The New Mutants Review

Stuck in development hell after numerous delays spanning several years, Josh Boone’s The New Mutants finally hit theatres this month and is one of the first to do so during the global pandemic. Breaking the traditional superhero mould and fusing X-Gene mayhem with YA horror, the biggest question hanging over its head is was it worth the wait?

Warning: Spoilers Ahead

It feels like a lifetime ago when Thor: Ragnarok landed in theatres across the world back in October 2017, accompanied by the first trailer for what would be the final entry in the FOX-Men series of cinematic outings. Had this movie released in April 2018 as originally planned its target audience would still be gushing over Stranger Things and one of its stars Charlie Heaton, they would not yet have been disappointed by Maisie Williams’ final season of Game of Thrones, and they would be eagerly awaiting Anya Taylor-Joy’s next blockbuster outing between the one-two punch that would become Split and its sequel Glass. Instead those ships have all left the harbour a long time ago, and since the planned reshoots never actually happened we have to wonder what was the point of keeping this ensemble of talented young actors on the shelf for so long.

A couple of minutes and one disaster movie intro later after the lights dim and the projector powers up, the audience follows Blu Hunt’s Dani Moonstar to the mysterious medical facility in which she has woken up. Far from a traditional hospital, she finds herself handcuffed to the bed and under constant observation by biometric-scanning CCTV cameras before the initially-soothing Dr. Reyes comforts her new patient and explains her new set of circumstances. Soon joined by her four other fellow patients, or rather inmates, Dani discovers that she is being kept in an off-the-grid facility which teaches dangerous new mutants how to control their powers and reintegrate into society. However, doctoral qualifications aside, Reyes shares very few similarities with the altruistic Xavier over in Westchester.

It isn’t long before the sinister underbelly of Dani’s new home is revealed, with her housemates being kept there mostly against their will long-term with no release in sight.

The exact circumstances of her arrival uncertain, all that is known is that something devastating tore through Dani’s ancestral home and killed all of its inhabitants. She, however, is relatively unharmed and strange things begin to go bump in the night when she becomes agitated during her nightmares. With a healthy dose of dramatic irony at play by keeping the movie’s six characters in the dark until the final act, it is immediately apparent to the audience that Dani has the ability to make a person’s worst nightmare manifest in the real world. This leads to a destructive final confrontation with her inner demons as it takes the form of the Demon Bear from her childhood folklore, killing Dr. Reyes and freeing these five new mutants from under her boot. But not before they get the chance to work together as a team and embrace rather than fear their superpowers to defeat it, of course.

Things don’t look good for the new mutants heading into the final confrontation

In many ways the movie works, making the audience care for each of the teenagers in turn except for Roberto ‘Sunspot’ da Costa, who is an unfortunate victim of sequel setup which will now never happen.

This disappointing oversight aside, by and large Boone has made great use of a short runtime to cover the backstories of four other troubled teenagers whose origin stories contain a mix of survivor’s guilt, Catholic shame, penitent mourning, and repressed sexual trauma. Far from the usual radioactive spider or gamma rays, one thing which Boone does not do with this cast of comic books characters is shy away from what makes them tick. Although it is for the most part implicit context rather than explicit content, the narrative is still served well by the gradual reveals of their individual histories.

That being said, what The New Mutants needed more than anything else is more room to breathe. Claustrophobia aside, which in fact ups the tension as the characters never leave the facility, events and exposition happen one after the other and after another like clockwork, as if a checklist of things to cover is being ticked off one by one. If the rumours of the planned reshoots being used to incorporate more horror elements are true, they would have been a welcome addition if they also brought along with them enough extra footage to bump the runtime up to two hours and allow a world to develop onscreen. Rather than escaping to the world of cinema and becoming immersed in the FOX-Men universe one last time, instead we feel more like casual observers who are simply viewing quick-cut snippets of the characters’ lives.

To make matters worse, even though she is the closest thing to a main character in this ensemble, Dani is overshadowed by Illyana Rasputin in almost every way.

When the armour and sword come out, you run

With the most explicit backstory and substantial script material to work with, Anya Taylor-Joy easily puts in the best performance of the bunch and makes this another successful footnote in her growing filmography. Not that fellow sci-fi franchise veterans Charlie Heaton and Maisie Williams are pushovers, nor are the rest of the cast, but it is a simple case of another character ultimately being more compelling and entertaining to watch than the one who is supposed to be the audience’s eyes and introduction into this new world. Add in miniature dragon Lockheed, a gigantic glowing Soulsword, teleportation portals into Limbo and suddenly you find yourself just lamenting the fact that we will likely never see Magik link up with her famous metallic brother Colossus of Deadpool fame.

Rahne ‘Wolfsbane’ Sinclair midtransformation – try to scorch her with a hot brand at your own peril

The aforementioned Williams also produces some of the best acting in this outing, her strong Catholic faith contrasting nicely with the real-life horror movie unfolding in front of these fictional characters. Sharing a number of touching scenes with Blu Hunt’s Dani as they explore their sexual identity and budding romance, in many ways they link up to form the heart of the movie.

Tragically, this great performance is overshadowed in some scenes by shockingly bad special effects in an otherwise impressive movie CGI-wise. Made famous for being a werewolf in an X-Man suit in the source material, here Rahne Sinclair deviates between being a regular wolf and Maisie Williams with extra tufts of fur around her neck and longer nails. In a project which contains a building-sized nightmare bear, a teleporting girl with a sword and a pair of boys who can spontaneously combust and charge through the air at extreme speeds, this is unfortunately a distractingly disappointing effort which will not age well for a character who the audience spends a lot of time connecting with and is portrayed by such a fan-favourite actor.

Also disappointing is the absence of the true villain behind Dr. Reyes and the facility, implied through context to be the infamous X-Men villain Mr. Sinister when it is revealed that Essex Corporation is the governing body. No doubt setup for the rest of the trilogy along with the pleasantly surprising connection to Logan, given that this movie is now just a one-and-done affair it instead reeks of unfulfilled opportunities.

A little worse for wear and severely traumatised, but at least the world is now their oyster

Plagued by studio-mandated pushbacks and delays that killed any momentum the project might have had in the first place, The New Mutants caps off the FOX-Men Cinematic Universe with a whimper rather than a bang. Although it is full to the brim with young and talented actors, an appropriately eerie atmosphere, mostly-perfect special effects and a drive to do something different, this outing is weighed down by failings which are too glaring to ignore. It’s hurried runtime robs the audience of the quieter moments which are well-executed when present, its traditionally superhero-esque third act marks a tonal shift so out of left field that it gives the audience whiplash, and its efforts to tie together other projects containing an X-Gene are unfortunately too little too late and leave longtime fans of the franchise craving something that is now never going to see fruition.

Final Score: 6/10

Project Power Review

The latest original blockbuster to land on Netflix since The Old Guard took the streaming service by storm last month, Project Power once again proves that the big screen feel can be condensed into your living room.

For many years now some of the highest grossing films every summer have been those featuring heroes with spectacular superpowers. In 2020, however, there has been something of a drought. You won’t find this film in a cinema near you, nor will you find anyone in it particularly heroic when compared to their genre competition at Marvel Studios and Warner Brothers. Their powers do not come from a radioactive spider or the radiation from an orange star either, instead being the byproduct of a dangerous new drug flooding the streets of New Orleans. The only thing standing in its way? An ex-military Jamie Foxx in search of his daughter, a vengeful Joseph Gordon-Levitt looking to level the playing field for the NOPD, and an out-of-her-depth Dominique Fishback caught up in the middle of this drug war as she tries to provide for her and her disadvantaged mother.

From the very beginning Project Power is all flash, and thankfully for the viewers at home there is also a healthy dose of substance to go along with it. Impressive CGI aside, the story opens with a mysterious benefactor gifting large quantities of Power to local drug dealers, a pill which grants the user a random animal-based superpower for just five minutes. From bulletproof armadillo skin to chameleon invisibility, the possibilities are endless. So, too, is the potential for chaos on the streets of New Orleans.

Officer Frank, about to survive a gunshot to the head after taking a Power pill

Enter high schooler Robin who is one of the locals enamoured with the money on offer for pushing this new product, conscious of the fact that it is just her and her mother against the world and that she needs an avenue out of her current life to greater things. Rounding out the trinity is the mysterious Art, who the police believe to be the source of Power but who is instead out to take it off the streets and find his kidnapped daughter in the process. If anyone has any doubts as to how Jamie Foxx can take on a superpowered drug dealer then look no further than poor Newt, temporarily portrayed by rapper Machine Gun Kelly.

Nothing good happens when it turns out that The Human Torch isn’t actually fireproof

Straddling the fine line between thrilling action and heartfelt character moments, Project Power manages to juggle the best of both worlds and produce a well-balanced narrative. Just when it feels like the story is getting bogged down along comes a new scene-stealing superpower, and when it all gets just a little bit too gratuitous another layer is peeled back on a main character to further our emotional attachment to them.

That isn’t to say that the film is without its flaws. The elements of Art’s background concerning the government conspiracy behind Power sometimes descends into tedium, and not all of the special effects are as gorgeous as the trailer would have you believe. One instance of extreme gigantism borders on the ridiculous and is more akin to the CGI you would find on network television rather than a Hollywood production. Nevertheless, the shortcomings are little more than nitpicks and are soon overlooked as soon as the next scene enthrals the viewer once more.

The worldbuilding present adds a lot to the narrative. Every television report and newspaper article about a superpowered attack makes the world feel that much more lived-in. Joining the ranks of The Old Guard and Bright, this is another Netflix Original film which would benefit greatly from either a straight sequel or even a television series follow-up.

Art and Robin, the dual emotional heart of proceedings

In conclusion, Project Power is another impressive arrow in the quiver of Netflix’s catalogue of original content. Balancing a cast of A-listers and relative unknowns, impressive set pieces and intimate character moments, and contrasting the allure of superpowers against the sometimes-horrifying consequences, this is one film which fans of the genre dare not miss.

Final Score: 8/10

The Old Guard Review

The latest sci-fi offering from the film division of streaming behemoth Netflix is equal parts engrossing and expertly assembled.

If your expectations for The Old Guard do not extend beyond yet another middling Friday night B-movie offering from Netflix then think twice – director Gina Prince-Bythewood hasn’t just broken the mould, she has smashed through it with aplomb. Based on the much-loved Image Comics series penned by Greg Rucka, The Old Guard is about a group of immortal mercenaries who have done their best to make the world a better place throughout history. Now in the present day, the first new immortal warrior in two centuries has unlocked her abilities and the CEO of a pharmaceutical company is hell-bent on obtaining their DNA in order to give modern medicine the kickstart it needs to become future medicine. With so many spinning plates in this film there is certainly a lot to unpack and not a lot of time to do it.

Yet somehow during the span of a two-hour blockbuster enough nuance and character development is packed-in to make this the most emotional sci-fi action thriller to grace our screens in a long time.

The crew as they originally appeared in print

This is thanks to Prince-Bythewood’s expert handling of the impressive cast that has been assembled in front of her, as well as the heroic efforts of fight coordinator Daniel Hernandez and the tight screenplay provided by original writer Greg Rucka. All of these elements come together beautifully to give us a film which dedicates appropriate time to each character, allows them to gel onscreen as a unit, and contains some of the best fight choreography in recent years which does not need to rely on quick cuts to hide its shortcomings.

The particular strain of immortality which flows through the veins of our protagonists is akin to that of Wolverine’s abilities from the Marvel universe. Damage can be done to their bodies and kill them temporarily, however moments or minutes later they will recover and heal their wounds in suitably grotesque fashion. Putting a twist on the concept which prevents the stakes from being removed altogether is the drawback of this immortality eventually expiring. This is shown to have happened to other immortals within the history of this fictional world, and it is now happening to Andromache ‘Andy’ of Scythia, perfectly portrayed by Charlize Theron.

Andy sure does love that handheld weapon of mass destruction

At the beginning of the film Andy is cold and distant, having grown weary over the centuries of helping mankind and seeing the world still be a hive of villainy. She is then drawn back into the fold by the lure of a humanitarian crisis offered up to her by CIA agent Copley, the impressive Chiwetel Ejiofar. This is revealed to be a trap set to capture the group, which then goes awry as we get a violent glimpse of what they are capable of.

From the very beginning the film is at full throttle, and within ten minutes the concept has been explained, the premise is clear, a taste of the action has been provided, and the audience is ready to enjoy the next two hours of their evening. But make no mistake, seeing the damage that these characters can sustain and inflict is not the only allure of this film – the characters themselves are equally enticing. Andy herself is the cautionary tale, showing what happens when years have gone by and eventually humanity means little to you after closing yourself off from it. Booker shows that watching your children grow old and sick while you are still eternally youthful takes its toll, and sometimes you wish that it would all just end. Joe and Nicky embody the benefits of immortality after finding each other, and an impassioned speech by Joe in the face of danger conveys their love beautifully. Finally, Nile is the eyes through which we see the film as adjusting to this new life is both scary and exciting, before realising that you will outlive your family and friends.

Joe, Booker, Andy, Nicky, and Nile. Not quite The Famous Five, but close enough

That being said, there are some drawbacks to this film. While the fight choreography is stunning and a sight to behold, it has a habit of sometimes being accompanied by a jarring soundtrack which tends to ruin the moment. These odd musical choices also make their way into other scenes, which unfortunately distract the audience rather than set the mood. Additionally, the villain who is hounding our gang of warriors is rather unconvincingly played by Harry Melling, who does not quite suit the role he has been given although he does put in a good performance like everyone else in the cast. There are also a couple of head-scratching moments throughout the film, such as the gang’s aversion to wearing any sort of body armour or protection. Yes, they can heal from their wounds, but it has been shown that they are still easily incapacitated by live ammunition. Wearing protective gear would surely help rather than hinder them, and its absence seems like an excuse to show off yet again just how badass they are.

Nevertheless, these gripes are minor in comparison to the triumphs celebrated by the rest of the cast and crew and can be overlooked in the moment. It is only really upon reflection that they stick out and prevent this film from being a flawless blockbuster.

Merrick isn’t quite as intimidating as a gang of immortal mercenaries

The Old Guard manages to make its audience feel both compassion and exhilaration as its narrative balances both gory violence and heart-wrenching trauma. Although headlined by Charlize Theron and Chiwetel Ejiofar, the rest of the cast all rise to the challenge and come together effortlessly, making this an impressive ensemble action thriller which is certainly not expendable. With a satisfying conclusion and sequel-tease before the credits, The Old Guard will hopefully become The New Franchise to rave about.

Final Score: 9/10

Artemis Fowl Review

Unfortunately for fans of the original series of books, no, it wasn’t.

On paper a film adaptation of Artemis Fowl by Irish author Eoin Colfer sounds like a no-brainer for a studio like Disney to premiere on their streaming service. A young protagonist for children to connect with, a slew of well-developed adult characters for parents to appreciate, and a multi-award winning narrative which has spanned numerous sequels and holds great franchise potential at the cinema. Why, then, has this adaptation missed the mark by such a massive margin?

The film follows the titular character Artemis Fowl, who is a twelve-year-old genius from Ireland and the latest in a long line of criminal masterminds in his family.

James Bond Junior or Miniature Bond Villain?

Right off the bat the film adaptation veers in a completely different direction to the source material by making him a ‘good guy’ who is doing what he must in order to save his father rather than an outright villain who goes on to learn the error of his ways and become a good guy. This might have been an acceptable detour from the source material if the events of the movie justified the change by offering a great cinematic experience full of heart, laughs, and enjoyable action…unfortunately, however, it does not.

Clocking in at just over an hour and a half in length, the film zips past the audience at the speed of sound and does not stop for a moment to let any of it sink in while rarely ever leaving Fowl Manor. Jumping from one scene to the next and from one conflict to another, a number of different plotlines and character arcs are smushed together and justice is done to none of them. To make matters worse, the old adage of “show, don’t tell” is flipped on its head so severely that we are told a great many things about our protagonist with little evidence to back it up, while other characters are literally reduced to stating their emotions out-loud for all to hear rather than showing them through their actions.

Senior and Junior Artemis together again

Another victim of the film’s criminally low runtime and fast pace is the sacrificing of virtually every relationship except for the one between Artemis and his father.

Supporting characters are introduced and then rarely heard from again, others are put in mortal peril for dramatic effect despite the audience knowing little to nothing about them, and members of the main cast go from arch enemies to best friends so quickly that you become tempted to rewind the film in case you missed a crucial scene, but no such scene existed in the first place. As for the villain of the film and the McGuffin they so desperately seek the less that is said the better, as fans of the books will be disappointed by their depiction and newcomers will just be left baffled as to what their motivations actually are.

The two saving graces of this adaptation are the performances themselves and the CGI. Ferdia Shaw gives a good performance as Artemis for his onscreen acting debut, and Lara McDonnell performs well as Holly despite her condensed character arc. Colin Farrell and Judi Dench are great additions to the cast as they usually are more often than not, and Josh Gad’s comic relief saves many scenes from being utterly forgettable. Criminally, we do not see enough of Tamara Smart or Nonso Anozie as Juliet and Domovoi Butler, respectively, to judge fairly. The special effects teams should be applauded for their work, making every fight scene, underworld fairy kingdom, and rampaging troll look stunning. One highlight of the film is a rarely-extended sequence involving a rogue troll terrorising an Italian wedding before a taskforce of fairies takes him down and wipes the guests’ memories, however we are soon returned to the disappointment that is the rest of the film.

The not-quite Fantastic Four of this film

All in all, it would be fair to say that this is far from director Kenneth Branagh’s finest work. How much of the blame lies on his shoulders, or on those of the screenwriters, or even on the studio itself, is difficult to discern. What is clear to see, however, is that the best advice for anyone intrigued by the film’s premise is to instead pick up the first book in the series and go from there. The slew of awards and legions of fans which the series of books can claim ownership of speaks for itself, and this ill-fated adaptation should not detract from that. With any luck an adaptation on the small screen will be commissioned to give the source material the love it deserves á la Percy Jackson by Rick Riordan, although ideally without a near-decade-long wait in-between.

Final Score: 2/10

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