the mostly youthful ensemble cast, who despite no shortage of talented acting pasts between them, gel in these roles like a tire being thrown off of an overpass. Part of this falls on the direction, which guides them towards these embarrassingly flat releases that never come close to capturing the magnitude within the tragedy of the situation. Taylor Joy supplants an awful Russian accent that is every bit spotty as it is unintentionally comedic, and her lack of tears during scenes where she is quite literally crying in front of our eyes constantly leaves more to be desired in her shallow depth. However, Joy is mountains ahead of the lead girl (Played by Blu Hunt) in her first big screen lead. I mention that angle because nothing about this girl ever transpires beyond one note, nor does her lack of charisma make her even slightly compelling as a protagonist who I want to spend the most time with. Every other character in this group is exceptionally more exciting than this girl we become saddled with, and not even a groundbreaking against type romance can garner enough momentary distraction to make me care in the slightest.
– Reheated screenplay. With obvious reluctance to mention this aspect, considering this film has sat on the shelf for over two years to get released for a variety of reasons, the material encased feels every bit cold and uninspiring as it does redundantly outdated. The whole Young Adult series of adaptations overstayed its welcome around three to four years ago, so for something like this to reside during an age of films with more failures in the subgenre than successes is an uphill climb that it’s asked to do without gripping shoes immediately. Cliches are one thing, but when you’re dedicating ample screen time to a contradicting direction that feels anything but cohesive with what is transpiring in the heat of this environment, then it feels like a studio obligation meant to satisfy as many teenie boppers as possible, with a rating change to accommodate as much.
– Painful dialogue. Jesus, where do I begin? How about a line about halfway into the movie where a doctor in a lab coat for the entirety of the movie spits out “I’m a doctor” like she’s unveiling the fourth wall of reality for our characters unaware. If that doesn’t do it for you, the good old “Lions, and tigers, and bears, Oh my!!” will in a scene involving an evil bear that that pops up during a time when this movie is trying to invest in anything to make this even slightly memorable. What does register as memorable are a series of lines so unintentionally funny that it brings forth a series of sexual innuendos that will inevitably be brought to light with an audience as immature as the door will allow.
– Constricting limits. Barely 90 minutes of running screen time feels like a huge disservice to an origin story superhero film meant to be the first hook in a newly-intended series of compelling characters. Unfortunately, the execution is muddled with forced exposition that I previously mentioned, but even more pivotal than that; a fire engine pacing that encapsulates these very pivotal moments of character building on more than one occasion. It’s weird to say that as much as I learned about these characters, I still feel like I don’t know anything about them prior to the most tragic night of their lives that changed everything, and even in a film with as many problems as “The New Mutants” has, another twenty minutes of additional scenes could help spread the distance in exposition, all the while fleshing out our characters as people instead of entities. Release the Boone cut.
My Grade: 4/10 or D