I have been writing full-time, on some level, for a little more than seven years. Much of that time has been devoted to movies, with that making up the bulk of my job for the last four and a half of those years. During much of that time, I have been writing about The New Mutants which, at one point, was viewed as a promising expansion of Fox’s X-Men franchise. Much digital ink has been spilled by me on the project’s behalf. The movie finally hit theaters over the weekend, albeit under less-than-ideal circumstances. Curiosity, after all of this time, got to me and I decided to catch director Josh Boone’s Marvel adaptation at a local drive-in. For various reasons, it was kind of awesome.
First, a little background. Back when 20th Century Fox was still a studio, long before Disney was looking to purchase most of Fox’s major media assets, they controlled the screen rights to the X-Men. It was one of the studio’s biggest franchises. But after more than a decade and a half, they were looking for ways to expand the scope of the mutants on the big screen. Enter Josh Boone. Coming hot off the hit The Fault in Our Stars, Boone pitched the studios on a lower-budget (relatively speaking), horror-heavy, John Hughes-influenced adaptation of The New Mutants. Specifically, the Demon Bear storyline from the pages of Marvel Comics.
Fox went for it and thus began a lengthy, by all accounts brutal, development process. Boone and Fox clashed the whole way, with production taking place back in 2017. Originally, the movie was supposed to arrive in theaters in April 2018. So yes, this has been brewing for a long time. Disney, after completing its $71.3 billion purchase of Fox’s assets last year, opted to let Boone finish his movie. After several more unexpected delays, what is said to be Boone’s vision of the movie made its way to theaters over the weekend.
With a cast full of promising young stars such as Anya Taylor-Joy, Maisie Williams, Charlie Heaton, Blu Hunt and Henry Zaga, The New Mutants has, or at least had, a lot going for it on paper. Thus far, critics have largely rejected it. And, even considering the circumstances, it had a rough start at the box office.
I was well aware that critics weren’t buying what Boone and Disney were selling heading into the weekend. But sometimes curiosity gets the best of us. In my case, not so much so that I was ready to head back to an indoor theater. While most theater chains are taking major health and safety precautions, I am personally not ready to return to my local cinema. Thankfully, drive-ins have come to the rescue and I was able to find one near enough to my home in Austin, Texas that was showing The New Mutants.
Many drive-ins, which have helped to keep the box office afloat in the U.S. since theaters shut down in March, have been relying largely on library titles from studios to drum up business. The Stars & Stripes Drive-In Theatre in New Braunfels, Texas happened to be showing new movies and they were carrying the comic book flick in question, at a very reasonable price per ticket I might add. So, I purchased away and made the drive, a little over an hour, on a Friday night to see my first new movie on the big screen in five months.
I should mention that, in a normal year, and not just because it’s my job, I am at the movies frequently. Probably once a week on average. I love it. It’s a huge part of life for me. So not seeing any new movies via a communal experience on a big screen since The Hunt in March has been challenging for me. I did not realize how emotional returning to that experience would be until I pulled up at the drive-in. If you will allow a moment of vulnerability, there were nearly tears.
I have been to other drive-ins around Austin, (shout out to the Blue Starlie) but this was the closest I had encountered to a true cinematic experience in months. The screens were huge. The parking lots were massive. There was a wide array of food and snacks one might expect to find at a movie theater. A community of movie lovers was there to watch the same thing. It was all in place. It also didn’t hurt that this felt very much like a drive-in I went to growing up in Arizona, as my step-dad didn’t enjoy going to the movies. But if he could sit in his truck and drink beer while we watched Spider-Man 2, he was game. Plus, the folks at Stars & Stripes were incredibly kind and prepared. They allowed for lots of distance between vehicles, everyone was wearing masks and it seemed all precautions that could be taken were indeed taken. I felt reasonably safe. It felt like a real, relatively uncompromised experience. I was beaming with joy.
Naturally, I got some greasy theater food, some cheese sticks and a corn dog to be exact, to go with my small cooler full of drinks. Stars & Stripes permits outside food and beverages, which was also nice. Then came time for the movie. After years of discussing what might be, I was getting ready to experience what was. Amazingly, the bad buzz hadn’t dampened my spirits at all. It was game time and my body was ready for some superhero shenanigans.
Because my experience was so colored by factors beyond the movie itself, I think it would be irresponsible to pretend that I could write a full-on review of The New Mutants, on its own, while maintaining objectivity. That having been said, I dug it. There are issues with the movie, no question. The whitewashing of Sunspot has been widely discussed. Co-creator Bob McLeod had his name misspelled in the credits. But speaking strictly as a cinematic presentation of the superhero variety, it worked for me. Think a riff on A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, but with mutants.
Perhaps the biggest sin this movie commits is that it doesn’t bring a ton of new ideas to the table. It largely feels like an homage to other horror movies and YA flicks that already exist, just with a Marvel backdrop. Be that as it may, it felt like an attempt to do something different in the world of comic book adaptations. Specifically in the Marvel sandbox. That worked for me. And, when it comes right down to it, I just found The New Mutants entertaining. I like this cast. I like these characters. I loved the wild ass third act.
Maybe it could have been any new movie. Maybe it was just my longing for this shared experience I cherish so much. Whatever the case, seeing The New Mutants, in this way, was perhaps the best experience I have had in months. As such, I will be attempting to replicate that same joy with Christopher Nolan’s Tenet this week at the very same drive-in.
There are a couple of points to this. For one, maybe give The New Mutants a shot. Perhaps it’s not everyone’s cup of tea but I get the sense some people are going to dig its vibe. Second, I cherish movie theaters and the theatrical experience. I do not want it to die. But I also don’t know if seeing Tenet, Black Widow or any movie when it isn’t completely safe to do so is worth it. Drive-ins are, under the right circumstances, pretty darn safe, considering the world as it is. I highly encourage anyone with a drive-in near them that is showing new movies to explore this as an option. Not only is it safer, but damned if it isn’t a good time as well. The New Mutants is in theaters now from 20th Century Studios.
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