I grew up on the X-Men. I read my first superhero comics in sixth grade; I traded a couple of Transformers comics I already had for Marvel Comics Presents #1 and an issue of Alpha Flight, both focusing on Wolverine. This is when Wolverine's popularity was starting to peak in the late 80s and he was my gateway into Marvel Comics and the X-Men. As such, I invested a lot of time into knowing about the X-Men and their related teams. The New Mutants were never a favorite or even of particular interest to me, but I was very familiar with them. This doesn't really feel like the New Mutants at all. On the surface, it might bear some similarity to the characters from the comics, but none of them feel like the genuine article.
The strangest part about this The New Mutants is that they chose to focus the film on Dani Moonstar, a mostly uninteresting character that could create illusions of people's desires and fears. Here they decide to make her powers literal (instead of illusory) and uncontrollable. She besieges the world around her with physical manifestations of people's darkest fears without even knowing she's using her powers or that she has them at all. Which I think is a pretty weak take on things, as well as on mutant powers. It's all an attempt by the director, Josh Boone, to try to make The New Mutants into a horror film. There were many early script drafts featuring Professor X and Storm and Colossus and was probably more interesting in some ways, but it eventually got pared down over time into more of a mystery thriller about teenagers in an asylum. Too much Blumhouse, not enough X-Men. Ultimately, the studio toned the terror down in a desire to make a it more of a "young adult" movie, perhaps pandering to the Hunger Games crowd instead, but testing and the popularity of the initial fright-focused trailer led them to change their minds yet again. There was to be reshoots as the movie was pushed back again and again. Horror would be amped back up from the initial cut, though I'm not sure those reshoots ever took place. Instead, Disney came along to buy 20th Century Fox, leading the whole things to stagnate until the sale was complete and Disney dumped the remaining slate of terrible X-Men-related properties. Dark Phoenix still managed to come out before this. New Mutants arrived to mostly empty theaters during a pandemic, the final result of obligations that clear the way for the X-Men to make a better appearance in the future MCU.
But this... It just doesn't work. While Boone turned in a relatively good-looking film and many of the actors are good in their roles or in other projects, it just feels like it's going through the motions. The plot feels mediocre and rote. There's no surprises. Not even anything to really enjoy about it. It's a blank, a void where creativity could have been applied but is missing.
As I said, Dani Moonstar isn't an interesting character at the best of times and was the wrong angle to take into a New Mutants film anyway. The lack of characters in the movie makes it feel very strange. Somehow we're to believe that a single person can run the entire building, overseeing "treatment", upkeep, feeding? It's not a movie that wants you to actually stop and think about the situation the characters are in. What few characters there are. I found myself looking at scenes with all of them in one room and thinking to myself "Where's the other characters in the group? Oh, yeah, there's only six people in this whole movie and here's five of them." It always felt like someone (or several someones) was missing to round out a scene or provide a counterpoint.
It's hard to care about most of them anyway: Sam is kind of a non-entity; Roberto is an asshole; Illyana is a bitch. You don't really believe it when they come together. Perhaps that's in part due to the fact that the director himself says A Nightmare On Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors was his primary inspiration for the film. That was a movie with big, dumb horror cliche personalities not doing a great job of meaningfully working together. Perhaps if only one or two characters had walked away from this film, it would have made more sense, but them somehow having some bond by the end of the movie just feels cheap and hollow. If you feel anything about it at all. You'd never believe they're going to form a superhero team after this.
The script is a big write-off with mediocre stakes, a dumb premise, a poor use of the characters, but I do credit the movie's attempts at a visual style. It looks good at times and the visual choices made in representing most of their powers look good, though Rahne looks goofy as Wolfsbane. They of course do the dumb thing of having her just turn into a normal wolf. The rest of the time she just kind of gets halfway there: hairy neck and ears, with long claws. It would have been nice for them to just have her turn all the way without her just being a literal animal. She's supposed to look like an old-school Wolf Man werewolf a lot of the time. Maybe they couldn't make it look good, maybe they just didn't want to cover up their actor's face. Either way, it didn't really work.
It'd be interesting to see some of them return to the roles again with a much better script, but that ship has sailed and I don't think we'll be seeing the New Mutants in the MCU anytime soon.