Comic Book

REVIEW: The New Mutants

20th Century Studios
Rated: PG-13
Run Time: 94 minutes
Director: Josh Boone

  The New Mutants release date has become something of a joke as of late. Between the rumors of reshoots, the confusion between the Disney/Fox merger, and delays because of the Corona Virus- The New Mutants seemed to be cursed. But against all odds, it ended up being one of the first new movies to be released in 2020. Being a fan of the X-Men films, and of Anya-Taylor Joy and Maisie Williams in particular, I was eagerly awaiting this film for two years, and I leapt with joy when I finally got to see it in theaters.

My Quibbles

  The New Mutants has been described by its director as “John Hughes meets Stephen King”–a combination of the horror and coming of age genre. This hybrid is nothing new with shows like Stranger Things and the It movies. So having some of the X-Men set in this kind of environment is such a great idea for a film. However, The New Mutants fails to do something that is absolutely vital in order for a horror movie to succeed: establish the scare.

In the beginning of every horror movie you need to establish what we should be frightened of–whether it be a setting (like a haunted house), a supernatural entity (like a ghost or demon), or a specific person. Once we establish the scare, we are then able to increase tension until the final confrontation or twist.

The first two acts are really weakened because we are shown scares without it connected to anything. Frightening events happen with seemingly no connectivity until the final act.  We are unable to determine if we should be wary of the hospital our characters are in, the director of said hospital, or one of the characters in the hospital. If we had any lead (even a false lead) we could have been more engaged with the scares instead of just randomly jumping from horror scene to horror scene.

Blu Hunt in a scene of The New Mutants | 20th Century Studios.

What I Liked

Relationships: Despite the lack of a proper horror establishment, what kept me interested in the first two acts was the relationships between our characters.

One of the main themes of this movie is how we deal with trauma in our lives and how we each cope with it in our own specific way. Illyana (played by Anya-Taylor Joy) lashes out in anger and sarcasm and is an absolute joy to watch as she learns to open up to her eventual friends. The stand out relationship of the movie is between Dani (played by Blu Hunt) and Rahne (played by Game of Thrones standout Maisie Williams). Rahne offers a really interesting dynamic as she is a person of faith while dealing with the burden of being a mutant. Her positivity during the whole movie was so charming and filled with warmth, and her romance with Dani was so genuine and heartfelt. These characters make the movie, and without these actors giving their all to these roles, the movie definitely wouldn’t have been as good as it was.

Scares: I personally am not frightened by the typical loud jumpscare-noise-thing that infects most of the horror movies Hollywood churns out. I get startled, I jump in my seat, and then I move on. What really gets under my skin is when the scary thing is disturbing and/or specifically relates to a trauma that the characters go through .The latter is what the film chooses to employ. The CGI isn’t anything to write home about, but boy does it know how to pack a gut punch. I audibly gasped “oh crap” when it was revealed what the “smile creatures” shown  in the trailers actually were. And the shower scene shown in the trailer? Terrifying. You don’t have to have the best gory effects, or have something jump out at you every ten minutes for it to be effective. Maybe the real scares are the trauma we made along the way.

Final Tribute: There is no end credit scene, but there is something else fans can look forward to. Bill Sienkiewicz, who originally worked on the “Demon Bear Saga” (the story this film is based on) in the comics drew a portrait of each of the actors in character, which were displayed over the end credits. It was a beautiful tribute to the last X-Men movie we will get from Fox… excuse me… 20th Century Studios.

Final Thoughts

The New Mutants  is a fun and heartwarming  mashup of the best parts of  Glass (2019) and the It movies. Was it worth the two year wait? Honestly, it was for me. It wasn’t the greatest movie ever made, but it certainly doesn’t belong down at the bottom of the mutant list with X-Men Origins (2009) and Dark Phoenix (2019). Booth has created a solid mid-tier horror coming of age tale that should satisfy X-Men fans and young horror fans alike. I know I look forward to having this movie on my shelf and re-watching it whenever I need a fun spooky movie to watch.

Recommendation: Go See It!

The Importance of Superheroes

Artwork from the DC Extended Universe | DC Comics & Warner Bros. Pictures

During this ongoing pandemic, yours truly was participating in the social media trend of a “30 Day Film Challenge” where participants refer to one film each day under a specific category, such as “the first film that you remember watching.” When I arrived on Day 10, the category was “Your Favorite Superhero Film“—and I hit a wall. Each day was pretty easy, or I did not take it as seriously. The Superhero film genre has hit an all-time high, with one (Avengers: Endgame) even setting the box office record for any movie ever made. We, as a film community, have started to think Superhero films matter more now than ever. I oddly thought this question was more serious than it probably needed to be.

This decision was difficult—there have been numerous films that could fall under this category, and I also started to think about what makes viewers enjoy themselves so much during these films. No matter your gender, sex, race, or ethnicity, there is a superhero film that you attach yourself to. Before early Thursday night screenings became a thing, many viewers would attend the midnight screenings dressed up for the newest movie in a connected superhero universe or as billionaire vigilantes. After leaving the theater, we spent months on end debating who or which is the best! “Who is the best Batman?” or the “MCU vs DCEU” debate. These conversations transcend the fandoms and even reach those who are not connected to social media and pop culture. Everyone has their favorite representation of a character or their favorite superhero—but why?

Superheroes are meant to inspire. They represent someone we are not, or someone that can do things that we can’t. They can provide an escape into a world where someone is there for us even when our protectors or our medical and social institutions have let us down. Anger and sadness are commonplace emotions felt throughout our society because of the regular injustices we see or even experience ourselves: unjust murders because of racial tensions and prejudices; governments’ inability or flat out refusal to act; betrayal by those we loved or considered friends; our world is full of struggles that seem to find you no matter your background or social status.

Christopher Reeve and Helen Slater pose as Superman and Supergirl respectively. | Warner Bros. Pictures

People want to believe in the existence of fictional figures like Superman or Supergirl—someone they could depend on to save them when the humans who are supposed to either can’t or won’t. We want a person like Steve Rogers (Captain America) to do what the rest of us aren’t courageous enough to do and take a stand when it’s not convenient to do so. We want someone that brave enough to say, “I can do this all day.” Especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, we are told that real life superheroes exist in our healthcare facilities, in our schools, and at other times, in the military and police. We are constantly shown and told how “not all superheroes wear capes.” But what happens when that’s not enough? Numerous times in history people who are in a position to help choose not to act. People who are recognized as “ordinary” heroes might let down those looking up to them and expecting them to be there or to be there for them. Superheroes serve a purpose in filling this void.

Clinical psychologist, Robin Rosenberg wrote, “[superhero stories help us in] finding meaning in loss and trauma, discovering our strengths and using them for a good purpose.” She stated that “superheroes undergo three types of life-altering experiences that we can relate to:”

  1. Trauma
  2. Destiny
  3. Choice
From Batman: Year One | Art by David Mazzucchelli

Trauma; such as the one that young Bruce Wayne goes through. He makes a promise to his murdered parents to fight against the crime in Gotham City. Rosenburg states that this is directly applicable to a lot of real life scenarios. Her past research has shown that many people experience growth “after a trauma and resolve to help others, even becoming social activists.”

Destiny; similar to that of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. She’s a normal teenager who discovers she’s the “Chosen One” to fight demons. She has to be the one who does not have a normal life and will take on this burden. Sometimes we are thrown into scenarios that we may not have predicted but we have to adapt and push through anyway.

A snippet from Amazing Fantasy #15, Vol. 1 | Marvel Comics 1962

Rosenberg’s last type of experience is similar to what Spider-Man goes through. When he initially gets his powers, he uses it for selfish reasons until his beloved Uncle Ben is killed. This type of experience is similar to the first, but instead of the trauma defining the hero, it’s the choice that matters. No matter whether ‘your’ Spider-Man is Peter Parker, Miles Morales, or Peter Porker, this choice exists. They could stay wrestling for money to pay rent; they could stay home and be a normal kid instead of saving the multiverse. The choice to do what is right versus what is easy is a choice that we, as humans, make every day. Rosenberg states that, “[superheroes] inspire us and provide models of coping with adversity, finding meaning in loss and trauma, discovering our strengths and using them for good purpose” (link). We want to attach ourselves to these characters; we want to see them in ourselves; we want to see those with fantastical abilities are still imperfect and relatable, and we are comforted by seeing them struggle with ordinary problems and still do the right thing in the end.

Recent research from Kyoto University in Japan shows that this “choice” can happen even before we learn how to speak. Their study had preverbal infants shown short animations in which one character purposely bumps into another. They then showed the infants a third character who could either prevent it from happening or not do anything at all. The infants consistently wanted the third character to help and prevent the pain. This study showed that even though they could not speak they recognized what heroism was and wanted it to happen.

“Six-month-old infants are still in an early developmental stage, and most will not yet be able to talk. Nevertheless they can already understand the power dynamics between these different characters, suggesting that recognizing heroism is perhaps an innate ability.”

David Bulter – “Preverbal infants affirm third-party interventions that protect victims from aggressors” (link to article)

This idea is then touched on again in the television show What Would You Do? People are shown how ordinary people behave when they are confronted with dilemmas that require them either to take action or to stand by and mind their own business. Each scenario has the viewer hoping for the regular people to step in and stop whatever the situation is. We all want to be that person who does what’s right even when it’s not easy. Data suggests that feelings are one of the stronger reasons why audience members connect to certain heroes (link). Personally, I attach myself to stories of people and characters who have gone through trauma and stand up to those who are wrong. As Batman, Daredevil and the X-Men deal with their respective issues, I cope with what I have gone through and deal with my own conflicts.

In the past, and still now today, society often sees comics and comic book movies as only enjoyed by children or “nerds.” With Black Panther becoming the highest-grossing solo superhero film of all time, Avengers: Endgame becoming the highest-grossing film of all time, and a multitude of films winning Academy Awards for both their performances and their technical aspects, this is clearly not true. More people enjoy these characters outside of children and “nerds” than ever before. There are films that are clearly made more for children than older crowds, but there are just as many that are for adults and have many more important themes. Superheroes have become the modern-day mythology that tackles issues, from the struggles of high school to mental illnesses. No matter which superhero you attach yourself to, or when you attach yourself to them, there is no denying the effect that they have on our lives.

Which superhero do you identify with the most? Or which superhero has inspired you the most? Let me know down in the comments section below!

REVIEW: Bloodshot

Sony Pictures
Rated: PG-13
Run Time: 109 minutes
Director: David S.F. Wilson

The Story/The Direction:

Bloodshot is a superhero film based on the Valiant Comics character of the same name. It is supposed to be the first installment in a series of films set within a Valiant Comics shared cinematic universe. The film was directed by first-timer David S.F. Wilson. It obviously stars Vin Diesel, and has Eiza González, Sam Heughan, Toby Kebbell, and Guy Pearce as co-stars. Bloodshot tells the story of a marine who was killed-in-action, only to be brought back to life with technological superpowers by an organization that wants to use him as a weapon.

If viewers have seen and liked a Vin Diesel action film before, there is a lot of stuff in this to like as well. This film has a muscular man running around with explosions, shootouts, and beatdowns. Most of the action scenes in this film, aside from the first one, are pretty well done and engaging—they definitely look a whole lot better than other Diesel films. The pacing is pretty decent, and one who enjoys the action won’t feel bored as there are a lot of quick cuts during fight scenes. The director’s experience with computer graphics (CG) is noticeable in the action scenes in both good and bad ways. The good is that some of the action looks very coherent and engaging. 

The Characters:

While I have never read the Valiant Comics’ ‘Bloodshot,’ it does have a lot of fans, both domestically and internationally; and when Diesel is added as the character—who also has his own fanbase—theoretically, a good film would be produced. Diesel himself does do a decent job as this action hero who grunts and flexes some decent action sequences. He kicks a lot of butt, which is the most that can be expected from a film like this. His character basically looks like he should have been from TerminatorGenisys in some scenes. This actually looks fairly cool and keeps the film entertaining. He does add his characteristic machismo which effectively makes him an action hero, but the actor’s performance itself doesn’t bring any depth to the role.

Vin Diesel’s character shown regenerating after being shot in a scene of Bloodshot | Sony Pictures

The Flaws:

Overall, however, this is not a good film. The CGI is really bad at points, the characters are very underdeveloped, and the story is all over the place. There is even a line of dialogue in the film that has Pearce’s character, Dr. Emil Harting, making fun of one of his designer’s stories because he had done every cliché in the book, which honestly seems meta in a way? Because this film is really—and I mean really—cliché. Pearce is okay, but he really isn’t that villainous as an evil-scientist character. He seems more emphatic towards his creations than anything. There is a comedy in this film which seems off from a film aspect. If this film had been made more as a complete action story, it could have been better. The comedy made me laugh, but that was from how corny it is than anything else. Also for a film called, ‘Bloodshot,’ there is very little blood. This is probably due to the PG-13 rating, and maybe an R rating would have made this film better in that aspect. However, this film is probably marketing for young teenagers, which an R rating would prevent them from seeing it. 

Overall:

Bloodshot is a popcorn movie that one might want to watch while doing laundry. It does have solid action scenes and a relentless pace that normally would have been really good for a 4DX theater. The film definitely was fun to see in this format, but it is not needed as viewers probably won’t be watching this film too many times, or would be willing to pay extra. It’s a shame because Diesel is put into a terribly written film that could have been so much more. However, it does have some solid Vin Diesel action and thus some entertainment value, but maybe wait for it to be on television or a streaming service. If you’re not a fan of Vin Diesel, skip it altogether.

Now, what did you think of the film? Let me know in the comments section, and hit me up on social media. The Formal Review is on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

Recommendation: MAYBE A MATINEE

REVIEW: Birds of Prey

Warner Bros. Pictures
Rated: R
Run Time: 109 minutes
Director: Cathy Yan

Ok so full disclosure, as I’ve gotten further invested into cinema, I think I’ve developed a certain degree of snobbiness when it comes to superhero movies. I think it’s gotten better though. As I used to think that a majority of these movies – DC, Marvel, or otherwise – were simply meant to entertain (which is debatably the sole and most important purpose of movies anyway), I can now see valuable elements in most of these films. Whether it’s gaining a poignant and emotional perspective of the insatiable need for justice that Bruce Wayne feels in Batman vs. Superman, or simply identifying the 2-week-long residual sorrow I felt after the biggest casualty in Avengers: Endgame, there are some epic and complex stories to be told, and who says we can’t have a lot of fun and see some crazy intergalactic battles while we’re at it? There’s also a lot to be said of the realism that translates through these films i.e. The Dark Knight trilogy, and most recently, Joker. Then there’s the timely social topics that are portrayed on this stage and have a considerable impact of their own. Wonder Woman stood as one of the most popular movies of 2017 in large part because of how great it was to see a female lead independently, and organically become a timeless icon all over again. All I’m trying to say is that there’s absolutely potential for great cinema here.

With that preface, I can adequately contrast that from how I felt about Birds of Prey. I’d just simply say that I think this was a step backwards for DC and superhero movies. The movie wanted so badly to be Harley Quinn focussed, which may have been a good idea but they get distracted by subplots of uninteresting characters that seem to drag out, and a villain that indirectly tests Harley’s codependency issues but whose motives are blurred and actions bizarre… and he is in no way the Joker (which I believe would’ve made for a far better movie). 

Margo Robbie as Harley Quinn in Birds of Prey | Warner Bros. Pictures

Humor and deeper topics alike are overshadowed by awkward CGI violence, weird egg sandwich obsessions, and slap-induced hallucinogenic dance scenes, not to mention choppy story telling. Much of their goal to make this movie zany and unique just comes off as fluff and a lack of direction. 

Realism is often tossed out the window to grant more and more indestructible power to the lead characters, but then this power isn’t followed up with any sincere message, and instead is left with bland dialogue and sometimes subpar acting. So, I’d pass this up for perhaps an awards season movie that you missed or some upcoming premieres. For DC fans – who cares what I say! I know you need to eventually see this. Just maybe wait for a matinee. 

Recommendation: MAYBE A MATINEE

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