New Mutants Review: Genre Fusion Gamble That Only Slightly Pays Off

Directed By Josh Boone
Written By Josh Boone & Knate Lee
Starring Anya Taylor-Joy, Maisie Williams, Charlie Heaton, Blu Hunt, Henry Zaga, and Alice Braga.

For two whole years of waiting, and the first major(ish) release after five and a half months of a pandemic, I would have hoped the first major film I saw in theatres was a bit more major, and a bit worth both extended waits I had to endure for it.

You could tell Disney, neé 20th Century Fox, didn’t quite know what to do with a superhero film that stepped so wildly outside the box. How do you market it? What approach do we take? How do we let people know it’s tied to a major franchise, but not, and also not like it? That lead to the constant release delays, and ultimately getting dumped into theatres at the tail end of a lockdown that shutdown movie theatres and shuffled major movie releases (including Disney’s Mulan, Black Widow and Soul).

I think the studio didn’t know what to do with it because Josh Boone didn’t quite know what to do with it either. It tries to strike a perfect balance between sticking to being a straight superhero flick, and bringing in elements of prestige horror. It tries to strike that balance, but it can never successfully blend the two. In the film’s failure to find that balance, it proves the superhero genre’s need to evolve.

As spectacular and impressive as the MCU is, and the Fox’s now concluded X-Men Franchise was, and WB’s DC films are/were/can sometimes be, there’s a very familiar formula they all follow. Even the MCU films that have drawn inspiration from other genres still hit those same narrative beats that have defined the superhero genre to a tee. Because New Mutants was so concerned with being a superhero film first, and a horror film second, it never quite escaped the tropes of a superhero film, nor fully explored the depths of its horror possibilities, which would have made for a much more impressive film.

Horror can be done within superheroes. Look to the original Blade franchise, or what both Tim Burton and Sam Raimi were able to bring to Batman and Spider-Man (even if it was just horror elements, as opposed to a full-on motif), respectively. Chronicle from 2012, and last year’s tragically disappointing Brightburn, were both able to explore the horror capabilities within the superhero realm. Superheroes just need to break from the formula and really explore what they can do with other motifs.

Had the film fully embraced the horror, it would have felt more focused and cohesive. The script was mostly there, the performances were there, but it all just couldn’t come together in a satisfying way. The lack of focus ultimately did a disservice to a positive queer moment/subplot in the film that fizzled out before it could have a real satisfactory moment in the spotlight. They tried to tie it all together. It just didn’t quiet work.

If you’re waiting for the RIGHT film to get back to the movie theatre, The New Mutants isn’t that film. It’ll definitely be worth a stream in a few months, though, may even ascend to misunderstood-cult-classic standing.

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