In the opening seconds of The New Mutants Comic-Con@Home panel, a series of dates flash across the screen. The movie’s title card appeared, followed by: “In theaters April 13th, 2018.” Almost immediately, the date is crossed out. As a foreboding rendition of Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall” plays, the date is replaced by “In theaters February 22nd, 2019.” Which finds itself, in turn, crossed out and replaced by “In theaters August 2nd, 2019,” “February 22nd, 2019,” “August 2nd, 2019,” and “April 3rd, 2020.”
Everything fades to black before a pile-on of internet commentary floods the screen: “LOL the New Mutants release date mutated again”; “I couldn’t even vote when this trailer came out. Now I’m 40 and balding”; “New Mutants delayed again? I simply cannot.” Then, a final date hurtles into view, “In theaters August 28th, 2020” — which by dint of not being crossed out can only be interpreted as the release frame when the film (barring further disaster) will finally reach public consumption. Right? Right?
By now, the wash-rinse-repeat cycle of reschedulings for the long-gestating X-Men spinoff has become the cinematic equivalent of Lucy pulling away Charlie Brown’s football — what my colleague Nate Jones piquantly described as “less a movie and more a conceptual art piece about the absurdities of modern franchise filmmaking.” That dubious distinction apparently hasn’t been lost on the film’s director, Josh Boone, and cast members Maisie Williams, Anya Taylor-Joy, Charlie Heaton, Alice Braga, Blu Hunt, and Henry Zaga, who made oblique reference to the movie’s numerous date changes without ever providing a rationale for what compelled them.
“Every three months we get this wave of excitement — ‘Now is the time!’” said Zaga the Teen Wolf star, who plays Roberto da Costa/Sunspot in The New Mutants.
“We’re trending again,” added Taylor-Joy, the lead in this year’s Focus Features adaptation Emma., who portrays the sword-armed mutant Ilyana Rasputin/Magik in the comic-book film. “Like, damn!”
Principal photography for The New Mutants wrapped in September 2017 and its first teaser trailer dropped nearly three years ago. The horror-suffused project was originally slated to premiere in April 2018. It was first postponed until February 2019 to avoid conflicting with the theatrical arrival of Deadpool 2, then pushed again into August 2019 amid reports that executives at New Mutants’ then-studio distributor Fox wanted at least half the film reshot to make it “more scary.”
But in the content-merger upheaval surrounding Disney’s $71.3 billion acquisition of Fox last year, New Mutants was forced to pull up stakes again and relocate to April 3, 2020. Then came the coronavirus. And thanks to curve-flattening theater-chain closures implemented throughout the spring, the embattled thriller moved again to August 28, 2020 with intensified speculation that Mutants could wind up dumped onto Hulu or Disney+ like the Mouse House’s similarly long-gestating $125 million adaptation of Artemis Fowl.
“People have talked about this being a ‘cursed’ film because it’s taking forever,” said Bill Sienkiewicz, the comic-book artist whose Demon Bear Saga for Marvel Comics provides the movie’s characters and plotline. “But I think in some respects the lockdown has actually just amped up the level of interest. People are really rabid for this.”
“I mean, the whole movie is about a curse, I guess,” added Boone, whose last film, The Fault in Our Stars, grossed $307 million worldwide. “The Demon Bear Curse. So I guess it’s possible. We’re just excited for the fans to see it. Everybody’s been waiting so long.”
Unfolding on a dedicated YouTube channel, the pre-recorded New Mutants panel arrived on the first full day of Comic-Con@Home — a five-day streaming event encompassing some 350 interviews, themed discussions and sneak previews that, thanks to continuing COVID-19 cross-cultural disruption, marks the first time in San Diego Comic-Con’s 50-year history that events have streamed online.
The single-film fan event for the 20th Century Studios/Marvel Entertainment property arrived in stark contrast to last year’s SDCC Marvel Studios panel, which pounded the 7,000 or so attendees at the convention’s cavernous Hall H into a kind of awed submission with wave after wave of A-list Hollywood talent and proprietary preview materials. That event showcased teases for a cavalcade of upcoming films and TV shows from the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s so-called Phase 4 including She-Thor, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, Blade, and WandaVision.
On Thursday, after debuting five minutes from The New Mutants’ opening sequence — footage highlighting the film’s decidedly non-comic-book-y, dark fantasy/horror tone, culminating with Hunt’s character chained to a bed in what appears to be a hospital psychiatric ward — Boone invited the “most patient fans in the world” to participate in an online contest for tickets to an advance theatrical screening of the movie.
“Wear a mask,” the director deadpanned. “You might just get to see it finally.”
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