Once upon a time, Fox‘s Marvel X-Men film series was a staple in superhero filmmaking. Introducing what the genre was capable of in the turn of the millennium, it may not have had the financial success of the Spider-Man series and may not have broke through the glass ceiling the same way as the Marvel Cinematic Universe did, but there is no doubts to be made for its contribution.
It was an inconsistent series, if you look back. Say what you will about the newer Marvel features, they are consistent. If you go into a restaurant and order the meal, you usually know whether you will like it or not. X-Men was the convoluted recipe of an uncertain chef, constantly amending it, adding different spices, or throwing the cookbook out the window to start from scratch. Whether it be the timelines of the X-Men main series at war with one another, or the tonal clash of X-Men Origins: Wolverine against something like Logan, the brand was rarely afraid to experiment or change styles, win, lose, or draw. That’s what I think I will miss most from the Fox franchise as it rides off into the sunset.
Although the series built a strong foundation with X-Men: First Class that was rewarded in heaps and bounds by the financial success of X-Men: Days of Future Past, the bad reception of X-Men: Apocalypse, as the lack of interest after Disney’s acquisition of the series making the film feel inconsequential, the decision to remove the “X-Men” name from the final title, and the bad reviews, Dark Phoenix was a new low for the series. It was the desperate wails of an animal on death’s doorstep, and it was received with as much liveliness as you would expect. But, if Dark Phoenix was the last cry, what was The New Mutants? The death rattle.
The New Mutants was offered the raw deal. Filmed in late-2017, Josh Boone‘s feature was scheduled for an early-2018 release that never happened. This was reportedly done to prevent direct competition with Deadpool 2. At some point or another, following the success of the IT movie, reshoots were planned, hoping to really drive in the horror elements. It was then meant to be released in February 2018, but was postponed to August in-order to prevent direct competition with Dark Phoenix. It was delayed against after Disney’s acquisition of Fox, and the planned reshoots fell through the cracks as well. In March, the planned April 2020release was changed due to the Covid-19 pandemic, which brings us, at last, to its August 2020 premiere as a sacrificial lamb to limited theaters in the midst of a global outbreak.
As anyone would expect, The New Mutants was not a box office success. No one expected it would be. Not anymore. Its release was all about recouping investments and burning it off once and for all. The film’s reported production budget sets it at around 67-80 million, whereas the marketing budget has not been officially specified. Since Disney saw the writing on the walls for it, you would think the marketing budget would be fairly conservative, then again, because its many startups, it could very well have ballooned to higher than what would be ideal. In the end, The New Mutants grossed less than 50 million worldwide. Which, given the circumstances, is not as horrible as it could have been. It definitely did not and will not churn a profit, but, if the home market is more lively under the new circumstances, it could cover a substantial amount of the damages.
The film was based on the Marvel Comics team of the same name with a script written by Boone and Knate Lee, respectively. The act comprises itself of names like Maisie Williams, Anya Taylor-Joy, Charlie Heaton, Alice Braga, Blu Hunt, and Henry Zaga. Given Maisie’s recent success in Game of Thrones, Anya Taylor-Joy‘s success in Split, and Charlie‘s notoriety attained from Stranger Things, it is seeable how this film could have potentially been a modest hit.
The story follows a group of young mutants, who are being held inside a mysterious facility as they pitted in a fight for their own survival. The horror influences are considerable and seeable, to be certain.
I feel I met this film with dwindling expectations and fleeting enthusiasm. The concept of a horror superhero film had its appeals, but the trailers offered me little to be excited about. I appreciated certain techniques that were used, like, for instance, the callback to Wes Craven, where characters were pressed against walls of spandex that made to scream, akin to what he did with Freddy Krueger in A Nightmare on Elm Street. It is a little thing that I appreciate, and heaven knows it looks better than what they did with the Elm Street remake a decade prior. However, frankly, I was never sold on the film, and that was two-something years ago when the first trailer arrived. I had all this time to care less and less about the flick. And I did.
The cast is talented, but I would argue this is far from their best efforts. Charlie Heaton offers an awful southern accent, and Anya Taylor-Joy’s Russian accent is a hurdle I was not able to get over in spite my best efforts. Meanwhile, Maisie and Blu Hunt are paired off in a romance that feels like we are expected to care for no other reason than because they are the same sex, and that’s something not often depicted in mainstream cinema.
The horror aspects were admittedly more prevalent than I had anticipated from what was shown in the trailer. After both Suicide Squad trailers offering conflicted mixed messages, I feel I have become more educated to singling out when a film company is trying to steer you in one direction as a bait and switch. Scenes involving a supernatural entity aptly named the Smiling Man offers a sight of horror, and one that brings to mind a slasher film or a supernatural genre feature gone wild. I would not exactly call it inspired. The Smiling Man is like a lot of other horror characters we have seen in years past and is comes off as pretty generic in that respect. The appeal of the horror elements is not that they feel creative or unique, but because the novelty of seeing them implemented in an actual superhero film, and that is a very waning charm. So too are the mentions of the X-Men and other small details that overlap the narrative with the overarching world of X-Men. When Marvel ventured off and created a science-fiction adventure film akin to Star Wars with Guardians of the Galaxy, it felt like its own realized creation. This film feels like gimmickry and not like a fully realized concept.
I had heard comparisons to A Nightmare on Elm Street 3, one of the more coveted films of the series, and I can appreciate that as well. They both follow characters in an asylum of sorts, pitted against an evil foe they don’t understand. Unfortunately, that foe feels underdeveloped and undercooked. The film wants to do something with the facility itself, and wants to do something with the Danielle Moonstar character’s unique power, but none of them feel like they evolve past their initial conceptualization. This is in part because The New Mutants feels like a story unfinished, and worse still, a story that will never be finished. It spends its time lining up dominos, and then, by fault of both itself and circumstances, it walks away from them, offering no satisfactory payoff.
The New Mutants is not a horrible film, but from its dull characterizations, uninspired horror elements, and uninteresting performances, I would argue it does not deliver what’s needed to be called a good one.