“This isn't a hospital, Pocahontas. It's a cage.” – Illyana Rasputin
As I’ve mentioned before, in the post-covid world, cinema trips are very different. But my previous two trips were afternoon showings. This time, we would go in the evening. A Tuesday evening to be precise. One of the evenings when free cinema is offered as a promotion by an online insurance company, so they’re usually crowded. Not now. The car park was practically deserted. The biggest crowds were for the McD’s drive-thru. Oddly nobody wanted to sit inside, where it was strangely quiet and subdued with half the tables taped off, the rest separated by Perspex screens. Though the milkshake and double cheeseburger were a long-awaited treat, the whole experience was surreal.
But the evening’s strangeness was not over just yet. This was our screening of the third “big” film release since the easing of the lockdown restrictions, and if you’re keeping score then we’re currently running at 50% approval, with Unhinged hailed as one of my films of the year and Tenet less so. How would Marvel fare?
Well, it’s not REALLY Marvel though, is it? This is 20th Century Fox’s last gasp at making one final entry to their X-Men franchise before the Almighty House of Mouse took over and Marvel get their mutants back to pop them into the proper Marvel Universe. And boy, it shows.
I have never read any of the Marvel New Mutants stuff. X-Men, yes, extensively – especially the early stuff. But this? No. (Frankly, and I might as well throw the cat among the pigeons, although a lifelong comic book fan who’s been reading Marvel/DC for well over fifty years, I find Marvel hard to read these days. Everything’s interconnected and I can’t find a jump-in point.) But then, I had never read any Guardians of the Galaxy either. Actually, I still haven’t. But that didn’t deflect my enjoyment of the resultant films. I guess I hoped that the same would happen here. Only it didn’t.
New Mutants isn’t one of the huge Marvel titles. It’s no Spider-Man or Captain America, so I can safely suppose that most of the audiences world-wide won’t have read it either. It’s some spinoff from the X-Men is all you need to know. That much is kind of obvious.
But flawed as the X-Men films are (great watched individually, but I defy anyone to make sense of them in an overall chronology, I even wrote an entire Starburst piece about it) this takes flawed to a whole new level. The New Mutants are young mutants who find themselves in a hospital surrounded by a force field dome. Mostly these are kids with problems who’ve killed either unintentionally or in self-defence. So, rather than be at the Xavier School for Gifted Youngsters, this bunch of delinquents are at what amounts to a youth detention centre run seemingly by one lone woman Dr Reyes (Alice Braga). There are no orderlies, no assistants, just her.
Dani Moonstar (Blu Hunt) is a native American mutant whose powers are unclear at first comes to her custody, joining Rahne Sinclair (Maisie Williams – who has always looked to me disturbingly like a little boy) whose power is the ability to turn herself into a dog, Illyana Rasputin (Anya Taylor-Joy) who becomes a warrior with a strange glowing sword, and has a pet dragon, a guy who can turn himself to flame and another who can fly. So, all of them are in the hospital, we don’t know what’s going on, then at the one hour 20 min mark – it becomes a horror movie and the cast, none of whom are developed characters, have to face their greatest fears.
But the problem is, in most cases we don’t know that what they’re facing are their greatest fears because we know so little about them. Ultimately, we, as the audience are as indifferent to the characters as the actors are. There really isn’t a single performance here that doesn’t scream of having been half heartedly phoned in. And that’s a disappointing thing to have to write because I’m a fan of superhero films. I’m an easy target audience, I love the Marvel and DC movies. But The New Mutants failed miserably to engage me in any way. It doesn’t even have the embarrassing ineptitude of Josh Trank’s abysmal Fantastic 4 travesty to make in mildly entertaining in a “let’s marvel at how bad it can get” kind of way.
The lack of budget in this is sharply on display, and even taking Covid-19 into consideration, the film’s five times delayed release should’ve told us something. (I hope the same doesn’t hold true for Wonder Woman 84 due for release next month) but the real question is why, having acquired Fox after the completion of this film, did Disney choose to release it theatrically. At best, it’s a throwaway straight to DVD or streaming write off.
Films like this aren’t going to get the audiences back in cinemas, that’s for sure. At least we can look forward to the proper X-Men coming to the Marvel Universe in the future and we’ll never have to worry about The New Mutants ever getting a sequel.
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