The New Mutants (2020) | poster excerpt, IMDB

The New Mutants’ Cursed Journey to Theaters: A Horror Story

The New Mutants had a long, circuitous journey to the big screen as the final Marvel Comics film produced by 20th Century Fox before its merger with Disney.

The New Mutants
Josh Boone
20th Century Studios | Marvel Entertainment
28 August 2020 (US)

The Dreaded–and Dreadful–Fox Influence

First of all, Apocalypse lived up–or down–to its name with its incredibly poor reception. The film was a mess and squandered the remaining goodwill toward X-Men films. Fox immediately ordered Boone to sever all ties with the X-Men films and change the setting to the present-day. Around the same time, Fox instituted their typical late-in-pre-production budget cut, as they had with Fantastic Four (Trank, 2015) and Deadpool, which forced Boone to pare down the script. Then Fox began meddling in the script even more.

Executives were reportedly concerned that Boone’s teenaged characters were too juvenile and unlikeable, while also feeling increasingly unsure about the commerciality of the horror elements. Fox went so far as to hire a six-person “writer’s room” team to break down Boone’s screenplay and suggest major changes. Fox was known for meddling in their film projects, but this seems extreme even for that studio. It is unclear how much was actually changed, as Boone insists he released the film he intended to make, but Fox had every intention of changing it dramatically.

Filming ran from July to September 2017, during which time Boone claimed to feel “neutered”. The film was inexpensive enough, however, that Fox executives floated the idea of scrapping it and starting fresh. However, the end of the production coincided with the release and massive success of It (Muschietti, 2017), a Stephen King adaptation featuring young leads. This seemed to assuage Fox’s fears about the horror elements, and they began marketing the film as an elevated horror comic book film to help it stand out from the glut of comic book films.

Fox reportedly recommitted to Boone’s original vision. They scheduled reshoots to allow Boone to restore anything he might have cut during the studio’s uncertainty, and they delayed the film ten months, to February 2019, to give him time to finish it properly. It was soon rescheduled again, this time to August 2019, to avoid the relase of Dark Phoenix, the troubled follow-up to Apocalypse, and allow for more reshoots. But here’s the interesting thing: no reshoots ever happened.

Every major film has some reshoots, to fill in unforeseen gaps or alter things after the first cut. This is scheduled far in advance and included in contracts. Some troubled productions require more extensive reshoots to actually ‘fix’ a film that is not working. The New Mutants required both, but they never happened. No visual effects shots were completed because the film could change dramatically in the reshoots. And yet, Fox did not move forward on reshoots at all, to the point where Boone moved on to other projects, leaving his film unfinished.

One reason for Fox’s hesitancy was the Disney-Fox merger, which was announced in late-2017 and occurred in March 2019. With all the uncertainty and logistics around the merger, The New Mutants was no longer a priority. Some films were pushed out quickly, before the merger, some were delayed until the dust settled, while others were outright cancelled. But New Mutants was left in limbo. Filmed, in need of reshoots and effects, unfinished.

After the merger, New Mutants was removed from the August 2019 release schedule. Rumours swirled around whether it would ever be released. Maybe Disney would dump it on their new streaming service, Disney+, or some other streaming service. Boone claimed that this was never a first-run option, as contracts included guarantees of theatrical release.

Disney finally scheduled the film for an April 2020 release and rehired Boone to finish it. However, given the youth of the film’s main cast, Boone felt they had changed too much in the intervening two years for reshoots to be seamless. Reshoots were officially no longer an option. He was left to work with the footage he had filmed during production. New Mutants was finally completed in March 2020–two and one-half years after the end of the shooting.

And then, Covid-19 hit.

It was interesting to observe studios tentatively rescheduling their films as the pandemic worsened. People were initially optimistic that it would end in a few months, and studios hoped to release the first major post-pandemic film to cash in on moviegoers desperate to return to a cinema. Warner Bros. played that game with Tenet (Nolan, 2020), only bumping it a few weeks at a time so it would be primed to ‘save cinemas’. It was eventually released in early September when theaters were at 50% capacity or not open at all, and it did very limited business.

Audiences were apprehensive about going to cinemas (indoors, distanced, masked) during a brief late-summer drop of cases. If they were going to leave the safety of their couches and the limits of the streaming content available to them, it needed to be for a spectacular film. The New Mutants was released (finally) a week before Tenet, and did about half as much business.

Honestly, finally releasing it three years after it was filmed can be seen as a mercy. And releasing a troubled, possibly disastrous, film at a time when no one can blame it for underperforming is a good way to save face. The New Mutants was finally out there for people to see what the fuss was all about. Was it worth the fuss?

In a word, no. The film takes an interesting approach with its small cast, confined setting, and horror-type set-pieces, but it ends up feeling inert. The early scenes are quiet and build some, not all, of the characters quite nicely, but it never builds to the fever pitch that one might hope. By design, and budget, it lacks the spectacle of most major comic book films, but it also lacks the depth one might expect from a John Hughes-inspired teen drama from the director of The Fault in Our Stars.

The New Mutants ultimately feels less like a comic book film or a YA drama, and more like a dime-a-dozen, toothless studio horror film aimed at teens and released during the quieter months of the release schedule. It is impossible to say what Boone originally intended, or what would have been changed or added with reshoots. But the film as it was released is sadly lifeless.