After years of delays that looked like they would push it into oblivion, Fox’s The New Mutants is finally in theaters — at limited capacity, in select states, or drive-ins, during a pandemic.
According to critics, director Josh Boone’s entry into the X-Men franchise doesn’t commit to any genre — though it purports to be teen drama, sci-fi, and horror — and leaves this 20-year film franchise floundering for its future. Praise for the film’s queer romance, a first in a superhero movie, are mostly for its long-overdue existence, while the merits of putting a Native American woman at the center of the story (Blu Hunt) are marred by the erasure of a canonically Afro-Latinx character.
Here’s what critics had to say about The New Mutants.
Toothless in every genre
The New Mutants is a miserable motion picture. It’s a monotonous, redundant and irrelevant fantasy flick that fails to commit to being a teen melodrama, a YA fantasy or a horror movie, instead offering half-assed components of all three.
It is safe to say that “The New Mutants” is not for everybody — its introduction of these new heroes plays a bit more like a TV pilot setting up adventures to come than the farewell to a long-running franchise. There’s a sense that the film never quite figured out what it wanted to be as it juggled its teen horror and superhero elements, but it remains entertaining for what it is.
“The New Mutants,” is not the compost heap some expected, given the years of behind-the-scenes turmoil. But it is car-seat safe and totally inconsequential. A popular $6 billion franchise is saying goodbye (well, handing the reins over to Disney) with a wimpy young-adult horror flick.
Boone, who’s clearly a pulp/horror/classic-movie savant, repeatedly lifts shots and ideas directly from other sources, as in a “Psycho”-inspired shower scream later in the film. But instead of creating a new-and-improved experience for audiences, à la such magpie directors as Quentin Tarantino, he serves up something so familiar as to be clichéd.
The characters of New Mutants are squeezed into a plot that’s kind of like if Stephen King had written One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, while never laying claim to any one thing in particular. The superhero horror-film moves from scare scenes to a teen-flick with attitude and chill vibez, but never fully embodies one direction or the other, leaving it without impact.
Too much exposition
…all buildup and no bang… the plot needs more pep. Most of the running time is allotted to the inpatients and their shame over powers that brought them under the good doctor’s thumb.
From a script perspective, Boone never gets out of his own way to let the cinematography, music, or actors actually do their job, stepping on moments that otherwise work by explaining to the audience what they are seeing with unnecessary exposition.
Diversity! …kind of
With Dani and Rahne’s budding romance, “The New Mutants” is also the rare LGBTQ-inclusive superhero film. And while it may seem rushed, their relationship also feels honest and becomes a central part of the storytelling, grounding the magical monster antics with a sense of humanity. That’s something that is still in itself (even if they inherited it in a corporate takeover).
Although the incorporation of a queer love story is worth celebrating, it’s disappointing to see the character of Roberto, the Brazilian teen whose powers have kept him from getting close to others, white-washed on screen. In the comics, Roberto is introduced as an Afro-Brazilian athlete and a racist incident is the catalyst for his powers emerging. It’s no knock on Zaga’s performance, but nothing about Roberto’s story in the film required him to be played by a non-Black actor.
Boone commits to diversifying the sort of characters we think of as heroes (although the TV show “Heroes” did that more than a dozen years earlier, even if Marvel’s been slow to catch up), putting a strong Native woman at the center of the mix and giving her screen time to explore her romantic feelings for one of the others.
New Mutants deserves some recognition for bringing a queer romance to the big screen, but the relationship itself develops so fast it is almost comical; a box to be checked. The sad thing is, it’s better than any other big budget superhero flick. That doesn’t make it a functional romance.
The New Mutants is now playing in select and drive-in theaters.