Over two years ago, we saw a trailer for The New Mutants, a would-be spin-off in the X-Men universe, about a group of “troubled” teen mutants trapped in a creepy institution. That trailer looked ridiculous and was not a confidence builder, but then The New Mutants derailed entirely when Disney took over Fox. With the X-Men coming under Marvel Studios’ control, the X-universe no longer needed a teen-centric spin-off, as it became immediately clear that Kevin Feige & Company would be rebooting the X-Men to fit into the MCU (Deadpool might be the only character to survive merger). Given how Dark Phoenix went, that hardly seemed like a loss.
But it did leave The New Mutants in limbo. Prior to Disney’s acquisition, there were stories about potentially extensive reshoots meant to reshape the New Mutants vision, but that was mooted once Disney got ahold of it. They were not going to spend one cent more than strictly necessary on a lame duck X-movie that, like Dark Phoenix, is just a bit of unfinished business before Marvel can step in and take control of these characters. The upshot of this is that director Josh Boone gets to realize his original vision for the film, minus any kind of Rogue One dueling directors tomfoolery. The downside is that The New Mutants still looks kind of silly.
A new trailer, touting the film’s April release, is a vast improvement over the first trailer, at least in terms of tone—the horror vibe is working really well. I will say this for The New Mutants, it does not look as terrible as Dark Phoenix. But I’m not sold, either. Part of that is knowing none of this matters because Marvel Studios won’t take any of this on, but part of it is also that none of these characters feel like teenagers. This is supposed to be X-Men: Teen Class, but it looks like any other X-movie. And I know older people playing teens is A Thing in Hollywood, but Kaitlyn Dever is 23 and Beanie Feldstein is 26, and they felt totally authentic playing teens in Booksmart. It’s partly an issue of casting, but it’s mostly an issue of setting and tone, and while the horror setting and tone are working in Mutants, the teen setting and tone are not. This reminds me a lot of the Tobey Maguire era of Spider-Man. Great actors in those Spider-movies, but man, no one was believable for even one millisecond as a kid at the mercy of burgeoning powers (which is what the Tom Holland era of Spider-movies gets exactly right).
We’ll see how The New Mutants does when it opens on April 3. One week after it opens, No Time to Die comes out, so there is zero room for Mutants to leg it out. But even if it does well on opening weekend, it doesn’t matter. The New Mutants is dead in the water, bound for the MCU scrap heap. But at the very least, maybe the X-movies can go out on a higher note than Dark Phoenix.