#13 in my ranking of the X-Men franchise.
I always thought this movie was a great idea. You take an established franchise/brand, use that to open the film’s box office opening weekend potentially even completely covering the cost of the film that was made with a smaller budget in a new direction. Instead of the fantasy action spectacles that have become de rigeur for the X-Men franchise, we were going to get a stripped down horror film starring a new cast. If it paid off, the studio makes money and they suddenly have a new cast to build off of and a new type of film to mimic within the context of this franchise. It would have helped if this movie knew a single thing about how horror works, or if it weren’t interminably boring.
I get why the studio would greenlight this film, but I also get why they would also shelve it for literally years, wondering what to do with it. Should they reshoot large sections of it to fix it? Should they release it as is, knowing that it’s garbage and that their investment in a potential new direction for the franchise will be dead on arrival? Well, I guess Disney sorted all of that out when they bought 20th Century Fox and just released the film as is. They weren’t going to continue with the Fox iteration of the X-Men franchise either way, so they might as well make a bit of coin on it and move on.
A young Cheyenne girl, Dani, wakes up in the middle of the night as her reservation is being destroyed by a large, mysterious force. Her father gets her out of the house and hides her in the crook of a tree before he dies. When she wakes up, she’s in a locked down facility with only a single doctor, Dr. Reyes, to watch over five mutant youths. The entire facility is voice controlled by her, and there’s a mysterious invisible dome that surrounds the facility. Right off the bat this movie feels wrong. It’s too literal. Being a horror film at heart, it feels like a more surrealistic take on the setting would have benefitted it. There’s a certain mystery about the dome and whomever is behind the whole thing, but the dome gets answered quickly and the mysterious force behind the scenes is never really a focus (perhaps meant to be left to sequels that never came around).
The five mutants are all somewhere between uninteresting and laughable. Rahne is a werewolf of sorts, abused by a cardinal (I’m assuming it was supposed to just be a local priest but no one knew that a cardinal’s robes and a priest’s robes look very different) but she’s still praying all the time. Oh, and she’s gay. Illyana has a terribly laughable Russian accent, can form a metal arm and sword with blue flames, and she can teleport to another dimension and back (begging the question about why she’s locked in the place at all when it seems like she could just leave at any time). Sam “blasts off” like a rocket, and he’s from Kentucky and was going to work in the coal mines. Bobby is the son of wealthy Brazilians who becomes hot and his skin bursts into flames. None of these characters are particularly interesting, and the movie spends a shocking amount of time with them. The problem is that they really don’t have anything to do.
They all talk about getting out, but not a single one of them tries. There’s even a point where they drug Reyes, and all they do is do what they’ve always done, which is sit around and talk but now with music. Rahne even has a way around all the mechanical locks that only unlock at Reyes’ command, and there’s a solid chance that Reyes can’t maintain the bubble asleep, and yet they don’t even talk about the possibility. They just hang out like they always have. What do they want? Well, based on their actions, they don’t want much of anything. They have no drive to accomplish anything, and in their drive to just hang out, the movie gets increasingly boring.
Eventually something close to a plot develops as we discover that Dani’s power is that she makes people’s fears manifest in reality when she’s stressed. I mean, we figure it out the first time it happens with Sam, a strange new event occurring with the addition of the new character to this mix, but it doesn’t really become a thing until the third act when Illyana’s nightmare comes to life. I will give the movie props for the design of the smiling men that attack the kids. They’re creepy. However they also represent this movie’s complete misunderstanding of how horror works.
This ties into the movie’s very literal take on the setting. Outside of the very focused bits of horror, nothing about the movie feels that creepy. There’s the horror scenes, and then there’s the kids hanging out. That’s most of the movie right there. There’s no impending sense of dread, just kids hanging out and then some random nightmares. I think making the hospital far less literal by excluding Reyes completely and making the escape impossible but also impossible to explain would have helped. Mixing that with an increasing sense of tension as the group tries to escape after this new girl showed up with no explanation and things have started going wrong, potentially building in a more concrete them vs her dynamic that may or may not be justified would have done a lot for it as well. As Dani gets more isolated from potential new contacts, the nightmares get worse, and the need to escape increases along with it. That might have worked better, and that might have been what was originally envisioned. It’s not how it plays, though.
Not only is the movie inept, but it’s boring. That’s one of the greatest sins in entertainment, boring your audience, offering up nothing for them to latch onto to engage with. I liked the idea of this film, but it would have been nice had it been made with an ounce of understanding of its genre, giving them film any sense of urgency instead of tedium.