Before viewing The New Mutants, I'd already caught wind of the fact that critics weren't loving it. I wasn't discouraged however. Even in superhero films that I have thoroughly disliked, I've never been totally bored. The New Mutants trailer made the film seem like The Great Escape: X-Men Edition. And how could that be bad?
I don't know. But it was.
The film starts with protagonist and soon-to-be-new-mutant, Danielle Moonstar (Blu Hunt), telling viewers about the two bears inside:
“There’s an old Native American proverb that says, ‘Inside every person there are two bears, forever locked in combat for your soul. One bear is all things good: compassion, love, trust. The other is all things evil: fear, shame, and self-destruction.’“
This narration is quickly interrupted though, as Dani's reservation comes under attack by an unknown force, assumed to be a tornado, and Dani's father swiftly hides her in the trunk of a tree.
After the chaos, Dani wakes in what initially appears to be a hospital. She is alone and handcuffed to the bed. It turns out that she was the only survivor of the event and therefore she has been placed in a hospital for mutants, until they figure out what her power is, how she survived, and until she is no longer deemed "a danger". If you've watched the trailer, you'll know that this "isn't a hospital. It's a cage". Dani is in prison. It takes her far too long to figure this out, though. There are so many hints along the way! Okay, so there's the obvious fact that when she wakes she's locked in a room and handcuffed to her bed. But that could just be a hospital precaution right? Then there's the fact that there are a number of close-ups on security cameras that exist in the corner of every room. Then there's the fact that there are external locks on the patients' bedroom doors. Then there's the fact that the doctor threatens that they'll "spend a day in solitary" if they aren't compliant. I mean really, Dani? But it takes the discovery of the external forcefield for Dani to fully understand her situation.
Despite the fact that it takes Dani far too long to realise that she has been imprisoned, when this discovery does occur it excited me! I was flashing back to images of David McCallum emptying dirt from the bottom of his trousers and Steve McQueen flying around on that motorbike. "Yes! They are going to escape!" I thought. Alas, I was wrong. I will not go into detail on what occurs for the greater part of this film. There's a little bit of action, but for the most part, it's vague allusions to powers and how they were discovered. I have one note here that might make it clear, "Mutant trauma for 100,000 hours". Honestly, not a whole lot happens. There isn't even a cool montage where the characters train. They just go to therapy and generally hang out talking about their respective pasts. There was one scene though, where my hopes were elevated. At one point, Illyana (Anya Taylor-Joy) spikes Dr. Reyes' tea (don't ask with what, I have no idea) and Dr. Reyes falls asleep. The teenagers are free to do whatever they want! #howexciting! So, naturally they decide to roll around the halls in wheelchairs, eat popcorn and play with tambourines... Yeah. I know. These have got to be the most beige mutant teenagers ever to exist. The only thing that would have made this scene more disappointing, is if they'd decided to play the recorder as well.
Pictured: What could have been, versus what was.
Before I unleash some spoilers in regards to this film's climax, I do need to address the employment situation at this hospital/prison. There is one employee. Dr. Reyes is the physician, the security, the phlebotomist, the psychologist, the lab tech, the data analyst, the babysitter and she single-handedly operates the forcefield that surrounds the property. This is too much for one person to take! I'm surprised that this film was about teenage mutant angsty humans, instead of being about one doctor's nervous breakdown at the thought of all of the work that she has to do. I mean, I get it, it's just five teenagers. But how do her employers expect her to hold the forcefield, watch the security cameras, and take blood from a client all at once? Honestly, Reyes should strike! The working conditions are ridiculous. But more importantly, with only one staff member, why the devil did we not have more Steve McQueening in this joint!
By the by, I think Dr. Reyes lied on her resume, because she places vials of blood in a suitcase, rather than a refrigerator, and she openly ignores the fact that one of the mutants is most definitely engaging in self-harming behaviours. But look, we can't really expect her to be a master of everything right?
Let's talk about the climax. First of all, there is a demon bear. You have likely seen this creature in the comic con teaser trailer, or in other teasers for the film.
By the time this demon bear rolls around in the climax, I was quite pleased to see him. I was ready for some action! And there is some... But would you like to know how they defeat this creature? Dani stands up to this demon bear and says, "Stop. No. No. I'm in charge now". And the demon bear relents. Honestly, I had to stifle a laugh. Far from reminding me of Steve McQueen, this moment reminded me of my fifteen year old self,
sharing a room with my then toddler brother, Ben. These words are the same
words I would use, when he would reach for my nail polish, a banana muffin or some other forbidden item. Therefore, I will be writing to 20th Century Studios and suggesting that they pull all of the actors in for ADR in order to rename the demon bear "Ben". I get it. This is a moment of deep significance for the character of Dani. It's at this point that she acknowledges her own powers and takes control. But I just don't think it packs the punch that this film really needed in the finish.
I'm sure you've already guessed that I won't be recommending this film. It's certainly a premise that has a lot of potential, but there was definitely something missing in the execution...