Let’s not dwell too much on The New Mutants’ tortuous journey to cinema screens. Suffice to say its eventual arrival this week comes after four scheduled release dates – one admittedly delayed by the current pandemic – plus multiple re-shoots and characters that have come and gone. All since it was made back in 2017.
Three years can be a long time in the movies and it really shows in this X-Men offshoot from self-confessed fan of the franchise, Josh Boone. Five teenagers with special powers find themselves in a secret institution where they’re told they’ll be cured of the dangers that go with their unique abilities. The most recent arrival, Danielle Moonstar (Blu Hunt), has a particular talent that disrupts everything, revealing that the institution isn’t all it seems to be and that they’re being held captive. Inevitably, the group find themselves having to pool their unique resources to discover who’s trying to destroy them.
So Five Get Superpowers, right? Not really. More like Five Get Stuck In A Teenage Horror Movie because, for all their powers and Marvel heritage, that’s exactly what we’ve got. If you didn’t know that this was part of the X-Men series – apart from the Marvel branding before the opening – you could miss the passing references. There aren’t many. And we’re given little or no indication of who the teenagers become as their powers mature. Sam Guthrie (Stranger Things’ Charlie Heaton), aka Cannonball can fly at jet speeds, Rahne Sinclair (Maisie Williams) transforms into werewolf Wolfsbane, complete with impressive manicure, Roberto da Costa (Henry Zaga) is Sunspot who channels solar power and sets himself on fire, and the farcically named Illyana Rasputin (Anya Taylor-Joy) becomes Magik who, let’s say, has a seriously impressive right hook. Danielle will eventually become Mirage and her powers, while impressive, are all-too familiar, playing on everybody’s worst fears.
So we’ve seen it all before and this is neither super or powerful, more of a teenage horror B-movie in the Stephen King mould. Except that in the past three years we’ve seen plenty of his work on the big screen – Doctor Sleep, Pet Sematary and both parts of It among them – and they’ve all been better than this. We’re entitled to expect a frisson of fear at the very least when a film’s described as a horror but here the villains are more laughable than scary – the lumbering creatures wearing smiley masks are especially risible. And the special effects are workmanlike but, for today’s audiences, they now look little more than bog standard.
No advance screenings were held for the press, leading to the assumption that Disney simply wanted to get this one out of the way. If that’s the case, you can’t blame them. For all the time, budget and talent lavished on The New Mutants, it’s a pedestrian offering, with little in the way of thrills or scares, one that instead of giving the X-Men a new direction after the disappointment of Dark Phoenix, simply brings it grinding to a halt.
Thriller, Horror, Superhero | Cert: 15 | Walt Disney Studios | 4 September 2020 | Dir. Josh Boone | Maisie Williams, Anya Taylor-Joy, Charlie Heaton, Blu Hunt, Henry Zaga, Alice Braga.