20th Century Fox’s run of the X-Men/Marvel pie has truly come to a close. Some may say it really ended with Deadpool 2, but for those who have been on top of the tumultuous ride spurred on by Disney’s absorption of 20th Century Fox and the many planned films that did not survive the merger, you know the remnants of the 20th Century Fox efforts culminates in The New Mutants.
And the film has been proverbially cursed from the onset. Delays in production. Its mature horror take on the superhero movie downgraded to Disney-friendly PG-13 post-merger. Countless date release delays. Covid-19. The movie seemed shelved for years until finally, at the slight government-lift on cinemas being closed, The New Mutants is part of a thin roster of movies tasked with the gravity of bolstering the movie industry and drawing social-distancing crowds to risk it all to pack seats in theatres once more.
Finally, the movie is out and 20th Century Fox 20th Century Studios has been promoting it somewhat heavily. So has The New Mutants finally being unveiled to the world lived up to its promise of bringing a new creative take to the superhero movie with heavy horror elements and dynamics? Or has the numerous delays, changes, corporate meddling irrefutably tarnished what could have been great?
The Re-Education of The New Mutants
Danielle Moonstar has demons. Both in the proverbial and all-too-literal sense. And it results in her entire reservation being slaughtered by a tornado. Or that is what she is being told when she awakens in an institution led by Doctor Cecilia Reyes. There are other patients who suffer from the same afflictions as Dani, mutant abilities that grants them incredible powers and equally debilitating pitfalls. However Dani’s arrival and undiagnosed mutant powers coincides with peculiar happenings within the institution. And what was presented to mutants as a place of rehabilitation and wellness soon becomes a matrix of nightmarish horror and trepidation. And it is up to the mutants to find the source of the terrors and the real nature of the institution that has appointed themselves as guardian.
20th Century Fox: The Beautiful Cage
When a love-smitten Dani and Rahne Sinclair aka Wolfbane escape the immediate confines of the institution to see the rain play off the energy dome shield that keeps them on the hospital grounds, Dani calls the lightshow ‘a beautiful cage’. A great metaphor for the blossoming, part-closeted lesbian mutants.
Also a great phrase for an institution that promises naive teens a chance to get better when in fact their powers are being monitored to find out who will make the perfect killer for the Essex Institute. Another Mr. Sinister tease that is now dead in the water.
Which seems to be an occurring theme in the last leg of 20th Century Fox’s Marvel. Teasing and snaring people with teasers and easter eggs, knowing full well there would be a high-chance that it would never be delivered on. And that was before news of the Disney-Fox merger trickled downstream. It just felt like things were being teased for namesake. “Here’s this thing that is in the comics that you may know”.
Shame. On you, we mean. And all of us for falling victim to the snare every time.
Feed the Bears. Not the Audience.
Is it a thing with age, but certain sayings and analogous stories once repeated loses impetus? I remembered when I first heard the parable of the wolves that live inside us, one love and and all things positivity, the other representing hate and evil. The strongest will always be the one you feed the most. This was the line that was woven throughout the movie and it really irked me. Because it is a known saying. And that only adds to expectation and me being able to decipher the narrative before it happens. Which ultimately robs The New Mutants of an already-eroded mystique. Not great for something that has presented itself as a horror film.
However the analogy of the young cobra snakes being the most dangerous due to its unweildy use of its venom worked well. It is always a matter of pick and choose with these things. If the angle isn’t unique or obscure, best avoid it.
I know actor Maisie cringed when she had to do that promo that streamed on all the X-Men social media platforms. She had to have. If you didn’t see it, the Game Of Thrones’ alum alluded that The New Mutants provided her with the most fertile ground to work with ‘the best dragon’.
Firstly, as disappointing as Game Of Thrones‘ anti-climactic ending was, we are not going to go shitting on GOT’s dragons.
Secondly, Maisie’s character Rahne had absolutely no direct connection to or contact with Lockheed. So the fact she was made to make this promo was a cheesy wink at the fact she was on a show with dragons.
Rant slightly over. But let’s talk about Lockheed. Magik appears with Lockheed from her inter-dimensional ‘safe-place’ to do battle with her dragon against the Demon Bear – the manifestation of Mirage’s worst fears. And the design of the Lockheed, for however brief it appeared on screen, is on point.
However, it was painfully obvious the addition of Lockheed was sterilely CGI. The camera and Magik’s movements during their interaction are very rigid and composed. It did not have the organic movement of someone who is locked in battle with a gargantuan elemental Demon Bear. And I get it. VFX is a task. It is why you will never hear me talk shit about the craft, but movement (camera and character) is usually what sells believability. Not just the aesthetic. At the opposite end of the spectrum, the Demon Bear was very lithe and believable in the space; Lockheed felt more like a late addition. Kill me if I am wrong, but that is what it felt like.
Stuff of Nightmares
Dani being late to the mutant power game and her ultimately being ‘revealed’ to be the centre of the conjured nightmares of her fellow bunkmates does not come as a surprise in the least. And much of the reason why is, well, the same reason why The New Mutants is far removed from so-called Horror. The expectation is pretty cut-and-dry. There is no true enigma. Like HUD displays monitoring Dani picking up abnormalities as Dani sleeps. Unnecessary. Every time Dani enters a subconscious or agitated state something peculiar happens in the institution. Could have masked the connection better. And as such, we are no longer surprised or led down a path of the truly unknown. The New Mutants loses major points for me because of this. What could have been a psychological thriller ended up being far worse. An event with no lasting mark or connection.
And when the horrors, individual to The New Mutants, start popping up, the translation is so literal it hurts. No Freudian exaggerated psychoanalysis needed, sadly. Our connection to the New Mutants’ past is also quite limited, so the fear they feel is neither impressionistic nor believable. Take Sam Guthrie’s waking nightmare sequence for example. Far from the smoothest of transitions. I just remembered him being in a laundry room, a strobe flash in edit, then suddenly in a surreal sequence in a mine, reliving the traumatic experience where his mutant powers caused the death of his father and fellow miners. A transition that was way too jolty with not enough of a payoff.
If X-Men: Dark Phoenix narrative suffered the way it did due to, in part, Marvel meddling over Captain Marvel… I can only imagine what The New Mutants endured. Several scenes from the first trailer are non-existent in this movie. Nevertheless, the last remnants of 20th Century Fox’s Marvel movie run has fizzled down to a pop and a sigh.
What was first presented as a true diversion from the comic book movie drudgery found itself becoming more of the same. Logan still remains 20th Century Fox’s most crowning X-Men moment. I had hoped, being in the last leg of the 20th Century Fox journey, The New Mutants could have pulled a similar Hail Mary. The film may have had the worst luck, but the payoff was not nearly satisfying. Even if you take away the effect of prolonged expectation.
- Good to anchor narrative around central character – Dani
- Special effects noticeably limited (Lockhead and Wolfsbane's transformation particularly)
- Horror / Thriller element eroded near pointlessness
- Magik being the only combative one makes her more impressive, but also becomes the only source of conflict in the group. Bye-by team dynamics
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