By Andrew A. Smith

Tribune Content Agency

Sept. 4, 2020 — The New Mutants, the final, no-kidding X-Men movie by Twentieth Century Fox, finally made it to the theaters after three years of delays. What a long, strange trip it’s been.

That trip really began back in 1982, when Marvel Comics launched its third major X-Men team. Which means, I guess, I have to tell you about the first two. They’re pretty famous, after all.

The first team was the original X-Men, the superheroes who launched the franchise in 1963: Angel, Beast, Cyclops, Iceman, Marvel  Girl and Professor X. Joining in the late ‘60s were Cyclops’ brother Havok and his girlfriend (and Magneto’s daughter) Polaris. They didn’t set the world on fire — the series went reprint in 1970 — but they got the mutant ball rolling.

Marvel revived the concept in 1975, with the “all-new, all-different” (and all-international) X-Men: Banshee (Irish), Colossus (Russian), Cyclops (token American), Nightcrawler (German), Storm (Kenyan), Sunfire (Japanese), Warbird (Native American) and Wolverine (Canadian). This group made Uncanny X-Men the best-selling title of the late 1970s and early ‘80s … which meant an expansion of the franchise was inevitable.

For this new venture, dubbed The New Mutants, Marvel went back to the original well. “We felt that the series needed a school, and The X-Men were too old for that,” writer Chris Claremont said in Les Daniels’ history of Marvel. “So we got Xavier some students and it’s evolved from there.” They even adopted the old blue-and-gold “school uniforms” for the new kids’ training sessions.

Due to a scheduling snarl the first New Mutants story launched in graphic novel form in 1982, a 47-pager by Claremont and artist Bob McLeod. That was followed by New Mutants #1 in 1983, by the same creators, starring the same group:

 

  • Cannonball: Sam Guthrie, a teen from the backwoods of Kentucky, can blast around like a … well, a cannonball. He’s invulnerable to all harm while “blasting.”
  • Karma: Xi’an Coy Mahn, a Vietnamese refugee, can seize control of the minds of others.
  • Psyche: Danielle Moonstar, a Cheyenne, could project illusions of another person’s greatest fear. Well, at first. Somebody eventually figured out this was a lame super-power, and she changed her name to Mirage and developed a number of  psionic, energy and magical powers.
  • Sunspot: Roberta da Costa, a fabulously wealthy Afro- Brazilian, can convert sunlight into super-strength. He’s called Sunspot because of the visual effect of his power, where he turns completely black with little bubbles of black energy sloughing off.
  • Wolfsbane: Rahne (pronounced “Rain”) Sinclair, an extremely devout Scottish lass, can change (much to her embarrassment) into a wolf. She also has an intermediate, werewolf form where she can still communicate.

 

New Mutants being an X-Men book, it didn’t take long for things to get weird. But it got super-weird when an artist named Bill Sienkiewicz (sin-KEV-itch) took on the art chores. An experimental and often abstract artist, Sienkiewicz combined photorealism, collage, painting and other techniques that exploded off the page. And he arrived just in time, in “New Mutants”#18, the first issue of what would be dubbed “The Demon Bear Saga.”

The New Mutants: Demon Bear contains the three stories involving the Demon Bear, including the first one, on which The New Mutants movie is based. (Cover art by Bill Sienkiewicz, copyright Marvel Comics)

Which is kinda grandiose for a story that lasted all of three issues. But they were three very good issues, that became famous as much for imagination and execution as for, well, a bunch of teenage mutant superheroes fighting a bear.

It should be noted that at this point the New Mutants roster had changed a bit. Karma was out, and these guys were in:

 

  • Magma (Amara Juliana Olivians Aquilla) is a mutant who can project heat and lava, from a lost Roman colony in the Amazon (someone was an Edgar Rice Burroughs fan, evidently).
  • Magik (Illyana Rasputin) is the sister of Colossus, and can teleport via the land of Limbo, from which she also draws magical powers and a fearsome “Soulsword.”

 

Not that any of that mattered to The Bear, you see, because it isn’t physical. It had been haunting Moonstar’s dreams, before manifesting as a spirit form that mauled her physically and psychically. The other New Mutants took Moonstar to a hospital, where all of them were trapped by The Bear. The story became more claustrophobic, the Bear bigger, the stakes higher … wait, is this beginning to sound familiar?

Yep, the New Mutants movie takes place in a haunted hospital. Yep, the Demon Bear Saga is the basis for the movie. And yep, the characters are very familiar. “New Mutants,” the movie, features:

  • Cannonball: Charlie Heaton, who is Jonathan Byers on Stranger Things, portrays Sam Guthrie.
  • Magik: Anya Taylor-Joy, who starred in The Witch, is Illyana Rasputin.
  • Mirage: Blu Hunt, whose name already sounds like a cool code name, plays Danielle Moonstar.
  • Sunspot: Henry Zaga, a.k.a. Henrique Chagas Moniz de Aragão Gonzaga, who is actually Brazilian, is Roberto da Costa.
  • Wolfsbane: Maisie Williams, famous  as Arya Stark on Game of Thrones, gives us Rahne Sinclair.

 

(If you’re wondering about Dr. Cecilia Reyes, played by Alice Braga, she’s lifted from another corner of the X-universe entirely. Apparently this was done just for name recognition, since the on-screen character is completely different from the print version.)

These teenage characters have been the core of most iterations of the New Mutants, and often of a team named X-Force as well. If you’re a comics fan, you’re  thoroughly familiar with each of them, their back story and story beats.

Which is the only easy thing about New Mutants. Just getting it to the screen was a chore.

The film was greenlit around 2014, with director Josh Boone (The Fault in Our Stars) attached. By 2017 it was finished, with an announced release date of April 13, 2018.

Oh, if only.

In early 2018, the movie was pushed to Feb. 22, 2019. According to CinemaBlend, this was for two reasons: One, to have extensive reshoots to emphasize horror elements (IT had done well) and to give it some breathing room from Deadpool 2, scheduled for summer 2018.

Which happened again, when X-Men: Dark Phoenix got too close. New Mutants got bumped to Aug. 2, 2019.

The New Mutants stars (from left) Maisie Williams, Henry Zaga, Blu Hunt, Charlie Heaton and Anya Taylor-Joy. (© 2020 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation)

But now discussions were serious about Disney buying Fox, which threw in another monkey wrench. The reshoots weren’t finished, and word was Disney wasn’t impressed. So an all-new, all-different date was set: April 3, 2020.

Which was right in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic! Who could have known? New Mutants got bumped again, to Aug. 28, and by this time almost no one took the date seriously. The director joked that he expected a meteor to hit in August and delay the movie again.

But it happened. New Mutants premiered at whatever theaters were open on Aug. 28 (2,412 of them, according to The Hollywood Reporter) for a $7 million opening weekend. Which impresses nobody. And the reviews are … well, “mixed” is probably the right word.

What is a sad finish to the New Mutants saga. It had a great premise (a teen-horror superhero movie)! A great inspiration (the legendary “Demon Bear Saga”)! A hot, young, star-studded cast (Williams, Heaton,Taylor-Joy)! A groundbreaking romance (no, I won’t spoil it)!

And a probable future. According to comicbook.com, Boone had plans for including Colossus (he is Illyana’s brother, after all) and a certain introductory scene made famous in the first appearance of the “all-new, all-different” X-Men.

And according to ScreenRant, Boone had planned a New Mutants trilogy. The second would take place in Brazil during an alien invasion, and include X-Men staples like a character named Warlock and the Hellfire Club. (And if they’re in Brazil, why not introduce Magma?) For the third movie, Boone planned to adapt a famous X-Men story titled “Inferno,” in which demons invade the Earth and Illyana is transformed into a demon form called Darkchylde.

But alas. Unless New Mutants shows some unexpected legs, we’ll have to wait for these characters to be introduced in Marvel Cinematic Universe films, get developed and spin off into their own films. By then, the stars of “New Mutants” will probably have teenagers of their own.

Find Captain Comics by email (capncomics@aol.com), on his website (captaincomics.ning.com), on Facebook (Andrew Alan Smith) or on Twitter (@CaptainComics).  

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...At least recently, Tenet - and New Mutants! - were being offered by theaters in this " have the whole auditorium to yourself - up to 25 people " deals, with the basic price for these as low as $99 - However, that may have been only the base price? And only for older, classic, movies. Tenet and New Mutants were priced higher as " New movies ".

  Now, I wonder if what theaters are open or will be at Christmas will attempt to get some " exclusive super-show!!! " dough out of showing Wonder WOMAN 1984 this way. Are all theaters in California closed now, on 11/19/20?

I don't see it mentioned on this thread, but WarnerMedia has announced that Wonder Woman 1984 will open as advertised on Dec. 25 at whatever theaters are open, but will also be available on HBO Max on the same day.

Netflix, which underwrote 75% of Godzilla vs. Kong, doesn't have distribution rights — Warner does (they underwrote the remaining 25%). So they offered  Warner a potful of money to open the movie on Netflix. Warner turned them down, and is working on a counter-offer so they can open it on HBO Max. That hasn't been resolved yet.

Given the spiking cases of COVID, the 2021 calendar for theaters exists mostly in the realm of wishful thinking.

...I wrote about the announced same-day HBO Max/theatrical bow on 12/25 of WW'84 here. I saw later that it was announced that WW84 will not stream on HBO Max in the desired high-tech format - 8K? I don't have it. - as HBO Max does not offer that. It will be released to home video formats presumably in 2021 in 8K, however.

  What you tell us about Netflix's offer and Warners' counter to it is entirely new to me. Was this just announced today?

I don't know when it was announced, Emerkeith -- I just read the trades like everyone else. But HERE is a Hollywood Reporter story from the right time frame.

Also, WarnerMedia has now announced that ALL of its 2021 movies will follow the same format, with release to theaters and day-and-date to HBO Max as well. What's odd about that is that the corporation didn't wait to see how successful Wonder Woman 1984 would be (or not be) on those platforms, and that there's a good chance that the vaccine will get us to somewhere close to normal in late 2021 -- meaning theaters could be back on their feet.

The obvious inference to take from this is that WarnerMedia is kneecapping theater release in favor of building up their streaming service. Since Disney also thinks that the future is in streaming, these two powerhouses could make that a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Captain Comics said:

I don't know when it was announced, Emerkeith -- I just read the trades like everyone else. But HERE is a Hollywood Reporter story from the right time frame.

Also, WarnerMedia has now announced that ALL of its 2021 movies will follow the same format, with release to theaters and day-and-date to HBO Max as well. What's odd about that is that the corporation didn't wait to see how successful Wonder Woman 1984 would be (or not be) on those platforms, and that there's a good chance that the vaccine will get us to somewhere close to normal in late 2021 -- meaning theaters could be back on their feet.

The obvious inference to take from this is that WarnerMedia is kneecapping theater release in favor of building up their streaming service. Since Disney also thinks that the future is in streaming, these two powerhouses could make that a self-fulfilling prophecy.

That's one way to look at it. But I doubt WarnerMedia could have kept 17 movies sitting on the shelf indefinitely, and there's still no sign on when the biggest markets -- Los Angeles and New York -- will open, vaccine or no. More important, its a question mark as to when enough people are willing to go to theaters when they're fully open so they can make money again, vaccine or no.

Yes, Warner didn't wait for results on Wonder Woman 1984, but it did experiment with Tenet, and didn't like the results. Tenet did well overseas but mediocre numbers in the U.S. -- which, again, still has Los Angeles and New York shut down. They didn't want to see that with WW84.

I remember that a few years ago studios were thinking about releasing movies on DVD the same day as their theatrical release. There was a lot of blowback from the theater chains when they had more power. Things are different now. 

....and they seem to think there's plenty of money in a combination of streaming and theatrical releases.

Richard Willis said:

....and they seem to think there's plenty of money in a combination of streaming and theatrical releases.

No, the studios don't think there's "plenty of money in a combination of streaming and theatrical releases." It's more that they've got a bunch of lemons and are trying to make lemonade. 

Yes, the studios got a lot of blowback earlier when they wanted to release movies on VOD the same day as theatrical release, and the theaters still don't like it. Earlier in the year, Universal released a Trolls sequel, and one of the cinema chains vowed to boycott all Universal releases. (They've since made up.) But we aren't at the place where the studios absolutely don't need theaters.

The big blockbusters that cost $100 million-plus to make -- the James Bond movies, the Avengers movies, the DCEU films, the Star Wars movies, etc. -- often make $500 million to a $1 billion (or more), but that's with theaters. Will any of them make those kinds of numbers with people watching at home and not at theaters? Doubtful. 

Disney tried a $25 surcharge when it presented the live-action Mulan on Disney+. Will viewers go for that every time out? For some movies -- the James Bond movies, the Avengers movies, the DCEU films, the Star Wars movies, etc. -- they might get away with that. But not most. 

And movies whose revenues hit the $500 million-$1 billion (or more) range do so with lots of repeat ticket sales. Charging a one-time $25 surcharge per household vs. $12-$15 (or more) per ticket per person would almost have to mean less money made overall.

You are right that things are different now. But nobody has the answers.

ClarkKent_DC said:

Yes, the studios got a lot of blowback earlier when they wanted to release movies on VOD the same day as theatrical release, and the theaters still don't like it. Earlier in the year, Universal released a Trolls sequel, and one of the cinema chains vowed to boycott all Universal releases. (They've since made up.) But we aren't at the place where the studios absolutely don't need theaters.

I was remembering further back, probably before streaming took off. There was an actual pushback against the idea of releasing DVD and BluRay disks on the same day as theatrical releases. (Not unlike the comic shops pushing back against online releases.)

The big blockbusters that cost $100 million-plus to make -- the James Bond movies, the Avengers movies, the DCEU films, the Star Wars movies, etc. -- often make $500 million to a $1 billion (or more), but that's with theaters. Will any of them make those kinds of numbers with people watching at home and not at theaters? Doubtful. 

I think the studios have found a vulnerability. Obviously, streaming won’t replace theaters (the ones that are strong enough to survive). I think the studios will want to have combined same-day releases in the future. If all the major studios do it (presumably without collusion ) the theaters can’t boycott all of them. I think it will be a fact of life going forward.

Disney tried a $25 surcharge when it presented the live-action Mulan on Disney+. Will viewers go for that every time out? For some movies -- the James Bond movies, the Avengers movies, the DCEU films, the Star Wars movies, etc. -- they might get away with that. But not most. 

During COVID, many parents probably paid the surcharge because their kids were desperate to see Mulan. For most people, a surcharge that large is probably a non-starter. If a group of people share the cost and have a watch-party it probably makes sense.

Before COVID and before my wife’s illness we were only going to theaters for superhero movies and other movies that benefit from a big screen. Going to every movie that interests us at movie theater prices, plus the cost of snacks and drinks, really adds up.

Richard Willis said:

Disney tried a $25 surcharge when it presented the live-action Mulan on Disney+. Will viewers go for that every time out? For some movies -- the James Bond movies, the Avengers movies, the DCEU films, the Star Wars movies, etc. -- they might get away with that. But not most. 

During COVID, many parents probably paid the surcharge because their kids were desperate to see Mulan. For most people, a surcharge that large is probably a non-starter. If a group of people share the cost and have a watch-party it probably makes sense.

A while back, I read an article about how the studios wanted to charge more for the big blockbusters that cost $100 million-plus to make -- the James Bond movies, the Avengers movies, the DCEU films, the Star Wars movies, etc. I think the Mulan surcharge was a step down that road. 

Part of the problem the studios have is that interest costs on these movies keep piling up the longer they're being held before release. That was part of the motive for Disney's move with Mulan.

Richard Willis said:

Before COVID and before my wife’s illness we were only going to theaters for superhero movies and other movies that benefit from a big screen. Going to every movie that interests us at movie theater prices, plus the cost of snacks and drinks, really adds up.

That's why the movie theaters don't like Warner's move: It may make more people in that group (like you and me) think they really don't have to go to theaters for those kinds of movies.

Interest costs? I guess I never thought about the studios borrowing money.

There's another wrinkle in this I wasn't aware of: Putting a movie out on a streaming service doesn't fit those deals with actors and directors who get a back-end percentage of ticket sales. Per The New York Times"Trading Box Office for Streaming, but Stars Still Want Their Money"

If you can't get in, here's the CBR.com version: "Gal Gadot, Patty Jenkins Reportedly Paid $10M Each to Praise HBO M...

That's right: Warners paid Wonder Woman 1984 director Patty Jenkins and star Gal Gadot what they would have made in their profit participation deal to get them on board with the plan. Which, of course, may well mean the other directors and stars of the 17 movies Warners will release on HBO Max next year will demand similar treatment.

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