The New Mutants is a disappointing Marvel superrhero film

The New Mutants (M, 94 minutes)

2 stars

For those who are counting. The New Mutants is apparently the 13th instalment in the X-Men franchise. And an unlucky 13 it turned out to be, both on screen and off, for reasons which will be discussed anon,

Maisie Williams, left and Blu Hunt in The New Mutants. Picture: Claire Folger

Maisie Williams, left and Blu Hunt in The New Mutants. Picture: Claire Folger

What do you get if you mix elements of Stephen King, The Breakfast Club, Mean Girls, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer in a nominally X-Men context?

Yep, you guessed it, The New Mutants - but it's not as good as it might sound, or as it could have been. For a Marvel film, it's surprisingly humourless and glum - even the cinematography is dull - and the small scale and limited settings aren't always used well.

Seeing this in a large Dendy cinema space only exacerbated the problems, including some second-rate special effects.

A smaller, more intimate venue might have worked better and might have helped forge a better connection with the characters, who are potentially interesting and well cast, but not terribly well developed.

Teen adventure and superhero stories always appeal to adolescents' views of themselves as misunderstood, alienated, angsty and special with adults tending to be clueless or evil or sometimes both.

Dani Moonstar (Blu Hunt), a Cheyenne Native American, is the sole survivor when her reservation is destroyed by a tornado and her father is killed by something mysterious.

She is knocked out and wakes up in the care of Dr Reyes (Alice Braga), in an institution that seems to be a blend of psychiatric hospital, prison and boarding school, complete with indoor pool and chapel.

Dr Reyes tells her she is safe, though as Dani wakes up handcuffed to a bed, such assurances don't necessarily inspire much confidence.

Dani soon meets the other residents - Scottish Maisie (Rahne Sinclair), Russian Ilyana (Anya Taylor-Joy), American Sam (Charlie Heaton) and Brazilian Roberto. They have all suffered tragedies and all of them, including Dr Reyes, manifest mutant abilities. Reyes - the only staff member, oddly enough - is testing them and they attend group therapy sessions. They think they are being trained to be X-Men, which doesn't sound like a bad deal.

But, of course, things are not what they seem - and they soon have other problems that take a supernatural form.

The relationships among the group members range from intimate to antagonistic and it's a pity more wasn't made of this, since character building is one of the most enjoyable aspects of superhero movies.

We do get a tentative romantic relationship and a character turning from antagonist to ally. One mutant is so guilt-ridden she attends confession despite there being no priest and awards herself Hail Marys to recite.

The exploration of the mutants' powers and pasts sometimes feels confusing for the uninitiated.

Directed by Josh Boone (The Fault in Our Stars), who co-wrote with Knate Lee, the film was shot in 2017 and was supposed to be released in 2018 but was repeatedly rescheduled. Reshoots were rumoured but appear not to have happened. They might have helped.

Apparently intended as a mix of superhero and horror movie, this isn't very satisfying as either. It's not too hot as either an X-Men movie (too little connection) or a standalone story (underbaked).

Positives? Williams and Hunt work well together and Heaton is appealing. They, like the others, are better than their material and make this marginally watchable - but it could have been so much better.

There's no post-credits scene. I'll be surprised if there's a sequel.

This story New Mutants can't replace the old first appeared on The Canberra Times.