This post was unfortunately delayed due to my air conditioner breaking down last weekend. Thankfully it’s under warranty, but with my area under a heat wave, well … it was a significant distraction. Anyway, let’s get to it.
The X-Men film franchise seems to have finally ended. There are some great movies in this film franchise, and it’s quite possible that the MCU wouldn’t exist without it, but that doesn’t change the sad truth that 20th Century Fox’s X-Men film franchise is a mess. Despite all of these movies sharing a universe, the more movies they made, the messier and more self-contradictory their continuity became. The timeline is all screwed up. Characters appear at different ages in different decades, like Emma Frost being younger in X-Men Origins: Wolverine (1970’s) than she is in X-Men: First Class (1960’s). Or how about Psylocke appearing in both X-Men Apocalypse and X-Men 3: The Last Stand, how she’s roughly the same age despite the movies taking place decades apart, and her powers are completely different.
The stand-alone movies aren’t nearly as bad for this. Logan works just as well even if there weren’t any other X-Men movies, save for the fact that it’s also a perfect sendoff for Hugh Jackman’s run as Wolverine. The Deadpool movies are very entertaining, and at least within their mini-X-Men Universe, they’re consistent with each other. In fact, they’re consistent enough that they might even be integrated into the MCU … somehow. From early on, it was also apparent that the New Mutants movie would also mostly stand on its own.
The New Mutants movie was first mentioned in 2009 by X-Men film series producer Lauren Shuler Donner, and yes, she was married to the very recently deceased Richard Donner. These movie blog posts are really starting to blend together. Anyway, she mentioned her interest in a film adaptation of New Mutants in an interview, but that she hadn’t yet pitched the idea to 20th Century Fox. After completing his 2014 film, The Fault In Out Stars, director Josh Boone created a comic with his childhood friend, Knate Lee, using panels from the original New Mutants comics, to illustrate what a potential New Mutants film trilogy could look like. They referred to the New Mutants as dark, interesting, and different from the typical X-Men stories. Simon Kinberg, one of the franchise film producers, really liked their comic. In 2015, 20th Century Fox finalized a deal with Boone to direct the New Mutants movie, using a script that he, Lee and Donner worked on together.
In 2016, they talked about how this movie would be different from the other X-Men movies, just not quite as different as Deadpool. They wanted a young adult vibe. They also talked early about Maise Williams to portray Rahne Sinclair/Wolvesbane, while Anya Taylor-Joy would play Magik. Both actresses would end up playing those respective roles. At the time, they were also hoping for James McAvoy to appear as Professor X and Alexandra Shipp to reprise her role as a young Storm. Neither of which actually returned for this movie, despite Professor X appearing in early versions of the script. They also mentioned the Demon Bear being the main antagonist. Boone described that as a very personal villain for him, having been raised by “very religious parents”.
After a couple rewrites, Boone confirmed that the film would be a “full-fledged horror movie set within the X-Men universe.” He talked about how he generally didn’t like horror movies, except for classics like The Exorcist, Rosemary’s Baby, and The Shining. Soon afterward, Charlie Heaton joined the cast as Cannonball, Henry Zaga signed on to play Sunspot, and Rosario Dawson agreed to portray Dr. Cecelia Reyes. Although, Dawson left later that month, so Alice Braga took her place.
The lead character is played by newcomer Blu Hunt, as Dani Moonstar. They found her after an extensive international hunt. Considering Dani Moonstar is a native American in the comics, it’s fitting that they cast someone from the Lakota tribe, with one of her great-grandfathers being Apache.
Filming began in 2017, mostly at the Medfield State Hospital in Boston. At one point the Medfield State was a mental institute, once including 58 buildings in its complex. The complex was entirely self-sustaining, with its own livestock and produce, and it generated all of its own power. The overall organization shut down in 2003. Some of its buildings have been demolished, but a number of the other buildings are now open to the public. It actually sounds like a fantastic place to film a horror movie/series, and was also used for Shutter Island and The Box. Apparently every crew member had “weird things happen to them” during filming. They used practical effects as much as possible, like getting actors pushing sheets of spandex to create the effect of figures pushing through the walls.
Fox Chairman Stacy Snider described the film’s setting as a Breakfast Club detention crossed with a Cuckoo’s Nest institution. She described the movie as a haunted house movie with a bunch of hormonal teenagers. Boone also spoke of A Nightmare on Elm Street 3 being an influence on the film. Filming concluded in September of 2017, of which Boone described the shoot as stressful.
He felt “a bit neutered” during the process, having been forced to tone down the horror aspects of the film. Shortly after, 2017’s It released. The studio then released its first New Mutants trailer, focusing on the movie’s scary elements. The trailer was very well received, prompting Fox to focus its reshoots on emphasizing the movie’s horror elements. The reshoots were scheduled for mid-2018, which delayed the film’s initial release date of April, 2018. They delayed it again to distance it from the February 2019 release date for Dark Phoenix, so that New Mutants’ new release would be in August of that year. At this point, the studio believed that the reshoots would be far more extensive than previously believed, and intended to reshoot at least half of the movie. They were convinced it wouldn’t flop the same way that Fant4Stic flopped. And no, I’m not calling that 2015 abomination Fantastic Four.
Unfortunately, Disney’s acquisition of Fox halted all efforts towards the film. It stopped any reshoots from ever taking place, not even standard pickups that were already scheduled. At the time, 75% of the film had been edited, and most of the visual effects weren’t finished. By the time Disney’s purchase of Fox finished, Boone started working on his The Stand TV series. He was asked to come and finish the film, but since he had committed to The Stand, he didn’t have the time, so he brought in Andrew Buckland to finish the film.
Finally, after finishing his work on The Stand, Boone found the time to return to New Mutants. By that point, the cast had aged too much for reshoots. He also realized that it would be very unlikely that there would ever be any sequels, so he cancelled plans to shoot a post-credits scene involving Mr. Sinister. The movie’s release was further delayed from its March 2020 release because of, well … you know. The movie ended up releasing digitally in August of 2020, with a limited theatrical release due to lockdowns. The cast acknowledged the movie’s delays and cancelled reshoots as the film being “cursed”. It ended up earning a total of $48.1 million worldwide on a budget somewhere between $60 and $80 million.
The critical response was lukewarm at best, with a 35% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and an average score of 4.9/10. The New York Times commented on its chronic delays with “The New Mutants spent three years on ice before being allowed to escape into the slowest summer season in a century. That’s fitting for a film that’s all buildup and no bang.” The Globe and Mail gave it a 1.5/4, writing “Instead of funnelling his inspirations into one singular vision that he could call his own, Boone has made a Frankenstein of a franchise movie, a giant elevator pitch that leads directly to the sub-basement of originality.” A number of other major publications refused to review the movie.
Even the co-creator of the New Mutants, Bob McLeod, criticized the movie. He complained about the movie’s inaccuracies, some of the casting choices, and the studio even misspelling his name in the credits as “MacLeod.” The spelling was corrected for home media releases. Obviously for numerous reasons, any plans for a sequel were cancelled.
As for my own thoughts, this movie felt like a massive missed opportunity, mostly caused by Fox’s studio mandates, the same way that studio interference likely hurt The Wolverine in terms of story and tone. The movie as it exists is a mess. It’s not sure whether it wants to be a coming-of-age story, a superhero movie, or a horror film. Frankly, the best parts of this movie are the horror elements, which really only start ramping up in the third act. Before that, it’s a mediocre young adult film where most of the character work feels rushed, and the only character with any good exploration is Dani Moonstar.
Speaking of which, this movie kind of features two villains. One of them is mostly subtle, and it’s revealed towards the end of the movie, but it’s not really a surprise either. That said, skip to the next paragraph if you don’t want spoilers. It turns out that Dr. Reyes is actually working for the Essex corporation, which was also mentioned in the post-credits sequence for X-Men Apocalypse and is a major part of Logan’s story. In this case, the New Mutants are being raised as killers for the corporation, and Reyes is using her powers to stop them from leaving the complex while pretending to be some sort of group therapist. The Demon Bear on the other hand is mostly a manifestation of Dani’s powers, and the solution to that problem is merely learning to control her powers. That specific aspect of the movie is where it works best. The slow build-up of Dani’s powers causing all sorts of terrifying visions, and eventually physically manifesting as an unstoppable force.
The general impression I get is that the casting is good overall, but most of the characters don’t have enough to work with. It makes for an overall movie where you can see hints of potential, held back by the clash between the creative team and the studio heads. The same could be said of The Wolverine, although that movie is more salvageable thanks to some great action scenes, and a far superior Unleashed Extended Edition. Like Superman II before it, it’s hard not to wonder what it could have been if Boone was able to film the reshoots he wanted.
As it stands, New Mutants is hard to recommend. The first half of the movie feels slow, and apart from Dani’s personal journey, the character development jumps around a lot. When you’ve got a character focused movie in which most of the characters are underwritten, it makes for a boring experience. Once the horror aspects begin, the movie improves greatly, but it still never reaches its potential. If Boone was allowed to go for a straight horror movie with coming of age aspects from the start, New Mutants likely would have been a much better movie. Perhaps even a standout within the superhero genre. It’s yet another “what if” scenario, like Superman II and Batman Forever before it. And like both of those movies, we’ll never be able to see what the director actually wanted due to studio interference, and in this case, a number of real world events that delayed reshoots too much. But I’d still say it’s better than Dark Phoenix was, because it at least featured a proper climax and a cast that cared about their characters.
Next week I’ll be watching either Raya and the Last Dragon or Pixar’s Soul. I haven’t decided which yet. As for next month, I was planning on doing a classic musical theme month, and I will still do that at some point, but I’m considering doing a Richard Donner month instead because of his passing 5 days ago. If I was to do that, I’d take a look at The Goonies, the first Lethal Weapon movie, Scrooged, and possibly another post summing up the Lethal Weapon sequels.