The New Mutants (2020) — Hanging out with The X-fast Club

“They aren’t prepping us to be X-Men. They’re prepping us to be killers.”

Justin’s rating: This is the way a multi-billion-dollar franchise ends. Not with a bang, but with a scream.

Justin’s review: It seems oddly fitting that the 13th entry for Fox’s X-Men series should slip on the trappings of a horror movie. And while I have nothing against experimenting with genre mixing, it really didn’t seem the time or the place for this franchise to do so. It’s not the only weird thing at play here: The New Mutants ended up being the final Fox-made entry (having sold the rights to Disney a few years back), releasing during the COVID year with the smallest box office splash of any X-Men movie to date (it was originally supposed to come out in April 2018, mind you). Reportedly, reshoots and extensive editing was done to cut out direct ties to the X-Men franchise (because, Disney), making it a smaller and less all-out horror experience than originally intended.

Yet after the disappointment and CGI overload of Apocalypse and Dark Phoenix, I was looking forward to something different to end my self-imposed X-Men movie marathon. Why not hang out with moody super-powered teens in a scary hospital?

Based on the comic book series of the same name from 1982, New Mutants attempted to create a new series that focused on a different group of super-powered teens. Thus, this movie does double-duty in telling an isolated haunted house story (of a type) and setting up this group for future adventures. After seeing it, I feel it’s a shame that it got bulldozed.

Dani (Blu Hunt) survives a mysterious attack that wipes out her entire reservation and wakes up in a creepy and mostly empty asylum. There, a handful of fresh mutants are being held captive — ostensibly for “treatment” by Dr. Reyes before they can be released into the world. Of course, it’s clear right away that nobody has these kids’ best intentions at heart.

There’s cranky Magik (Anya Taylor-Joy) who’s got a glowy sword arm and teleportation powers; friendly werewolf Wolfsbane (Maisie Williams); good ol’ boy Cannonball (Charlie Heaton), who can bounce around like crazy; and Sunspot (Henry Zaga), who gets a little hot under the collar.

Dani’s arrival seems to take a group that’s been in stasis and give them a little forward momentum. There are little encounters and heart-to-heart conversations between them, giving this movie somewhat of a John Hughes vibe (which is, you know, cool). There’s also some friction and angst. It’s very much Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors for the superhero generation.

It’s all not helped by the fact that they’re prisoners in a place that’s, in turns, scary and sinister. Reyes observes the kids through cameras and keeps them at bay with her own force field powers. So she’s obviously not part of a healthy recovery regimen (it’s implied that she’s tied into the same corporation that’s experimenting on the kids in Logan). But even Reyes can’t explain why the place is spawning nightmares that seem and feel real — and are tied into their past trauma.

The twin threats at play here actually make The New Mutants kind of interesting, even if it’s not your traditional adventure-and-combat X-Men romp. While Reyes isn’t able to make much headway with the group, these nightmares becoming flesh actually end up being the catalyst that helps them to master their powers. It’s not the coming-of-age experience that you’d recommend, but hey, it works.

So yes, it’s a strange way to end the X-Men series, but it’s not quite as bad of a movie as I was originally led to believe. The slower pacing and smaller reliance on big-spectacle allows for some room for character backstory and growth, and that’s not a bad thing. I ended up liking it far more than the last two regular X-Men films, if that’s any recommendation. It’s just such a shame it was tossed into the discount movie bin before it ever had a real chance at becoming a franchise of its own.

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