Here’s a sentence we weren’t sure we’d ever get to actually type: The New Mutants is definitely coming to theaters this weekend. For a while, there was reason to wonder if Josh Boone’s teen superhero spin-off (in all likelihood, the final installment in the Fox iteration of the X-Men film franchise) would ever see the light of day—or even if it was a real movie at all and not some memory of one from an alternate, dystopian timeline ruled by giant robots or an ageless supervillain. Shot some three years ago, this Marvel Comics adaptation has been bouncing around the calendar ever since: subjected to reshoots and re-edits, pushed back repeatedly by execs at Fox and then Disney, and most recently delayed because of COVID-19, mere weeks before it was scheduled to finally open. It’s with no small amount of irony that The New Mutants now arrives, at a time when most studios have cleared their entire slate of releases for the year, to become one of the only new movies anyone can see in theaters.
The A.V. Club won’t be reviewing it, however. At least not this week, and probably not for many afterwards. A few days ago, we reached out to Disney and were informed by representatives of the studio that they would not be providing press with either an advance screening of the film or a digital review link. In other words, the only way critics will be able to see The New Mutants is if they buy a ticket and go to a theater, just like everyone else. In normal times, that’s exactly what we’d do: Studios will sometimes decline to screen a movie in advance of its public premiere—often, it must be said, when they’re afraid that reviews will be negative enough to hurt attendance. (Maybe The New Mutants is a train wreck. Or maybe Disney just thinks it is.)
But these are not normal times. Last week, we published an interview with scientific experts on the dangers of going to the movies now, during a pandemic that is in no way under control. They did not mince words: There’s a very good chance you could get sick. And that’s a risk The A.V. Club will not be taking to review a movie, any movie, even one that will satisfy our burning curiosity about a long-delayed comic-book blockbuster that sounds more like A Nightmare On Elm Street III: The Dream Warriors than First Class. We are, in fact, adopting the official policy of only reviewing films our writers can safely watch, whether in a socially distanced press screening or with a digital screener. And yes, that applies to all our writers, even those willing to take the risk for an assignment, because we’re not willing to monetize that risk, either.
Whether it’s responsible to be reviewing theatrical releases at all right now is another question, one we’ve wrestled with as a staff over the past few weeks. Does publishing a review of a movie headed for theaters qualify as an implicit encouragement to go see that movie in theaters, especially if the review is positive? Our current, imperfect solution is to provide readers with a warning upfront, linking to the aforementioned article about the risks involved. For the time being, all A.V. Club reviews of films headed exclusively to theaters will carry this disclaimer. The message, we hope, is clear: Here is a new movie you can see on the big screen. Before we talk about it, here’s why you maybe shouldn’t buy a ticket.
Still, that doesn’t entirely resolve the ethical conundrum of covering movies during a world health crisis. Last week, yours truly reviewed Unhinged, the first wide release to open in American theaters since they all shut down back in March. Thanks to a screening link, I was able to watch the film from the safety of my living room—something almost no one reading the review will be able to do for a while. Critics, as a rule, are afforded luxuries that make the moviegoing experience different, and usually more comfortable; we tend to watch films with more polite crowds (or smaller ones), or sometimes with no crowd at all. Maybe, on some level, it’s fair that Disney isn’t affording critics a privilege that audiences won’t have. At the very least, one could argue that those reviewing The New Mutants in public release will better understand the mindset of those they’re writing for—which is to say, they’ll be worried about their health, too, as they watch Maisie Williams and Anya Taylor-Joy de-age into younger versions of themselves through the magic of release-date limbo.
So this is no plea for sympathy or lament for privileges lost. It is just an explanation for why you won’t see a review of The New Mutants here this week, or probably any time before it hits Disney+. With theaters slowly reopening around the country, movie lovers have to make a (hopefully informed) choice for themselves on whether they feel ready to hazard a return to this shared public space. For the time being, and until further notice, The A.V. Club is making the choice not to ask any team member to take that risk. How this will affect coverage of the other movies slated to hit theaters over the next few weeks—including Tenet, which will supposedly open in American multiplexes at the beginning of September—remains to be seen. You know, like everything else during this wild, frightening time.