Fox’s final X-Men film has been floating around for years, plagued by delays, corporate acquisitions, changes of taste and, the cherry on top, a pandemic. Up until a month ago, there were rumors that its new owner, Disney, would quietly banish the fraught flick to Disney+ or Hulu like junk to a yard sale.
Instead it’s one of the first major releases to hit reopened brick-and-mortar theaters — the ideal sacrificial lamb to test out the struggling movie business’ appeal during the coronavirus crisis. But how did a new chapter in a multibillion dollar franchise end up collecting dust on a shelf for years?
“The New Mutants” was greenlighted in May 2015, during a very different moment. “X-Men: Days of Future Past” had raked in a tidy $746 million in 2014, and Fox, which owned the screen rights to Marvel’s “X-Men,” reveled in creative freedom. Its gritty Wolverine film “Logan,” for instance, has more in common with “The Wrestler” than any comic book movie. And the studio’s hilarious “Deadpool” includes sex jokes and 84 F-bombs.
Feeling bold, Fox brought on director Josh Boone, who made a killing with the Ansel Elgort YA weepy “The Fault in Our Stars,” for “The New Mutants,” based on a lesser-known 1982 comic, to be done as a teen horror flick. Why not? The film was shot in Boston in 2017, and aimed for an April 2018 release.
Back in LA, Marvel Studios’ Kevin Feige was lording over a very different empire, in that all his movies were painstakingly consistent. Disney had acquired Marvel Entertainment in 2009 for $4 billion, creating Marvel Studios. Before the sale, the cinema rights to its biggest characters were scattered around Hollywood. Some still are: Sony works closely with Feige on its Tom Holland “Spider-Man” films and, more recently, “Venom.” Fox had been making “X-Men,” “Fantastic Four” and “Deadpool” movies unilaterally for nearly a decade.
Now, with one umbrella studio — and Disney’s money, power and infrastructure behind it — Feige could make his glorious Marvel Cinematic Universe: a tonally consistent, complex series of more than 20 movies that could be enjoyed on their own or as part of a sprawling narrative. What started pre-Disney in 2008, with “Iron Man,” by 2019 included the highest-grossing film of all time, “Avengers: Endgame.”
The teaser trailer for “The New Mutants” was released on Oct. 17, 2017. Just two months later, 21st Century Fox and all of its film assets were sold to Disney for $52.4 billion, with New Fox, as some dubbed it, to commence in 2019. Feige, who was a production assistant on Fox’s “X-Men” in 2000, saw his empire grow.
“The fact that Marvel is as close as we may ever get now to having access to all of the characters, is something I’ve been dreaming about for my almost 20 years at Marvel,” Feige told Variety at the 2019 Golden Globes. “And it’s very exciting.”
Boone’s “Mutants,” however, was in limbo. Fox had delayed it twice already. First, after the positive response to its scary trailer, they wanted to double down on the freak factor. Then, the studio didn’t want it to be too close to “Dark Phoenix,” the young Jean Grey film led by Sophie Turner, a star of “Game of Thrones” alongside Maisie Williams, who helms “Mutants.”
Well, “Dark Phoenix” was a box-office disaster and the biggest flop in the “X-Men” series. It couldn’t even beat “The Secret Life of Pets 2.”
In a quarterly earnings call, Disney honcho Bob Iger said, “The Fox studio performance … was well below where it had been and well below where we hoped it would be when we made the acquisition.”
The high-profile flop forced Disney to take more control over “The New Mutants.” The Web site FandomWire reported that Disney demanded all references to director Bryan Singer’s earlier “X-Men” films be cut, so as not to tread on Feige’s MCU future and to distance the movie from the studio. In January, Disney’s D23 Web site said “The New Mutants” was a part of the Marvel canon. The next day, the studio announced that it had been added online by accident.
When the pandemic hit in March, Disney shifted the release date for the fifth and final time — to Aug. 28.
Franchise producer Lauren Shuler Donner will be happy the film is finally getting a real theatrical release. She told the Television Critics Association last year, “I want to see it released [theatrically]; I’d hate to see it thrown at Hulu.”
But that doesn’t mean Disney is beaming with pride at this cinematic mutant. Marketing in the lead-up has been minuscule, and in a rare move for a film of this size, the studio has not allowed critics to see “The New Mutants” ahead of its release. The Post has purchased a ticket.
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