As is surely inevitable with a franchise entering into its 17th year, 20th Century Fox’s ‘X-Men’ movie series looks to be in something of a state of flux. In the wake of 2016’s ‘X-Men: Apocalypse,’ which met with reasonable box office success (£442.4 million worldwide) but a lukewarm reaction from fans and critics, the months ahead will see reportedly the very last appearance by series staple Hugh Jackman in his signature role of Wolverine, in adult-oriented solo movie ‘Logan.’
And it’s not just Jackman who appears to be cashing out of the ‘X-Men’ universe. Jennifer Lawrence, whose performance as Mystique in ‘X-Men: First Class,’ ‘Days of Future Past’ and ‘Apocalypse’ played a big part in revitalising the franchise, has confirmed that she won’t be back a fourth time. A question mark hangs over Magneto actor Michael Fassbender; and director Bryan Singer, who called the shots on the first two ‘X-Men’ movies as well as the two most recent entries, is stepping back in favour of Freddie Mercury biopic ‘Bohemian Rhapsody.’
Yes, the series got a shot in the arm with 2016’s ‘Deadpool,’ which drew both established ‘X-Men’ fans and a whole new audience by branching out in a more mature and comedic direction; but at heart, the ‘X-Men’ movies have always been ensemble pieces, and work best when centred on a team. Unfortunately, the new team introduced in the 1980s-set ‘Apocalypse’ – younger incarnations of the original line-up, including Jean Grey, Storm and Cyclops – didn’t necessarily win over audiences as well as hoped.
It makes sense, then, that 20th Century Fox would consider expanding the franchise by building on other characters from Marvel’s X-Men pantheon to which they own the screen rights – and ‘The New Mutants’ is next.
Whilst the film has not been officially announced by the studio yet, its director Josh Boone, who has been on board ‘The New Mutants’ since 2015, has all but confirmed it will go into production this May, with an eye to a 2017 release.
Given the lack of official confirmation from Fox, casting news has purely been the domain of rumour too – but one actress linked to the film, Anya Taylor-Joy (‘The Witch’), would seem to have confirmed in recent days to Coming Soon that she is at least in contention to appear – and at the same time, implied that the film will also see her ‘Split’ co-star James McAvoy reprise his role as Professor Charles Xavier.
So just who are ‘The New Mutants?’ Marvel Comics introduced the ‘X-Men’ offshoot in 1982, centred on, as the name makes apparent, a new group of gifted yet troubled youngsters coming to grips with their extraordinary abilities.
The first run of the comic book was notable for introducing Deadpool, initially as a villain who later teamed up with some of the New Mutants when their original line-up was relaunched in the early 1990s as ‘X-Force’ (a title Fox is also known to have had big screen designs on with ‘Kick-Ass 2’ director Jeff Wadlow linked, although it would seem to be on the back burner at present).
Back in August 2016, The Hollywood Reporter declared that this original ‘New Mutants’ line-up is set to appear in the movie. Key characters include ‘Native American Danielle Moonstar, Scots girl Wolfsbane, Brazilian ladies man Sunspot, a Kentuckian code-named Cannonball, and Russian teen Magik. Also in the mix will be an alien named Warlock.’
Anya Taylor-Joy has been linked to the role of Magik, the younger sister of Collossus, who as her name suggests boasts powers of sorcery as well as teleportation; whilst ‘Game of Thrones’ actress Maisie Williams is rumoured to be up for Wolfsbane, who’s essentially a werewolf.
Meanwhile, Nat Wolff – who starred in director Josh Boone’s ‘The Fault in Our Stars,’ and was among those in contention for Marvel/Sony’s new Spider-Man before Tom Holland was cast – is said to be a contender for Cannonball, who can propel himself to jet-speed and generate force fields.
It’s undeniable that, beyond hardcore comic fans, none of these are especially well-known characters, and as such may seem less of a sure audience draw than old favourites like Wolverine, Cyclops, Jean Grey and Storm. (That said, it is also rumoured ‘X-Men: Apocalypse’ actress Alexandra Shipp may reprise her role as Storm in ‘New Mutants,’ which implies the film should follow on in the ‘Apocalypse’ timeline.)
Then again, there’s something to be said for the argument that it’s not the characters, but what you do with them. Marvel’s super-team ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ were almost completely unknown to the wider audience prior to James Gunn’s 2014 movie; now, the upcoming ‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2’ is one of the most eagerly anticipated blockbusters of 2017. Nor were the bulk of the DC Comics anti-heroes of 2016’s ‘Suicide Squad’ that well known before they made a killing at the box-office (although that film can’t be held up as the greatest success in creative terms).
Can ‘The New Mutants’ achieve similar success with lesser-known characters? As James Gunn was on ‘Guardians’ (and, for that matter, as Bryan Singer was on the original ‘X-Men’), Josh Boone is a largely untested director at this scale of filmmaking, but given he came to ‘New Mutants’ after being attached to the long in-development big screen adaptation of Stephen King’s ‘The Stand,’ clearly many in Hollywood have confidence that he has the scale of vision necessary for major blockbusters. Rumour has it Boone has something pretty different in mind for the film, with Coming Soon quoting unnamed sources close to the production describing it as “Stephen King meets John Hughes.”
Either way, new blood is surely what the ‘X-Men’ movies are most in need of right now. Whilst ‘Apocalypse’ wasn’t as bad ‘X-Men 3: The Last Stand’ or ‘X-Men Origins: Wolverine’ (in this writer’s opinion, at least), the film definitely represents a series low, giving the clear impression that the prequel timeline of ‘First Class’ and ‘Days of Future Past’ has run out of steam.
Let’s hope ‘The New Mutants’ is the new evolution that the series is in need of, and look forward to big announcements on the subject from 20th Century Fox in the near future.