Review: The New Mutants
While we have beaten the proverbial Tenet theatrical-release horse to death here, when all the dust settled, it was actually not the first major film to “restart” theatrical exhibition here in the States. Nope. While Tenet debuted on September 3, it was 20th Century/Marvel Entertainment’s The New Mutants, which opened on August 27 that actually holds that “honor.”
And much like Tenet, the box office returns for Mutants were pretty disastrous by normal metrics, bringing in just over $7 million its opening weekend, and going on to gross just under $24 million in the US. Of course, these aren’t normal times,
and Mutants is now seeing something of a second life in streaming, where it topped the charts of both Fandango Now and Vudu for both number of rentals and revenue. The movie is also available for download from Kaleidescape in 4K HDR with a Dolby TrueHD Atmos soundtrack.
Unless you’re fairly deep into the X-Men comics franchise, Mutants likely didn’t show up on your radar. It had been languishing in production purgatory after Disney acquired 20th Century Fox (the film was originally scheduled to be released in 2018), literally couldn’t have been released at a worse time, received almost no advertising support, and didn’t fit into the shoebox of the typical X-Men superhero series, resulting in a hybrid teens-with-powers/horror-ish film that feels targeted at the YA market and doesn’t really feel that connected to the rest of the franchise. It also didn’t help that the film received franchise-low Rotten Tomatoes critics and audience scores of 33% and 56%.
MUTANTS AT A GLANCE
Vaguely related to the X-Men franchise, this diverting teens-with-superpowers entry checks off all the usual genre boxes without breaking any new ground.
Shot at 8K, the film reveals terrific levels of detail, with so much depth and definition to the images that they look 3D.
The Dolby Atmos soundtrack is dynamic and active, providing immense bass energy when needed.
In retrospect, Disney likely should have released Mutants straight to Disney+, where it could have gotten more mileage promoting the film as another exclusive to drive subscriptions. But, to paraphrase the Anton Chigurh line from No Country for Old Men, this film has been traveling for years to get here, and now it’s here, and we’ve got to call it: Is The New Mutants worth seeing?
In short, mostly yes. While it isn’t a great or really even memorable film—my wife commented, “Well, that was pretty meh” as the end credits started—it moves quickly through its 94-minute runtime, features a talented cast—including Anya Taylor-Joy, who is quickly becoming a major star (and who is absolutely wonderful to watch as Beth Harmon in Netflix’s The Queen’s Gambit mini-series, btw)—and, perhaps most important to Cineluxe readers, looks and sounds great in a home theater.
The film opens as an F5 tornado is ripping through a Native American reservation, with Danielle Moonstar (Blu Hunt) narrowly escaping with her life as the sole survivor. She awakens at a hospital, chained to a bed, with no idea how she got there, where she is greeted by Dr. Cecilia Reyes (Alice Braga). Reyes informs her that this is a special hospital, and that Moonstar is a mutant who needs to remain there until she learns what her abilities are and how to control them.
Moonstar quickly meets the hospital’s other “patients”: Rahne Sinclair (Maisie Williams), Sam Guthrie (Charlie Heaton), Robert da Costa (Henry Zaga), and Illyana Rasputin (Taylor-Joy).
As the characters get to know each other, we get the usual bit of teen interpersonal drama and learn they are all mutants who were brought there by Dr. Reyes after some horrible—and fatal—tragedy in their lives. The stories—and the characters’ powers—reveal themselves as Moonstar gets to know the other patients and tries to figure out what her own powers are and what she needs to do in order to leave the hospital. While this is happening, the characters start experiencing ultra-realistic hallucinations related to their personal tragedies.
Is it a hospital, a prison, or a cage? Who is the superior Dr. Reyes keeps referring to? And just what are Moonstar’s powers?
These are the key questions the movie hangs on and wants to keep you guessing at, but unfortunately, they just aren’t deep enough to make the film fully successful.
As a “casual” X-Men fan (I’ve watched all of the movies, but don’t read any of the comics or graphic novels), the only real connections I found between the X-universe and Mutants was a brief mention of the X-Men (the teens feel they are being groomed to eventually go and join them) and a vision Moonstar had where she saw a facility that looked exactly like scenes in Logan where X-23 was created. While there’s nothing wrong with a series branching out and going its own, new way, when you have such a rich universe to pull from as X-Men, it is a bit surprising that it didn’t have any more tie-ins.
Also, this film seems overly ripe for an end-credits scene that would tease . . . something. (Director Josh Boone originally planned for this to be the first of a trilogy of films.) The ending just screams “There’s more to come,” but there isn’t.
Prior to viewing the movie, I had no idea what it was about, and after watching the trailer, I expected it to be a horror film going for scares about being trapped in this asylum. In fact, its genre is even listed as “horror.” But it just isn’t scary. It tries to be, with some flashback/hallucinations and a moshed-up Slenderman/Venom-looking group of baddies called the “Smiling Men” (voiced by Marilyn Manson), but it never generates the tension, suspense, or startle moments to make it succeed as a horror film. Also, you never really get to care enough about any of the characters or feel they are ever in any real peril to be concerned something might happen to them. And when you take that element away, I’m afraid what’s left just isn’t strong enough.
Another issue I had was that the actors are all given over-the-top accents that seem to vary in consistency throughout the film. Maybe they felt the audience needed to be hammered over the head with thick Russian, Scottish, Cuban, and Deep South accents to believe the characters’ backstories.
Finally, I am just so sick of Hollywood’s insistence on pushing a gay agenda. Of the five main characters, two happen to be gay. Of course, we are then given that prerequisite long moment as they stare into each other’s eyes before having that first, closeup kiss. This same-sex relationship does nothing to serve the story or develop the characters and feels solely there to check a “Does the movie have a gay character?” box. According to recent studies, about 4.5% of society identifies as gay or bisexual, and I don’t understand why this has to be such a trend throughout movies, TV, and streaming series.
Having said all that, I didn’t dislike the movie, and was never bored watching.
Where Mutants is worth praising is in its technical specifications. Captured in DXL Raw at 8K resolution, this transfer is taken from a true 4K digital intermediate, and images look fantastic. Shots reveal terrific levels of detail in the costumes, showing
texture and detail of the fabric, the stitching, and the weave of the material. The images are so clean and clear, they make the fabric nearly tactile.
Some of the edges of the structures in the outer courtyard area of the hospital have so much depth and definition, they are almost 3D looking. You also get tight and jaggie-free lines in the brick and mortar of the buildings and the shingles and tiles on the ceilings.
Beyond just giving the film an overall more realistic color palette, the added dynamic range of Mutants’ HDR grade also brings more pop to things like lightbulbs, fluorescent lights, white T-shirts, or the glowing reds, blues, and oranges of the mutants’ powers in action. One scene really demonstrating the benefits of HDR is during Guthrie’s hallucination. Here we are transported into a dark mine shaft illuminated by the bright lamps atop miners’ helmets, but deep shadows and detail are retained amidst the piercing beams of the lights, with nothing looking washed out and no noise or banding.
Sonically the Dolby Atmos track is dynamic and active with some immense bass energy when called for. From the film’s opening tornado, the room comes alive with howling winds swirling all around along with explosions that will shake your
couch. Height speakers are frequently used for things like PA announcements, thunder and rain sounds, or to add ambience to expand the sonic space. Take something that is as seemingly “sonically simple” as the scene when the mutants all gather in an attic. Listen to this scene for a bit and then pause the movie, and you’ll notice the myriad of small sounds that suddenly vanish. This is a wonderful bit of layering to make a “quiet” room actually sound quiet.
Ultimately, The New Mutants is kind of like a cinematic fast-food meal—the story is mostly entertaining—albeit somewhat predictable—and mostly satisfying while watching, but nothing you’ll rave about afterwards.
Probably the most experienced writer on custom installation in the industry, John Sciacca is co-owner of Custom Theater & Audio in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina, & is known for his writing for such publications as Residential Systems and Sound & Vision. Follow him on Twitter at @SciaccaTweets and at johnsciacca.com.