In the 1980’s, two of the best selling comic books were Marvel’s Uncanny X-Men and DC’s New Teen Titans. Never one to let a chance for profit go by, Marvel decided to try and combine the two, giving us the New Mutants. Five teenagers who were just starting to develop their powers were brought to the Xavier School for Gifted Youngsters for training. The timing worked well, as this was a period when the X-Men were in space fighting the Brood with the Shi’ar Empire for an extended period of time, and people back on Earth thought they were dead. So, Xavier got a new team to train.
The movie adaptation was plagued by bad press and rumors long before it came out. There was talk of reshoots, budget issues, and cameos that never happened, which never helps anything. Finally, amid the chaos of the COVID pandemic, it was released in theaters, which no one went to see, and then worked its way quickly to On Demand. Now that I’ve finally seen it, I don’t think it was anywhere near as bad as the rumors hinted.
The characters were mostly the original team from the comics, with Karma, a young Vietnamese girl who could control minds replaced by Magik, Colossus’ younger sister and a much more complicated character. To their credit, Dani Moonstar, a Cheyenne in the comics, was played by an actual Native actress, and Roberto DaCosta, a rare South American hero, was played by an actual Brazilian. The characters’ origin stories were, for the most part, somewhat similar, with changes to make them more dramatic, tragic, and dark, because it was that kind of movie. Sunspot/DaCosta’s was the furthest off. It was also minorly disappointing to see Magik without even a mention of Colossus, and, while it was great to see Lockheed the Dragon, it was a bit odd to have him paired with Magik and not Kitty Pryde. Why a young Russian girl would name her pet after a kind of plane she would have had no experience with was never addressed, as a few other issues were ignored.
The story somewhat followed the Demon Bear arc from the New Mutants comic, issues 18-20 of the original title. The movie focuses most on Dani Moonstar, which makes sense given the Bear is her nemesis, and an early link of her character to mystic influences that were a big part of her later life (she eventually became one of Asgard’s Valkyries, but that’s another story). After a spooky opening which went horribly for Dani, she wakes up in a strange facility run by Dr. Cecila Reyes, a character from much later in the X-Men books. We gradually meet Wolfsbane/Rhane Sinclair, Cannonball/ Sam Guthrie, Sunspot/Roberto DaCosta, and Magik/Illyana Rasputin. Aside from a passing reference describing first Sam, then Illyana’s powers, those codenames are never used.
The kids are told they are in a place to learn to control their powers, but from very early on it becomes apparent that this isn’t a benevolent institution. There are a few mentions of the X-Men, so it’s the same world in theory, but we never see any of them, nor hear them mentioned individually by name. There are a lot of small plots as the characters get to know Dani, and several divergences from the original comics that I’m more or less all right with. It’s a very atmospheric piece, and they build tension well. I found it odd that Roberto somehow got the least screen time but the biggest changes to his powers and past.
Eventually, we get even more proof that Dr. Reyes’ mysterious “supervisor” isn’t at all who the kids thought, although there are several hints dropped that he’s a long-time villain from the various X-titles. The kids have to get a handle on their powers, confront Reyes, deal with the rampaging Demon Bear, and get out from under Reyes’ thumb. They did a lot right in this movie, and the choice to make it a horror themed film worked decently well. They end the movie with the hint that there were more adventures to come, but with this movie falling in the timeframe of the big Marvel Studios getting all their rights back from Fox deal, that hasn’t happened and isn’t likely to. Maybe there will be a different New Mutants down the road, but with the box office from this one, I’m not holding my breath.
What I liked: They got the broad strokes of the characters down pretty well. I’ve always liked the team, with a soft spot for Sam and Dani, it was great to see them in live action for the first time. Maise William did a decent job as Rhane, and they kept most of her origin intact. I’m glad they used both a Native and a Brazilian for the appropriate characters. The Demon Bear was a big piece of early New Mutants history, and they did the story fairly well. I also enjoyed seeing Lockheed, even if in a very different form. There was a very non-canon LBGT story as a subplot, but it worked and they did it well.
What I didn’t: Several of the changes they made served the story, but a few didn’t and seemed random. With all the characters that have picked on various mutants over the years in Marvel Comics, I don’t know why they had to twist poor Cecilia Reyes’ story this way. I don’t understand why they chose to use Illyana but make no reference to her brother Peter (Colossus). They also failed to account for some of how Illyana’s power worked.
This movie didn’t deserve the bad press it got, and was a decent outing for these characters. I’ll give it a solid 3 out of 5. I wouldn’t have been upset to see this in the theater, and would have watched more if they’d happened. I guess we’ll see what the future holds for the group, if anything.