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Netflix’s Most Underrated Superhero Movie Should Inspire Marvel’s Phase 6

What does it really mean to have superpowers?

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Marvel has a bit of an X-Men problem. After The Marvels set up two huge initiatives in the Young Avengers and an X-Men crossover, it seemed like the story of a young mutant was inevitable. However, the only true success of this narrative has been in Logan (sorry, The New Mutants), and now that Logan is officially MCU canon, it can’t just be copied.

But in 2018, while Marvel was busy fighting Thanos, an underseen indie movie crafted an original young mutant story that paints a perfect path for the MCU’s future. Luckily for both Marvel and you, that movie is now on Netflix.

Freaks is the story of Chloe (Lexy Kolker), a seven-year-old girl who’s lived her entire life in isolation with her father, Henry (Emile Hirsch). Chloe, unlike most children, can astral project and manipulate minds. Her mom is “gone,” but Chloe can still visit her in astral form, and not being able to leave the house isn’t as much of an issue when you can will others to do things for you.

Eventually, we learn just what lengths Henry has taken to protect Chloe. She, like her parents, is an “Abnormal,” a mutant systematically hunted by the state. Henry can slow time, so while Chloe has spent seven years inside, only a few months have passed for everyone else. Her mom, Mary, has been abducted by the Abnormal Defense Force, and her grandfather, Alan (Bruce Dern), has been keeping a watchful eye on her while posing as an ice cream man. When Alan realizes Mary is still alive, the three must work together to keep the ADF off their backs and use their unique powers to rescue her... and Chole must face the outside world for the first time.

“Politicians are prejudiced against superheroes” is a story used in countless comic books and movies, including the MCU and the X-Men universe. But this specific targeting of mutants — especially young mutants — is a fresh take on the concept, evoking Marvel’s 2020 “Outlawed” comic book storyline that followed young Champions like Ms. Marvel after “Kamala’s Law” banned underage superheroes.

With a room like this, you’d occupy the minds of other people too.

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It’s not just the premise that makes Freaks so entertaining. Each character’s powers are your bog-standard superpower set (invisibility, telepathy, flight, time dilation), but they’re perfectly matched to their characters. Chloe longs to understand what the outside world is like, so she can enter minds. Henry wants to protect his daughter, so he literally creates a bubble for her to live in.

Freaks manages to tell a refreshingly innovative superhero story without resorting to tired tropes, something the MCU desperately needs in an era of superhero fatigue. If the X-Men are going to be incorporated into the MCU, it can’t be like anything we’ve already seen in decades of X-Men movies. Fresh ideas are needed, and the indie scene is awash in inspiration for them.

Even if Kevin Feige never watches Freaks for guidance on what should happen in Phase 6, it makes for a great watch about two worlds colliding. Ultimately, every superhero story is about someone who’s grappling with being different, and fans don’t need a multimillion-dollar special effects budget to be reminded of why that’s so dramatically compelling.

Freaks is streaming on Netflix.

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