The New Mutants

”I don’t think we’re here to get better.’

Occasionally a media product – be that TV show, game, album or film – will be described as going or having gone through ‘development hell’. It describes exactly what it sounds like; when the putting together, making of or releasing of was a hellish experience. Rarely has the term been as accurately used as when it is describing The New Mutants. Director Josh Boone started work on the project in 2014. Fox signed off on it in 2015 with the script being completed in 2016. 2017 saw pre-production, casting and the start of filming. After a cut was put together, re-shoots took place in 2018.

None of this is particularly uncommon for a big blockbuster, although the time frame is was one the slightly longer side. Then the film got pushed back by Fox, the re-shoots looked to be more extensive than initially anticipated – whispers of an entire tonal shift started occurring. Then Disney bought out Fox and it looked like it either didn’t know what to do with the film. A final cut was ready in early 2020, a release date of March was set – and then Covid closed the cinemas. Now, this weekend and next Friday, you can finally go and see the film everyone was starting to believe didn’t actually exist. Was it worth the wait?

No, not really. The whispers and speculation of the film’s unimpressiveness prove to be mostly warranted, mainly because it is hard to believe how so many interesting full-of-potential components have resulted in something so dull and bland. The best superhero adaptations, be that film or tv, aren’t ‘just’ superhero stories, they utilise generic or cultural conventions to great effect. Think the Afrofuturism of Black Panther, the take on the Western that is Luke Cage and the film noir of Jessica Jones for just a few examples.

The New Mutants seems to be a horror pitched at the young adult audience, with it’s 15 certificate clearly signposting this statement of intent. The BBFC certificate promises ‘strong threat, bloody images, abuse references’. It’s a shame then that the film isn’t particularly scary or gory or really anything at all.

Starting in media res we see Danielle Moonstar (Blu Hunt) running for her life as her reservation is destroyed by what appears to be some sort of monster. After falling unconsciousness in the middle of some woods, she awakes in what seems to be hospital. Dr Cecilia Reyes (Alice Braga) explains that she is there because she is extraordianary – her mutant superpowers meant she was the only survivor of the catastrophe. She must stay at the hospital until she learns to control her powers, although she doesn’t know what they are yet.

She’s not the only patient at the hospital. There’s also Rahne Sinclair (Maise Williams), Illyana Rasputin (Anya Taylor-Joy), Sam Guthrie (Charlie Heaton) and Bobby da Costa (Henry Zaga). All have experienced great trauma as a direct consequence of their powers. Dr Reyes refers to her ‘superior’, which the group assume is Professor Xavier, but as each young mutant endures a literal haunting from their past they have reason to suspect they are in great danger.

And so the story goes, with a running time of 100 minutes. The most memorable thing about it is just how unmemorable it really is. The cast are great, with the majority being very familiar faces known for iconic performances – Taylor-Joy (The Witch, Split, Emma), Williams (Game Of Thrones) and Heaton (Stranger Things). Those three in particular make an intriguing impact within proceeding, even when armoured with some ‘interesting’ The fault lies with the material they have been given.

The story is The Breakfast Club: emo edition, with 5 disparate superpowered teenagers trapped in a building. The true monster? Themselves! The dialogue is empty enigma sandwiched in endless exposition. We get told so much, yet very little of it helps us understand or actually like the characters. The visuals aren’t particularly impressive and the special effects are a tad on the creaky side.

The end result is a film that is unlikely to generate hate, simply apathy. At least now we know it actually exists..?

The New Mutants previews in the UK August 29th and 30th, before being released September 4th.

X-Men: Apocalypse

“At Least We Can All Agree The Third One Is Always The Worst”

The above line is uttered by Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) about halfway through the movie, when she and a few other character leave a cinema screening of Return of the Jedi. It’s one of numerous strange self-aware moments within the film. If this had come out a year after Deadpool it could easily be assumed to be a rip-off of the superior film’s meta sense of humour. Instead it comes across as strangely self-satisfied and almost arrogant. Considering her character is telepathic it almost feels like she was reading this viewer’s mind…

10 years after the stand-off with the Sentinel prototypes at White House the X-men have never been so far apart from each other yet have never been so strong individually. Charles Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters is full of mutants, with Professor Xavier himself (James McAvoy) and second is command Hank Mccoy (Nicholas Hoult)  keeping a close watch on telepathic protegee  Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) and new recruit  Scott Summers (Tye Sheridan) as both re struggling to control their powers. Raven (Jennifer Lawrence) has become a loner/nomad/mercenary helping other mutants.  Erik Lehnseer(Michael Fassbender) is now a married man with a young daughter. But when immortal physic mutant Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac) rises from a millennia -long sleep  his awakening will have consequences for the world’s population of humans and mutants alike. 

How do you like your squash? I personally like it strong and full of flavour. I don’t like it weak – diluted and lacking in flavour.  That’s my problem with this film. To use this clunky analogy for all it’s worth the cordial (the good stuff) is diluted by too much water (i.e characters, plot and action). Although the ‘too-many-characters-may-spoil-the-broth’ did cause Civil War a bit of a stumble, in the case of this film it forces the film to fall flat on its face. Repeatedly.

Fatal Flaw Time: Characterization is almost completely abandoned in favour of action and set pieces. For fans of the franchise, or any of its other incarnations, we witness one dimensional versions of the characters we know and love. Lawrence as Raven/Mystique spends the majority of the film either wearing a pinched expression of exasperated  discontentment. McAvoy’s dialogue is reduced to  platitudes and mawkish ponderings. Sheridan does little to win favour for Cyclops in the versus Wolverine debate. Turner is okay as Jean Grey but her American accent quickly steals audience focus for all the wrong reasons. And, alhough it was great to see a cool AF version of Jubilee (Lana Condor) hanging around I’d rather her not even have been there as she is bitterly unused. Talk about how to (metaphorically) prick-tease a Fan-Girl!

Then there’s the villains. Fassbender has some incredibly emotionally and engaging sequences but is then too frequently forced to fade into the background. Isaac is criminally wasted, hidden under rubbery prosthetics with a character whose character and abilities are far from defined. The three new characters who join Magneto as the Four Horsemen are completely overwhelmed – Ben Hardy as Angel is ill-served, Olivia Munn as Psylocke weirdly reminded me of this sketch by Mitchell and Webb in terms of OTT villain-face and Alexandra Shipp as Storm seems more than interesting enough but underused. The villainous plot they hatch is of such a scale that is almost becomes bland (think the final 30 minutes of Man Of Steel) and completes overwhelms its characters.

Though, in fairness it’s so overstuffed with characters  it’s almost unsurprising, although not forgivable. The motivation of the characters is devoid of reason and the plan itself lacking real purpose. The plot is also so full of holes (talking Swiss cheese territory here) that it becomes incoherent. There’s nothing new or interesting with the plot, it takes some irritatingly familiar paths, that this film feels tired and bloated in comparison to its counterparts. It’s also so unbearably serious, akin to SvS:DoJ in terms of getting ‘dark’ confused with ‘murky’. 

In fact, upon reflection, the only franchise contribution I enjoyed and I am truly thankful for is that of Kodi Smit-McPhee as Kurt Wagner/Nightcrawler. He is given some of the film’s funniest, sweetest and most moving moments. He’s a real joy to watch and probably the only reason I would risk the (inevitable) follow-up. What I can’t forgive the film for is a sequence that occurs just after the Jean Grey’s line about trilogies. After a rather wonderful and emotional sequence that has been delicately woven the tension is completely destroyed, totally sledgehammered, by a shift in tone that is so jarring it is unbearably stupid.  It’s a sequence involving Peter Maximoff/Quicksilver (Evan Peters – who totally stole the show in Days of Future Past  in the space of 10 minutes of screentime) that I would have undoubtedly loved at any other point in the film. But, straight after such a well-executed and pathos-filled sequence, it is utterly wasted and even made me resent his character. By the end of the film my faith in him was somewhat restored though my love for him has been somewhat tainted. Such an inconsistent moment reflects the very nature of the entire film.

As a teacher I’ve found the true power of saying the following phrase and it’s the only phrase I can find that fully articulates my feelings towards this film. It’s not that I’m angry X-Men:Apocalypse – I’m just disappointed.

2 stars