Pullbox Reviews: The New Mutants (2020) – Critics are bashing it, but I liked it… ‘Nuff said!

  • New Mutants (2020)
  • 20th Century Fox & Marvel Entertainment
  • Directed by Josh Boone
  • Written by Josh Boone & Knate Lee

A long time ago, not so very far away, there was a whisper. A thing was to be brought into the world that could set itself apart from what had come before it, hopefully revitalizing a franchise to former glory & erasing the debacle that was Age of Apocalypse. And then… stuff. Like, a lot of stuff. A couple years’ worth of stuff, topped off with a pandemic you may have heard of. In the end, although it was originally scheduled to release in April of 2017, fans wouldn’t get a chance to see this new entry into the X-Men movie mythos until now.

And there was great rejoicing.

Or, there should have been. Like everyone else who was even half paying attention, I was happy to see that The New Mutants was finally going to see the light of day. Still, with all of the hype & hope surrounding it, the “X-Babies” movie had a rocky road to release and much to everyone’s disappointment it didn’t really hit the mark. But you know what, I wasn’t going to let the internet chatter hold me back. I’d been looking forward to this flick for long enough, so with a smile on my face and hope in my heart I settled in to check out the next generation of X-Movies.

And now, I’ve got words…

First of all I have to say that, despite a general lambasting from the critics, I enjoyed The New Mutants. In fact, I think it’s safe to say that it would rank among some of the better X-Men movies to date, and most definitely not among the worst (looking at you, Apocalypse). Sure, it’s a far from perfect movie, but it still manages to bring a different spirit to a flagging movie franchise. The special effects, despite giving us another giant CGI badguy for heroes to fight, actually looked pretty good. There was also a certain amount of fangasm at seeing a few favorite characters from the comics brought to the screen without watering down their look- honestly, did anyone really think we’d ever get to see Magik on screen, armored arm & mystical sword in all her glory? All of that was pretty sweet, and the cast was all-in, delivering some very solid performances in what was a relatively small movie with an almost indie attitude.

Now… fair warning, while I plan on keeping my review mostly spoiler free, there are going to be some reveals in plot & character. If you don’t want to know anything at all about The New Mutants, you might want to look away.

Maisie Williams, fresh (in 2017) off of her killer role in Game of Thrones takes a much different turn in the part of soft-spoken werewolf Rahne Sinclair (aka Wolfsbane). In a cast with more than its share of in your face characters, the part of Rahne is more of a calming influence. She’s soft-spoken, understated and wholly likeable. When a new student/inmate arrives at the hospital- secretly run by the Essex Corporation- and has trouble fitting in with the others, it’s Rahne who steps up and offers a hand in friendship. Williams is great, showing more vulnerability than any of the variations of Arya Stark, growing up on screen from rebellious tomboy to cold-blooded executioner. She comes across as the emotional anchor in the movie, the calm center around whom the more… bombastic characters play.

Blu Hunt, playing the “hospital’s” newest arrival Dani Moonstar (aka Mirage), is more or less put forward as the focus of the movie. Her power is the catalyst that gets things going as it forces the characters to confront the tragedies of their pasts. Hunt’s portrayal is that of someone used to taking jibes & insults without being bowed or broken. Dani is a relatively understated character, but when push comes to shove she’s more than willing to push back. Also, the relationship that grows between Dani & Rahne plays out very nicely. Keeping in mind that I have never been a young werewolf or Native American mutant in love, I would say that the play between them is very sweet. Unfortunately when the plot turns and the action starts, Dani gets shorted and doesn’t really have much to do until she does and then the movie’s over (more on that later).

Anya Taylor-Joy created some buzz with her spin as Illyana Rasputin (aka Magik), both good and bad. Fans were stoked to see the younger sister of another fan favorite, Colossus, on the screen but the character as she was written provided grist for some harsh criticism. The heart of the angst is that early in the film, Illyana says some pretty crappy things to newcomer Dani. “Racist” has become the tag that I’ve seen most associated with her, but that might be short-changing Taylor-Joy’s portrayal. Without a doubt Illyana is, to put it mildly, a complete bitch in this movie, but as her backstory is explored there’s insight to be found for anyone looking. My take wasn’t so much that Illyana was racist, despite the horrible things she was saying. What I saw was a character with a pretty horrific past, very damaged & doing her damndest to keep everyone at double-arm’s length. Do a quick look at the symptoms and signs of severe PTSD and you’ll run across someone who looks very much like Illyana.

Alice Braga, as Dr. Reyes and the nominal “villain” of The New Mutants, is interesting in that she isn’t lurking in the shadows, twisting a proverbial mustache and rubbing her hands together in malevolent glee as her evil machinations develop. Instead, she’s a “true believer” with a cause. Her actions might not be what you’d call savory, but she isn’t necessarily evil and Braga does a good job playing in the gray area of someone doing terrible things for the greater good.

As for the place holders… I mean other characters in the movie… Charlie Heaton & Henry Zaga do their jobs as Sam Guthrie (Cannonball) and Roberto da Costa (Sunspot). There’s no problem whatsoever with their performances. Heaton is solid playing Sam as the downhome good ol’ boy with a heart of gold. For his part, Zaga hits the mark as Roberto, getting the rich kid blasé demeanor down and showing glimpses of the cracks in that façade. Unfortunately there was controversy in the casting that might have overshadowed his performance as Sunspot is a black Brazilian in the comics, while Zaga is decidedly and through no fault of his own, fairer skinned. And come on, can Adam Beach just catch a break in a superhero movie? He didn’t fare so well as Slipknot in Suicide Squad, and as Dani’s dad he’s pretty much just fodder for her childhood trauma… I mean he’s only listed on IMDB as “Dani’s Father”. Give the poor guy a name, at least!

George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight | Adam Beach

Despite a mostly enjoyable setup The New Mutants didn’t stick the landing for me. The horror movie tone that was promised through all of the previews was undermined as it all came to a head, fighty-fighty, and then the movie’s just… over. Dani falls victim to one of the most worn out tropes in the history of tropes, & they all do the hero walk into the sunset. None of the real interpersonal issues are worked out or even addressed and everyone’s arm in arm, best friends forever.

Probably the biggest problem I had with the movie was its pacing. It just felt rushed, and it should have been a longer movie or maybe even a mini-series for Disney+. Something to flesh it out a bit more and give the story a chance to grow and evolve into the edgy horror/superhero movie we were expecting. Scenes jumped from one to another, and at times it took a minute to work my head around the fact that some time has passed without any real indication of the transition. It would have been great to be able to spend a little more time with the characters, dig a bit more into the individual tragedies before we get around to the shared triumph that just didn’t feel earned to me

This was never going to be the movie that would pull moviegoers back into the pandemic-beleaguered theater seats, and to be honest if I’d gone to a theater to see it I would’ve been irritated. As it was, The New Mutants was totally worth a Video on Demand rental, and I’ll probably buy it at some point down the road. Why not? I paid money for X-Men 3. I guess I’d just suggest that viewers go into this movie with an understanding of what they’re getting into. It’s a much smaller movie, in both scope and production, than the preceding X-Men movies, but it’s got some cool tie-ins to bring it into that continuity. On a side note, I also kinda liked that Buffy the Vampire Slayer was always playing on the television in the recreation room, the DVD boxed sets prominently displayed on the entertainment center’s shelf.

If you’ve been looking forward to this movie, by all means check it out. I didn’t think that it deserved the critical bashing it’s taken since its release, and I really did like it overall. There are problems, but with so few “perfect movies” out there, it’s a little counter-productive to take a pass on every one that doesn’t measure up in every way.

Art by the always amazing Bill Sienkiewicz
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