REVIEW: The New Mutants (2020)
These kids are in big trouble. No sequel looms over the horizon with such an anemic performance and reception in its first-run
Have you ever heard the saying that "food first enters through the eyes"? Or that "first impressions mean everything"? Exactly! That's when you give more emphasis to the 'outside' rather than the 'inside'; to worship 'form' rather than 'substance'. Well, when it comes to certain Hollywood movies (i.e. high-profile brands), it matters. Such movies must manufacture audiences. The New Mutants, a product that is trying to capitalise in the colossal financial success of superhero intellectual property, suffers from a lack of visual appeal due to a lousy production design. The bait doesn't look attractive enough. And for a corner of the industry that's all about image, that's deadly.
To add icing on the cake, it lacks star power. There is no audiece magnet. Maisie Williams and Anya Taylor-Joy, the two negligible 'famous' actors in the cast, do not have the necessary box-office track record, let alone the remaining obscure members of the cast. The project looks and feels like it was made for the straight-to-streaming market. However, taking these considerations aside, the inside is not as bad as it may look from the outside.
The movie is an origin story. The characters are making their big-screen debut in a lead role. Think of it as a spinoff of The X-Men series, but instead of having dozens of characters to introduce, the offer has been reduced to five heroes. They are teenagers who have done questionable things with their powers. As a result, they have been locked in a (sort of) Juvenile Detention Centre. But there's one caveat: There's no one else in the facility except Cecilia Reyes (Alice Braga), the doctor in charge. If they behave good, they will be released.
There are two connected paths. The first one leads us to the discovery of each mutant's power, specifically the enigmatic abilities of Danielle Moonstar (Blu Hunt). And the second to the discovery of each mutant's past event that led them to be locked up in the first place. Because the movie takes place (most of the time) at one location (and the hint is that there's something "wrong" with the characters), it plays similar to a "mental hospital movie". I had quick flashes of Girl, Interrupted (1999). Others have mentioned One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975), but given that some of the marketing is aimed at present it as a horror entry, I suppose it has more similarities with (tip of the tongue example) Gothika (2003). These are loose connections though, but you get the idea.
The movie plays better as a mystery. I appreciate the fact that it focuses more on character development rather than exaggerated visual effects and action set pieces (there is a couple of them, and they are okay, but nothing remarkable). A big blow to the film, however, is that Blu Hunt doesn't display the acting "force" to carry the film (she is the lead mutant). The first half-hour is her weakest (there are some close-ups where you can tell she's not compelling enough, like her crying scene). She gets better, but my instinct tells me that it's due to the photography and the editing, rather than her skills.
When it comes to its theme, the movie runs parallel to the X-Men movies, but with a software update for the "progressive" generation (you'll find minor traces of identity-based ideology). This addition feels more like checkbox cinema, rather than meaningful character traits. Overall, there's mild entertainment value scattered over the place. It lacks star and acting power to elevate it to the same league as other Marvel entries. My lasting impression is that of a substandard product that I'll forget by next week. So be it.
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