Synopsis: Mysterious events concerning Danielle Moonstone, a young mutant of Native American origin, are the catalyst for her evaluation at a secure facility. She meets others there, her age. They have been there for some time, under the supposed promise they’ll be released once they’re able to control their powers. Strange things begin to occur as the nature of Danielle’s power is revealed, bringing danger and chaos.
It’s not clear at what point in the so far established X-Men cinematic universe this film takes place. The year, or even the decade isn’t given either. There are clues from the way the television looks (it’s not a flat screen) in the compound where the story takes place. The setting is what makes the story interesting. A secret “young mutant safe-compound”. Really, it’s an asylum, and it slowly becomes clear that Doctor Reyes (Alice Braga) isn’t primarily motivated by the well-being of the young residents. Talking of which . . .
Danielle Moonstar (Blu Hunt) arrives at the facility following what looks like an attack on her home, and that results in the death of her father. The fact she’s there means she is a mutant. Dr. Reyes explains that sometimes mutant-powers only manifest at the onset of puberty. Fans of X-Men will know this, or even those who’ve seen some of the previous movies. This film really focuses on that element and the difficult transition period. The other residents are Roberto de Costa (Henry Zaga)Samuel Guthrie (Charlie Heaton), Illyana Rasputin (Anya Taylor-Joy) and Rahne Sinclair (Maisie Williams). These are all canonical figures from the X Men universe. Each of their backstory is dealt with in the exposition, but only briefly. This is problematic, as character-wise they are much more fully formed than viewers see. The setting becomes a convenient plot device, and as a central conceit becomes a bit of a cliche.
What ensues is an interesting take on the idea of a haunted house. It works having a small cast in the film, and them being contained. That gives the story some tension and makes for a different spin on things. Points for the attempt, even if the result is sub-par. Of course, they all wish to escape, providing motivation. On one hand the writing is simple, which means it’s good in so much as not being too ambitious. This group aren’t on a world saving mission. They are trying to survive and if anything save themselves. There’s nothing that really makes the story stand out as particularly original. The central plot plays out about the nature of Danielle’s powers and how that has altered the dynamic of the house, and her relationship with the others. In particular her relationship with Rahne. It’s this which provides more interest than the action sequences and their playing out.
There’ll be no Oscar nominations here, but some solid performances. Everyone in the film knows what they’re doing and what they have to bring to things. Alice Braga’s Dr. Reyes is suitably chilling in her role as administrator to a higher power. She never really looks truly menacing though. Perhaps her ability to comfortably spy, probe and experiment on those under her supervision with little emotion is an aspect worthy of praise. She does a good under-stated villain, but never sets things alight.
It’s fair to say that Blu Hunt’s Danielle is just about the central character of the younger actors. She is convincing as a scared, confused child who is coming to terms with who she is and what means. She behaves how you might imagine someone who is incarcerated might; crucially, she captures the innocence of a child, despite being a much older actor. Her scenes with Maisie Williams’s Rahne (Wolfsbane) are tender and the two do manage to show the awkward, clumsy intensity of early explorations of being attracted to someone. Dealing with this well was important, as there will undoubtedly be viewers watching who identify and are screaming out to be represented. The seeds of a love story are shown, and that is plenty to create a charged atmosphere.
Sex is again explored as a topic between Anya Taylor-Joy’s Rasputin (magik) and Henry Zaga’s Roberto de Costa. Nothing is seen, but again the discussion is there and that is important. Whilst the ages aren’t made clear, they are all at least teenagers. Pretending that relationships wouldn’t develop if a group of hormonal youths were holed up together isn’t realistic. These scenes help to explore and push boundaries, without anything distasteful or inflammatory being done. Taylor-Joy brings a psychological frailty to the role and her damage from childhood. Zaga portrays well the frustration of getting physically intimate for someone who can’t control their powers. This has been done before, but he does manage to make his character’s (Sunspot) depiction memorable and expresses emotion powerfully.
Charlie Heaton’s Sam Guthrie (Cannonball) is somewhat of a spare part in the film. No fault of Heaton, who plays the role as best as he can. Heaton arguably depicts the emotional aspects of his character’s backstory the most feasibly of the lot. When he talks of his time as a young miner and how his lack of control caused multiple deaths, including that of loved ones, there is pain and anguish etched onto his face and he captures his audience in those moments.
CGI & Action
Anyone going to see an X Men film will expect to see some serious special effects. They’re not what makes a film good, but they are expected. This film doesn’t deliver on this element. There are many rumours as to why, that the ideas couldn’t be brought to properly as post-production couldn’t take place in the way it usually does. They aren’t terrible, but can at times be what really brings the film down. They look too obvious and cause the film to seem like a comic on screen, with too much glare and brightness on the graphics side, meaning that they aren’t believable. mostly, they’re just boring and unimaginative. It would have been nice to see some really well thought out ideas that could have been delivered on a lower budget. There was little that hadn’t already been seen and nothing offering anything truly innovative. The best way to think of them was an afterthought, largely.
The animal concept at the end of the film was good in that it took a form of a “spirit animal”, incorporating Native American beliefs. Sadly, it wasn’t scary and looked far too computer-generated. This was really the case all the way through and the big last act couldn’t act as a way to rescue the film. It looked more cheap sword and sorcery than the product of a nightmare. There was no real discernible animalism to the creation, meaning it seemed to be an end-level boss on a computer-game and not the “big bad” and fear-factor that the film needed.
Overall & Incidental Music
There was no real atmosphere to the soundtrack of the film, which was a shame. With characters so young that would have been fun to see. Especially the scene when they drug their captor and dance the night away. Some of the arrangements that were on offer did help to add tension and make the film exist in the horror genre.
What could have been a very clever film wasn’t. The reasons why are many and complex. Largely, they stem from this being a project that began under Fox and was continued once Disney took over. That may explain things. The post-production having to take place during the current pandemic will also have made things hard. With that in mind it’s only fair to judge what was on offer. The title of the film won’t have helped those who expected something akin to X-Men First Class (2011). It wasn’t like that at all. It was a much more cerebral affair. For it to have truly worked it had to be smarter and maybe darker. Like so many films they want an almost universal appeal. That quite often means that the tone isn’t developed fully, and where there should be explorations of theme that match the story, there are only child-friendly versions.
Some have called it the worst X Men film yet. They’re wrong. It’s better than The Dark Phoenix (2019), which had no excuses for it being so bad. X Men: The Last Stand (2006) is also a worse film. Both of those films had established characters, experienced actors and followed traditional formulas. They also had much larger budgets. At least Josh Boone was bold enough to try and offer something new with much less cash to throw around. Hard to know how much his efforts were hampered by the changing over of the franchise and Covid-19. That can only carry the can so far, but that it got made at all with being started under Fox says a lot about Boone’s commitment and that needs acknowledgement. It’s not great. Far from it, but it’s not the unmitigated flop that most critics are calling it. Officially it’s the first Disney X Men film, but it still felt like it suffered from the same old Fox problems in superhero movies seen time and again.
- Incidental Music & Overall6.6