The first trailer for The New Mutants came out on Friday the 13th, and that was no accident. The film is a creepy, eerie horror movie set in an asylum populated by gifted teenagers. There are evil doctors, jump scares, raging fires, faces coming out of walls — all the usual horror beats you’ve seen before. For the most part, The New Mutants looks like another Friday night rental, except for that “Marvel” logo. See, The New Mutants is a superhero movie, just one unlike any we’ve really seen before. It’s just the latest example of how 20th Century Fox has been unafraid to get weird, experimental, and downright different with its superhero offerings.
Consider the competition: In the summer of 2015, when Marvel Studios was promoting Ant-Man, the filmmakers repeatedly stressed that Ant-Man would be different from blockbusters like The Avengers. “I really wanted to strengthen the heist motif of the movie,” director Peyton Reed said in an interview with The Verge.
In the end, though, Ant-Man had some fun heist trappings, but it had some fun heist trappings, but it was still a Marvel movie, with all the same aesthetics and story story structure of everything in the “MCU.” A year later came Doctor Strange, which was also clearly a Marvel movie which was also clearly a Marvel movie despite itysticism, exoticizing of middle Asia, and kaleidoscopic visuals. Spider-Man: Homecoming, influenced by John Hughes movies of the ‘80s, still had large structures falling from the sky.
The thievery of Ant-Man, the magic of Doctor Strange, the hormones of Spider-Man — they’re nice touches of flavor, but at its not-that-deep core, all MCU movies share the same beats: Guy (and it’s usually a guy) gets powers, guy uses powers, guy wins, there’s a funny or strange post-credits scene that your friends need to be explained. But 20th Century Fox’s X-Men films, which fall outside Disney’s control, have become the boldest and most daring experiments in the modern era. Between the R-rated Deadpool, this year’s Logan, FX’s Legion, and now director Josh Boone’s New Mutants, it’s the marginalized Marvel heroes who are once again pushing boundaries.
Since the franchise began in Bryan Singer’s X-Men in 2000, mutant powers have been more about fantasy fulfillment with little attention on the actual terror a teenager might have upon learning their saliva is acid. And that’s how these movies were for a long time until Legion came along. Suddenly, the doors have been wide open to experimentation.
The underwhelming X-Men: Apocalypse not withstanding, the last two years of X-Men movies have been among the most exciting for the franchise and for the superhero genre. Deadpool, a foul R-rated romp, worked as both genre spoof and faithful adaptation. Logan, which did the unthinkable and straight up retired the most perfect and bankable superhero/actor pairings, did more to deconstruct the superhero myth than movies like Watchmen or Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.
On FOX, there’s The Gifted, which eschews the same superhero stuff The CW relies on while spiritually staying true to the X-Men comics’ analogs of systemic and social prejudice. Wolverine may or may not end up on The Gifted, but until that does or doesn’t happen, The Gifted is winning with a spin on the usual.
As Marvel’s premier franchise in the ‘90s, the X-Men have had to give up most cultural clout to the Avengers. Like in the comics, the X-Men have been cast off to the margins, forced to rely on aging name recognition than any the hype of seeing them fight Thanos in Infinity War. But it’s precisely that time away from the limelight that’s allowed the X-Men to do what no one else thought superhero movies were capable of: Being different. As it turns out, being different is what the X-Men have been great at all along.
The New Mutants will hit theaters on April 13.
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