The New Mutants (aka X-Men: The New Mutants / Growing Pains) review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
The New Mutants was a film that had been locked in production hell for three years, lost in Disney deciding what to do after they had acquired Fox and subsequently their stake in Marvel. It’s pretty clear from the film that it came about after the success of 2017’s Logan which took comic book properties in a more R-rated direction. It was a telling sign that spoke from the box office to the studios in the words that “hey, Marvel movies can make money when they stray from PG-13 territory.” I bring this up because New Mutants directly references the likes of Logan more than once as a pale reminder of what a film with a firmer tone can look like.
At first, there’s a primary focus on the character of Dani. She’s a tragic figure plagued by the pathos of her family being lost in a storm, ending up at a special location for treating mutants. Her powers are feared to be dangerous and she’s kept under the watchful eyes of the carefully probing Doctor Reyes. While there, she meets other mutants also struggling with their powers. Rahne can transform into a wolf, Sam is essentially a human rocket, Bobby can harness solar energy to make himself a human flame, and Rasputin can not only harness a magical sword but can open a portal to purgatory. All of them are dealing with similar horrors from their past, some with their powers accidentally kill others and others where they were abused and violated by others.
By that brief description, it would sound like this is the Marvel equal of Nightmare on Elm Street 3, especially with the picture’s leaning towards horror. That’s a great idea for a different kind of superhero story to set itself apart from the myriad of samey comic book movies but, similar to Fox’s tinkering with 2015’s Fantastic Four, it never reaches such heights. The entire first act is a dry slog of exposition. Few characters show emotion, despite being portrayed as sly rebels and sexually seeking teens. They only speak in dialogue most bland of explaining their powers and where they come from. After such tiring treads, the film does get a bit interesting when Dani’s powers reveal that she can tap into other people’s fears and make them manifest in reality, leading to some truly terrifying scenes.
From there, it would seem obvious where this picture would go, right? Each character would conquer their pasts and become more confident with their powers. This seems to only happen for Dani and in the weirdest way. It’s not that the finale of all the characters fighting a giant magical bear couldn’t work, but the lacking in bringing arcs to a head really makes the film feel as though it’s being sedated back into the typical superhero antics that such a psychological sort of film shouldn’t retreat towards so cowardly.
It’s rather astounding how New Mutants wastes its potential at every turn. Bobby has fears of burning people after he roasted his previous girlfriend alive and it would seem as though some romance between him and Rasputin would help him get over this. Not to mention Rasputin might be able to better get over her hideous past of being raped by adults by finding genuine intimacy in someone who cares about this. None of this comes to pass. All the characters essentially put their troubles behind them to help Dani fight a bear. So little of these characters is explored that even the tender romance between Rahne and Dani feels unearned for how little room it gives them to breathe and delight in each other.
It’s easy to understand why The New Mutants was shelved for so long because so little of it ever works. The comradery is so forced with dry exchanges that it’s not the least bit chummy to warrant the brief one-liner bits the film is going for. The connections to X-Men are so loose with such a contained story that it’s almost pointless to rip the footage from Logan for the played-out connected universe Easter egg. The New Mutants could work but it’s far too sedated in safety to ever be anything less than a mess of Marvel machinations.