Skip to main content

Yeah, it’s just, why would we wannabe be X-Men?

The New Mutants
(2020)

(SPOILERS) I feel a little sorry for The New Mutants. It’s far from a great movie, but Josh Boone at least has a clear vision for that far-from-great movie. Its major problem is that it’s so overwhelmingly familiar and derivative. For an X-Men movie, it’s a different spin, but in all other respects it’s wearisomely old hat.

Boone scored good notices – and a huge hit – with A Fault in Our Stars, so it was unsurprising Fox, even with their by then renowned lack of business acumen and management skills, should have been keen to see what he could offer the X-Men brand, the one they kind of/ sort of were embarrassed by but also wanted to hold onto as their foot in the massively-popular-if-you-cared-enough-to-do-it-right superhero genre. This had already entailed retaining Bryan Singer’s bondage gear vision for the characters and allowing novice director Simon Kinberg to helm a megabucks entry. It’s almost as if they wanted the franchise left in the worst possible bargaining position for the Disney buyout.

The New Mutants had wrapped by mid-September 2017. Since then, various stages of retooling through planned reshoots to up the horror ante came and failed to materialise (Fox saw It and decided it wanted some of that, or It), and then the Disney purchase of Fox happened. By the time Boone could have done the basic planned pickups and tweaks, the cast had aged too much for it to makes sense (Maisie Williams, in particular, looks much younger than her last couple of Game of Thrones appearances, or her risible Doctor Who one, for that matter).

The setup here has been described as The Breakfast Club meets One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, but obviously with an X-Men spin, and that’s pretty much accurate. It’s evident from the opening scene, in which Blue Hunt’s Dani/Mirage is hidden by her father as their reservation is torn apart by a tornado, that she is responsible. Soon, the other patients at her hospital facility – Rahne/Wolfsbane (Williams), Illyana/Magik (Anya Taylor-Joy), Sam/Cannonball (Charlie Heaton) and Bobby/Sunspot (Henry Zaga) – are experiencing strange and spooky happenings in relation to their deepest fears, and no one is going to be surprised that it’s down to Dani. There’s also the little spin that Alice Braga’s Dr Reyes is in charge and working for the Essex Corporation in order to use these mutants as assassins (all very MkUltra, a de rigueur and now thoroughly naturalised trope).

We’ve seen enough variants of “You are the cause of it all” twists in recent years (in different forms in The Ward, Shutter Island and You Should Have Left). That might not have mattered too much if the rest of the movie were sufficiently interesting; Boone commendably generates a strong atmosphere and “character” for his environment but little else. It doesn’t help any having Buffy repeatedly checked as an influence on the TV, such that Dani and Rahne’s furtive love interest reflects Willow and Tara, while the Smiling Men match up to Hush’s Gentlemen (and just as Buffy now has a Whedon-sized shadow cast over it, the Smiling Men can boast a Marilyn Manson-voiced black spot). Taylor-Joy is essentially the Judd Nelson character from The Breakfast Club. Characters revealing their secrets/powers follow much the same principles as John Hughes’ movie.

To find positives, though: Heaton and Taylor-Joy show the kind of chops you’ve seen in previous/later appearances. Williams is surprisingly strong, given some of her non-GoT work, and certainly much better cast than her GoT co-star was in Dark Phoenix. Hunt is rather tepid, but that is in keeping with Dani herself. I liked the transformation of Illyana’s glove puppet into a real (well, CGI) dragon when she travels to limbo. Most of the effects are fairly standard issue, but a demon bear is at least an atypical adversary (outside of that Frankenheimer movie, anyway). Braga does her best with a fairly thankless role. Cinematographer Peter Deming is well versed in the horror genre, so it all looks good (even if there’s rather too much of that de rigueur green). And Mark Snow knows his spooky scoring, obviously.

I’d like to like this more, then. It’s much better made and performed than either Dark Phoenix or Apocalypse, but it’s fatally crippled by the rote storyline. Boone’s recent TV adaptation of The Stand has also met with less than adulatory responses, so those initial plaudits look to have been rather undone at this point. There was room for a horror-tinged take on the X-Men universe, I think, and it didn’t seem antithetical to the entire ethos of its brand the way Josh Trank’s Fantastic Four did (although, I felt that movie was as pilloried way beyond its flaws). The New Mutants is destined to be (un)remembered as the undistinguished footnote of the Fox X-Men run, but better it ended here, trying something less predictable within the absorbed studio’s hit-and-miss cash grabs, than the second go round of a done storyline that was Dark Phoenix.


Popular posts from this blog

I’m smarter than a beaver.

Prey (2022) (SPOILERS) If nothing else, I have to respect Dan Trachtenberg’s cynical pragmatism. How do I not only get a project off the ground, but fast-tracked as well? I know, a woke Predator movie! Woke Disney won’t be able to resist! And so, it comes to pass. Luckily for Prey , it gets to bypass cinemas and so the same sorry fate of Lightyear . Less fortunately, it’s a patience-testing snook cocking at historicity (or at least, assumed historicity), in which a young, pint-sized Comanche girl who wishes to hunt and fish – and doubtless shoot to boot – with the big boys gets to take on a Predator and make mincemeat of him. Well, of course , she does. She’s a girl, innit?

Just because you are a character doesn't mean that you have character.

Pulp Fiction (1994) (SPOILERS) From a UK perspective, Pulp Fiction ’s success seemed like a fait accompli; Reservoir Dogs had gone beyond the mere cult item it was Stateside and impacted mainstream culture itself (hard to believe now that it was once banned on home video); it was a case of Tarantino filling a gap in the market no one knew was there until he drew attention to it (and which quickly became over-saturated with pale imitators subsequently). Where his debut was a grower, Pulp Fiction hit the ground running, an instant critical and commercial success (it won the Palme d’Or four months before its release), only made cooler by being robbed of the Best Picture Oscar by Forrest Gump . And unlike some famously-cited should-have-beens, Tarantino’s masterpiece really did deserve it.

I’m the famous comedian, Arnold Braunschweiger.

Last Action Hero (1993) (SPOILERS) Make no mistake, Last Action Hero is a mess. But even as a mess, it might be more interesting than any other movie Arnie made during that decade, perhaps even in his entire career. Hellzapoppin’ (after the 1941 picture, itself based on a Broadway revue) has virtually become an adjective to describe films that comment upon their own artifice, break the fourth wall, and generally disrespect the convention of suspending disbelief in the fictions we see parading across the screen. It was fairly audacious, some would say foolish, of Arnie to attempt something of that nature at this point in his career, which was at its peak, rather than playing it safe. That he stumbled profoundly, emphatically so since he went up against the behemoth that is Jurassic Park (slotted in after the fact to open first), should not blind one to the considerable merits of his ultimate, and final, really, attempt to experiment with the limits of his screen persona.

Death to Bill and Ted!

Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey (1991) (SPOILERS) The game of how few sequels are actually better than the original is so well worn, it was old when Scream 2 made a major meta thing out of it (and it wasn’t). Bill & Ted Go to Hell , as Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey was originally called, is one such, not that Excellent Adventure is anything to be sneezed at, but this one’s more confident, even more playful, more assured and more smartly stupid. And in Peter Hewitt it has a director with a much more overt and fittingly cartoonish style than the amiably pedestrian Stephen Herrick. Evil Bill : First, we totally kill Bill and Ted. Evil Ted : Then we take over their lives. My recollection of the picture’s general consensus was that it surpassed the sleeper hit original, but Rotten Tomatoes’ review aggregator suggests a less universal response. And, while it didn’t rock any oceans at the box office, Bogus Journey and Point Break did quite nicely for Keanu Reev

If you ride like lightning, you're going to crash like thunder.

The Place Beyond the Pines (2012) (SPOILERS) There’s something daringly perverse about the attempt to weave a serious-minded, generation-spanning saga from the hare-brained premise of The Place Beyond the Pines . When he learns he is a daddy, a fairground stunt biker turns bank robber in order to provide for his family. It’s the kind of “only-in-Hollywood” fantasy premise you might expect from a system that unleashed Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man and Point Break on the world. But this is an indie-minded movie from the director of the acclaimed Blue Valentine ; it demands respect and earnest appraisal. Unfortunately it never recovers from the abject silliness of the set-up. The picture is littered with piecemeal characters and scenarios. There’s a hope that maybe the big themes will even out the rocky terrain but in the end it’s because of this overreaching ambition that the film ends up so undernourished. The inspiration for the movie

This entire edifice you see around you, built on jute.

Jeeves and Wooster 3.3: Cyril and the Broadway Musical  (aka Introduction on Broadway) Well, that’s a relief. After a couple of middling episodes, the third season bounces right back, and that's despite Bertie continuing his transatlantic trip. Clive Exton once again plunders  Carry On, Jeeves  but this time blends it with a tale from  The Inimitable Jeeves  for the brightest spots, as Cyril Basington-Basington (a sublimely drippy Nicholas Hewetson) pursues his stage career against Aunt Agatha's wishes.

Poetry in translation is like taking a shower with a raincoat on.

Paterson (2016) (SPOILERS) Spoiling a movie where nothing much happens is difficult, but I tend to put the tag on in a cautionary sense much of the time. Paterson is Jim Jarmusch at his most inert and ambient but also his most rewardingly meditative. Paterson (Adam Driver), a bus driver and modest poet living in Paterson, New Jersey, is a stoic in a fundamental sense, and if he has a character arc of any description, which he doesn’t really, it’s the realisation that is what he is. Jarmusch’s picture is absent major conflict or drama; the most significant episodes feature Paterson’s bus breaking down, the English bull terrier Marvin – whom Paterson doesn’t care for but girlfriend Laura (Golshifteh Farahani) dotes on – destroying his book of poetry, and an altercation at the local bar involving a gun that turns out to be a water pistol. And Paterson takes it all in his stride, genial to the last, even the ruination of his most earnest, devoted work (the only disappoint

Everyone creates the thing they dread.

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) (SPOILERS) Avengers: Age of Ultron ’s problem isn’t one of lack. It benefits from a solid central plot. It features a host of standout scenes and set pieces. It hands (most of) its characters strong defining moments. It doesn’t even suffer now the “wow” factor of seeing the team together for the first time has subsided. Its problem is that it’s too encumbered. Maybe its asking to much of a director to effectively martial the many different elements required by an ensemble superhero movie such as this, yet Joss Whedon’s predecessor feels positively lean in comparison. Part of this is simply down to the demands of the vaster Marvel franchise machine. Seeds are laid for Captain America: Civil War , Infinity Wars I & II , Black Panther and Thor: Ragnarok . It feels like several spinning plates too many. Such activity occasionally became over-intrusive on previous occasions ( Iron Man II ), but there are points in Age of Ultron whe

I think it’s pretty clear whose side the Lord’s on, Barrington.

Monte Carlo or Bust aka  Those Daring Young Men in Their Jaunty Jalopies (1969) (SPOILERS) Ken Annakin’s semi-sequel to Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines tends to be rather maligned, usually compared negatively to its more famous predecessor. Which makes me rather wonder if those expressing said opinion have ever taken the time to scrutinise them side by side. Or watch them back to back (which would be more sensible). Because Monte Carlo or Bust is by far the superior movie. Indeed, for all its imperfections and foibles (not least a performance from Tony Curtis requiring a taste for comic ham), I adore it. It’s probably the best wacky race movie there is, simply because each set of competitors, shamelessly exemplifying a different national stereotype (albeit there are two pairs of Brits, and a damsel in distress), are vibrant and cartoonish in the best sense. Albeit, it has to be admitted that, as far as said stereotypes go, Annakin’s home side win

Your Mickey Mouse is one big stupid dope!

Enemy Mine (1985) (SPOILERS) The essential dynamic of Enemy Mine – sworn enemies overcome their differences to become firm friends – was a well-ploughed one when it was made, such that it led to TV Tropes assuming, since edited, that it took its title from an existing phrase (Barry Longyear, author of the 1979 novella, made it up, inspired by the 1961 David Niven film The Best of Enemies ). The Film Yearbook Volume 5 opined that that Wolfgang Petersen’s picture “ lacks the gritty sauciness of Hell in the Pacific”; John Boorman’s WWII film stranded Lee Marvin and Toshiro Mifune on a desert island and had them first duking it out before becoming reluctant bedfellows. Perhaps germanely, both movies were box office flops.