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The New Mutants (2020) June 27th, 2021

By the time I began reading The Uncanny X-Men in my adolescence, the team had left behind their teenage years. Cyclops and Jean Grey’s marriage was ending, Wolverine was training his 3rd or 4th teen girl sidekick and the trend of creating newer and more exciting X-men had jumped the shark to the point where a new character was only cool if they were ugly and useless in a fight (Google ‘X-Men Beak’). But thanks to the magic of back-issues I could experience the thrill of The New Mutants.

I remember finding an old New Mutants TPB collecting the Demon Bear Saga at my local comic book store. It was amazing. I don’t remember much about the story but I do remember that the New Mutants weren’t drawn like Jim Lee’s hyper sexualized X-Men of the mid-90’s, instead they were drawn like awkward children a style fitting the juvenile nature of the book. Then the art style changed dramatically when Bill Sienkiewicz took over. His choices to break away from the standard pencil and panel structure of the comic book medium with his abstract oil painted pages and chaotic inky style brought an energy to the books that feels fresh 20 years after they’re first published. I loved that trade and fondly remember geeking out over reading the early adventures of Dani Moonstar, Magik, Wolfsbane, Cannonball and Sunspot (all heroes who’d go on to further adventures in different titles in the following 40 years).

So saying I was excited when the trailer for The New Mutants film dropped in theaters between late 2017 and early 2018 would be an understatement. At first glance the trailer made the movie look like a significant departure from the superhero film norm. Yes it would be a new team of heroes and therefore a new slate of origin stories but the trailer promised a departure from the doldrums of high action set pieces to what looked like a superhero haunted house movie. The same but different, sometimes that’s enough.

It seemed like a really smart move on the part of 20th Century FOX. Their X-Men franchise had grown stale and an opportunity to launch a new team of mutants seemed logical. The cast was almost too perfect. Not only were the majority of them plucked from other movies and shows in the thick of the pop-culture zeitgeist in 2017 but they really looked the parts too. In 2017, well before her rise to prominence from the success of The Queen’s Gambit, Anya Taylor-Joy (Illyana Rasputin) had made a big impact on me with her performances in Thoroughbreds, Split, and most notably The VVitch. Maisie Williams (Rahne Sinclair) was exceptionally popular as Arya Stark in HBO’s Game of Thrones and Charlie Heaton (Sam Guthrie) is at least recognizable as Johnathan Byers from Netflix’s cultural phenomenon Stranger Things. These three together make a trio of borrowed credibility that sold me on The New Mutants at first glance. I don’t want to discount the draw Henry Zaga (Roberto da Costa) may’ve provided from the popularity of 13 Reasons Why or director Josh Boone may’ve brought from The Fault in Our Stars but I’m only academically aware of those works.

Then Disney bought 20th Century Fox and with it all the rights to the X-Men and associated characters. A presumed unification was on the horizon and The New Mutants was the last ‘X’ film produced and unreleased by Fox at the time. I can only assume this process was messy and the film’s release was delayed. Then the same global pandemic that sired this blog pushed The New Mutants release back from March 2020 even further to late August 2020. I wasn’t going to the theaters in 2020 so I missed the theatrical release but was finally able to watch it at home thanks to HBO Max.

Overall I liked this movie, it didn’t change the superhero movie landscape like Guardians of the Galaxy did or give me a unique movie-going experience like The VVitch but it was faithful to the comics, well acted, and fun. I cannot deny an aftertaste of disappointment. The New Mutants is a fine movie, but that’s kind of all it is. And in a sea of “ok” content being fine isn’t enough to praise.

I wish it hadn’t been delayed, I wish we could’ve seen what this movie would’ve done in a box office not handicapped by a pandemic or competition with other Fox X-Movies. The New Mutants, despite having all the appropriate ingredients, is like a soufflé that didn’t rise. Maybe in this day and age of the multiverse we’ll get a chance to see these characters again, but my guess is too much time has passed, and Anya Taylor-Joy is too hot a commodity for the massively popular MCU to waste on Illyana Rasputin. It’s a damn shame.

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