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Episode 252 – The New Mutants (a Review)

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Episode 252 – The New Mutants (a Review)
The Infamous Podcast

 
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Can This be the End of the Fox X-Men Universe?

This week on the podcast, Brian and Darryl say goodbye to Chadwick Boseman, take a look at the High Republic Yoda, and talk about the latest Hollywood production shutdown. THEN, they share their thoughts with a review of the much delayed ’The New Mutants’.

News Bites

Chadwick Boseman Dies at 43
Star Wars: the High Republic: Meet Yoda
Robert Pattinson Tests Positive for Covid-19 and Production on THE BATMAN Has Halted
The Mandalorian: Season 2 Release Date Revealed

The New Mutants (2020)

Summary

Danielle “Dani” Moonstar, a young Cheyenne Native American, escapes the destruction of her reservation during a tornado. Dani’s father William hides her before an unseen entity kills him, leaving her the only survivor. After being knocked unconscious, Dani awakens in a hospital run by Dr. Cecilia Reyes. Reyes comforts Dani, telling her she is a mutant and advises her to remain in the hospital until she learns what her abilities are and controls them.

Cast

Maisie Williams as Rahne Sinclair/Wolfsbane
Anya Taylor-Joy as Illyana Rasputin/Magik
Colbi Gannett as Young Illyana Rasputin
Charlie Heaton as Sam Guthrie/Cannonball
Alice Braga as Dr. Cecilia Reyes
Blu Hunt as Danielle Moonstar/Mirage
Henry Zaga as Roberto da Costa/Sunspot
Adam Beach as William Lonestar
Thomas Kee as Thomas Guthrie
Happy Anderson as Rev. Craig Sinclair
Dustin Ceithamer as Smiling Man
Marilyn Manson as Voice of Smiling Man
Jacinto ‘SpiritWolf’ Vega as Frozen Cheyenne

Crew

Directed by
Josh Boone

Produced by
Karen Rosenfelt
Lauren Shuler Donner
Simon Kinberg
Screenplay by
Josh Boone
Knate Lee

Based on New Mutants by
Chris Claremont
Bob McLeod

Music by
Mark Snow

Cinematography
Peter Deming

Edited by
Matthew Rundell
Robb Sullivan
Andrew Buckland

Production Company
20th Century Studios
Marvel Entertainment
Genre Films
Sunswept Entertainment

Distributed by
20th Century Studios

Release Date
August 28, 2020 (United States)

Running time
94 minutes

Country
United States

Budget
$67 million

Box office
$9.9 million

Production

Development

After completing work on the 2014 film The Fault in Our Stars for 20th Century Fox, director Josh Boone created a comic book with his childhood best friend Knate Lee using panels from Chris Claremont and Bill Sienkiewicz’s New Mutants comics to illustrate what a potential film trilogy adapting those comics would be like. The pair had been fans of the characters growing up, with Boone calling the stories “really dark, interesting, and different from the typical X-Men stories that we had read”. Boone and Lee took the comic to Simon Kinberg, one of the producers of the X-Men film series, who “really liked it”. In May 2015, Fox finalized a deal to have Boone direct The New Mutants, from a script by himself and Lee, with Kinberg and Lauren Shuler Donner producing. The film was initially intended to expand the universe of the X-Men franchise and take place three years after X-Men: Apocalypse (2016). While working on the first draft of the script, Boone sent it and his ideas for the film to Sienkiewicz, who thought Boone “had it figured out” and was not just copying the comics.

Updating the status of the film in March 2016, Kinberg said that Boone and Lee were working on the script, and that, like Deadpool (2016), the film would be different from the core X-Men films, “maybe not as different as Deadpool, but it has its own unique, original voice to it”. Kinberg said that the film would have a young adult “vibe” and that there was potential for characters seen in previous films to appear, namely Warpath, Sunspot, and Professor X, who all have ties to the New Mutants in the comics. Also at that time, it was reported that Maisie Williams and Anya Taylor-Joy were being looked at to star in the film as Rahne Sinclair/Wolfsbane and Illyana Rasputin/Magik, respectively. The rest of the title team was expected to consist of the characters Sam Guthrie/Cannonball, Roberto da Costa/Sunspot, and Danielle Moonstar/Mirage. Sunspot previously appeared in X-Men: Days of Future Past, portrayed by Adan Canto, who was not confirmed to be returning for the new film.[20] James McAvoy, who portrayed Professor X in several previous X-Men films, was said to have a significant role in this one, alongside Alexandra Shipp, who was expected to reprise her role of Storm from X-Men: Apocalypse.

In May 2016, Kinberg confirmed that the script included Professor X, and stated his hope for filming to start at the beginning of 2017. By that August, the titular team’s roster had expanded to include the character Warlock, while Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber—who worked with Boone writing The Fault in Our Stars—were working on a new draft of the script while Boone and Lee were busy on another project. In November, the report of Williams and Taylor-Joy’s casting was believed to be accurate, and Nat Wolff was being looked at for the role of Cannonball after working with Boone on The Fault in Our Stars. The character Demon Bear was set as the film’s main antagonist, with the project aiming for more of a “‘Stephen King meets John Hughes’-style horror movie”. Boone soon noted that the Demon Bear was a very personal villain for him as a child, as he “was raised by very religious parents. They were Evangelical Southern Baptists and they believed in the rapture; they believed the devil was real; they believed in demons.”

Pre-production

The film entered pre-production in Boston, Massachusetts, in April 2017, in preparation for filming to begin in that city. Location scouting took place, including at Medfield State Hospital which was previously used as a filming location for Shutter Island (2010). Fox scheduled New Mutants for an April 13, 2018 release. Several weeks later, the studio officially announced the casting of Taylor-Joy and Williams and was “making serious efforts to find ethnically appropriate actors” for the rest of the cast, searching for South American and Native American actors to respectively play Sunspot and Moonstar. By then, McAvoy was no longer slated to appear in the film; Wolff was no longer in the running to portray Cannonball; and Karen Rosenfelt was producing alongside Kinberg, who ultimately spent much of production focused on making Dark Phoenix (2019).

At the end of May, Henry Zaga was expected to be cast as Sunspot, and Rosario Dawson—who also portrays the Marvel character Claire Temple across the various Marvel Netflix television series—was in talks to join the film as Cecilia Reyes, a mentor to the titular team. It was explained that McAvoy was no longer involved due to Professor X being written out of the script with further drafts, and Shipp’s Storm had likewise been written out of the film. Illyana’s brother Colossus, another character seen in previous X-Men films, also does not appear despite being included in early versions of the script, with Boone choosing to save him for future films. Boone confirmed the film would be “a full-fledged horror movie set within the X-Men universe. There are no costumes. There are no supervillains. We’re trying to do something very, very different.” He had previously said that he does not like horror films, except for “classic ones” such as The Exorcist (1973), Rosemary’s Baby (1968), and The Shining (1980), but was looking to “pioneer and champion doing prestige versions of horror films” based on his love for horror novels such as King’s works. At the end of the month, Charlie Heaton was in talks to portray Cannonball.

Zaga, Dawson, and Heaton were confirmed to have been cast at the start of June, and newcomer Blu Hunt was cast as Moonstar after an extensive and challenging international search that prioritized “ethnic authenticity”. The character was believed to be central to the Demon Bear storyline that the film focuses on. At the end of that month, Dawson exited the film, and Alice Braga was cast as Reyes in her place. The final shooting script for the film included contributions from Scott Frank, Josh Zetumer, Chad and Carey Hayes, Seth Grahame-Smith, Neustadter, and Weber, along with a six-person “writer’s room” that Fox hired to generate ideas for the film and also “tear apart the script and put it back together”. Throughout the development process on the film, the script evolved from the “full horror” film that Boone and Lee initially wanted to make, and which Fox was resistant to, to a compromise version without “excessive blood and scares” and more “young adult”-focused. Boone created storyboards with artist Ashley R. Guillory to plan out all of the shots before filming.

The casting of Henry Zaga as Roberto da Costa was met with some controversy. Zaga, while Brazilian in real life, portrays a character who in the comics is of Afro-Brazilian descent. Boone stated, “my goal was to cast a real Brazilian and I saw 300 of myself black, brown, lighter-skinned. I saw every shade of the sun. It was the same case with Blu Hunt…My goal was to find the best actor who, because they’ve done so little work, was at least the closest to kind of what I saw in my head for the character…maybe if Henry didn’t exist, I would have found somebody who was darker skinned who exemplified what I needed. But it was never about the color of their skin for me.” He added that he was not concerned with the real-life racism that existed in Brazil and that he wanted the character to be a positive representation of the nation.

Filming

Principal photography began on July 10, 2017, in Boston, under the working title Growing Pains. Peter Deming served as cinematographer for the film.[33] The majority of the film was shot on location at Medfield State Hospital, where Boone said every crew member had “weird things happen to them”. Boone wanted to use practical effects as much as possible to make the film feel like the horror movies that he grew up with. For example, he had actors push on sheets of spandex to create the effect of figures pushing through the walls of a room, a technique originated by Wes Craven. Ten percent of the film used green screen. On the film’s set, Boone explained that the script had been re-written following the failure of Apocalypse to be set during modern-day rather than in the 1980s, which is why Professor X and Storm were removed from the film’s story. Boone felt the film was not largely affected by this change since its confined location and lack of technology meant “it might as well be the 80s in terms of the setting. It didn’t change our story very much.”

Fox chairman and CEO Stacey Snider described the film’s setting as a Breakfast Club detention crossed with a Cuckoo’s Nest institution. She said the film was “a haunted-house movie with a bunch of hormonal teenagers. We haven’t seen a superhero movie whose genre is more like The Shining than ‘we’re teenagers let’s save the world.'” Boone was also influenced by A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987). He explained that Warlock had been deemed too expensive to portray on the film’s budget, but could appear in a sequel, and clarified that the Demon Bear would not be the main antagonist of the film, but would appear since the film was “very much inspired” by the comics in which that character is the main villain. Filming also took place in the Massachusetts towns of Millis, Lynn, and Weymouth, and ended on September 16, 2017. The film’s principal photography was described as “stressful” for Boone, who felt “a bit neutered” during the process due to having to tone down the film from his original “full horror” ideas.

Post-production

Initial cut

Boone and his regular editors Matthew Dunell and Robb Sullivan delivered a cut of the film to Fox that they were happy with, and it tested as well as initial screenings of Deadpool did. Three days of additional photography were planned to complete the “YA movie” that Boone, Lee, and Fox had agreed to make. However, following the successful release of the film It (2017), the studio cut the first trailer for The New Mutants to focus on the “scary elements from the film, essentially selling it as a straight-up horror movie”. This proved a success, and Fox decided to make the film more like Boone’s original vision rather than completing the version that they had been making during production.

Planned Reshoots

In January 2018, the film’s release date was pushed back to February 22, 2019. This allowed it to avoid Deadpool 2 (2018), which had just been moved to a date that would have had both films in theaters at the same time in certain markets. It also allowed time for the reshoots required to make the film more frightening. When asked about this delay the next month, Williams stated that there had been concerns during filming regarding the short turnaround from the end of photography to the previously set release date, especially with a number of visual effects still needed to finish the film, and so in her opinion, the delay was “for the better”. The additional photography was soon set for mid-2018. It was expected to include the addition of several new characters who would be appearing throughout the film rather than just making cameo appearances.

Fox again delayed the film’s release in March 2018, moving it away from the new February 2019 release date for Dark Phoenix to August 2, 2019; by then, the reshoots required for the film were believed to be more extensive than previously considered, with the studio now wanting at least half of the film to be reshot. The studio’s focus was on making the film as distinct from the other entries in the series as Deadpool and Logan (2017), while avoiding the film becoming a “flop” like Fantastic Four (2015) which went through similar production issues—industry insiders believed The New Mutants would not end up the same way due to Fox not blaming the issues on Boone as the studio did with Fantastic Four director Josh Trank, and also because the studio was allowing Boone to write and direct the reshoots in order to complete his original vision. In addition to the reshoots changing the tone of the film, they were also reportedly adjusting an antagonist subplot in the film: The New Mutants was originally going to feature the Essex Corporation, which was first teased at the end of X-Men: Apocalypse, leading to a post-credits scene featuring the surprise reveal of Jon Hamm as the villain Mister Sinister. However, Fox decided against doing this following the failure of Apocalypse and so the reshoots would include a new post-credits scene introducing Antonio Banderas as Sunspot’s father Emmanuel da Costa. Kinberg later denied that an actor was ever cast as Mister Sinister when he revealed that the character had been intended to be included in the canceled Gambit film.

Disney acquisition

Reshoots for the film were expected to begin by the end of September 2018, with Kinberg confirming that they were mostly focused on making the film more frightening after the positive response to the horror-inspired trailer. He added that “audiences really embraced the notion of a superhero movie or a comic book movie that was, in its core, a horror film”. Following the acquisition of Fox by Disney in March 2019, The Hollywood Reporter revealed that the planned reshoots had still not taken place and there were “none planned so far”. The report indicated that further movement on the film appeared to be dependent on Boone and that there was a chance the film may not be released per its Fox release schedule and could instead be released on Disney+ or Hulu, both streaming services owned by Disney. A month later at CinemaCon 2019, Disney confirmed that the film was still planned but indicated that its release date could be adjusted to better fit within Disney’s existing schedule. A month after that, the studio pushed the film’s release back to April 3, 2020, and the reshoots were set to take place later in 2019. Kinberg explained that the reshoots had taken so long to schedule because the creative team was still deciding what to reshoot, and because of difficulty finding time to get the cast together again due to their commitments to various television series.

In August 2019, Disney was said to be unimpressed with The New Mutants, believing it had “limited box office potential”. At the end of the month, this was reported to be the studio’s impression of the original cut of the film. Further work had been completed on the film since Disney acquired it to align the film with Boone’s original vision, and test screenings with these changes had been positive. In addition to making the film more frightening, these changes reportedly included removing connections to the X-Men films to give Disney’s Marvel Studios the option to retroactively include the film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). However, the film as released does make reference to the previous entries, with the inclusion of the Essex Corporation connecting the film to the post-credits scene of Apocalypse and Logan.[citation needed] Sienkiewicz confirmed in December that works on the film had been taking place and that, based on a new trailer he had seen, the style of Marvel Studios appeared to have had an impact on the tone of the film. At the end of the month, Boone said the latest version of the film followed his original vision, a comment that was interpreted by some to mean no reshoots had taken place. In January 2020, Disney’s official fan club website D23 described the film as a “new addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe”, a claim that was quickly picked up by fans and reporters. Soon after the claim was noticed, all mentions of the film were removed from the website. Disney later confirmed that this was an error and the film would not be part of the MCU.

Final cut

On March 7, 2020, Boone stated that the film was complete. Shortly after, he explained that work on the film had halted when Disney’s acquisition of Fox had begun and so no reshoots ever took place on the film, even standard pickups that had already been scheduled during initial production. At that time, around 75 percent of the film had been edited while much of the film’s visual effects were also not finished. By the time the acquisition was completed, Boone had moved on and was about to begin work on a new television series, The Stand, based on the Stephen King novel. Before he started production on that series, Disney asked Boone if he would return to finish the film. Dunell and Sullivan were committed to working on The Stand at that point and could not continue editing The New Mutants, so Boone brought on editor Andrew Buckland to help finish the film.

The work required to finish the film when Boone returned involved completing the visual effects and editing alongside co-writer Lee, which took several months. Reshoots for the film could have been scheduled at that point, but Boone found that the cast had aged too much since principal photography had taken place. He also felt it did not make sense to add the post-credit scenes of Banderas since it was unlikely that they would be able to make a sequel now that Disney owned the X-Men rights and was integrating the property into the MCU. Describing returning to the film after so long, Boone said, “we hadn’t seen it in a year. We did a bunch of things here and there that we hadn’t thought about or noticed a year before.” The visual effects that still needed to be finished included Illyana’s sorceress abilities, including her Soulsword that she materializes, as well as her dragon companion Lockheed. Visual effects for the film were provided by DNEG, Method Studios, and Moving Picture Company, with Olivier Dumont serving as VFX supervisor. After the film was completed, Boone reunited the cast for the first official screening in New York City, after which Williams stated, “The movie is exactly the movie we set out to make.”

Disney removed The New Mutants from its release schedule, along with several other films, on March 12, 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and was looking to reschedule the film’s release to a later 2020 date. On May 4, the film was automatically listed for home media pre-order on Amazon based on the film’s previous April 2020 release date. Amazon took the listing down hours later after it had been widely reported on. At that time, the film was still expected to receive a theatrical release rather than be released straight-to-streaming as other films had been during the pandemic. Shortly after, Disney scheduled the film for release on August 28, 2020.

Release

The New Mutants was released in the United States on August 28, 2020. It was originally set to be released on April 13, 2018, before being delayed to February 22, 2019, to avoid Deadpool 2, and then to August 2, 2019, to avoid Dark Phoenix. It was delayed to April 3, 2020, by Disney after that studio acquired Fox, and then removed from Disney’s schedule in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Disney rescheduled the film for August 28, 2020 two months later. The various delays have led to several online commentators referring to the film as “cursed” and lamenting its bad luck. Boone and the film’s cast acknowledged this curse during the 2020 Comic-Con@Home convention, which included a “cheeky teaser trailer” that recounted the film’s release dates and ended with a “Fingers Crossed” note beside the August 28 date. Boone also revealed the various contracts signed for the film guaranteed a theatrical release, preventing it from first being released on either Disney+ or Hulu.

Reception

Box office

As of August 30, 2020, The New Mutants has grossed $7 million in the United States, and $2.9 million in other territories, for a worldwide total of $9.9 million.

Originally tracking to debut to around $20 million in the United States before the pandemic, The New Mutants was projected to gross $5–10 million from 2,412 theaters in its opening weekend. The film made $3.1 million on its first day, including $750,000 from Thursday night previews. It went on to debut to $7 million, finishing first at the box office. With 62% of theaters in the country open (operating at 25-50% capacity), the audience was 66% male, with 61% being between 18 and 34.

Overseas, the film was released day-in-date with the U.S. in 10 countries and made $2.9 million over its first weekend, including $1.1 million in France, $500,000 in Spain, and $400,000 in Taiwan.

Critical response

On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 33% based on 52 reviews, with an average rating of 4.8/10. The website’s critics consensus reads, “Rendering a list of potentially explosive ingredients mostly inert, The New Mutants is a franchise spinoff that’s less than the sum of its super-powered parts.” On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 43 out of 100, based on 11 critics, indicating “mixed or average reviews”.

Writing for The Hollywood Reporter, Jordan Mintzer said, “Generic and, at its best, straining to be heartfelt, director Josh Boone’s adaptation of the Marvel spin-off comic series is a Marvel movie spinoff in its own right, making vague references to the X-Men franchise but attempting to stand on its own. Unfortunately, it rarely does, even if the film’s trio of young and tough female leads manages to give your typically male-dominated genre something of a feminine twist.” Peter Debruge of Variety said, “Despite all the meddling and interference the film reportedly went through, The New Mutants feels pretty coherent in the end. What it doesn’t achieve is a memorable personality of its own.”

Amy Nicholson of The New York Times wrote, “Directed in 2017 by Josh Boone… 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’s Barry Hertz gave the film 1.5 out of 4 stars, writing, “Instead of funneling 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.”

In the days leading up to the film’s release, several major publications, including RogerEbert.com, IndieWire, The A.V. Club, and The Boston Globe, refused to review the film, citing Disney’s lack of socially distanced press screenings or digital streaming links and noting that it was not safe to attend a traditional public screening due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The New Mutants comics co-creator, Bob McLeod, expressed his disappointment with the film for inaccurately depicting the characters, including whitewashing Roberto, who is dark-skinned in the comics. He also criticized the film for misspelling his name in the credits as “MacLeod”.

Future

Boone and Lee originally pitched the film to Kinberg as the first in a trilogy. In October 2017, Boone said that the characters Warlock and Karma would appear in the sequels.[35] In December, Boone and Lee revealed that they were interested in filming the first sequel in Brazil and that Sunspot’s father Emmanuel da Costa would play a role in the franchise. In March 2019, Disney officially acquired Fox and gained the film rights to several Marvel Comics characters for Marvel Studios, including the New Mutants. The Marvel-based films that Fox had been developing were placed “on hold”. In March 2020, Boone stated that while it was unlikely that a sequel to The New Mutants could be made now that X-Men characters were being integrated into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, he still hoped that the film would be successful enough to allow a sequel to be made. That August, Boone confirmed there were no plans to incorporate The New Mutants into the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Explaining his plans for the sequels, Boone said that he wanted each film in the trilogy to be a different kind of horror movie. The first film is a “‘rubber-reality’ supernatural horror movie”, the second film would have been an alien invasion film featuring Warlock, and the third film would have been an apocalyptic horror film inspired by the 1989 comic book crossover storyline “Inferno”. Boone confirmed that the second film would have been set in Brazil and included Antonio Banderas as Emmanuel da Costa. Karma was to be introduced as the villain of the sequel but would have joined the New Mutants by the end of the film alongside Warlock. Boone added that Emmanuel da Costa’s connections to the Hellfire Club would have been explored in the first sequel, and said the overall tone of that film would still have been inspired by Claremont and Sienkiewicz’s run. Boone had wanted Sacha Baron Cohen to portray Warlock through motion capture and had discussed the role with Cohen during production on the first film.

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