‘The New Mutants’ – A Long Awaited Movie Review
We first wrote about this movie in 2017. Since that time the movie was shot, tested well, reshot to lean into the horror ‘trend’ immediately following It Chapter 1, tested poorly, reshot to add more characters, tested poorly, briefly starred Antonio Banderas, sold to Disney, scheduled for release, delayed due to pandemic and finally shuffled into theatres at a time when people aren’t sure if the cinemas were open.
So here is the review to The New Mutants. For the nerdy there’ll be a breakdown of the individual characters at the end. It’s longer than the review.
Director: Josh Boone
Cast: Blu Hunt, Maisie Williams, Anya-Taylor Joy, Charlie Heaton, Alice Braga, Henry Zaga
Plot: After tragedy strikes the reservation of Dani Moonstar, leaving her the sole survivor. She finds herself in a mysterious hospital housing young, and dangerous, mutants.
Review: Did you get the impression that I’m a fanboy? I’m a big X-Men fan, mainly the comics, and I have read everything featuring the New Mutants. For the most part, it’s a great series and I’ve been keen to see the movie adaptation. It was planned as a reboot of the X-Men movie universe. The casting was the biggest selling point, as we saw all these performers as solid choices for the characters we’re already familiar with. The trailers showcased somewhat accurate depictions of the characters, but with a fresh new tone. We went in with an open mind.
We open at a Cheyenne reservation where Dani (Hunt) is woken amid chaos. Something immense is causing destruction and coming for her. Dani sees her father die before blacking out, waking up in an old and isolated hospital building. Dr. Cecilia Reyes (Braga) informs her a tornado destroyed her tribe and she’s the sole survivor. Dani also learns that she’s a mutant but they don’t know what her powers are. Shortly after Dani meets her fellow patients: nervous Rahne (Williams), tortured nice guy Sam (Heaton), douchebro Bobby (Zaga) and cruel Illyana (Taylor-Joy). Each of them are mutants learning to controls their powers and process the trauma associated with becoming mutants.
As they learn about each other and how their powers work, the five mutants begin to experience waking nightmares. Reminders of their pasts begin to manifest and the harm caused are beginning to leak into reality. The teens also begin to suspect that the end goal of the treatment is not to become X-Men, but to be crafted into something more sinister.
Up top we made mention of the convoluted road this movie took to the screen and you can see the stitchwork. I don’t think we got the most recent iteration of the film, but I’m also confident that it isn’t the first version either. The original take was described as being more The Breakfast Club with a dash of spoopy hospital, and this one is horrortastic. We’re shown charred bodies, creepy smiley slendermen, all presented in a Silent Hill-lite manner.
It’s more than the tone, there’s holes in the script all over the place. Let’s take a small example. When Dani is meeting the other characters, she asks about their powers. The major exception to this is Rahne, with whom she becomes the closest. It’s treated as a reveal for us and Dani when he powers are first used, but the film forgot that we, as the audience, have seen them already. In addition Dani does not respond to this revelation at all. Everything feels very disjointed.
On the other hand, it’s not boring. There’s a couple of mysteries to unravel, including what exactly Dani’s powers are. The nightmare sequences are a clever way of delving into the minds and backstory of each character and there’s decent imagery. The characters are interesting and their relationships with each other works well, and we wish we’d seem more of that get developed. It would’ve made for a stronger ending. Much of the action is edited in a frantic manner in low light, so the epic final battle is hard to watch. Then we only see the mutants tackle the big bad one-by-one, neglecting to give us a team-up moment.We do get the first (to my memory) live action rendition of Kirby Krackle, a fun note for Marvel fans.
When you balance out the solid casting and engaging actors with the shonky script and cheesy dialogue you get a mid-level movie among the X-Men franchise. It’s unlikely to kick things back into gear, but it’s not a waste of your time.
Now X-Fans can skip down to see how the characters compare to their print counterparts, with a spoiler warning in place.
Rating: SIX out of TEN
The setting of The New Mutants is entirely original. Creepy hospital prisons never feature in their story, rather the youths are recruited directly to Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters. Instead they’ve all come out of traumatising experiences and are being examined on behalf of the mysterious Essex company. So let’s see who is on the roster.
Dani Moonstar is our entry point character, and is quite similar to her source material. Her codename was initially Psyche but quickly changed to Mirage to better reflect her ability to psychically manifest an illusion of someone’s greatest fear or desire. On the screen her largely out of control powers only bring nightmares to life but are powerful enough to cause physical harm. The movie opens with Dani creating her own fear – The Demon Bear – leading to her father’s death. Mirage’s parents are already deceased, and she’s living with other family members, at the time of her recruitment into Xavier’s school. Mirage shares leadership of the New Mutants with Canonball and shares a close friendship with Wolfsbane, with whom she has a strong psychic connection due to he lupine nature. Mirage also becomes a Valkyrie, but that’s another story.
Rahne Sinclair goes by Wolfsbane in the comics, and her movie version is closest to the original. They’re both Scottish, both raised in the Catholic church by the abusive Reverend Craig. She has a timid nature and carries a great deal of guilt as a result of this upbringing, especially as her mutation lead to her being branded a witch. Initially we thought Rahne would only appear in full wolf or human form, whilst in the comics she’s more likely to maintain a hybrid form, but she takes on this form in the second half of the movie. So far, so accurate…except in this incarnation Rahne is LBGQT+ and forms a romantic relationship with Dani.
Sam Guthrie arrives with thick southern drawl intact, and is often touted as being a really good guy (although we don’t get many changes to see this), so he lines up neatly with comic book Canonball on the surface. Both versions come from Kentucky, and worked in the coal mine at a young age to support his family, but they did so for different reasons. Canonball’s father had died in the mines and he took up the responsibility of breadwinner to support his mother, and he used his powers to rescue his co-workers during a cave-in. Movie Sam, meanwhile, worked alongside his father only for him to lose control of his powers underground, leading to the death of his father. The guilt over this accident is a defining quality of the movie version.
Cannonball and Sam have slightly different powers, although they both blast off “like a cannonball”. In the comics Cannonbal is “nigh invulnerable when blastin'”, as a forcefield generates around him and anything he’s carrying whenever he launches himself into the air. This is fortunate when he’s mastering his powers as he can only stop by hitting a wall. Movie Sam seems to lack the forcefield, as he’s pretty banged up due to crashing into the ground. Sam also generates his blasting from his forearms, while Canonball almost entirely blasts from his waist. We weren’t a huge fan of the depiction of his powers in the film because we can barely see him move…I guess they do emphasise his insane speed.
Roberto “Bobby” Decosta comes from an incredibly wealthy Brazilian family with a Brazilian father and white American mother. He’s smart, popular and a sportstar, giving him an attitude he brings to Xavier’s in full force. As Sunspot, his powers fail to protect his girlfriend from being murdered by the Hellfire Club when they arrive to recruit him. Movie Bobby is more directly responsible for her death, having burnt her to death when his powers manifested. This origin is actually lifted from X-Men colleague Rusty ‘Firefist’ Collins, a version of which appeared in Deadpool 2 with a different backstory.
Sunspot and Bobby have radically different powers, with Bobby having a basic flame form and the ability to shoot solar flame. Sunspot’s powers are more nuanced, absorbing and storing solar energy in his body. When he activates his abilities he turns solid black in colour and has a level of strength that could sweat the Hulk in an arm wrestle. It doesn’t make him invulnerable, though, as he retains regular human durability. Eventually his powers are supercharged by some villains, allowing him to shoot solar beams and fly. We never see this in the film, but Sunspot’s powers can be depleted if he doesn’t have access to sunlight.
Illyana Rasputin entered the comic series as the younger sister to X-Men Colossus, which is never mentioned in the movie even when the conversation prompted it. Illyana’s mutant power manifested at an earlier age than most, giving her the ability to open portals (or ‘stepping disks’) to a demon realm called Limbo. She becomes trapped her for many years, spending seven years surviving and learning magic from an alternate reality version of Storm. During this time the ruler of Limbo seeks to corrupt Illyana and turn her into the Darkchilde, a demonic manifestation of evil. When Illyana escaped Limbo almost no time has passed in the real world but she had doubled in age, was a powerful dark sorceress and would occasionally sprout a tail, horns and goat legs. Now known as Magik and part of the New Mutants, she was constantly at war with her corrupted soul and her destiny as the Darkchilde. Magik wields a ‘Soulsword’, a bladed manifestation of her soul, and can summon a soul armour.
Illyana of the movie retains access to Limbo, her armour and the soulsword along with some magical abilities such as teleportation. What’s missing is all the demon marlarky and the years spent trapped in a hell dimension. Everything missing has now been replaced. Instead of magical interdimensional warlords fighting over her soul, Illyana was trafficked as a child slave. Her powers are best described as magical, allowing her to bring items of her imagination to life. Limbo was the ‘happy place’ she would mentally retreat to as a child, teleporting to escape her abusers and eventually using her soulsword to fight back.
The most surprising addition to Illyana is a hand puppet of a purple dragon called ‘Lockheed’ who acts as security to the mentally traumatised youth. Like everything else she has at her disposal, Lockheed comes to life to fight at her side. Lockheed is an alien space dragon who befriends Kitty Pryde in the comics, and is also close to Magik. There were never partners as depicted in the film, as Lockheed would never leave Kitty’s side, but I do have a vintage Magik action figure that comes with Lockheed. That didn’t need to be mentioned, I just found it interesting.
Also interesting is early reports that Warlock was going to feature in this film. I think some lines got crossed when a CGI alien character was discussed…just the wrong alien.
Dr. Cecilia Reyes is a doctor and a mutant who can create powerful forcefields in both the movie and the comics. In the movie she works for Essex and seems to be preparing the mutants for the evil organisation. Comic Cecilia just wants to be left out of all the superhero nonsense so she can work as a doctor, and refuses a codename when forced into hiding among the X-Men. She never got the chance to develop a stronger personality in the comics, so there’s not much different.
The Demon Bear serves as the Big Bad in the movie, and is Mirage’s most defining antagonist in the comics. Appearing early in the New Mutants run, the Demon Bear is a largely psionic being created by an unknown enemy to haunt Danielle. It absorbed her parents, orphaning Dani, and continued to stalk her in her dreams before appearing in the physical world to attack her. Mirage is almost killed, and it’s the actions of her team-mates – specifically Magik – who save her and defeat the creature. One of his defining qualities of the Demon Bear is the impeccable and unique art style of Bill Sienkiewicz. This look is largely captured by the movie, along with the bears ability to draw strength from negative emotions and fear. The major difference is that Demon Bear is the manifestation of Dani’s own fear and not created by an outside entity.
Overall the characters are recognisable to fans of the comics and X-Men in general. This is best thought of as a different set of versions. The basics are there but the details are tweaked, and mostly for narrative reasons.