Jay & Miles X-Plain the X-Men

316 – Return to Megalopolis: At the Movies with the New Mutants

Art by David Wynne. Wanna buy the original? Drop him a line!

In which we review the New Mutants’ film debut.

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  1. Sometimes you have to listen to the episode to “get” the gag in the art. Not this time. What a great image.

    1. I mean… I haven’t seen the movie and I haven’t listened to the episode, but I see that image of Dani Moonstar in any context and I don’t question it

  2. I finally got around to watching this over the weekend because I remembered you would be covering it. So I might be unloading a lot of opinions on this one here because I haven’t had a chance to talk it over with anyone else yet.

    Thank you for the thorough appraisal, which mirrors a lot of my own thoughts (which should probably worry you more than me, to be honest).

    Yes, Rahne refers to the Reverend Craig, which is absolutely not a term a Catholic would ever use, and the nightmare image of her abuser that shows up is not even a priest, the robes are those of a Bishop (or possibly even a Cardinal)

    Making her Catholic rather than Presbyterian (and yet not even bothering to check on the titles such people would use) seems an odd choice, though I agree the confessional scene was a dramatic one. Catholic abuse of children is a real and vile thing and should be exposed and prosecuted at every possible turn, but (and I’m genuinely not trying for “butwhatabout-ism” here) it’s not like Protestantism has a better track record, and would have been much more likely for a West Coast Scot like Rahne. (I think we just have to put it down as yet another of the movies carelessly problematic throwaway details)

    I found the switcharound of positions between Rahne and Dani with Rahne being the older, more confident one and Dani the younger, more insecure one, to be odd, but they sold their scenes together so well I didn’t mind in the end. I’m just used to a much more confident Dani Moonstar I guess.

    I don’t think I’d be that keen on Limbo being a manifestation of Illyana the way I think you allude to, it would make her too close to Dani’s powerset I think (Subconscious fantasies and nightmares made real, yes Limbo is a metaphor in Illyana’s character development but not literally).

    I think I decided that Limbo had to be real and distinct dimension and had been her “happy place” (for a limited value of happy of course) during the child trafficking, and that the Soulsword was something she had made/earned there, and Lockheed really had been her ally, with the handpuppet being her trying to have her ally with her in the real world, even if only by proxy. (This would be addressed in later movies I imagine as we’re barely teased on what it is here). Her line when told the Demon Bear is magic (It’s not, it’s a psychic projection, but never mind), is “So am I!” which certainly implies magical powers beyond her mutant powers.

    Also, I don’t remember Illyana being particularly MEAN in the comics until Louise Simonson came in and de-aged everyone’s characters. Up until then she’d been snarky, but she’d never gone in for demeaning insults or random cruelty. Like much of her teenage personality in the comics, it felt performative because she didn’t know how to be a teenager because “childhood in Limbo” and was doing what she could based on what she could manage. The movie version WAS just cruel for the sake of it.

    I’m also not sure I’d call Roberto and Illyana, that much of a relationship (though I might have missed a plot point when I went to get a cup of tea). The only time anything seems to happen that I recall is the swimming pool scene, and that’s got nothing to do with Illyana, that’s Roberto’s nightmare coming true. Other times it seems to be Roberto being interested, and Illyana not.

    Roberto I don’t really want to talk about either, the popped collar and manspreading is bad enough (though effective shorthand for how the script saw him I guess), but his first (I think) line being that he hopes Dani is a nymphomaniac is yet another… regrettable choice.

    I guess we finally found a Sam who ISN’T nigh invulnerable when he’s blastin’. He manages to fade into the background so much he might as well not be there most of the time. And the incredibly cheap FX used for his powers are a crime against cinematography.

    I thought Dr Reyes had at least kinda different powers. I remember her only being able to protect herself with her fields in the comics, not go full Sue Storm and project them over others, and certainly not enough to create a forcefield over an entire estate even when she wasn’t concentrating on it.

    Which also begs the question of how she was able to contain someone whose power is teleportation, which seemed to still work fine? Since Limbo isn’t our world, how would such a field stop Illyana?

    Also not sure Reyes WASN’T a moustache twirling villain as she tries to murder Dani in cold blood, and her monologuing about it being akin to her Dad, a veterinatrian, putting down animals (as she, a woman of colour, tries to kill a Native American) doesn’t help ANYTHING about this movies tone.

    None of the kids ever questioning the complete lack of anyone else on staff at this research centre seemed a little over convenient.

    They did release images of the concept art for Warlock. I think he dodged a bullet (as did Doug, possibly literally in his case).

    I think Karma would have been an interesting character to explore because her powers more than any of the others might lead to psychological issues with identity: since she controls other people’s bodies, how would that impact her sense of self? (I mean, I don’t think it would have worked for the tone of the movie, but it would have had possibilities)

    Agreed on the horror aspects being disappointingly tame, the Demon Bear is barely present (no pub intended) so it being pivotal only makes sense if you already know the context of what it is.

    Making all the kids killers, albeit accidentally in som cases, was not a choice I’d have made either, it gives them trauma, yes, but it also makes them too alike in backstory IMHO.

    I didn’t even see the Buffy scenes as being merely an acknowldgement to their source, I felt it was supposed to be a deliberate suggestion that watching the “Hush” episode with “the Gentlemen” influenced what the kids made their nightmares out of. (Also suggests the setting might have been supposed to be the late 90’s rather than the 80’s… though they also missed a beat in not having Roberto ask if Magnum was on on any channel)

    I do feel they should really have had a lot more courage of their convictions and gone all out into the gonzo horror side of things. When it was announced, it sounded like a fresh approach to take on the superhero movie format, and the characters would have been ideal for it, but it chickened out, the Demon Bear is hardly a thing (I knew as soon as I saw the two wolves BEARS quote at the beginning that it was the wrong animal, but I didn’t know it’s history before which makes it even more regrettable.

    All in all, this would have been disappointing two years ago, and it’s disappointing now. I really wanted to like it, and to applaud a superhero horror movie esepcially one featuring some of my all time favourite characters, but though the cast did their best (accents and unfortunate casting choices notwithstanding) it just wasn’t nearly enough.

    1. the Demon Bear is barely present (no pub intended)

      I know it was only a typo,* but The Demon Bear would be an excellent name for a pub. Someone open one! I for one would drink there.

      *I mean, I’m assuming that it was a typo. I haven’t listened to the podcast yet. Maybe there was a long riff on possible pub names.

      1. Sadly it was just a typo, but I agree “The Demon Bear” would be a great name for a pub, probably owned by the same company that owns “The Slaughtered Lamb” and “The Monster Club”.

  3. I know I have two bears inside me

    One is named Pooh, the other Paddington, the central conflict in me is whether honey or marmalade is better on toast

  4. The degree to which I enjoy movies often hinges on whether I enjoy “hanging out” with the characters for a couple hours. For that reason, I enjoyed the movie for what it was, although I’m not sure I’d tell anyone to rush out and see it. I thought the cast did a great job and had real chemistry, and I felt disappointed we wouldn’t get to see them together in those roles again. The film had issues, but I didn’t feel bored like I did with Dark Phoenix.

    I enjoyed it enough that I was on the fence about buying it, but Jay’s point about rewarding a whitewashed film with financial success swayed me against sending any more money their way. I want to thank you both for offering your insight and perspective.

  5. In general, I liked this movie.

    First, the good:

    It was nice to see such a small movie that was supposed to have taken place in a larger universe. Despite some of the casting issues, I don’t think there was a weak performance from any of them.

    I also really liked that we don’t ever see any flashbacks to any of these characters pasts. Each of them is an unreliable narrator and what they say happened may not have happened the way they think they did. For example, Sam mentions feeling really claustrophobic and then he blasted out of the mine killing everyone. What if, however, he felt claustrophobic because the mine was already collapsing? He’s obviously dealing with survivor’s guilt and having saved himself while not the other miner’s could have contributed to his perspective on what happened.

    The relationship between Dani and Rahne felt very organic in how it played out, without any of the usual sensationalism that we usually see in that kind of focus. It makes me a little sad that were never going to get to see it develop through other movies.

    Although I don’t think you mentioned it, the Essex reveal tied in to the X-Men: Apocalypse post-credit scene which was also set in the ’80s. It makes me wonder if we could have gotten an X-Men/New Mutants Inferno film or duology? I can dream at least.

    On the downside,

    The beginning of the movie gave me Generation X TV movie flashbacks and I’m glad it got better.

    Illyana’s blatant racism actually took me by surprise upon my initial viewing. I was able to enjoy her character more by rationalizing that she wasn’t actually racist, just using it as a way to make sure Dani stayed at arm’s length, if not further. There were, obviously, much better ways to do that than the low hanging fruit of racism. I can’t believe anyone thought that that was acceptable. Even in 2017, let alone in today’s climate it seems especially tone deaf.

    I’ll be honest, when initial casting had been done on this film I hadn’t read many New Mutants issues before Inferno (I’ve read them all now) so I didn’t understand that backlash of casting a light skinned Brazilian. It’s also unfortunate that the one Latin character in the movie is often doing the dishes.

    I was also surprised at the casting of Alice Braga for Cecilia Reyes. There was already backlash at Ghost in the Shell for white-washing so it’s not like it wasn’t in the public consciousness. Given how they had already cast a light skinned actor for Roberto it also would have been unfortunate to have the one dark skinned character in the film to be the villain.

    And finally, the idea of superheroes being cast in horror stories sounded novel until you realize that it’s been Stephen King’s bread and butter since he published Carrie in 1974.

    I gave the film 6/10 and I don’t regret buying it. I doubt I would recommend it to casual film goers, however.

    1. They also didn’t really need to use the bear quote since it’s not from actual Indigenous people but since they did use it I have no problem with them changing it.

    2. “ Although I don’t think you mentioned it, the Essex reveal tied in to the X-Men: Apocalypse post-credit scene which was also set in the ’80s. It makes me wonder if we could have gotten an X-Men/New Mutants Inferno film or duology? I can dream at least.”

      That was the plan according to Josh Boone.

  6. Was sexual abuse really a part of Illyana’s backstory in the comics? Because we get to that point and I was like “NOPE!” They don’t explicitly say it’s sexual abuse, but that’s clearly what they’re implying. I know in the comics there’s the “seduction of the innocent” thing happening, and that’s not at all this. I liked her character otherwise (apart from the racism. There’s ways to have your mean girl without her being gleefully racist.)

    I absolutely hated the whitewashing. You have exactly 6 main characters, one supporting character and barely any extras (and only at the very beginning of the film). Why would you make the conscious decision to make both of your only canonically black characters light skinned? It added nothing at all. I kept seeing Bobby, whose look and attitude is mostly on point, and thinking he was too white and in a jarring way. Even by the end of the film when you’re already supposed to have made your peace with it. I liked the actor, and I liked his characterisation of Bobby. Which is why that kept seeming wrong.

    Which felt worse with Cecilia Reyes. Her whole deal in the comics is that she does not want to get involved in superhero bullshit. She just wants to practice medicine and loses the ability to do so when her powers manifest. Parts of her introduction I think are meant to parallel the intersecting ways discrimination affect people, especially in a professional setting. She’s black, Puerto Rican, and a woman in a male-dominated specialised field. She pushes through all of that and her mutation is what gets her fired. She is not a villain or a mad scientist. She’s someone trying to do a compassionate job and is not allowed to. Also, her iconic look includes dreads. Lightening her up is a conscious decision.

    For both her and Bobby, they saw their blackness and made the conscious decision to reject it. So that they could have a movie without black people. There is no argument that can ignore that fact.

    Also give me a creepy shadowy bear. I’m with Jay on that one. I didn’t laugh, but that was . . . not scary.

    Also also, even not knowing the origin of the two wolves story, it’s cliché for your story with a native american. And it’s so recognisable that just changing the wolves to bears in the very first line of your movie pulls you right out. That’s the part I laughed. Revisiting it at the end was not a good idea. I suspect that was added by studio request though. I think it only shows up in voice over, or when the speaker isn’t visible. And it only clumsily fits into the story. Some exec really wanted it in there.

    1. There were some extremely subtle hints that sexual abuse by the demons in Illyana’s backstory just before Inferno. Subtle enough that it didn’t have to be read that way since the comics had to be code approved.

      Outside of one scene where Cecilia Reyes used her powers I’m not even sure why the felt the need to use the character at all. If they weren’t going to cast race appropriate they could have just made a character up and gone along on their merry way.

      That being said, Fox’s X-Men movies weren’t too faithful in their character adaptations to begin with. Very few of the movie characters actually acted like their comic book counterparts.

  7. There’s a legend from the country of Asia that says ‘outside of a lion a book is a man’s best friend, inside of a lion it’s too dark to read’.

  8. I have to fact check you on this- while the two wolves is definitely not a native teaching as far as I am aware, the usage predates Billy Graham, he just stole it and popularized it with the “cherokee” version. The OG version isn’t much better, with John R. Bisagno crediting the original version to a Mojave convert telling him about a black and white dog fighting inside himself.

    This movie was amazingly frustrating

    1. Just noticed like over half my comment got eaten, so…
      This movie was amazingly frustrating because it was almost a good horror movie, almost a good teen movie, but it never went far enough with either, and a lot of the movie seemed to happen just because they had to happen in a movie like this. Sam’s trauma happens with him alone in a room, rendering all danger there moot, the romance between dani and rahne was sweet, but it felt like it got dropped right after being used to fuel rahne’s trauma hallucination and so it did feel like a lesser version of sex equals death in that regard. Berto trading his backstory for Rusty’s just felt awkward, like they wanted Rusty but had to use Berto instead. He uses fire more than super strength in the movie as well. Honestly, the movie should have leant much harder into the psychological horror aspect, and Illyana and Lockheed would have been a perfect vehicle for that. Have a child Illyana walking around late at night, have scenes with Lockheed but not Illyana in them, then have Illyana know what happened in that scene, leading to the big reveal that Limbo and Lockheed were real. This would even help with the Demon Bear, and you can have the facility and almost everything in it be manifestations of Dani’s powers after being experimented on by Sinister, having the place warp and twist on itself in the climax, and have it all fade away when she gets her powers back under control.
      There was a lot of potential in this movie, but it just fell flat in the end.

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