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

This risotto is shmackin’, dude.

Stranger Things Season 4: Volume 1 (SPOILERS) I haven’t had cause, or the urge, to revisit earlier seasons of Stranger Things , but I’m fairly certain my (relatively) positive takes on the first two sequel seasons would adjust down somewhat if I did (a Soviet base under Hawkins? DUMB soft disclosure or not, it’s pretty dumb). In my Season Three review, I called the show “ Netflix’s best-packaged junk food. It knows not to outstay its welcome, doesn’t cause bloat and is disposable in mostly good ways ” I fairly certain the Duffer’s weren’t reading, but it’s as if they decided, as a rebuke, that bloat was the only way to go for Season Four. Hence episodes approaching (or exceeding) twice the standard length. So while the other points – that it wouldn’t stray from its cosy identity and seasons tend to merge in the memory – hold fast, you can feel the ambition of an expansive canvas faltering at the hurdle of Stranger Things ’ essential, curated, nostalgia-appeal inconsequentiality.

The Illumi-what-i?

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022) (SPOILERS) In which Sam Raimi proves that he can stand proudly with the best – or worst – of them as a good little foot soldier of the woke apocalypse. You’d expect the wilfully anarchic – and Republican – Raimi to choke on the woke, but instead, he’s sucked it up, grinned and bore it. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is so slavishly a production-line Marvel movie, both in plotting and character, and in nu-Feige progressive sensibilities, there was no chance of Sam staggering out from beneath its suffocating demands with anything more than a few scraps of stylistic flourish intact.

Is this supposed to be me? It’s grotesque.

The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent (2022) (SPOILERS) I didn’t hold out much hope for The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent being more than moderately tolerable. Not so much because its relatively untested director and his co-writer are mostly known in the TV sphere (and not so much for anything anyone is raving about). Although, it has to be admitted, the finished movie flourishes a degree of digital flatness typical of small-screen productions (it’s fine, but nothing more). Rather, due to the already over-tapped meta-strain of celebs showing they’re good sports about themselves. When Spike Jonze did it with John Malkovich, it was weird and different. By the time we had JCVD , not so much. And both of them are pre-dated by Arnie in Last Action Hero (“ You brought me nothing but pain ” he is told by Jack Slater). Plus, it isn’t as if Tom Gormican and Kevin Etten have much in the way of an angle on Nic; the movie’s basically there to glorify “him”, give or take a few foibles, do

What’s so bad about being small? You’re not going to be small forever.

Innerspace (1987) There’s no doubt that Innerspace is a flawed movie. Joe Dante finds himself pulling in different directions, his instincts for comic subversion tempered by the need to play the romance plot straight. He tacitly acknowledges this on the DVD commentary for the film, where he notes Pauline Kael’s criticism that he was attempting to make a mainstream movie; and he was. But, as ever with Dante, it never quite turns out that way. Whereas his kids’ movies treat their protagonists earnestly, this doesn’t come so naturally with adults. I’m a bona fide devotee of Innerspace , but I can’t help but be conscious of its problems. For the most part Dante papers over the cracks; the movie hits certain keynotes of standard Hollywood prescription scripting. But his sensibility inevitably suffuses it. That, and human cartoon Martin Short (an ideal “leading man” for the director) ensure what is, at first glance just another “ Steven Spielberg Presents ” sci-fi/fantas

Whacking. I'm hell at whacking.

Witness (1985) (SPOILERS) Witness saw the advent of a relatively brief period – just over half a decade –during which Harrison Ford was willing to use his star power in an attempt to branch out. The results were mixed, and abruptly concluded when his typically too late to go where Daniel Day Lewis, Dustin Hoffman and Robert De Niro had gone before (with at bare minimum Oscar-nominated results) – but not “ full retard ” – ended in derision with Regarding Henry . He retreated to the world of Tom Clancy, and it’s the point where his cachet began to crumble. There had always been a stolid quality beneath even his more colourful characters, but now it came to the fore. You can see something of that as John Book in Witness – despite his sole Oscar nom, it might be one of Ford’s least interesting performances of the 80s – but it scarcely matters, or that the screenplay (which won) is by turns nostalgic, reactionary, wistful and formulaic, as director Peter Weir, in his Hollywood debu

Twenty dwarves took turns doing handstands on the carpet.

Bugsy (1991) (SPOILERS) Bugsy is very much a Warren Beatty vanity project (aren’t they all, even the ones that don’t seem that way on the surface?), to the extent of his playing a title character a decade and a half younger than him. As such, it makes sense that producer Warren’s choice of director wouldn’t be inclined to overshadow star Warren, but the effect is to end up with a movie that, for all its considerable merits (including a script from James Toback chock full of incident), never really feels quite focussed, that it’s destined to lead anywhere, even if we know where it’s going.

All the world will be your enemy, Prince with a Thousand Enemies.

Watership Down (1978) (SPOILERS) I only read Watership Down recently, despite having loved the film from the first, and I was immediately impressed with how faithful, albeit inevitably compacted, Martin Rosen’s adaptation is. It manages to translate the lyrical, mythic and metaphysical qualities of Richard Adams’ novel without succumbing to dumbing down or the urge to cater for a broader or younger audience. It may be true that parents are the ones who get most concerned over the more disturbing elements of the picture but, given the maturity of the content, it remains a surprise that, as with 2001: A Space Odyssey (which may on the face of it seem like an odd bedfellow), this doesn’t garner a PG certificate. As the makers noted, Watership Down is at least in part an Exodus story, but the biblical implications extend beyond Hazel merely leading his fluffle to the titular promised land. There is a prevalent spiritual dimension to this rabbit universe, one very much

Haven’t you ever heard of the healing power of laughter?

Batman (1989) (SPOILERS) There’s Jaws , there’s Star Wars , and then there’s Batman in terms of defining the modern blockbuster. Jaws ’ success was so profound, it changed the way movies were made and marketed. Batman’s marketing was so profound, it changed the way tentpoles would be perceived: as cash cows. Disney tried to reproduce the effect the following year with Dick Tracy , to markedly less enthusiastic response. None of this places Batman in the company of Jaws as a classic movie sold well, far from it. It just so happened to hit the spot. As Tim Burton put it, it was “ more of a cultural phenomenon than a great movie ”. It’s difficult to disagree with his verdict that the finished product (for that is what it is) is “ mainly boring ”. Now, of course, the Burton bat has been usurped by the Nolan incarnation (and soon the Snyder). They have some things in common. Both take the character seriously and favour a sombre tone, which was much more of shock to the

Get away from my burro!

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948) (SPOILERS) The Treasure of the Sierra Madre is beloved by so many of the cinematic firmament’s luminaries – Stanley Kubrick, Sam Raimi, , Paul Thomas Anderson and who knows maybe also WS, Vince Gilligan, Spike Lee, Daniel Day Lewis; Oliver Stone was going to remake it – not to mention those anteriorly influential Stone Roses, that it seems foolhardy to suggest it isn’t quite all that. There’s no faulting the performances – a career best Humphrey Bogart, with director John Huston’s dad Walter stealing the movie from under him – but the greed-is-bad theme is laid on a little thick, just in case you were a bit too dim to get it yourself the first time, and Huston’s direction may be right there were it counts for the dramatics, but it’s a little too relaxed when it comes to showing the seams between Mexican location and studio.

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls… dyin’ time’s here!

Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985) Time was kind to Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome . As in, it was such a long time since I’d seen the “final chapter” of the trilogy, it had dwindled in my memory to the status of an “alright but not great” sequel. I’d half-expected to have positive things to say along the lines of it being misunderstood, or being able to see what it was trying for but perhaps failing to quite achieve. Instead, I re-discovered a massive turkey that is really a Mad Max movie in name only (appropriately, since Max was an afterthought). This is the kind of picture fans of beloved series tend to loathe; when a favourite character returns but without the qualities or tone that made them adored in the first place (see Indiana Jones in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull , or John McClane in the last two Die Hard s). Thunderdome stinks even more than the methane fuelling Bartertown. I hadn’t been aware of the origins of Thunderdome until recently, mainly because I was