'The New Mutants' isn't making a case to return to theaters

Brad Keefe
"The New Mutants"

I’m not reviewing this week’s big theatrical release of “The New Mutants” because I didn’t have the opportunity. It is likely I wouldn’t be reviewing it even if I did.

First, a little behind-the-scenes of how the movie review sausage is made. 

There are generally three ways film critics like me see movies in advance of release. First, there’s what’s called a “promotional screening.” Critics attend with a full audience of the general public, most of whom received special passes through websites and promotional giveaways.

Second is the “critics only” screening, which is an audience limited solely to critics and their guests. That typically maxes out at a couple dozen people in an otherwise empty theater.

The third way is a “digital screener.” That’s when I receive a secure link to a website where I typically get to watch a movie with my name watermarked on the screen the entire time. Just in case I thought it might be a good idea to throw away a 20-year career as a movie critic and decide to become a pirate.

“The New Mutants” did not screen for Columbus critics, but elsewhere in the country reviewers were told they would have to attend a promotional screening. As a result, several prominent outlets, including The AV Club and Indiewire, released statements this week explaining that they were not willing to risk their critics’ health to review a movie.

Keep in mind, “The New Mutants” has been delayed for several years, which is generally a sign that the movie did not test well with audiences. It’s likely that the critical reviews of the movie would not be good. Studios tend to make critic access more difficult in these instances.

The movie was filmed in 2017 and had, for the time, a hot young cast, including Anya Taylor-Joy, fresh off her breakout in “The Witch,” Maisie Williams of “Game of Thrones” and Charlie Heaton of “Stranger Things.”

But let’s say I did see “The New Mutants” and it was greatthe kind of movie best experienced on the big screen. How could I in good conscience tell everyone to go to a movie theater now?

I desperately want the movie theater experience to survive this pandemic. But I want people to survive it more.

I applaud the difficult work being done, particularly by our independent theaters, which are requiring masks and advanced ticket sales with reserved, socially distanced seating. But, again, if I’m not comfortable in a room full of strangers, I’m not comfortable recommending a theatrical release right now.

In what in normal times would have been this week’s box office showdown, “Bill & Ted Face the Music” is instead hitting VOD platforms for rental or purchase this week. And while “The New Mutants” is sticking to the old theatrical model, I might be more prone to recommend it with a home-viewing option.

The next big test will come Monday when Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet” also hits theaters. It was one of my most anticipated movies of the year. Now I’m anticipating that I won’t see it unless I rent out a theater.