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The New Mutants

New Mutants

Meet the New Mutants. Disturbingly undistinguished
from the old ones.

dir: Josh Boone

2020

A cursed movie…trying to come out in a deeply cursed year. Every flick that was meant to come out this year can claim to be cursed now, because of, you know, the floating death in the air thing, but this flick was cursed long before the virus raised its ugly head.

The New Mutants, really, didn’t stand a chance. In a normal year it would have been released in cinemas and then disappeared three weeks later, and accountants and jerks in marketing would have argued for a while as to what went wrong, and then everyone including the people in it would have forgotten about it and moved on with their lives.

It could be that audiences don’t care about mutants or X-Men or X-Men-related bullshit anymore, if they ever did, especially when there’s no Hugh Jackman with shiny claws and sideburns involved. It could also be that they’ve had enough of a crack at it, and they could leave this X-Men stuff alone for a decade or two before endlessly rebooting again and again.

When this was put together, they probably thought having Maisie Williams in it would be pretty great. She is, after all, pretty great. She singlehandedly saved Westeros / Game of Thrones, and created a moment of television history that will be remembered long after the dragons and the endless sexual violence are (hopefully) forgotten. And she was great throughout the show.

But this stupid year is the year of Anya Taylor-Joy, who has completely dominated streaming services and television, be it in perplexing chess dramas, in Jane Austen adaptations and virtually everything else in existence, including this standard mutant fare. She doesn’t have to do much other than turn up, so good luck for her.

This is, to be honest and fair, a fairly shitty, shoddy movie, with a bunch of people in their twenties playing teens and trying to get that YA energy, trying to reboot a franchise with new and therefore cheaper characters, and also, inexplicably, trying to make a horror flick with teen protagonists that makes no sense as horror or a teen flick or a new YA franchise.

It’s not all bad, though. Maisie Williams is great. It hardly matters what her character is called, or what she does, or why she has a Scottish accent, or why she’s being tormented by a Catholic-looking priest, which makes no sense if she’s Scottish. I’m just glad she’s here, in the same way I’m glad to see her in anything.

She is…a lot to handle in this flick, but she’s not actually the main character, which is weird. Anya Taylor-Joy, as an evilish racist Russian teen mutant with weird powers, isn’t the main character either. She is there to be mean to the actual main character, a Native American character call Dani Moonstar (Blu Hunt), for no reason other than that someone had to be.

The movie starts with a father (Adam Beach) voiceovering, laboriously telling a Native American / First Nation’s story about how people have two bears inside them, one that’s chill, and one that’s nasty, and the one that wins out is whichever one you feed. The father hides the girl in a tree, as something like an angry storm bears down on their reservation. Then everyone else is dead, and Dani wakes up in an old orphanage / psych facility, which has only one employee, the nice seeming Dr Reyes (Alice Braga). And Dani is afraid.

One employee. Not sure how that’s meant to work. One of the ‘kids’ (he looks 37) is a Brazilian guy who does all the cooking, presumably, for all of them, including Dr Reyes. He also, like, sets things on fire, so it was a given that he would be cooking with something other than gas. He probably has a name. They all probably have names. But he is afraid.

Maisie plays Wolfgirl, at least I’m positive that’s not her name, and in contrast to mean Russian blonde mutant, Wolfgirl is nice as anything to Dani. If anything, maybe she loves her too much. And then Wolfgirl is afraid…

Blonde mean Russian girl is also afraid, but she’s afraid either of some creepy guys in ‘real’ life, or the Gentlemen characters from an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer who steal everyone’s voices and then their organs while grinning creepily. It is redundant to say that she is afraid at the end of this paragraph, but it’s more important to point out that what she’s afraid of, and what everyone else is afraid of too, starts to appear, kind of.

And because Dani is afraid of…something, maybe she’s afraid of the bear from her dad’s story, of course the bear appears too, and starts eating everyone.

When I say that it’s not hard to figure out what’s actually going, what I actually mean is, the movie goes no distance in convincing me why what they’re afraid of matters or why I should care. By default when kids in a horror flick are in a dangerous situation, you have to want them not to be harmed if it’s going to generate any tension. In the other direction, if they make you actively dislike a character because they’re blah, or cruel to another character for no good reason, or really dumb and annoying, then you’re just hoping and praying for the bad thing to get them. So the tension there is in the waiting for them to get their fucking comeuppance.

I don’t want anything bad or cruel or ironic to happen to anyone, generally, whether teens in a horror flick, or teens in real life, or adults playing teens, or teens playing adults. As for what was happening here, well, I would not have cared if all of them except Wolfgirl and maybe her girlfriend had been eaten by the very poorly programmed Demon Bear that appears and starts eating people.

It’s not scary, I’m not sure that it’s relatable; the X-Men stories have long been allegorical about teens struggling with identity and acceptance, and Wolfgirl dreading being branded by a Catholic priest should really have been up my alley, so to speak. But it didn’t resonate at all. My loathing for that particular church and the centuries of evil it has visited upon its own congregants, that still persists to this day is always close to the surface for me. And some days, like today, where one particular cardinal previously convicted of crimes perpetrated decades ago, with the verdict set aside by the High Court after multiple appeals, claiming that he was targeted by a sinister cabal because he’s just such a wonderful guy, and not a perpetrator and enabler of abuses against children, makes me want to scream blue bloody murder until blood comes out of my mouth.

But seeing that stuff here, with Wolfgirl dreading something done to her years previous, and have it manifest again for some reason, and cause her more harm, didn’t work at all. Maybe because it made no sense that a Scottish girl would be going to a confessional in an empty church, in a type of church that harmed her previously, on the off chance that some grim spectre will attack her. It made no fucking sense. But again, lest you think I am saying anything bad about Maisie Williams, bite yer fucking tongue. She can only deliver dialogue that she’s given, and do the things she’s told by desperate directors or producers who know it’s all going wrong and who have no idea how to fix an unfixable story.

This was never going to work as an enjoyable introduction to a crew of teen misfits that were going to carry a bunch of future films because everything about these characters, and the baffling and dull circumstances in which they find themselves, is so fucking generic and disposable. There are better versions of this, and better introductions to teen crews of superheroes. A particularly apt comparison for me is another Marvel teen crew of heroes, being The Runaways, who are far more interesting, who aren’t just kid versions of other established superheroes and whose tv show had a far more interesting pilot that whatever was served up here. Even the much maligned X-Men: Apocalypse has a bunch of teenage versions of mutant heroes in peril as a subplot and managed to be far more entertaining for me (or at least more amusing, before I found out what a piece of shit the director was / is).

This is not entertaining, except when Maisie Williams is doing or saying stuff. Everyone else can go fuck off. The lead was a bit of a wet noodle, her powers are poorly thought out / applied / explained, but at least she and Wolfgirl are a cute couple. The villain is a generically-established corporation far, far away, with only one representative, being the doctor. And she may be many things, but memorable in this role is not one of them. Everyone and everything else in this is so stuck in generic mode that I’m sure if you ask any of these actors (especially Maisie, who’s a bit of a party animal) what they did or said in this movie or its endless reshoots they won’t be able to tell you anything, anything at all.

Still, I’m glad I saw it, because there aren’t enough movies about oddball teenagers with powers dealing with stuff and coming to terms with stuff. They need representation too.

And while they did the right thing by casting a Native American person to play a Native American role, even if she’s Lakota, and the character is Cheyenne, that awful quote about the fucking bears: in the ‘original’ story, it’s not bears, it’s wolves. And the ‘original’ Native American story / parable / legend is nothing of the sort. The person who wrote it was legendary and very White evangelist Billy Graham, who pretended it came from Native American wisdom, but who was really peddling some generic bullshit he threw together to get people nodding their heads and opening their wallets. Shameful bullshit.

I don’t know how much of his heart or soul this director poured into this misbegotten endeavour, but I’m sure he could get another chance down the track to disappoint people further. I liked The Fault in Our Stars from a few years ago, which dealt with teen characters dealing with real and awful stuff and love as well, and Anne Frank for terrible reasons, so he is not entirely without talent. And I’m sure Maisie will do great things in other flicks in other years.

Just not here and not now. The New Mutants should do like the Old Mutants and just fuck the fuck off already.

4 times Anya Taylor-Joy playing a mean Russian dominatrix would have made more sense in Queen’s Gambit than it did here out of 10

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“Did you know baby rattlesnakes are more dangerous than adult ones? They haven't learned how to control how much venom they secrete. All of you are dangerous. That's why you're here.” – this could be more Native American wisdom, or it could be from Bear Grylls – The New Mutants

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