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A note regarding The New Mutants

This is the way the longest-running continuous superhero cinema franchise in history ends: With a bang and a whimper. Dark Phoenix was the bang. Now it’s finally time to talk about the whimper.

Back in May of 2014, two films were released within weeks of each other. One was X-Men: Days of Future Past, the triumphant return of Bryan Singer to his landmark franchise. This was a turning point in the film series, an effort at folding the X-Men: First Class offshoot into the established Singer film continuity by way of adapting a classic X-Men storyline. It came out to significant critical acclaim and a $746 million global box office take against a reported $200 million budget.

The other relevant film of that month was The Fault in Our Stars, a teen romantic dramedy starring Shailene Woodley against Ansel Elgort in his breakout role. This movie was also a huge critical and commercial hit, racking up $307 million worldwide against a reported $12 million budget.

Both of these films were such great successes for Fox that they immediately put Stars director Josh Boone onto an X-Men project. Specifically, this would be a new X-Men spinoff franchise focused on mutant teenagers. Thus, in May of 2015, The New Mutants was given the greenlight for a 2018 release.

Obviously, that didn’t happen. So, what gives?

From the very outset, The New Mutants was described as a “John Hughes” teenage drama, a “Shutter Island” style psychological thriller, (In fact, it was shot at Medfield State Hospital, where Shutter Island had been filmed.), and an old fashioned “Shining“-era horror film, all rolled into a superhero movie. Obviously, mashing so many genres together is extremely high-risk/high-reward, and it’s frightfully easy to get wrong without a frame of reference. At the time, Boone cited Nightmare on Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors as his frame of reference. That was before It: Chapter One came out, and everyone immediately scrambled to remake the film in Its image.

Problem: It Chapter One was released on September 8th of 2017. The New Mutants completed principal photography on September 16th of 2017. As you might imagine, this is where we start going downhill.

At the start of 2018, the film’s release was pushed back into 2019. What followed was a year of uncertainty, with conflicting reports as to whether or not there would be any reshoots. Perhaps most notably, the studio allegedly wanted to take this opportunity to re-center the movie around the nascent Anya Taylor-Joy, because of course this franchise needs one bankable star to overshadow the ensemble of the film’s namesake team. (see also: Hugh Jackman and Jennifer Lawrence.) In any case, Taylor-Joy reportedly balked at the notion of taking a month from her busy schedule to reshoot a movie she had already done.

Meanwhile, Fox was in a weird place, especially with regards to its Marvel properties. In the years that The New Mutants had been gestating, Logan and both Deadpool films had come out to booming success — both decidedly more mature R-rated films. This stands in glaring contrast to the underperforming X-Men: Apocalypse and the outright catastrophic Fantastic Four (2015). And of course that’s not even getting started on Bryan Singer himself, who (to put it mildly) fell from grace like a shit from Heaven.

Given what had been working and what hadn’t, it’s not clear where Fox was going and where The New Mutants would fit into their plans. Hell, we still didn’t know for certain where The New Mutants would fit into the timeline of the other X-Men films, or how they all might be connected. For all we knew, this film could’ve been its own continuity entirely.

Then came the earth-shattering news that Fox had gone up for sale.

We knew as early as July of 2018 that Disney was purchasing Fox. Of course everyone wanted to know what this meant for the future of Deadpool, Dark Phoenix, and The New Mutants.

In September of 2018 — when reshoots had initially been scheduled — Boone confirmed that the reshoots had been cancelled with no plans to reschedule. When the Disney/Fox merger had been completed in March of 2019, we received word that reshoots still hadn’t taken place, in large part because the teenaged cast had all gotten noticeably older in the interim. As the upcoming Fox movies got shuffled into the upcoming Disney releases, The New Mutants was delayed once again to April of 2020. In March of 2020, Josh Boone confirmed that the film had finally been completed, and without any reshoots.

Guess what else happened in March of 2020.

After months of news out of China regarding the novel coronavirus, COVID-19 mania was in full worldwide swing by March of 2020. Theaters everywhere were shut down and countless film releases — including, yes, The New Mutants — were delayed until further notice. Finally, two and a half years after the film was first supposed to release, it was announced that The New Mutants would hit theaters on August 28th of 2020.

Yes, you read that right. The movie will release in theaters. During a pandemic. When a movie theater is somewhere in between a sports arena and a “Chuck E. Cheese” on the list of places you shouldn’t be when a potentially fatal and highly contagious disease is running unchecked.

Disney had already dumped the godawful Artemis Fowl onto Disney+ when that movie release had been cancelled by COVID. They did the same for Mulan (2020), even adding a ridiculous and patently insulting $30 premium upcharge for that Disney+ viewing. So why the hell did Disney release The New Mutants into theaters at a time when most movie theaters are still shut down and borderline impossible to protect against the coronavirus? Why didn’t they release it straight to Disney+ like they have with other movies?

Well… they couldn’t.

For one thing, due to the conditions of the Disney/Fox merger, Disney is contractually obligated to give a theatrical release to every movie that Fox had in production or in post at the time of the merger. And we have to assume there’s some kind of time limit in place. For another thing, the merger had grandfathered in Fox’s premium cable commitments with HBO, meaning The New Mutants would have to stream on HBO Go or HBO Max before streaming anywhere else. And that’s not even getting started on the contract renegotiations that would have to take place with the entire cast and crew, which is far more time and money than anyone wants to spend on this.

So where does that leave The New Mutants? Rock bottom. Remember when I said Sonic the Hedgehog was rock bottom? No, my friends — this is what rock bottom looks like.

With the merger, whatever plans Fox might’ve had for the X-Men property are now null and void. The setting and timeline for The New Mutants have effectively ceased to exist. And even if that wasn’t an issue, Josh Boone has moved on to adapting “The Stand” for CBS and all of the actors have aged out by now. In short, this was a movie intended to be a franchise-starter, and — no matter how well this movie does or might have done — a sequel is literally impossible.

What’s worse, the movie was contractually forced into a theatrical release at a time when the USA is a global disgrace (we’re five percent of the worldwide population and a quarter of the world’s COVID-related deaths so far), completely and totally failing to contain this pandemic. The movie is only being screened in what few multiplexes are currently open, none of which (except maybe the last remaining drive-in theaters) are currently safe to attend.

And Disney has no reason to care. They spent no money or time on the film’s development or production, and thus have no reason to spend any time or money on the film’s promotion or refinement. They have no reason to try and make back the money they didn’t spend, especially because — again — there is absolutely zero chance that this movie will ever get a sequel or a franchise, no matter no well it does.

ROCK. FUCKING. BOTTOM.

Regardless of quality (or lack thereof), and no matter how well or poorly this movie does, it will never ever EVER get the franchise it was built for, much less the time and attention it needs from the studio or the filmmakers. That said, I have nothing against the film personally, and I’m open to the possibility that I may review it when it’s safe to do so.

In the meantime — I cannot possibly stress this enough — no movie is worth putting your life and your loved ones at risk. Yes, I know we’re all going stir-crazy. Yes, it sucks that cinema and art in general have taken a massive hit from the pandemic. Yes, I’m scared that my favorite theaters and multiplexes may not survive the lockdown, and my heart goes out to all those who may lose their jobs because of this. We care about all of that. The virus doesn’t.

When this movie didn’t make its first release date, it was destined to fail. And now, due to contractual obligations, there’s no way to watch it safely at any point in the immediate future.

In conclusion, there is literally no reason whatsoever to see this movie. So please stay away from the multiplexes, care for yourselves and your loved ones, and see what’s available on streaming.

(P.S. Movie Madness is a locally-owned shop here in Portland with a vast movie library and contactless curbside pickup. If you’ve got any similar movie stores or rental places in your area, and they’re open for contact-free service, please support them.)

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