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By the time Josh Boone’s The New Mutants arrived in theaters this past August, morale surrounding the release wasn’t exactly high. The film had seen its release date pushed a ridiculous number of times (admittedly sometimes due to factors that had nothing to do with the production), and it didn’t exactly inspire confidence that 20th Century Studios was willing to put it on the big screen when most big screens around North America were closed. Then the reviews came out from professional critics who had to buy tickets for the show, and they weren’t exactly brimming with positivity – with CinemaBlend’s own Sean O’Connell describing it as, “A simplistic, unimaginative, low-budget blip on the comic-book radar that neither hinders nor furthers the superhero conversation.”

But you know what? With appropriately lowered expectations, it’s actually better than you might think.

With The New Mutants now available on digital and various physical formats, I finally had the chance to watch the movie this past weekend, and while I’m not here to tell you that it’s the most underrated X-Men franchise title or even that it’s a good film, I will stand up for the fact that it does have redeeming qualities and isn’t a total write-off. It boils down to four specific highlights, starting with…

The Female Characters Are Serviced Well

If you’re a big fan of Cannonball or Sunspot from the comics, you will be disappointed by their roles in The New Mutants, as the film mostly keeps them on the sidelines and doesn’t provide them with much in the way of depth – but the primary reason for that is because the movie is far more interested in the female members of the cast, and it legitimately services them well.

Maisie Williams delivers the best performance in the ensemble as Rahne Sinclair, delivering an emotional turn heavy with the weight of her character’s traumatic past. Her pairing with Blu Hunt is actually great, with their romance given proper prominence and feeling earned. Anya Taylor-Joy has arguably the most complicated role to play, as Illyana Rasputin is a character who doesn’t really care if you like her, and it really makes you not like her. That may seem like a negative, but it works well with the story being told and the dynamics between the core group.

It’s Twist Is Actually A Surprise

The thing that I was personally dreading most in The New Mutants was the twist that I just knew was coming. All of the trailers built up this mystery with characters trying to understand why things are getting so freaky in the converted mental hospital, but, like anyone familiar with Dani Moonstar from the comics, the solution seemed obvious to me. Her mutant power is the ability to bring anyone’s nightmares to life, and given that she was shown to be the new arrival at the facility it was obvious that she was the reason for everything going crazy.

As it turns out, this is a minor twist that is included in the film, planted for those unfamiliar with the source material, but it’s not the only twist that it sports, and I will say that I didn’t see the second one coming. I won’t spoil what it is here because the whole point of this feature is to encourage you to at least give The New Mutants a try, and ruining the ending would be counterproductive, so just take my word that you may find yourself legitimately surprised as the narrative moves into its third act.

The Demon Bear Looks Great

Toward the end of its run, the X-Men franchise attempted to bring a more “microbudget” approach to the comic book genre in contrast to all of the big blockbusters – and The New Mutants is most definitely and very clearly a part of that program. Save for the opening sequence and a waking nightmare experienced by Charlie Heaton’s Sam Guthrie, the movie takes place in and around a single location, and the biggest number of characters featured in any given scene is six. It’s something that is very much part of the experience watching the film, as it definitely feels inexpensive, but for what it’s worth, there is some cool CGI magic whipped up in the form of the villainous Demon Bear.

It can sometimes be hard to make giant, ghostly villains play as a visual threat, but the Demon Bear in The New Mutants is a vicious-looking creature and is effectively utilized in the movie’s biggest scenes. I don’t know if the quality is an extension of the extra time the production was given as the release date kept getting pushed back, but if so, it would be a silver lining.

It’s Leagues Better Than Dark Phoenix, Making It A Better End Note For The X-Men Franchise

Last year, the main X-Men series came to an end with Dark Phoenix, and it was most definitely a whimper instead of a bang. Clearly retooled and poorly plotted, the blockbuster is a total mess and represents the nadir of the entire franchise. It was a hard pill to swallow given the preceding important 19 year legacy that totally changed the world of comic book movies, but there is now a positive way to look at things: while the X-Men series may have ended with the worst feature in the run, at least The New Mutants is an improvement and leaves a better taste in your mouth in the aftermath of the cinematic universe.

A franchise not ending with its worst chapter is hardly a badge of honor to be prominently displayed, but it is something. The New Mutants is a far better and more entertaining movie than Dark Phoenix, and that’s said while also simultaneously recognizing that it’s also not very good itself.

Due to theater closures and poor word of mouth, audiences didn’t flood screenings of The New Mutants, but now that it is available to watch from the comfort of one’s own home you may want to give it a shot. There’s no threat that it will surpass X2: X-Men United, Deadpool, or Logan as your favorite X-Men movie, but you may also discover that it is way better than its reputation suggests.

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