Saturday, November 21, 2020

X-Hausted: THE NEW MUTANTS

It must’ve seemed like a good idea at the time: spin a cheaper, low-key X-Men spin-off by extending the early body horror teen drama moments at the beginning of the 2000 movie that began the whole franchise. Remember the early scene of Anna Paquin coming into her powers? She kisses a boy and he starts having a seizure. The veins in his face bulge. He collapses as Paquin screams in fear and confusion. It’s easy to see why The Fault in Our Stars’ Josh Boone could convince the powers that be at Fox (at the time) that a feature length version of that could be effective. So here are The New Mutants, arriving after a complicated release date shuffling that left the project effectively an orphaned afterthought. Now no longer a promising offshoot of a going concern, the Disney acquisition of its parent company has left it a weird one-off, an abandoned what-if, a castoff misfire, a dead-end. At least it didn’t happen to a good movie. Here Boone gives us a quintet of moody mutant teens cooped up in a mysterious asylum where the lone employee (Alice Braga) claims to want to help them discover their powers. It’s a small, evil mirror of Professor X’s academy. Here the burgeoning mutants are afraid of what might be lurking in their bodies and minds. There are group therapy sessions — like a boring Breakfast Club where occasionally someone lights themselves on fire or disappears into another dimension or something — and plenty of down time as the movie lazily winds its way to a half-hearted CG climax. Along the way, the young actors are given stiff lines and soupy accent work—leaving usually reliable performers like Maisie Williams and Anya Taylor-Joy traipsing through exposition with painfully clunky squeaks and quips. I suppose there’s nothing wrong with the movie that plot or character or setting wouldn’t have fixed. The whole thing is an exercise in futility, like a bland pilot for a show that won’t get picked up, or a comic book experiment that’s bound to get cancelled a few issues in. The figures don’t pop; the mood never picks up any atmosphere; the filmmaking is functional at best—all close-ups and medium shots. The set is simple and spare; the movie's one location never feels like a real place, or makes sense as the pressure-cooker it should be. The effects are modest and ineffectual. Even the best visual ideas — creepy Slendermen attackers who swarm near the end, a glowing blue psychic sword — are rendered with a been-there-done-that groan of complacency. If this monotonous slog to nowhere is the best this once-great series could give us, I’m more than ready to put it out to pasture and let some new blood rethink its path forward.

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