NEW YORK (CNS) — Billed as the 13th and final installment of the “X-Men” film series, “The New Mutants” (20th Century) slams the lid on the coffin of a once-mighty franchise with a resounding thud. Director Josh Boone (“The Fault in Our Stars”), who co-wrote the screenplay with Knate Lee, serves up a distasteful and derivative horror thriller based on a set of Marvel Comics.
A heavy sense of deja vu hangs over the enterprise, as these “new” mutants (as opposed to the “old” ones like Wolverine and Deadpool) are vaguely familiar and possess superhuman powers previously seen in other “X-Men” movies. Boone and Lee dispense with the backstories of each character, leaving viewers unfamiliar with the source material in the dark.
Moreover, every teen horror movie cliche is mixed in, from make-out sessions (including same-sex kissing) and truth-or-dare games to a fierce resentment of authority figures, bursts of gratuitous violence and foul language.
Oh, and some of the most important conversations take place while female characters are lathering up in a communal shower.
The spare plot finds five teenagers identified as possessing extraordinary abilities living in an isolated clinic run by the mysterious Dr. Cecilia Reyes (Alice Braga).
They’re all recognizable types, starting with hottie bad girl Illyana Rasputin (Anya Taylor-Joy), code name Magik. When Illyana gets really angry, she grows not a straggling beard like that of her wicked namesake but a deadly sword.
She has her eye on the resident hunk, Roberto da Costa, code name Sunspot (Henry Zaga). He, too, is hot, but in a literal sense: He absorbs solar power and transforms into a (great) ball of fire.
Sensitive nerd Sam Guthrie, code name Cannonball (Charlie Heaton), can barrel down hallways at jet speed. Equally fast is sensitive waif Rahne Sinclair (Maisie Williams), who morphs into a werewolf called Wolfsbane.
Lastly, there’s newcomer Danielle Moonstar (Blu Hunt). She’s unsure of her powers but will eventually be called Mirage as she preys on other people’s fears, amplifying them to wreak havoc.
Our mutant teens begin to suspect Dr. Reyes’ motives and wonder if the clinic, which resembles a haunted house, is more prison than hospital. Their angst rises with Danielle’s arrival, which provokes all sorts of odd manifestations including — for no apparent reason — an army of flesh-eating zombies.
Little about “The New Mutants” makes any narrative sense. Instead, the picture only succeeds in being shocking and overblown.
Take Rahne, for example. She appears to be a Catholic and prays the Hail Mary often. She frequents the confessional in the church next door, especially when she’s frightened. There she admits her sins (masturbation, mostly) to an unseen priest.
He, however, turns out to be a crazed cardinal in full clerical garb. Wielding a branding iron, he burns a letter “W” (for witch) into Rahne’s flesh with bloodthirsty glee.
Like much of “The New Mutants,” the sequence isn’t spooky. It’s just kooky.
The film contains frequent violence and terror, anti-Catholic religious imagery and bias, same-sex kissing, sexual innuendo and occasional profane and crude language. The Catholic News Service classification is O — morally offensive. The Motion Picture Association rating is PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.
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McAleer is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.