As a long-time fan of the comics I had one fervent wish going into this: please don't screw it up. I'm pleased to report The New Mutants is a very solid movie and is neither dumb nor terrible, nor did it screw anything up. Most everything it does, it does well.
My chief complaint is about the things it doesn't do. It takes a great setup with interesting characters, a solid story, and hints of a rich backstory, and then the rest of the movie only scratches the surface of that potential. At 100 minutes it's a fairly short movie and so there was definitely time available to add more depth.
The characters are brought to life in mostly satisfying ways with some changes (versus the comics) that I thought were well-done. Speaking to those familiar with them already:
- Rahne now has some inner strength. She's still conflicted about her religious upbringing versus her mutant nature, but in this incarnation that conflict has broadened her perspective and makes her something of an old soul. I'd say she is the strongest character, story-wise, in the film.
- Illyana used to be the old soul in the comics, which never quite fit with her assertions that she was worried about the darkness in her soul consuming her. In this movie she's a straight-up brat with a bit of a mean streak, which honestly fits her backstory better. I love Illyana in the comics but I love Illyana in the movie even more.
- Dani is the straight man in this story, which is a bit disappointing. In comedy the straight man is the character who is normal and acts as a foil for the oddball characters. For this action-drama I'm using the term to indicate that she always basically does the right thing and doesn't have any real quirks or hangups apart from the tangible physical situations she encounters. She does have a few personal challenges but I would have loved to have seen her with a few more flaws to overcome.
- Sam is unfortunately relegated to being a secondary character. We don't spend enough time with him to get to know and appreciate his southern manners and sense of duty.
- Roberto joins Sam on the bench. In the comics he was simply cocky but here he's got more of a frat bro vibe. It totally works but again we don't get to spend enough time with him. I'm disappointed in the visual presentation of his "Sunspot" power. It has a super cool look in the comics that I think would have translated well to live action, but here he's just another guy on fire. Ironically the cool promo art at the top of this blog has them all basically looking like Roberto/Sunspot did in the comics.
The New Mutants is a slow burn at first. It was engaging for me but I wonder if it's too slow of a start for people accustomed to other Marvel action movies. The film is conceived as superheroes + horror. I'd say it matches the tone of the comics pretty well (which also have a horror aspect). The horror elements in the film are interesting and well-done but it's not particularly scary to my mind. The drama ramps up into action halfway through and it's a good ride overall.
The New Mutants does a great job of showing, not telling, being fairly subtle with its cues, and avoiding trite moments. I do wish they had handled Dani a bit differently in the end. I don't mind the actions she took, I just wish it had been the result of an epiphany, after several rounds of playing by the bad guy's rules, to realize that she needed to play by her own rules. But it wasn't that.
By the end we learn a little bit about all the characters but not much about any of them. Not enough to be satisfying. There isn't much character development. Maybe some with Dani but it didn't seem like the other characters experienced any substantial personal growth.
I definitely recommend The New Mutants to anyone who likes and sci-fi and fantasy. It's a great effort and is quite enjoyable despite being limited to a surface-level exploration of the characters and their world.