It’s hard to believe that The New Mutants has finally crawled into theatres, least of all during a global pandemic that’s disrupted the upcoming slate of theatrical movies for the foreseeable future! Originally scheduled for an April 2018 premiere on the big screen, 20th Century Studios, back when they were still 20th Century Fox, had big plans for Marvel’s New Mutants characters, which would go on to inform a fresh new direction for the studio’s long-running live-action X-Men franchise. Pitched as the start of a new cinematic trilogy set within Fox’s X-Men universe, The New Mutants was poised to bring the X-Men movies into a darker, more sinister realm of horror, with each planned sequel reinventing its horror stylings and threats to keep pushing the creative ambition of the X-Men movie franchise. In concept, it should have been a slam dunk, especially in being able to ride the positive momentum from the then-new X-Men movie spin-off, Deadpool (and its eventual sequel), as well as R-rated Wolverine-starring threequel, Logan, both of which were big critical and commercial hits for Fox’s X-Men film universe.
Tragically though, what instead resulted for The New Mutants is a bona fide saga of delays, restructuring, and an ultimately premature death to its original vision, all of which is fascinating in its sheer unluckiness. The New Mutants would first miss its April 2018 release window to add reshoots that would aim to make it scarier, after test audiences felt the initial cut lacked truly effective horror elements. This first moved The New Mutants to February 2019, so it could avoid the planned Fall 2018 release of the latest X-Men movie sequel (and ultimately, the X-Men movie series’ finale), Dark Phoenix, a move that would ultimately be pointless, since Dark Phoenix ended up being delayed itself, to June 2019. After The New Mutants failed to complete its previously-ordered reshoots, it would also be forced to miss its February 2019 date, which moved it to August 2019. Following Dark Phoenix’s June 2019 delay however, Fox apparently felt that two X-Men movies in one Summer would be oversaturation, so The New Mutants got delayed again, this time to April 2020.
Then, things got worse than ever, with a one-two punch of disasters that seemingly obliterated any chance that The New Mutants could be successful, let alone serve as the basis for a trilogy. The first of these, of course, was the Disney-Fox merger. Disney fully acquired all Fox assets with the finalization of the merger in Spring 2019, which resulted in the movie rights to all X-Men-related characters, including the New Mutants characters, reverting back to Marvel Studios. All planned Marvel movies in development at Fox, which included a Gambit movie, an untitled Kitty Pryde movie, an untitled X-23 movie, an untitled Doctor Doom movie, and an untitled Multiple Man movie, among others, were all put on hold (and eventually cancelled), the FOX network’s X-Men television spin-off, The Gifted was abruptly cancelled after its second season (FX’s own X-Men television spin-off, Legion also concluded around this point, but was allegedly always planned to conclude in 2019), and Dark Phoenix was noticeably compromised by Fox losing their grip on the X-Men movie rights during production, resulting in a lacklustre final product that ultimately concluded Fox’s X-Men movie series on a bad note. To top it all off, The New Mutants’ planned reshoots were eventually vetoed by Disney, adding insult to injury by making its former delays pointless.
The second disaster that would seal The New Mutants’ fate is, naturally, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which cost the movie its April 2020 release date, due to movie theatres closing worldwide. With several theatrical movies responding to the pandemic by going straight-to-VOD or straight-to-streaming as well, speculation then quickly went into overdrive about The New Mutants possibly bypassing a theatrical release entirely, especially after the critical and commercial failure of Dark Phoenix, to instead go straight to Disney+ or Hulu. Disney would deny these rumours however, and eventually, the mega-studio would keep its word, finally releasing The New Mutants’ initially completed cut, as is, into movie theatres at long last… To reduced, socially-distanced audiences. So, after all that misery, all that misfortune, all those complications in production and release, is the true final movie made for Fox’s former X-Men franchise worth the wait?… No. No, obviously it isn’t.
But what do you expect, really? The New Mutants was doomed by circumstance practically from the very start, suffering so many issues in its production, completely unrelated to its own creative process, that it felt like the movie was genuinely cursed. On top of that, Disney clearly doesn’t give a single solitary shit about The New Mutants, beyond wanting to at least honour Fox’s previous commitment to releasing the movie in theatres. Disney didn’t even bother screening The New Mutants for critics, in fact, leading to many high-profile American outlets refusing to review it at this point, due to unsafe public theatre conditions in most of the U.S. The whole affair is a spectacular mess, and it’s hard to blame Disney for just wanting to wash their hands of the New Mutants debacle at this point. The New Mutants is at least an improvement over the especially bland and forgettable Dark Phoenix, but it’s still an unfinished, unfulfilling conclusion to Fox’s X-Men franchise, one that’s more of a morbid curiosity piece for X-Men/Marvel fans than a truly compelling theatrical blockbuster.
The New Mutants, appropriately, introduces an all-new batch of mutant protagonists that haven’t previously been featured in Fox’s X-Men movie universe, at least, for the most part. There is one small exception in Roberto da Costa, a.k.a. Sunspot, who appeared as part of the future lineup of X-Men during 2014’s X-Men: Days of Future Past, though he’s since been recast for The New Mutants, now being played by Brazilian actor, Henry Zaga. Aside from Sunspot, who no longer has any connection to the X-Men in The New Mutants, this movie also features Sam Guthrie/Cannonball, played by Charlie Heaton, Illyana Rasputin/Magik, played by Anya Taylor-Joy, and Rahne Sinclair/Wolfsbane, played by Maisie Williams, in lead roles. The central lead and audience surrogate for The New Mutants meanwhile is Danielle “Dani” Moonstar, played by Blu Hunt, a Native American girl who is rescued from an apparent disaster, and placed within a secluded hospital, run by Dr. Cecilia Reyes, played by Alice Braga.
Dani’s character arc is often central to the plot of The New Mutants. This is because Dr. Reyes reveals to Dani that she’s a mutant early in the movie, and yet, Dani’s powers are a complete mystery. Nonetheless, Dani is placed with the other, “New mutants”, who are being mentored at Dr. Reyes’ facility, all of whom have their own traumas and inner demons related to the recent manifestation of their mutant powers. Charlie, for example, had his abilities violently manifest while working in the local mine of his Kentucky town, while Rahne escaped an oppressive Scottish church that reacted aggressively to her, “Demonic” transformation, and Roberto was simply sent to Dr. Reyes by his wealthy parents, refusing to discuss how his mutant powers first manifested. Among Dr. Reyes’ established subjects, Illyana is the one that’s most mysterious, carrying a dragon puppet named, “Lockheed”, and only revealing that she came from Russia, and has a very powerful mutant ability.
The characterization throughout The New Mutants is actually quite good, taking effective advantage of the diverse cast, and their equally diverse economic and cultural backgrounds. Some genuinely interesting revelations are made about each lead personality as the movie goes on, whose horrifying former experiences as young mutants eventually begin to torture their minds throughout Dr. Reyes’ hospital. The layering of a coming-of-age element amid so much twisted, hostile imagery throughout the leads’ respective torments is a very inspired idea, leading to an initially tense, and eventually rewarding, camaraderie between the New Mutants, as they must band together to survive the horrors that feast on their minds. There’s so much that could have been done with this horror hook in sequels, and that makes it extra frustrating that those sequels will no doubt never happen at this point.
As much as these characters are well-written, well-performed, and deserved to be expanded upon in follow-ups however, the antagonists in The New Mutants don’t ultimately manage to keep up. There are a duo of huge twists in The New Mutants’ storyline that are supposed to change everything about the characters and their situation, but both are incredibly predictable, even when one hugely deviates from Marvel Comics lore. The climactic conflict for Dani and the other New Mutants is a little better, especially when they have to face their own inner demons more than any tangible antagonist in this movie’s case, but even that is dragged down by openly setting up future movies that will never happen. The New Mutants was obviously not meant to be a standalone product, and that makes it very difficult to fully invest in the character arcs at times, especially when they leave so much clear untapped potential on the table.
The disappointing predictability behind the characters in The New Mutants unfortunately translates to the overall plot. The movie tries to have some major twists and turns, but it has such a problem with telegraphing these surprises that even casual viewers will likely expect them in advance. There are no real instances where The New Mutants successfully manages to surprise the viewer, and that’s a huge let-down, especially when it undermines so many of the scares. After all, when we already know everything that’s coming, you can’t really be caught off guard, which means that you’ll be a lot more difficult to truly shock and frighten.
Like I said, it’s the heart and characterization behind The New Mutants that manages to salvage its otherwise boilerplate storytelling. As much as you can anticipate where the storyline will take its personalities, the lead New Mutants characters nonetheless keep you reasonably invested, since they are relatable, even in their flaws. Once again though, the storytelling behind The New Mutants is very obviously a first draft, one that was meant to be revised and expanded with reshoots. This makes it tough to judge the story to an extent, since The New Mutants is a blatantly compromised product that Disney released out of obligation to Fox, rather than a genuine desire to keep building a Marvel movie franchise that Disney is predictably eager to reset, and integrate into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Still, I would go in with the awareness that The New Mutants won’t shatter your expectations, even if it does do a good enough job at keeping X-Men/Marvel enthusiasts intrigued by the foundation of what might have been.
(NOTE: The ‘Spoiler’ section, when clicked, discusses The New Mutants’ potential connections to the rest of Fox’s X-Men movie universe, as well as whether the movie contains post-credits scenes, or bears any connection to future Marvel projects known to be in development.)
As for other surviving connections to previously established corners of Fox’s X-Men universe, The New Mutants does make a few mentions of the X-Men existing, particularly when the characters initially believe that they’re being trained by Dr. Reyes in order to be considered for membership in the X-Men. Beyond that however, there are no cameos by, nor references to, previously existing X-Men movie characters in The New Mutants. Not even Piotr Rasputin/Colossus is mentioned, despite Illyana being Colossus’ sister, a connection that writer-director, Josh Boone confirmed would have been explored in the inevitably aborted sequels. The New Mutants nonetheless clearly exists in the same continuity as Fox’s prior X-Men movies, appearing to take place around the early-to-mid 2010’s, which likely places it as occurring around the same time as the events of the original X-Men movie trilogy, or what’s left of it, after X-Men: Days of Future Past soft-rebooted Fox’s X-Men canon. Inevitably though, how The New Mutants planned to eventually tie in to the rest of Fox’s X-Men universe properly will have to be left up to fans’ imaginations.
I really don’t envy The New Mutants’ writer-director, Josh Boone. To his credit, he, along with the cast, has at least managed to have a reasonably good sense of humour about the myriad misfortunes that The New Mutants faced throughout its production and various abandoned release dates. I also think that Boone was on to something legitimately inspired with his initial pitch for The New Mutants to boot, positioning Fox’s X-Men movies to start exploring more sinister and psychologically challenging ideas, framed through an experience that operates more like a horror movie than a conventional superhero vehicle. It makes for a great way to spotlight the struggles of coming of age as a mutant that didn’t ultimately have the luxury of attending Charles Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters, specifically how not being able to rely on the tutelage of Professor Xavier and the X-Men makes young, uninitiated mutants a dangerous, unstable liability. Essentially, these unfortunate ‘new mutants’ represent everything that the human population of Fox’s X-Men movie universe hates and fears about, “Homo Superior.”
Despite this superb idea though, a ton of things happened beyond Boone’s control, and he was ultimately saddled with a rough draft that had to be released as the first, and inevitably only, movie in his proposed New Mutants trilogy. This is why it’s tough to really condemn Boone for some of The New Mutants’ issues, at least beyond the fact that he feels a bit out of his depth in trying to direct a horror movie and a superhero movie with no experience in either genre (though the latter point hasn’t hindered numerous other successful superhero movie directors, in fairness). Boone had built his entire career on romantic dramas before The New Mutants, so he was definitely running before he could walk here, but it’s tough to blame the guy for having the desire to grow, especially when he did have a legitimately great pitch for a new subseries of X-Men movies behind him.
Alas though, it just wasn’t meant to be. Despite Boone’s direction doing well from a character perspective, nicely building ideological, trauma-based challenges for the eponymous leads that are eventually made manifest, The New Mutants is clearly in need of some reshoots and refinement that Disney ultimately denied it. Thus, it’s fairly clever and decently dramatic, but definitely not scary. The reduced scale compared to other projects based in Fox’s X-Men movie universe also ends up working against The New Mutants to boot, only letting it truly push its horror sensibilities to epic, exciting territory during the climax. This is frustrating, because The New Mutants is packed with untapped potential, especially when it presents so many clever hooks, yet can’t find a way to make them gel in a truly groundbreaking fashion. It provides so many interesting teases of a stillborn sub-franchise that never was, setting up interesting character arcs that are primed to be expanded upon in sequels that will never happen. That’s not Boone’s fault, but it is difficult to digest all the same.
The New Mutants contains a musical score by Mark Snow, best known as the composer for the two X-Files movies (and the iconic theme song for the original X-Files television series), as well as The CW’s early live-action DC dramas, Smallville and Birds of Prey. Despite Snow’s history composing film being rather sporadic, especially in recent years, his body of work makes him well suited to preparing the music for The New Mutants, at least in theory. Overall though, The New Mutants’ soundtrack is rather unimpressive, containing a lot of ho-hum droning and vaguely haunting chords. It does the job, but it fails to stand out in any significant way. Considering how important audio is supposed to be to a horror movie, it’s a let-down that The New Mutants ends up containing such a by-the-numbers, ‘haunted house’-style soundtrack.
The rest of the audio also disappointingly lacks punch, especially in contrast to Fox’s previous X-Men movies. It’s easy to wonder whether the audio is just as unfinished as some of the visuals, with some audio effects and musical flourishes coming off like placeholders in a few scenes, no doubt meant to be souped up in the reshoots and post-production work that didn’t ultimately happen. Once again, the result is a supposedly scary movie that doesn’t feel all that scary. The one exception is during The New Mutants’ climactic battle against a familiar specter from Marvel Comics lore, which actually does manage to deliver an imposing, alien and terrifying degree of audio polish. Everything leading up to that feels disappointingly underwhelming though, leaving The New Mutants as the kind of movie that doesn’t feel all that enthusiastic about scaring you, at least not in terms of its tangible story material.
The New Mutants is much more modestly-budgeted and smaller in scope compared to much of Fox’s X-Men movies, being somewhere between the budget levels of Deadpool and Deadpool 2. There’s only a handful of sets, but considering that this is a bit of a claustrophobic horror-thriller, that’s intentional. As for the special effects, they range wildly in quality. The effects are one of the biggest indicators that The New Mutants is unfinished to some extent, and was supposed to have reshoots that helped further polish it up. Some of the effects look great, with the powers of the lead characters, Illyana especially, often looking just as good as the effects in the mainline X-Men movies. Likewise, the sheer destruction wrought in the climax is pretty impressive, allowing the simmering psychological torment behind The New Mutants to add up to a truly high-stakes battle against a rather unexpected foe (if you haven’t dug into the behind-the-scenes material and had it spoiled for you).
Where The New Mutants’ effects are let down however is in terms of the actual scares, which end up being far too cheesy and unconvincing to elicit real chills from the audience. The aforementioned enemy in the climax is a bit of an exception to this rule, but even that enemy’s effects aren’t always convincing, looking far better in some shots than others. Much like psychologically-fueled horror offerings such as Paranormal Activity, many of the best and scariest ideas in The New Mutants’ horror sensibilities are based around what you don’t see. The PG-13 rating doesn’t help matters either, further hamstringing the scary moments by preventing them from digging too deep into the characters’ clear psychological scars, for want of being too grisly, too sexual or whatever else. Many things have to be implied, and that ironically works better at putting you on edge than the actual visions that torment the leads. This at least means that The New Mutants isn’t completely devoid of real horror, but when the horror you do see is so much less convincing than the horror you don’t, that’s further evidence that The New Mutants really needed some reshoots.
The New Mutants manages to succeed as an interesting experiment, and an intriguing pilot concept for where Fox’s X-Men movies planned to go, had the Disney-Fox merger not abruptly halted further projects in their standalone universe. Had this movie been given the proper care by its studio, along with the refinements and reshoots that it was initially promised, The New Mutants likely would have turned out as one of the stronger X-Men movies in the Fox catalogue. Even after being apathetically pushed out as an unfinished first draft of filmmaking as well, The New Mutants is hardly a low point for Fox’s X-Men universe, ultimately being better than the dismal Dark Phoenix, as well as other franchise misfires like 2009’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine. In the end, The New Mutants seems to hover at or slightly below the level of 2016’s X-Men: Apocalypse, being decent, if not truly exemplary.
That’s what’s heartbreaking about The New Mutants though; It deserved to be exemplary. It was built on a very strong premise, and a lot of creative ideas that would have found some genuinely uncharted territory to push Fox’s X-Men movies into. Despite that though, The New Mutants ends up being undeservedly dragged down by its predictable storytelling and toothless horror elements, several of which clearly seem to be placeholders. It may be a better premature final chapter for Fox’s X-Men franchise than Dark Phoenix was, but it’s not any more fulfilling. As it stands, we just have to hope that The New Mutants’ characters, among every other beloved X-Men franchise personality, eventually get a new lease on life in Disney’s Marvel Cinematic Universe.
So, I guess this truly is goodbye, X-Men, at least in your current cinematic form. You never managed to get the climax you deserved, but thanks for trying anyway.
- Relatable protagonists that build an effective camaraderie
- Impactful, trauma-fueled character direction
- Enjoyable climax with plenty of spectacle
- Highly predictable storytelling with obvious twists
- Too much character potential is left on the table
- Horror-driven scenes aren't scary