The New Mutants: A Slow Review

So, I saw The New Mutants; a movie that’s been a long time coming. It’s been touted as a horror movie take on the superhero genre; it’s a good idea, but I’m not sure I think they really pulled it off. It definitely gets a lot of its cues from the genre, but it never quite dives full-on into horror. The characters do spend a lot of time scared, but perhaps not the audience.

There’s a theme of the unreal being made real, which manifests with the characters’ fears. I’ll give it that; but for a movie with a werewolf, a witch (with a sword), and experiments on kids… I think it could be scarier.

Definitely going for horror here.

They’ve changed the team’s origin a little; it’s informed by the horror genre, becoming much more sinister than the comic book version, but still doesn’t quite go over the edge into said genre.

All together, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing; a full-on horror take could’ve been interesting, but this pseudo-horror take still isn’t bad.

The main theme seems to be sexuality; I’m not sure how appropriate that is, given the ages of the characters (only one of them – Sam – doesn’t have a story-arc that’s based on sex). In one scene, one of the teens admits to masturbating; and the film-makers could’ve chosen anything else. They also have Rahne and Dani talking in the shower together – they didn’t need to film it there. It’s either shot from the back, or from the neck up (this is definitely not porn), but it’s not necessary. They justify it by saying that this is the only place where they aren’t bugged – then a few scenes later, we see the kids gathering in an attic because it isn’t bugged. Dani also sees a brand on Rahne’s shoulder; which could’ve been handled outside of the shower stall, wrapped in towels.

This is so gratuitous, it comes across more as an attempt to titillate than to discuss these issues.

But I nitpick.

Speaking of Rahne, and sexuality… She’s kind of one of Marvel’s token Christian characters (‘Christian’ being synonymous with ‘Catholic’ to Marvel), and that maybe might be carries over to the movie. It’s not clear.

There are basically two ways I see the topic of Christians and sexuality handled in popular media: Type 1: completely repressed, probably abused, and don’t even know what sex is. Type 2: they’re promiscuous, and give the concept of sex, even outside of marriage, no more thought than the secular world does. As if Hollywood and comics writers have such a lack of diversity of thought, they can’t even imagine that there are people who might make an informed (though not experienced) choice to not have it, or to wait for marriage. You either fully embrace it, or you shun and fear it, and it sneaks up on you and you get teen pregnant. Sorry… This has long been a bugbear of mine.

Rahne in the comics is Type 1. The way Rahne launches immediately into a relationship with Dani in the movie puts her firmly in Type 2. Neither shows Christians as I know us, and I find both alienating as a reader / viewer. Oh, and she retains her horribly-stereotyped abusive upbringing from the comics – though movie Reverend Craig looks nothing like comics Reverend Craig. (He’s a fat cardinal. No, not the bird.)

My point here is not to say ‘how dare a modern movie / comic not show Christian sexual morality!’; don’t worry, I’ve watched pop culture, I know better. No, it’s to say ‘if you ever want me to finally shut up about poor representation, you’re going to have to do better than this; because Type 1 is a complete mockery of me and my beliefs, and Type 2 shows you haven’t bothered with even the most basic research’. That’s all I’m really trying to say here.

The movie might be a bit better if you don’t know the comics. That’s not a dis; it’s just, they make a big mystery out of Dani’s powers, but since I walked in knowing what they were, it wasn’t much of a mystery.

The choice of characters is almost straight out of the original graphic novel. Apart from swapping out X’ian for Illyana, it’s the same team. I’m not sure I’ve seen one that close since The Fantastic Four; and they’re set in stone (especially Ben).

The actors are mostly good matches for their comics counterparts; their Sam isn’t quite lanky enough:

He hicks well.

and their Roberto needs to be a bit younger, a lot darker, and much, much less like Freddie Mercury.

Roberto as he is in the comics.
This is movie Roberto during an exposition scene.
Roberto prepares to sing Bohemian Rhapsody… wait…

Illyana, though she looks the part, is one of those really nasty people who’s always trying to tear people down, that Hollywood seems to think are so cool.

Their powers aren’t exactly faithful, though; they tend to end up like they were in the (early) comics, but they start off all wrong. Roberto, for example, has Rusty Collins’s exact origin, making him more of a fire guy than a brick. It’s never made clear if Sam is invulnerable while blasting, and indeed it’s strongly implied to be the opposite. Until he needs to be invulnerable for story purposes.

Oh, and Rahne looks to me more like a German shepherd than a wolf (she’s paler and has very patchy colours). But I honestly have trouble knowing what the visual difference is.

Rahne in the comics; a solid brown wolf.

There’s a character who, on first appearance, is so different from the comics I didn’t even know who it was – but I figured it out before the name was given. This character has a dramatic change of nature in the climax of the movie that needs explanation. It was cool, but entirely unexplained. (If you’ve seen the movie, you know what I’m talking about; if not, it’s a spoiler.)

Speaking of how things look, when it opened, my first thought was ‘that’s a really Sienkiewicz logo!’ According to the credits, they actually got him in to make it.

The movie logo, by Sienkiewicz.

There are villains who are based on The Gentlemen from Buffy.

The Gentlemen from Buffy. Based on The Joker and Mr. Burns, among others.
They look more like the Gentlemen in the movie, I swear!; the way they move, for one thing.

Lest you think I’m being too loose with my reference pool, lest you’re thinking ‘that could be anything! They look like the Slender Man!’, they actually show a clip from Hush (the Buffy episode with The Gentlemen in it) shortly before a bunch of the smiley characters appear. (The kids like watching Buffy out of order.)

I haven’t read the original Demon Bear Saga, but I’m pretty sure they changed it for this. The change works, but it’s pretty big if my understanding of the original is correct.

Overall, this was an enjoyable movie, but the way it uses teens for sexual titillation means I won’t be adding it to my collection.

17 Comments

  1. I’m pretty sure Rahne has always been some offshoot of Presbyterian, not Catholic, but yeah, Hollywood always wants to go to Catholic for anything involving abusing children.

    I saw New Mutants recently as well, but didn’t really think it was worth a review; my response was “meh.” They lean hard into creating a sinister organization, the Essex Foundation, to be behind everything, but never go beyond the name; there was no real explanation of who they are or what they want apart from creating an army of mutant operatives for their sinister plans, and no real resolution to the threat, nor any indication that the threat remains. Only people who really paid attention to the X-Men films would realize that it had been mentioned before, and only comics fans would recognize that it ties into one of the worst and stupidest villains ever to appear in a comic, Mister Sinister. A character that looks and sounds like it was created by a 12-year-old. Thank God the X-franchise ended before they could ever bring that mess to the screen.

    But anyway, that whole subplot just gets derailed by the Demon Bear plot.

    I thought Maisie Williams and Charlie Heaton were well-cast, Illyana was mostly annoying and trying too hard to be snotgirl, and by barely mentioning her back-story of spending several years trapped in Limbo, her powers are primarily just eye-candy to make young viewers say “oh, KEWL!” I hated that they gave Lockheed to her, and really hated the puppet conceit.

    Dani comes off as weak and fearful instead of awesome, and the sinister doctor is just tedious. Again, only hardcore longtime comic fans would have the slightest idea who she’s supposed to be and why any of it might matter.

    There are a couple of easter egg references to the X-Men, but they amount to nothing. As does basically the entire movie. It’s the two-hour equivalent of a shrug.

    And yes, the romance between Dani and Rahne was trite, glib, and felt gratuitous, not least because Rahne, despite her oppressed church background and being literally branded a witch, has absolutely no hesitation or compunctions about something she was no doubt raised to believe was a mortal sin, possibly even more so than being a werewolf.

    I didn’t have any objection to it on moral grounds, since movies usually show people doing things I might find objectionable, but I recognize that people do make those choices. Complaining about a lesbian relationship in a film is like a vegan complaining that a character ate a hamburger onscreen. In the real world, real people are gay sometimes, and there’s no point in pretending otherwise.

    My objection was that I didn’t believe it. There was no chemistry between them, and it almost seemed like they were just imitating the episode of Buffy they had just watched. If there had been some indication of Rahne’s struggle with her upbringing, or Dani being excited or confused or, well, anything, about her attraction to Rahne, some emotion, any emotion, the romance might have worked. It didn’t.

    This is not a movie anyone is going to buy and watch over again.

    1. Le Messor

      I’m pretty sure Rahne has always been some offshoot of Presbyterian, not Catholic

      Come to think of it, I think you’re right – but she comes across to me as written Catholic and labelled Presbyterian, so I forgot. In the movie, it’s definitely Catholic.

      A character that looks and sounds like it was created by a 12-year-old.
      Is this a reference to Claremont’s original plans for the character?

      It’s the two-hour equivalent of a shrug.
      😀 That’s a great line!

      My objection was that I didn’t believe it.
      Mine, too – that and it felt more like it was done for the viewer or voyeur than for the characters.

  2. JHL

    I was raised Catholic and went to a Catholic school until High School. And comics Rahne always read as Catholic to me. Though Catholics (like members of most any belief system) are far less monolithic in their beliefs and attitudes than outsiders often suspect. But official Catholic doctrine is historically rigid and strict, and while my family was quite liberal and well ahead of the curve on acceptance, I certainly knew kids that were raised in cruel and oppressive households far too like what has been depicted in comic’s Rahne’s back story.

    Her being Irish and one side of my family being Irish Catholic also probably factored into my perception.

    1. Le Messor

      It often looks to me like outsiders have only seen the Catholic side of Christianity, and they don’t really get the differences that exist between other versions.

      And it sucks some of the things that have been done in the name of any form of Christianity. 🙁 🙁

      1. Le Messor

        Good point!
        But creators aren’t great with nationalities, either. They can’t tell Australian from English, let alone different parts of the UK.

        That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

        (Okay, it’s been a while since I’ve read the comics.)

          1. Le Messor

            Wow. I really never knew he was English! Why didn’t I know that? I actually met him once!
            (Lack of basic of research.)

            I don’t blame Claremont for this, so much as those who’ve followed him; people who don’t know the difference writing his characters.

  3. Can we pass a moratorium on that trite cliche of fake Native American “wisdom” about the two wolves or bears or aardvarks fighting inside you?

    When they did it at the beginning, I rolled my eyes. When they repeated it again at the end, I actually said “you have to be f***ing kidding me!”

    Please, future filmmakers, don’t do this!

    1. Le Messor

      An around-the-world eyeroll? That’s gotta be a new record!

      The guy I was watching with said that the ‘two wolves’ story is the new ‘scorpion and frog’ story. I think he’s right. :/

      As the meme says:
      “Inside you there are two wolves. Maybe you should see a doctor. The recommended number of wolves inside you is zero.”

  4. Speaking of getting Aussie/Scots/English right, there’s an issue of Astro City in which the Aussie superhero Wolf Spider reveals his inspiration was a 1980s syndicated toy cartoon. Like Byrne’s original concept for Alpha Flight, each of the members (Numbat, Banana Blender, etc.) represent a different part of the country; the text pages in the TPB mentions that as the artist was Australian the story incorporates Australian stereotypes and cliches about the various sections rather than American ones.

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