THE NEW MUTANTS RELEASE SAGA, or, how 2020 really does hate me

The New Mutants was originally planned to release on April 13th 2018. Then, it was changed to February 22nd, 2019. Then, Dark Phoenix got the February 2019 slot, and The New Mutants got August 2nd, 2019. Then, as planned reshoots failed to materialize, it was moved to April 3rd, 2020. On March 12, 2020, Disney, who now owned a film they never made or paid for, suspended all release dates of all of their films, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. At this point, many speculated that the film would be released on either Hulu or Disney +, both streaming services that Disney owns, where they have been steadily premiering some of the other films that were meant to debut during this time. However, The New Mutants were eventually given a theater premiere date of August 28th, 2020, and as recently as yesterday, the The New Mutants panel from Comic-Con @ Home confirmed this date.

Release dates are often reshuffled according to the arcane magic of Hollywood, but even for the famously shifty superhero genre, five release dates is….excessive. This is the story of why this happened, what it likely means, and the frustration of one New Mutants fan (me) along the way.

The New Mutants are, in my humble opinion, one of the best superhero teams and runs of comics that has ever happened. While the X-Men characters had been created in 1963 by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, but they were one of the less popular Lee/Kirby creations–until, in 1975, Chris Claremont took over writing the launch of the All-New, All-Different X-Men. Claremont launched a diverse, wide cast, creating characters and stories that interwove personal conflict and larger-than-life baddies and battles.

By the early 1980s, Claremont’s X-Men was the best-selling Marvel title, outstripping even Spider-Man, and Marvel directed Claremont and his X-Men editorial team to start making spinoffs. The New Mutants was the first spinoff title, originally launched in 1982 in Marvel Graphic Novel #4, and then in The New Mutants, which would run from 1983 to 1991 with a total of 100 issues before being cancelled. (The New Mutants, towards the end, was essentially the Cable and his Giant Guns Variety Hour, as illustrated by Rob Liefeld, and was cancelled because it really made more sense to let Cable go have his own adventures, in Cable.)

Cable, as illustrated by Rob Liefeld, who was largely responsible for the 90s of Marvel Comics being what they were.

In their heyday, though, The New Mutants were an incredible team, and their title was unlike anything else in comics. The series was melodramatic and out-there, much like the main X-Men title, but Claremont and the primary artist during his run, Bill Sienkiewicz (“Sin-KEV-itch”), took the opportunity to create something unique. The series became famously dark, and surreal, with The New Mutants fighting interpersonal drama as well as, say, the fears within them, or confronting the tragic results of hubris. Even when Louise Simonson took over as writer and other artists stepped in, this unique, strange tone continued.

The New Mutants, as illustrated by Bill Sienkiewicz. On top, from left to right: Warlock and Sam Guthrie (Cannonball). On bottom, from left to right: Amara Aquilla (Magma), Rahne Sinclair (Wolfsbane), Illyana Rasputin (Magik), Dani Moonstar (Mirage), Xi’an Coy Manh (Karma), and Bobby Dacosta (Sunspot).

The New Mutants were a unique set of teens, too. They lived up to the idea that being a mutant was complicated, that your abilities were not your choice, and that humans might find it easy to fear and hate you. Team members included: Xi’an Coy Manh, who could possess people; Bobby Dacosta, who could harness the sun; Sam Guthrie, a Kentucky boy with an uncontrollably explosive ability; Amara, who turned into lava; Dani Moonstar, who made your worst fears real; Rahne Sinclair, who was basically a werewolf; a robot from space; a boy who could speak every language….

Illyana Rasputin.

…and my favorite superhero in the whole wide world, Illyana Rasputin. I may be (extremely) biased, but Illyana is the best thing in the world. The younger sister of X-Men team member Colossus, Illyana was kidnapped by the forces of Limbo, a kind of Hell in the Marvel universe. Illyana spent her youth in Limbo, learning witchcraft from demons, sorcerers, and an alternate-universe version of Storm, and finally escaped as a teenager. She emerged as Magik. She was a mutant, with the ability to create teleportation circles (as long as you’re down with a layover in Limbo), but she was also a highly competent sorceress. Throughout The New Mutants, she also had to reckon with the fact that she’d been meant to one day take over as Queen of Limbo, and she spent the series trying to decide whether to submit to or resist her destiny. She could also pull a giant magic sword out of her chest whenever she wanted, which is just cool as hell.

Illyana Rasputin.

Illyana, like the other New Mutants, did not have a story that was simple or easy; she would not simply get better, be able to become a straightforward superhero. She would sometimes uncontrollably sprout demon horns, or cloved feet. She was nasty and peevish to others. She was, frequently, tempted to her darker side, and it wasn’t always a matter of good versus evil that was tempting, but the temptations of power, of need, of the familiar when you are a permanent outsider. Hers is a story of survival, except her survival is not simple or pretty. Many fans also read her as queer, as well, so she’s kind of the whole package.

I think many New Mutants fans were pleasantly surprised when the The New Mutants film was announced. It was part of a series of moves Fox greenlit to seemingly capitalize on the strength of the stories and characters developed during the Claremont era; the third and fifth films in the re-booted X-Men series, Days of Future Past and Dark Phoenix, were adapted from Claremont storylines. The The New Mutants film was announced alongside the FX TV show Legion, based on a character from The New Mutants created by Claremont and Sienkiewicz. Sienkiewicz has also, to all appearances, been consulted several times about the development of both Legion and The New Mutants.

The iconic title page that kicks off the Demon Bear Saga.

The New Mutants never felt like it’d get adapted to film, but with all things considered, it wasn’t hard to be hopeful that the people adapting it were taking it seriously. Screenwriters Knate Lee and Josh Boone were childhood friends who grew up reading the comics, and pitched the film themselves, using storyboards made out of panels from the comics. Fox reportedly asked for the film to be made for a YA audience, and Boone, who had just wrapped The Fault in Our Stars, was asked to direct the movie as well. This directive didn’t stop Boone from focusing on the darker elements of the stories of the New Mutants; from what I can tell of the trailer, his film draws inspiration from Rahne Sinclair’s backstory, and from the legendary New Mutants arc known as The Demon Bear Saga. Almost all of the film was shot at Medfield State Hospital in Boston, an abandoned hospital, and during filming, Boone told press that it would, in fact, be a horror film, albeit one that trended younger.

The first trailer, from October 2017.

The film principal photography took place in 2017, and the first cut of the film was completed that year, and it seemed like it would release on time. Which it might have, except several things happened in 2017. One, FX’s Legion aired, was incredibly weird, and was a critical darling. Two, Logan, a bloody, R-rated story about Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine being old and sad, came out of nowhere and was a huge, huge success, making $619 million worldwide and landing on most people’s lists for best films of the year. Finally, it was just a great goddamn year for R-rated horror; Get Out was a cultural juggernaut and It broke box-office records that September.

Audiences at the original test screenings, who saw that first YA-friendly version of the film, reportedly liked it just fine. However, when Fox dropped the film’s first trailer on October 13th, 2017, it had been cut to exclusively feature the horror genre elements. When it did well, Fox returned to Boone. Boone had always wanted a more outright horror-driven film, and when Fox came to him asking him to go ahead and reshoot the film to make it scarier, like he’d originally planned, he agreed. The film’s release was officially pushed back in January 2018, and star Maisie Williams told the press this was in part because the special effects could no longer be completed in time for the April 2018 release.

At this point, you know, I at least was still hopeful. Re-shoots often make a film worse because a studio has objected to the tone or content of the director’s vision, and the re-shoots will inevitably attempt to take a film that is 75% the original vision and, with 25% new material, somehow make it feel completely different, which seems to rarely work. With The New Mutants, these reshoots were specifically to give Boone back the freedom to make the film he’d wanted, since the studio now saw the potential (money) in a more genre-driven film. It was also announced that Antonio Banderas would be joining the cast for a special post-credits scene.

The second trailer for the film, released January 2020.

But then the reshoots just sort of…failed to happen. When Fox was bought by Disney in March 2019, it was discovered that reshoots still hadn’t happened, and weren’t even scheduled to happen. This was widely attributed to the fact that several of the stars, notably Maisie Williams, had commitments to various TV shows, and they hadn’t been able to schedule it. Rumors of exactly how much of the film needed to be reshot put at anywhere from minor adjustments to as much as half of the film.

Disney, who at this point had owned Marvel for several years and had successfully launched the Marvel Cinematic Universe to new heights, now had control of The New Mutants, and one can only picture Mickey Mouse, looking over his array of colorful superhero toys, looking askance at the odd, scary little mutants he’d gotten in the move. The other in-progress Fox X-Men projects were easier to deal with; FX’s Legion was well into its third season, which, according to the show creator, was meant to be its last season anyway, and X-Men Dark Phoenix was basically complete, with Fox already having started the marketing for its June 2019 release. Disney was, according to all rumors, eager to wrap up Fox’s projects so that it could end that era and go forward with adding the X-Men to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

A rumor circulated that Disney would use the reshoots on The New Mutants to re-tool the movie to become part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Even D23, the Disney fan club that the Walt Disney Company owns and operates, reported that The New Mutants would be the first entry of mutants into the Marvel universe, although this claim was removed from after other outlets started reporting on it.

But on March 7th 2020, Boone announced that, well, the film was completed, and that despite rumors of a secret reshoot, they had gone forward with the initial cut of the film. The promised addition of more horror-heavy elements, and of Antonio Banderas, would not come to pass. It had been long enough that Boone was now working on other projects, and according to Boone, when Disney acquired the film, they asked him to come back and finish it. Boone stated that the cast had, by this point, aged so much that reshoots no longer made sense, and there was no point in getting Antonio Banderas for a post-credits scene since Disney had no interest in continuing the Fox X-Men universe, and wasn’t planning on integrating his film into their MCU. From his report it also sounds like a number of post-production tasks, including the bulk of the CGI effects, hadn’t been done on the film. At some point in here, the cast got to see the completed film, with Williams saying of it, “The movie is exactly the movie we set out to make.” Five days later, the film was delayed for what is hopefully the final time.

All of this is just….a hell of a lot for any film to go through. Throughout, the cast, the director, and the companies involved have seemingly maintained that everyone was doing their best at each step, that all of the delays were unavoidable, and that the production was just a victim of scheduling. Most productions that are this long and involve this many conflicting announcements, are troubled, but everyone has been careful to say that this film, no, it’s just fine.

But, well, I find all of this suspect, in part because it doesn’t add up. Throughout the post-production, Maisie Williams reliably makes statements to the press that seem to conflict with rumors or with fact. New Mutants got its first poster, for the April 13th 2018, release date, on December 5th 2017; on January 11th, 2018, Fox delays the film to February 2019, after Deadpool 2 is moved to May 18th, making it seem like Fox didn’t want the movies to conflict; in February 2018 Williams claims they need the extra time to complete effects; and in mid-2018, when the rumors of reshoots surface, Williams claims that it’s to make the film scarier, although The Hollywood Reporter claims it’s to add Antonio Banderas. In March 2020, after the completion of the film, Boone talks to Entertainment Weekly and confirms that they were planning to add Antonio Banderas, and seems to talk about reshoots as if they were a persistent rumor, as opposed to being announced and confirmed by both Williams and Fox executive Simon Kinberg. (This is the timeline I’m using to confirm all of this.) Either there was poor communication all around on just what the hell they were doing with the film, or some of these statements are polite untruths meant to cast the delays in as kind a light as possible.

Okay, so, all of this doesn’t mean the film is bad. It’s enough to give you pause–a lot of pause–but none of this guarantees the film is bad. The director and stars of the film seem to all be confirming that the version we’re getting is the version they set out to make.

But you know what’s really telling? The latest release date. To repeat: The film is being released on August 28th. August 28th. Only in theaters.

Now, I don’t know where you are, but I live in Florida, and our state can best be described as, well, actually experiencing the apocalypse. I would Google the way Ron DeSantis is manipulating our numbers, and then look at the numbers that are managing to get reported, if you want to understand why I am going to drink myself to sleep tonight. Most reasonable people in this state are actively in fear for their lives. And yet everything’s open for business, including major tourist destinations!

I think at this point the state motto needs to be changed to Florida: It’s Okay If People Die As Long As We Keep On Truckin’.

Look, I already made the official state gif!

Disney is not immune to the sort of thinking that willfully ignores these realities, although they are being more cautious. Walt Disney World has a slew of preventative measures in place. (It’s also open, and I’ve heard distressing rumors, but….) On the film side, they’ve made a series of savvy moves. Almost all of the films they were set to release this summer have been delayed to 2021 or released on Disney +, their shiny new streaming platform, helping amuse families and drive revenue towards their only consistent money maker. Disney even moved up the release of the filmed production of Hamilton, originally set to go to theaters for the holidays 2021, to air on Disney + on July 3rd, driving yet more people to the safest avenue through which to enjoy Disney entertainment.

But The New Mutants is getting an August 28th release, only in theaters. There’s a few films that have tentatively made fall release dates, although none quite so optimistic. Bill and Ted Face the Music is set to release September 1st, but it is set to release in theaters and on demand simultaneously. Even if you’re in an area where it is truly safe to go to the movies, this is a kind and realistic gesture, helping fans to see the film as soon as possible in the way that is safest for them.

With every release date, with every delay, with every rumor or joke about The New Mutants being cursed, I always planned to see it on opening weekend. I love the New Mutants, I was excited by everything I saw in the trailers, and I knew that even if the movie turned out to be bad, it was worth supporting the expansion and re-imagining of the superhero genre. It was worth it, to me, to support what might well be the only on-screen appearance of my absolute favorite superhero, Illyana Rasputin. I wanted to see my fiery demon trash baby be mean and heroic and pull a goddamn sword out of her chest and fight people. And I have been waiting almost three years now for the chance.

After all this, it’s, frankly, disappointing and upsetting to see The New Mutants released like this. All three of the movie theaters in my city are still closed. Even if they weren’t, there’s no way I’m going to a movie theater any time soon; I love superheroes, but I’m not going to actually risk death for them. The first time I see this movie will probably be at the nearby drive-in theater, and the best I can hope is that they show it as a second-run at some point this year.

They’ve been having a lot of issues with studios being dicks to them about new releases, even though they literally carried the whole movie industry for a while there.

My husband’s pet theory is that The New Mutants is a guinea pig movie to gauge whether the theater industry is back on its feet by then; if it fails, well, why does Disney care? They essentially got this movie for free, and they don’t even want it. They’ve got no investment in whether it succeeds or fails, at all. But instead of making it accessible to the fans who want to see it, they’re icing us out in favor of using the movie as a test to see how willing people are to risk their lives to go the movies.

I know I’m taking this too seriously, but, you know, it’s hitting a nerve. Every single day, right now, is hard. My day job involves working with the public, and again, Florida, so I spend my days in a haze of panic and fear, just trying to not lose my shit every day. This week was especially hard for me, for various reasons. To have waited years for this movie, only to realize that, even when it premieres, it will still be out of my reach, is…..yeah, no, it fucking sucks ass. It feels like a confirmation that not only is this movie undervalued, but so am I. I can’t decide if I feel like Disney just doesn’t care about fans who live in areas of outbreak, or if this is a horrible, horrible test, of just how loyal they have trained people to be. Will we risk death to see one of their films? Can they convince us to run willingly off the cliff, lemmings desperate for Content?

I mean, they’re already putting cast members in harm’s way just so people can ride a racist log flume before it becomes less racist, so….

I don’t have an answer or a thesis or a solution to this, except a plea to the universe: let me see Illyana Rasputin destroy people with her soulsword this year. And don’t make me die to see it.

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