Know Your Marvel Movies: The New Mutants
The 1990s bankruptcy filing of Marvel Comics has caused unusual ripple effects in the movie industry. Different studios have split the licensing rights to many of the powerhouses in the Marvel catalog. And this schism has led to a strange situation in 2020.
Disney owns The New Mutants, the comic book characters, and Disney owns The New Mutants, the comic book adaptation it acquired from Fox. Oddly, Disney had nothing to do with the production of this movie, though. In fact, it’s not even a part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Here’s what you need to know about The New Mutants, a Marvel movie that has little to do with Disney.
Who Are The New Mutants?
Back in 1982, the Marvel team of Chris Claremont and Bob McLeod created a brand new batch of X-Men. As you know, Mutants in the Marvel universe possess a mutated gene that empowers them with extraordinary abilities.
The New Mutants involved the daily struggles of a bunch of super-powered teenagers. By this point, the X-Men had existed for almost 20 years; writers understandably felt a bit ridiculous treating them as teens. So, Marvel aged them out and added a new generation of kids born with the X-Gene.
Co-creator McLeod dropped out of the comic book after only three issues, making Claremont the driving force behind The New Mutants. He introduced new characters like Domino, who stole several scenes in Deadpool 2. However, the movie based on The New Mutants will primarily involve the original core from the comics. Let’s take a look at the characters.
Which Powers Do The New Mutants Possess?
During its earliest incarnation, The New Mutants featured five characters: Cannonball, Karma, Mirage, Sunspot, and Wolfsbane. The movie will swap out Karma in favor of a character called Magik. Otherwise, the core remains mostly intact.
Cannonball sounds like the most ridiculous of the characters. This Kentucky’s native’s superpower involves thermal energy that allows him to propel himself into the air…yes, like a cannonball. Named Sam Guthrie, this member of the group started as a coal miner paid to attack The New Mutants. He experiences misgivings about the attack and calls it off, eventually joining and, later, leading the team.
Mirage, also known as Danielle Moonstar, is a Cheyenne Indian. Her psionic (mind) powers allow her to project illusions of a person’s worst fears. She’s a comic book favorite. She’s also had encounters with Hela, the villain from Thor: Ragnarok, which left her with magical abilities.
In the comics, Sunspot and Wolfsbane comprise the young side of The New Mutants. Sunspot’s a Brazilian 14-year-old who is basically a walking solar panel. He absorbs solar energy to charge his super-strength. Despite the name, Wolfsbane is a Scottish 13-year-old werewolf. She’s also religious and somewhat conflicted by her lycanthropic abilities.
The substitution of Magik for Karma adds a bit of intrigue, as Karma led The New Mutants at first. Fox switched in Magik due to the character’s lineage. She’s Illyana Rasputin, whom comic book fans know as the sister of Colossus, who had appeared in previous X-Men movies.
Her superpower involves magic and teleportation. In the comics, she didn’t appear until after Karma’s death. And that might tie into the film’s starting point…
The Story of The New Mutants
“This isn’t a hospital. It’s a haunted house!”
In producing The New Mutants, Fox executives could filter through 35+ years of backstory. Producers settled on an intriguing premise.
Teenage strangers arrive at a hospital. None of them remembers how they got there. A medical administrator brings the members to a group therapy session. This person’s goals are unclear beyond the fact that she wants to learn and understand each Mutant’s powers.
For their parts, The New Mutants experience disorientation and confusion over their new surroundings and the invasive tests performed on them. Eventually, all of the teen superheroes learn that they’re not at a hospital willingly.
Someone has trapped them at an abandoned medical facility where they’re the test subjects. They must learn to work together and combine their abilities to escape their captors.
I think you’ll agree that a good movie with that premise will do well. However, there’s another side to the story of The New Mutants, one filled with behind-the-scenes intrigue.
The Struggles with The New Mutants
Do you remember 2019’s Dark Phoenix? I ask sincerely because the X-Men movie bombed so completely that Disney wrote off $170 million in losses from it. Fox produced a nightmarishly terrible film, and Disney executives got stuck with it after the acquisition. To an extent, the same is true of The New Mutants. It’s developed a reputation as a troubled production. Let me explain why.
In 2014, Josh Boone was the hot name in Hollywood directing circles. His work on The Fault in Our Stars elevated his status. Boone hasn’t directed a film since then, and The New Mutants partially explains why. In 2015, he agreed to work on this comic book adaptation, which he envisioned as possessing a horror vibe. Filming began in 2017, yet here we are in 2020, still waiting for its release.
Fox had wanted a young adult (YA) movie from Boone akin to The Fault in Our Stars. They requested a cut along those lines. He preferred a more sinister tone. The director described A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors as a strong influence. There’s nothing teen rom-com about that.
For his part, Boone wanted to film scarier scenes. Fox executives struggled with his requests. For no apparent reason, they were selling the film as Breakfast Club meets X-Men. The studio scheduled reshoots, but that proved problematic due to the commitments of the cast members. So, the people in charge wanted the movie changed against the director’s wishes.
Disney’s Plan for The New Mutants
Meanwhile, Disney producers watched the original cut of the film and felt strongly that the project came with “limited box office potential.” The strange part for Hollywood is that Boone never got fired.
Generally, the director takes the fall in these situations. Either someone replaces them, or the studio lists Alan Smithee as the director. That hasn’t happened here.
The general consensus confirms that Boone’s behaved consistently the entire time. He created the movie that he had promised, and it tested very well. In fact, the reception to the first trailer was universally positive. Similarly, the pre-release tests for the film had scores that rivaled Deadpool’s lofty number!
Boone made a good movie, just not one that anybody knew how to market. Fox kicked the can down the road, gutlessly avoiding decisions on the project. When Disney got it, nobody quite knew what to do. Some speculated that the film would go straight to Hulu rather than receive a theatrical release. Then, something unexpected happened.
Joker became a billion-dollar blockbuster. Audiences demonstrated that they like the idea of edgy stories involving comic book characters. Several years after Josh Boone had the idea, Todd Phillips, the director of Joker, provided proof of concept that it could work.
Now, Disney’s reversed course a bit on The New Mutants. The movie will receive a theatrical release on April 3rd, presumably a full-scale one. While this title will have nothing to do with the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), a sequel might. That’s putting the cart before the horse, but the movie’s future looks brighter today than it did six months ago.
About the Cast
The cast for this movie could sell any film to the under-30 crowd. It’s a who’s who of rising Hollywood talents.
Maisie Williams became the scariest member of the Stark family on Game of Thrones. Here, she plays Wolfsbane. Charlie R. Heaton has stolen hearts as the quiet, noble older brother on Stranger Things. He plays Cannonball in this movie.
Anya Taylor-Joy has already turned heads with memorable performances in films like Vampire Academy, Thoroughbreds, Glass, and The Witch. She’s poised to have a massive year in 2020 thanks to her title role in Emma and her work as Magik in The New Mutants.
The other recognizable name in the cast is Alice Braga, the female lead in I Am Legend and star of USA Network’s Queen of the South. She’s the adult administrator/interrogator and presumed antagonist in the movie.
Meanwhile, Blu Hunt from The Originals will play Mirage. She’s legitimately Native American, which was critical to Boone. And Henry Zaga of Looking for Alaska and 13 Reasons Why portrays Sunspot.
As a final casting note, this film remained on the shelf for so long that it impacted the closing credits. Jon Hamm originally appeared in a post-credits scene where he revealed him as Mister Sinister, a long-time X-Men villain.
Since Fox changed plans, they subbed in Antonio Banderas to play a different character at the end. And there’s no guarantee that Disney even includes this post-credits scene now!
I’ve covered movies for more than 20 years. Based on my experience in the field, I would typically describe a film delayed this much as a certain dud. I could name many movies like The 13th Warrior, The Sin Eater/The Order, Take Me Home Tonight, Red Dawn (2012), and Case 39, none of which you know. They all sat on the shelf for years before eventually bombing out of theaters.
I’m not as pessimistic about The New Mutants, though. Horror movies tend to surprise at the box office, particularly good ones. The idea of a spooky comic book adaptation could work. Then again, if it fails, Disney just writes it off as the cost of doing business with the Fox acquisition.
At a minimum, I expect this film to develop a rabid fan-base. The pertinent question here is how large that fan-base is. The New Mutants will provide a substantial test for Disney’s marketing abilities. Josh Boone has developed an exciting movie that nobody knows how to sell. Did Joker show the way? We’ll find out soon.
Feature image rights: Marvel