#NativeNerd movie review: ‘The New Mutants’
Indian Country Today
After waiting for what seemed like 20 years after its initial release to theaters, “The New Mutants,” starring Lakota actress Blu Hunt and directed by Josh Boone, finally made its way to video on demand.
First off let me say I am a bit ticked off, if not truly angry, at some of the reviews that came out for this movie. One reviewer even called this movie the worst Marvel film.
Now, I don’t want to admonish a critic for their opinions, nor do I want to assume that any of the critics may or may not have any history or experience of diving into the world of comic books, but truly, I found other reviews of the film that are seriously critical — quite honestly infuriating.
I’ll explain my stance.
Back in the 80s, I remember being a young teenager walking into Geoffrey’s Comics in Gardena, it was about two blocks from Compton Blvd. and I remember walking in the store to see a graphic novel called, “The New Mutants.” It was the first time I had ever seen a Native woman superhero on the cover of anything Marvel. I was mesmerized. It took me a while, but I saved up to buy it.
Marvel was already working on diversity in comics thanks to co-creators Chris Claremont and Bob McLeod.
“The New Mutants” was a complex spin-off based on the X-Men
The beauty of both the New Mutants and X-Men comics was that Marvel really dove into the hearts, bodies, and minds of mutant superheroes and supervillains. Everything the mutants did in their lives was strategically thought out, and planned out.
The teams always discussed the potential repercussions of a fight. There was never a battle without remorse at some level, a mutant ability without the repercussions of jealousy, racism, or judgments based on not being “normal.”
There were riots in the streets against the “Muties,” the slang name for mutants. In the midst of “MUTIES” spray-painted on countless walls and actual mutants grabbed by angry mobs and killed or branded with the capital letter “M” on their bodies or faces, there was political legislation, and white supremacists, political and religious leaders who spoke publicly against mutants as well as other races. Additionally, the government was kidnapping, testing on, and trying to harness mutant powers whenever possible.
I didn’t realize at the time how close this was to the racially-based histories of people of color, but the comics resonated with me completely. I have great memories of sitting in my room for hours and hours, quietly turning the pages of my Marvel comic books absorbing every word and drawing panel like a sponge.
Mutants were so much more than a superhero, they were a person who had a different type of “X-gene.” Due to their differences from the non-mutant society, they repeatedly faced anti-mutant discrimination, abandonment from their family and friends, and more.
There were even underground societies of mutants that fled a violent public.
If you notice in the movie, Rahne Sinclair, also known as Wolfsbane, has a large "M" scar that someone has carved into her neck.
There were times I thought, “Wow, maybe being a mutant wouldn’t be so easy.” Claremont and McLeod made me really think deeply about how my life would change as a superhero.
There was more to being a superhero than shooting a beam from your eyes or walking through a wall. You could never be careless. You could never underestimate the power your body held. Every move you made as a mutant was, in reality, a matter of life and death.
I truly feel writer and director Josh Boone and writer Knate Lee understand this complexity. They brought to the table just how important it is to realize that a mutant power is a responsibility.
Teens with responsibility can be an incredible blessing as much as it could be a terrible curse, much like a 16-year-old with a car can travel to a new job and earn a paycheck, or race speeding down the road to cause a deadly car crash. Yes, an adult could do the same thing, but as a 53-year-old man, I am much more aware of how dangerous it could be.
The New Mutants
9.5 out of 10
My quick quote: “A complex and deeply emotional dive into the complexities of being a teenager, a mutant and incarcerated. One of my favorites in the Marvel Universe.”
Synopsis: Five teenage mutants — Mirage, Wolfsbane, Cannonball, Sunspot and Magik — undergo treatments at a secret institution that will cure them of their dangerous powers. Invited by Dr. Cecilia Reyes to share their stories, their memories soon turn into terrifying realities as they start to question why they're being held and who's trying to destroy them.
About 38 years after I first saw the graphic novel on the shelves of Geoffrey’s Comics, I sat and began to watch the movie.
And right off the bat, there it was — the complexity of thought, emotion, and even a bit of anxiety.
I am an admitted stickler for origin stories in the original Marvel comic books and this version, like much of the Marvel Movie Universe, does stray a little bit. But ever since “Logan” — where Hugh Jackman, who plays Wolverine said, “You can ever really trust those comic books” (I’m paraphrasing) — I’ve been able to let the two universes coexist, even if my eyebrows raise quite often.
So there it was, the characters were mostly the same as the original, except Magik, (one of my favorite new characters in the Marvel movie world) who replaced Karma (Xi'an Coy Manh), a Vietnamese mutant. I am not certain, but I also believe Karma was one of the first lesbian heroes in Marvel, at least that I have seen.
I sincerely hope to see Karma in the future as she is another of my favorite characters. However, this may not happen as Karma was originally thought to appear in this film’s sequel in the future, but no new plans exist at this time to bring it to life. I hope that changes.
So there Hunt was, on the big screen (well as big as my PC screen) acting her heart out as Danielle Moon Star, a Native American mutant. She was talking with her father in the movie, who was played by Adam Beach, who delivered a few nice cameos.
I was fortunate to interview Hunt, and having a unique perspective going into this movie was a gift.
The movie takes place inside a sanitarium of sorts, in which the young mutants are locked from the outside world with no way out. The cast was exceptional. In all of the Marvel movies to date, I think this cast was the best. To me, it was as if the comic I had read over thirty years ago had come to life. There was one adjustment I would have made to the actual physicality of the casting, in that Roberto da Costa was a Black Brazilian in the graphic novel.
Maisie Williams, who is in “Game of Thrones,” plays Rahne Sinclair, also known as Wolfsbane, a shapeshifter that can change into a wolf. In the film, she struggles with her devout religious beliefs and yet still struggles to maintain her sense of independence. Her battle is a real one, just as much as her physical battle against authority. Anya-Taylor Joy plays Illyana Rasputin or Magik, the Russian little sister of Colossus, and friend to Kitty Pryde, and to my utter joy, caretaker of Lockheed the little dragon.
Charlie Heaton does an exceptional job in portraying Sam Guthrie or Cannonball, a mutant with powers as if he were an actual cannonball. Henry Zaga is Roberto da Costa or Sunspot, a Brazilian soccer player who has the power of the sun.
They are all getting managed care of sorts by Dr. Cecilia Reyes, portrayed by Alice Braga, who is in “Queen of the South.” Dr. Reyes does everything to keep the young mutants in the facility. The mutants, of course, want to get out. But when mutant teenagers, who struggle to maintain their powers much in the same way youth might try to control their feelings when riddled with hormones and more, struggle in their battles much more than get control of them.
Racist words in the movie
When the film first came out to theaters, I soon saw comments on social media calling out the movie for racist words and terminology directed at Dani Moonstar. I didn’t know what to think, so I reserved comments until I viewed the film.
Do I like racist terminology toward Native people in any form? Absolutely not, I am vehemently opposed to it. I also support those who do not ever wish to see it. In this film, Magik does use this type of race-based negative terminology toward Moonstar or Mirage as her character is called as a superhero.
As I certainly do not like racist terminology, I understand the place for it in this movie. The character Illyana is a racist and entitled jerk of a person toward Dani.
These young people are institutionalized, and aggressions are running high, it would be inaccurate to expect that a racist word would never be uttered in such a situation.
I have had similar things said to me in my life as a Native man, so the reality that such language does exist is not farfetched.
My overall view
All of the actors, and I mean every one of them Williams, Taylor-Joy, Heaton, and Zaga were masterful in the execution of their roles. I believed each one of them wholeheartedly.
Williams portrayed an over-anxious religious young girl with sincerity, honesty, and realism. Taylor-Joy did an excellent job of portraying that one girl every one of us knew in high school, that you resented deeply, but also wished for her status of entitlement. Heaton simply was the embodiment of Sam Guthrie in each and every way, I bought it completely. Zaga was brilliant in portraying da Costa as a smug yet insecure soccer player that might have been successful in his life, but hides how much he feels that he is a failure in the eyes of his family.
Hunt carried her heart on her sleeve. I appreciate how well she led me on the path to the discovery of who she was as a mutant. Her closed-off nature as a character was synonymously made available to anyone who might be watching.
I was able to go along with the journey. I was able to join in on the story and live alongside them all for a while. And that’s the best I could ever ask for.
The New Mutants movie is now available on streaming platforms such as Amazon Prime, YouTube, Google Play and Vudu as well as on Blu-ray and 4K Ultra HD discs. Visit https://www.disneymovieinsiders.com/movie/the-new-mutants for more information.
Vincent Schilling, Akwesasne Mohawk, is associate editor at Indian Country Today. He enjoys creating media, technology, computers, comics, and movies. He is a film critic and writes the #NativeNerd column. Twitter @VinceSchilling. TikTok @VinceSchilling. Email: email@example.com.
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