‘The New Mutants’ Review: A Better or Bitter End for the X-men?

Is this the end of the X-men? Quite possibly! 20th Century Fox have been making X-men movies for exactly 20 years. Now the mouse house have absorbed the vulpine company and are discussing methods of bringing the X-men into the all-consuming MCU. This, therefore, is surely the end of this franchise. Perhaps it can claw back some of the charm and ingenuity that made the best entries so dear to so many and which the Dark Phoenix film was so sorely lacking.

The film follows a teenage mutant girl named Dani Moonstar (Blu Hunt) as she deals with the aftermath of discovering her powers in deadly circumstances. She finds herself in a hospital where she learns this is essentially parr the course for mutants. Similarly haunted inmates include the lycanthropic Rayne Sinclair (Maisie Williams), southern American rocket-man Sam Guthrie (Charlie Heaton), Brazilian sex pest Bobby Da Costa (Henry Zaga) and Illyana Rasputin (Anna Taylor Johnson) who is Regina King with a Russian accent. As incredibly dangerous mutants they live under the supervision of a single doctor, Dr Cecelia Reyes (Alice Braga) who rules the place with lockdown rules even less consistent and effective than the British Government. Strange occurrences disrupt the peace and the inmates soon turn on each other.

This film needed to be a taught thriller in which a group of disturbed and volatile individuals clash in an enclosed environment. Their psychology and powers needed to play off of each other in subtle and interesting ways, creating a claustrophobic pot-boiler in which tragedy seems unfortunately unavoidable. Unfortunately the script is not up to making this narrative compelling. Nor is it able to render interesting characters. The actors do their best (including some pretty valiant attempts at tricky accents) but ultimately the characters are either too broad or too non-existent.

The film does deserve credit for it’s ambition and ways in which it distinguishes itself from other superhero films. It’s a small and contained story that focusses on character over special effects. It is far more successful in this regard than the similar film, Glass. There is also a lesbian romance that is featured heavily enough that it will prove difficult for prudish censors to extract. Such representation should not be daring or new in 2020, but tragically it is and the filmmakers deserve credit for it. It’s also a little grislier and scarier than your average non-Nolan superhero film and excels in those moments of abstract horror. This is essentially the Dream Warriors and it’s at its best when it goes for that.

There’s an eerie quality to the X-men allusions of the film. Isolated in a dilapidated former hospital located somewhere near the end of the convoluted X-men timeline, the mythology and iconography of the iconic franchise feels distant and sadly waning. It feels as though all the big players (none of whom appear in this film) have moved on, out of the cinematic frame, leaving only this handful of characters behind to try and fight for some kind of closure. It’s a film about the young and about new beginnings but there’s something tragically elegiac about this world now. There shall be no spin-offs or sequels for these characters. The party ended a while ago, and these guys just showed up too late.

It’s a bit of wheeze and it doesn’t work as well as you might hope, but it is in it’s own way an appropriate send off for the great franchise. X-men was always less cohesive than the MCU. It was a messy franchise with no single vision or key figure propelling it. Different directors made various attempts to make something special, and a few succeeded. But there was always room for oddballs. It’s a franchise that provides homes for mutants, oddities that may or may not point the way to the next stage of evolution. This is a curious little superhero film; one that’s hard to imagine finding a home anywhere else.

Three Stars

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