“You couldn’t pay me to go to a movie theatre right now.”
We remember uttering this once or twice earlier in the pandemic, but it was an empty sentiment anyway. For much of the epidemic, Hollywood basically shut down, and the theaters themselves have been closed, with some of them exploring other options such as drive-ins. Durango’s Stadium 9 opened briefly toward the end of June, showing older movies, but audiences didn’t turn out and they re-closed.
Starting Aug. 28, though, theaters reopened with new movies, including “The New Mutants” — a movie we’ve been waiting to see for much longer than COVID-19 has put new movies on hold.
The first trailer for “The New Mutants” dropped on October 13, 2017, and made it seem like a straight-up horror movie set within the universe of the X-Men films, something different within the superhero genre. It looked not unlike a Wes Craven “Nightmare on Elm Street”-type film and was originally supposed to come out in April 2018.
The completed movie that 20th Century Fox was holding onto at the time, however, was not a horror movie. Director Josh Boone’s original vision for the film was horror, but over the course of filming, it transformed into more of a young adult coming-of-age story. Because of the success of the trailer, Fox decided to reshoot parts of the film in 2018, and delayed the release date to February 2019 and then again to August 2019 so it wouldn’t compete with “Dark Phoenix,” the other X-Men film they had in production at the time.
Those reshoots didn’t take place as scheduled, apparently because of difficulties rounding up the cast – stars Maisie Williams and Charlie Heaton, for example, were filming “Game of Thrones” and “Stranger Things” respectively. And by March 2019, Disney had acquired Fox, complicating things even further. By the time anyone was ready to reshoot the film, Boone had already moved on to filming “The Stand” miniseries that is coming out later this year.
By the time March 2020 rolled around, the movie Disney ended up with was the same YA version that had been more or less filmed before the horror trailer came out. And after delaying from April to, well ... now, because of the virus, that’s the version that’s in theaters. Suffice to say by the time it was actually released, we were tired of waiting, coronavirus be damned.
But is it any good?
It’s easily the most understated of the X-Men films, and despite the horror trappings (it’s set within an old psychiatric hospital), it comes off as the mutant version of “The Breakfast Club.” At least with the five “new mutants,” the actors come rather close to embodying the spirit of the characters in the comic books that debuted in 1982. Also on the positive side, the franchise finally moved the LGBT subtext (watch the scene from 2003’s “X2: X-Men United” in which Iceman comes out to his parents and tell us they’re only talking about him being a mutant) into the text itself in a touching way. (We’re not counting Yukio and Negasonic Teenage Warhead in “Deadpool 2” because the Deadpool movies seem tangential at best.)
On the other hand, there are potentially problematic elements. A large part of the origin story of Danielle Moonstar, a northern Cheyenne woman played by Blu Hunt, has been changed to incorporate the “Two Wolves” legend (albeit with bears instead of wolves). The story involves a grandfather telling a child that everyone has two wolves inside them, a bad one and a good one, and the stronger of the two is whichever one you feed — and has been used in a ton of books, movies, and TV shows. We saw it most recently in the second season of “Luke Cage.” The legend is often attributed to the Cheyenne, but according to everything we could find on the internet, it was invented by Evangelical Christian Minister Billy Graham, who initially misattributed it to the Inuits.
There was also backlash about white-washing with the casting of light-skinned actors Blu Hunt and Henry Zaga to play dark-skinned characters from the comics.
The movie was bland compared to the horror film we were sold on almost three years ago, with many of the horror elements in the trailer never appearing in the film. But it is a better conclusion to 20 years of X-Men movies than last year’s incredibly underwhelming “Dark Phoenix.”
As for our first trip back to the theaters after the COVID-19 shutdown, we felt pretty safe. At a weekend matinée showing at Durango Stadium 9, there were only nine people in the theater including ourselves, extremely socially-distanced and masked whenever unseated.