Superhero movies need to do better

| Senior Cadenza Editor

Heads up! This article contains very mild spoilers for “The New Mutants.”

I’ve been looking forward to “The New Mutants” for a long time. A very long time. When the movie was postponed from its planned April release due to the coronavirus, I wasn’t surprised. The movie had already been delayed four times—its original release date was in April of 2018—so a fifth seemed inevitable.

With all those delays, I of course entertained the thought that the movie might not be good. Why else would so may release dates be given and taken away? But I refused to believe it, even when friends saw the movie and warned me against it. How could the movie be bad, with its cast including stars like Maisie Williams (Game of Thrones) and Charlie Heaton (Stranger Things)? Its premise, too, intrigued me: a horror film in the X-Men cinematic universe. 

Needless to say, I was let down. But as I sat there watching characters I couldn’t help but care about go through badly-written dialogue and incredibly cliche action, I was reminded of so many other subpar superhero movies I’ve seen recently. 

I thought of “Endgame,” a movie that relied on nostalgic emotional beats to mask the fact that a good bit of it didn’t make sense. I remembered “The Justice League,” a less colorful rehash of 2012’s “The Avengers,” and the previous X-Men movie, “Dark Phoenix,” which butchered both plot and characterization for the sake of cool graphics. I thought of so many more. 

The original release poster for Marvel’s “The New Mutants.”

Here’s my message for superhero movies: stop. Don’t stop making superhero movies—it’s my favorite genre. But please, stop relying on star power and cool visual effects to make a movie successful, because so many of these movies lack originality. “The New Mutants” often felt predictable, using character arcs that have been seen many times: Roberto (Henry Zaga) spending most of the movie unwilling to use his powers before being forced to in the final battle, leading him to realize they don’t have to be dangerous, and bratty, standoffish Illyana (Anya Taylor-Joy) hating newcomer Dani (Blu Hunt) for no apparent reason. The film seemingly refused to add anything new. I saw most of the movie coming in a way that reminded me of “Captain Marvel” and, in a different vein, “Solo.”

“The New Mutants” had some good ideas. The movie thought to break away from the mainstream X-Men characters and themes, a change that needed to happen a while ago. It was a horror movie instead of the campy action I’ve come to expect from the franchise. There was a genuinely engaging, if trope-filled, romance subplot (with two women, something that all other superhero movies have thus far not been brave enough to do). And I genuinely care about all of the protagonists, cliche as they may be. 

The problem here is that “The New Mutants” didn’t do it well. They executed their ideas tolerably at best, predictability largely squashing both the joy and the thrill from the movie’s jumpscares. But that still puts them ahead of the other two big superhero franchises. With limited exceptions, most Marvel Cinematic Universe movies in the last few years have felt more like “a Marvel movie” than anything interesting or individual, and DC… let’s just hope next year’s “The Batman” pulls off the grim, dark atmosphere better than DC’s last Batman movies. 

I’ve seen superhero movies that manage to shed the genre of ‘superhero’ and turn out a product that feels like something more than the same old, same old (“Logan,” for one). And “The New Mutants” tried. It didn’t succeed, but I hope that attempt is something that won’t be overlooked. The next few years promise to be just as full of superhero content as the last few have been, so I hope those movies try something new, as well.

Sign up for the email edition

Stay up to date with everything happening at Washington University and beyond.