We might as well call it X Men: Junior Varsity: Basically, a bunch of mutant ragamuffins get shipped off to a Cuckoo’s Nest hospital, where a Nurse Ratched knockoff can ease their growing pains. Dani Moonstar (Blu Hunt) is the latest patient. A Native American, Dani doesn’t even know what her superpowers are yet, but somebody somewhere knows she’s got ’em. Dani’s peers are a predictably disparate group of misfits: Illyana (Anya Taylor-Joy) is a snarky Mean Girl who can teleport and summon a magical sword. Sweet-natured Rahne (Maisie Williams) fears her lycanthropic abilities will run afoul of her devout Catholicism. Sam (Charlie Heaton) can hurtle through the air and destroy anything in his path. Finally, Roberto de Costa (Henry Zaga) can get real hot when he’s excited.
These sullen, confused kids fall under the watchful, withering custody of Dr. Reyes (Alice Braga). A strange blend of caring and aloof, Dr. Reyes seems to be working with a hidden agenda. As their powers become known, the patients must figure out if they’re destined for greatness with Charles Xavier, or something sinister somewhere else.
With that said, any references to the larger X-Men universe are few and fleeting. Make a popcorn run at just right time and you might not suss out that this film is even related to any previous installments at all. That’s probably the biggest flaw in all this: Mutants never really hammers out what kinda movie it wants to be. Is this a saucy little horror riff on the superhero movie? A CGI-laden Cuckoo’s Nest knock-off? Or a Saved by the Bell: The New Mutants?
Unfortunately, this film is bound to disappoint anybody looking for any of those options. The non-gory horror is never really unsettling enough to make an impact. True superhero moments arrive too little and too late. Most of the dramatic beats feel copied and pasted from earlier, better movies.
The actors struggle to elevate this tired material, with varying degrees of success. Williams and Taylor-Joy make the strongest impact, as the Ally Sheedy and Judd Nelson of this particular Breakfast Club. Everybody else has to rely on vague character sketches: Heaton looks and speaks like he just staggered out of Loretta Lynn’s coal mines, but the film never goes beyond the surface of why he’s always bruised, bandaged, and sullen. That goes ditto for Zaga’s Berto. He’s a frat-tastic ladies man early on, but that gets abandoned, leaving any substantial character arc hanging like an unrequited high five. The script shovels expositional dialogue like coal into a fire, but hardly anybody feels like a fleshed-out individual.
The New Mutants endured a long and tumultuous production. It was batted from Fox to Disney like a hot potato, with rewrites and reshoots along the way. Indeed, the resulting film bears the curse of so many cooks in the kitchen. It feels disjointed, with jarring shifts in tone. This entire franchise is in dire need of a CTRL-ALT-DEL, and hopefully that’s coming soon. The New Mutants is a few mutants too late.
94 min. PG-13.