Fox’s 20-year, 13-film X-Men series goes out not with a bang or a whimper . . . but a bear attack.
Yes, every camper’s worst fear is the asinine conclusion of a two-decade stretch of mutant movies that earned both Oscar nominations (“Logan”) and critical ire (“Dark Phoenix”). It also gave us big stars. Before 2000’s “X-Men,” Hugh Jackman was still warbling “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’” in the musical “Oklahoma!”
The final chapter, “The New Mutants,” is not the compost heap some expected, given the years of behind-the-scenes turmoil. But it is car-seat safe and totally inconsequential. A popular $6 billion franchise is saying goodbye (well, handing the reins over to Disney) with a wimpy young-adult horror flick.
How are we supposed to commit to an introductory film that will never, ever get a sequel and has not even a tenuous connection to what came before it? Reports during the film’s long production process said that Disney demanded the exclusion of better-known X-Men characters from this movie. It’s true. We don’t see Wolverine, Professor X, Magneto, Jean Grey, anybody.
Instead, we meet a crew of mutant nobodies, who have zero control or understanding of their dangerous powers, and therefore are forced to live on a gross, crumbling campus in hopes of one day becoming proper X-Men.
There’s Rahne (Maisie Williams), a Scottish lass who can turn into a wolf; Roberto (Henry Zaga), a hormonal stud who bursts into flames; Sam (Charlie Heaton), a Road-Runner type; Illyana (Anya Taylor-Joy), a Russian who can visit Limbo and wields a sword; and Danielle Moonstar (Blu Hunt). We find out her messed-up talent later.
In the comics, these guys become known as Wolfsbane, Sunspot, Cannonball, Magik and Mirage. Those nicknames are never used here.
There are many red flags at this facility. Mount Sinai, it ain’t. This dump looks like an abandoned insane asylum, and it’s run by just one stern woman, Dr. Reyes (Alice Braga), who is a mutant with the power to create impenetrable force fields. Danielle arrives after a family tragedy, and the sinister underbelly of the experiment is gradually revealed.
Director Josh Boone’s goal was to jettison the usual comic-book trappings and make “The New Mutants” a horror film. He succeeded on the first part, but not the second. Nothing is scary or heroic. Perhaps unsurprising coming from the guy who directed “The Fault in Our Stars,” it’s all teenage troubles: love, sex obsession, a tinge of self-harm.
The high-school drama is intriguing, but one-note, despite relatable performances from Williams and Hunt. Fast-forward to the final 20 minutes, and Boone’s vision turns into an everything bagel. Featuring a demon bear, it’s a messy action orgy that explains Danielle’s mysterious powers, but fails to emotionally satisfy. Up till now, there has been no villain, nor any story arc beyond escaping this prison.
At the end, they do just that. And who cares? We’re never seeing this place — or them — again.
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