Its eventual path to the big screen may have had a more convoluted timeline than even Christopher Nolan’s most unrestrained fever dream could have concocted for “Tenet”, but the question which dogs “The New Mutants” is ‘was it worth the wait?’ The answer – unsurprising for anyone who’s been watching the most recent “X-Men” movies – is a resounding ‘no’.

Essentially a superhero spin on “A Nightmare On Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors”, “The New Mutants” keeps things contained, centring on five young mutants struggling to control and understand their powers while being kept in a secret and shielded facility ‘for their own good’ by the mysterious Dr Reyes (Alice Braga). But as the five bristle and bond, they realise that not only is there real danger from within their number but that their custodians may not have their best interests at heart either.

With tales of rewrites, reshoots and endless recutting, there was a lot of speculation that part of the film’s delay was due to it being retooled to fit into the wider MCU but, in fact, the only relationship the movie seeks to establish is with “Logan”, explicitly connecting the hospital setting to the Essex Corporation and the mutant training facility which X-23 escaped from.

Although it flirts with explicit horror elements – and is largely a more successful movie when it does so – it’s not willing to go dark enough often enough to be a satisfying scare-fest. It also does a really poor job of introducing the characters and – especially – their power sets to an audience who largely won’t be familiar with the characters. You’ll struggle to care about the characters because the film can’t really be bothered exploring why you should. Much like several of the early entries of the DCEU, this feels like it’s eschewing clarity and character in favour of a dark and gritty aesthetic and faux ‘graphic novel’ maturity.

The performances are fine, although the script doesn’t serve the cast well with even the usually magnetic Anya Taylor-Joy struggling to inject energy into the proceedings. Maisie William’s Scottish accent vies with Taylor-Joy for cartoonish excess but both manage to stay just this side of ridiculous. Good job too, because the film is so dour and humourless that it might have shattered into a million angry shards if anyone had so much as cracked a smile. It’s in this emotionally barren environment that Blu Hunt as Dani Moonstar, the film’s de facto lead character, has to shoulder much of the burden of cultivating the movie’s emotional core.

Writer/ Director Josh Boone seems so averse to providing character context and exposition that he bizarrely turns to episodes of “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” showing on TV to foreshadow two of the film’s key developments. A scene of Willow and Tara on TV precedes a burgeoning relationship between Dani Moonstar (Blu Hunt) and  Rahne Sinclair (Williams) and the appearance of the derivatively nightmarish Smile Men are foreshadowed by one of the characters watching the season 4 Buffy episode “Hush”.

It ends in deeply cliched fashion with a CGI free-for-all as the demon bear attacks the team and they’re forced to cooperate to overcome the poorly articulated – and occasionally poorly animated – enemy. Action sequences are often brief and almost always poorly filmed, so there’s little enjoyment to be gleaned as and when the characters are allowed to cut loose (which happens so infrequently you can almost hear the tutting of the production accountant as they redlined their way through the script).

If nothing else, “The New Mutants” eloquently states the case for a completely fresh start for Marvel’s mutant population because the same old team who started so strongly back in 2000 have clearly run out of energy and ideas by this point.

4/10 

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