Stop all the clocks. Cut off the telephone. Prevent the Wolverine from snikting with a juicy bone. Clean away the electrified toads. Shutter the Department of Redundancy Department. Roll up the carpet under which we swept away the allegations against Bryan Singer. The X-Men are dead. Long live the X-Men.
And yet, in a very real way, we already have covered the final X-Men movie, as Dark Phoenix was actually filmed after New Mutants. New Mutants long stay in purgatory while Disney tried to figure out what exactly to do with this malformed creation that Fox had hurriedly thrust in their arms is now well known and need not be re-hashed here. Between the Fox/Disney merger and Covid has any movie had worse luck in terms of timing than New Mutants? Yes, almost certainly. But learning about them would take time and I’m feeling lazy today.
Anyway, like Dark Phoenix I’m feeling oddly charitable to New Mutants, maybe because of its rough upbringing, or maybe just because, deeply flawed though it is, it’s trying to do something that I’ve been saying superhero movies needed to do for years.
The movie begins with a young Cheyenne girl named Dani Moonstar (Blu Hunt) fleeing for her life as her reservation is devastated by a tornado. She wakes up in a strangely abandoned medical facility where a softspoken woman named Doctor Reyes tells Dani that a tornado killed everyone in the reservation and that she is the sole survivor. Dani is obviously distraught but also confused because she distinctly remembers being chased by something that growled.
Reyes tells Dani that the “man I work for” has a way of detecting new mutants when they appear and that Dani has manifested an X-gene at exactly the time when anyone who might object to her being spirited away to a secret medical facility has conveniently been fatally tornadoed what luck indeed. Reyes tells her that Dani will stay here until she’s learned to master her power (whatever that turns out to be) and introduces her to her fellow
inmates detainees happy campers. They are Rahne Sinclair (Maisie Williams), a soft-spoken, deeply religious Scottish girl, Illyana Rasputin (Anya Taylor Joy) a Russian girl who makes up in unpleasantness what she lacks in not being racist, Sam Guthrie (Charlie Heaton), a boy from Kentucky with an accent that would make the Colonel hisself tell him to tone it down and Bobby daCosta (Henry Zaga), a Brazilian trust fund kid.
So, as you can probably guess from that set-up (diverse group of teens in a mysterious asylum watched over by a seemingly benign authority figure who, let’s be honest, we all twigged as the villain from minute one) this is a horror movie and I think that’s a fantastic idea. Comics are full of amazing characters that you can tell virtually any type of story with and yet superhero movies nearly always default to the same tired story structure. What about a gangster movie about the Kingpin’s rise to power? Or a space opera set against the background of the Kree-Skrull war? Where the HELL is my Office Rom Com set in the Daily Planet? And, on paper, New Mutants is a great idea. Give an up and coming director a slightly smaller budget and let them take some risks and experiment with genre. It’s a great idea, but unfortunately Fox apparently lost their nerve and neutered some of the harder horror elements. The result is a movie that’s neither flesh nor fowl, and feels mostly like those sterile PG 13 horror movies that infested the genre in the nineties and early 2000s.
Ilyana begrudgingly shows Dani around the facility which includes what she calls a “chapel” but is by all appearences a full-size Catholic church, practically a cathedral, including confessional booths and that’s a perfectly normal thing to find in a medical facility in the middle of rural America. Ilyana tells Dani that the nearest town is 20 miles away but that there’s no fence or walls so Dani makes a run for it and faceplants into a massive forcefield that surrounds the facility.
Having had about as much of this shit as she’s willing to take, Dani climbs the clock tower of the “chapel” and tries to throw herself off. She’s talked down by Rahne who then gives her an actual tour of the place that involves less forcefield faceplants and more sapphic sexual tension than a She-Ra Convention.
The romance between Rahne and Dani isn’t in the comics, where they’re just good friends.
I really like this change, though. The relationship is presented in a way that feels both sweet and authentic and never pandering and both actors have a very nice understated chemistry. In fact, it’s one of the few elements of this shambling mess of a script that feels like it knows what its doing.
Ah yes the script. The dialogue finds a happy little nook between passable and cringey and never lifts its head out but it’s really the structure that lets the whole thing down. Lemme just spoil the whole thing so I can get to my point; Dani’s power is manifesting people’s nightmares. So the movie’s main momentum comes from waiting until one of our cast of mutants is alone so that they can encounter a horrific spectre from their past so that we can learn a bit more about their tragic backstory. Said mutant goes “what the deuce was that?” and then rinse lather and repeat until the final act where all the mutants have to team up to fight Danni’s monster, which is a big fuck-off demon bear. Because what else would an Indian be afraid of?
Mostly the movie just feels confused. Confused in tone and confused in focus. We spend a goodish amount of time focusing on Danni and Rahne and then suddenly, out of nowhere, Ilyana of all people becomes our main character, complete with badass action heroine one liners and so many powers that she makes the entire rest of the cast seem superflous. It’s almost like, when Ana Taylor Joy started blowing up, they massively expanded her part to see if they could get a solo franchise out of the racist Russian girl.
Which…you know what, I don’t think people are in the mood.
There’s other stuff I could complain about. And what the hell, this post is going to run a little short so I might as well. The depiction of Rahne’s Catholicism leaves a lot to be desired. She says that when she realised she was a mutant she went to see “Reverend” Craig (no she didn’t). When we see “Reverend Craig” he was apparently dressed like a Monsignior getting ready for an audience with the Pope and not an ordinary priest presumably hanging around his house.
[EDIT: As Jesus himself said in Matthew 14:26: “Check your sources, dumbass”. I dunno why I had it in my head that Rahne was definitely Catholic (projection, probably) but commenter edgelesspidgeon commented that in the comics she’s actually Calvinist. I hurriedly dived down a wiki wormhole but all the Marvel wiki and wikipedia have to say about her denomination is that she’s “religious” which of course is very helpful. “Reverend Craig” is apparently a character in the comics, but the wikis also refer to him as “Father Craig” interchangeably. My guess is that Marvel decided to keep Rahne’s denomoniation purposefully vague to avoid offending any one congregation. That said, Rahne is shown in the movie as using a Catholic-style confessional booth (which Calivinists do not make use of as far as I’m aware?) and wears what I think is supposed to be a miraculous medal so I’m still pretty sure Movie!Rahne is intended to be Catholic and therefore the snark still stands.]
And oh, my favourite, when Rahne turned into a werewolf in front of her he flipped out and branded her with a “W”. For “witch”. With the W shaped branding iron he just keeps around. For branding witches WHAT FUCKING YEAR IS THIS SET IN?
Which brings us to our next point. When the hell is this? Does this even take place in the same continuity as the other X films? There’s a throwaway line about the X-Men, and Reye is apparently working for the Essex Corporation (the owners of that diabolical briefcase we saw at the end of Apocalypse). There’s no technology or fashion (outside from obviously sci-fi stuff) that definitively dates it. This movie could literally be set at any time in the last forty years. But then we see flashbacks to Reyes working in the same facility that created Laura in Logan so maybe this movie takes place in the future? But in Logan, Laura and the other mutant children were only created after mutants had been wiped out so where the hell did the New Mutants come from GAH!
A really nice little premise and a great young cast, this one had potential. But corporate intrigue, a weak script and some of the shittiest luck imaginable strangled New Mutants in the crib. I ain’t mad, I’m just sad.
Nothing. Zip. Nada.
Department of Duplication Department
Sunspot, who appeared in Days of Future Past portrayed by Adan Canto, is now played by Henry Zaga.
How worried is Guinan right now?
Guinan is dead. This movie killed her.
Wait, Magneto is how old?
I don’t even know what fucking year this is supposed to be set in. I don’t know. I don’t know how old Magneto is. Who even cares at this point. It’s not like he’s going to age anyway. Michael Fassbender doesn’t age.
Mutant Heaven has no pearly gates, only revolving doors.
The X-Men franchise is dead. Time will tell if there is a resurrection (obviously there will be, when have you ever known Disney to leave money on the table?)
Today, mutants are…
This movie is…
NEXT UPDATE: 13 May 2022.
NEXT TIME: Do I hear the sound of a barrel being scraped?