The x-men The franchise has welcomed some of the most popular heroes in Marvel Comics history, from Wolverine and Storm to Nightcrawler and Deadpool. But over the past decade, an unexpected character has captured the hearts of comic book fans everywhere: Colossus’ younger sister, Illyana Rasputin, aka Magik.
While she’s been a major character in the comics since the ’80s, Magik has recently enjoyed a meteoric rise in popularity. As such, her live debut – performed by Anya Taylor-Joy (of Queen’s Gambit, The witch, and Peaky Blinders fame) in the 2020s The New Mutants – should have been a great success. But sadly, while the film came close to capturing Magik’s appeal in some ways, it failed cataclystically in others. The result is a truly bizarre adaptation that’s as fascinating as it is confusing.
Illyana Rasputin technically made her first appearance in 1975 Giant Size X-Men #1, in which her older brother Colossus is featured rescuing her from a runaway tractor. However, it will not be until 1982 Weird X-Men #160 his story would truly begin. Written by legendary X scribe Chris Claremont, the issue sees the X-Men do battle with the demonic sorcerer Belasco, who abducts Illyana to the hellish realm of Limbo. As the X-Men fight valiantly to save Illyana, time is complicated in Limbo. By the time Illyana returns to Earth, she’s spent seven whole years in limbo from her point of view, growing from a child to a teenager while her brother hasn’t aged a day.
The 1983 miniseries Magic explores Illyana’s time in Belasco’s captivity, portraying their relationship as that of abuser and victim. Belasco comes across as a caring mentor to Illyana, assuring her that he loves her even as he imprisons and torments her. Illyana tries to learn sorcery to free herself from Belasco’s clutches, but struggles in vain to master the creative forces of light magic. It is only when she gives in to her thirst for revenge that she is able to harness the destructive power of dark magic, channeling her own life force into a mystical blade she calls the Soul Sword. . With the power of the Soul Sword, Illyana quickly defeats Belasco – but in the process, she begins to transform into a demonic form.
Using her mutant power of teleportation, Illyana opens a portal to Earth, but she is haunted by the fact that the power of Limbo still dwells within her. She does her best to hide her trauma, adopting a confident and mischievous persona to show a brave face to the world. But deep down, she fears she’s destined to fall into darkness, no matter how hard she tries to be a hero. As she puts it herself Magic #1, “I am Illyana Rasputin…the savior of mankind…or the means to its eternal damnation.” In other words, she suffers from truly apocalyptic levels of impostor syndrome. Only when she sacrifices herself to save her fellow New Mutants in the classic Hell crossover that Illyana really comes to terms with her ability to do good.
But of course, death is never permanent in the comics, and Illyana eventually came back to life as a young adult. The biggest turning point for his character was Brian Michael Bendis’ 2013 run on Weird X-Men, which eventually saw her transition from New Mutant to X-Man. Having become something of an apprentice to Cyclops, she now sported a visually striking gothic aesthetic and a lighter personality. Most recently, Vita Ayala’s “Labors of Magik” storyline saw classic and modern interpretations of Magik unified into one definitive vision as she finally conquers her past trauma. At times, she is playful, sarcastic, and flirtatious; other times she is vengeful, battle-hungry, and tough. Still other times, she is compassionate, selfless, and hopeful. The Magik of the comics is one of the most nuanced and compelling X-Men of all, and it’s no surprise that she’s become a fan favorite.
Unfortunately, much of Magik’s appeal has been lost in adaptation with The New Mutants. For one thing, Anya Taylor-Joy is a perfect cast for Illyana. Not only does she look the part, but she has the range to pull off both Magik’s tough, rebellious facade and her vulnerable, insecure side. And indeed, Taylor-Joy does her best with the material she provided, delivering arguably the best performance in the film. However, that same level of effort cannot be found in the script she has to work with.
For starters, Illyana is downright unsympathetic at the start of the film. She’s clearly meant to be the movie’s version of the “angry loner with a heart of gold” archetype found in so many teen movies – like the character Ally Sheedy in The breakfast club, but with mutant powers. However, his dialogue is not so much distant as it is unnecessarily cruel. She relentlessly bullies protagonist Dani Moonstar (Blu Hunt), many of her insults being uncomfortably racist. At one point, she calls Dani “Pocahontas”, among other derisive references to her Cheyenne heritage. While Illyana was certainly abrasive at times in the comics, she never made any bigoted remarks. That thread is thankfully dropped after the film’s first act, but it’s a horrible first impression and a truly confusing creative decision.
However, the real problem comes from Illyana’s backstory. For starters, her relationship with Colossus is never even mentioned, completely eliminating a major aspect of her character. Additionally, her abduction by Belasco is replaced with a more grounded origin, in which she was kidnapped by unknown kidnappers whom she dubbed the Smiley Men. Although the nature of her captivity is never specified, it is virtually stated that she was trafficked as a sex slave as a child.
It goes without saying that it’s an incredibly dark subject to include so casually in an X-Men movie. And while Illyana’s traumatic past with Belasco certainly carried a subtext of sexual abuse and grooming, it was handled with enough subtlety and tact that it didn’t feel out of place or gratuitous. The same can’t be said for the film adaptation’s take on Magik’s backstory. Confusingly, the character’s other supernatural elements – namely, the Soulsword and even Limbo – are still present in the film. Limbo’s inclusion is particularly puzzling, as it implies that Illyana somehow created the Infernal Dimension with her powers in order to escape the Smiley Men.
It’s as if the filmmakers couldn’t decide whether to keep the fantastic elements of Magik’s story or toss them out for a grittier take, resulting in an interpretation that’s the worst of both worlds. Illyana is haunted by past trauma, but without the guilt and self-doubt that comes from her connection with Limbo. And even if Limbo is still there despite everything, his presence is completely superfluous.
Despite Anya Taylor-Joy’s best efforts to capture Magik’s vibrant and nuanced characterization of the source material, the film’s lackluster script nonetheless does an incredible service to one of the best-written X-Men characters in all of comics. . Hopefully Illyana Rasputin will eventually receive a more faithful adaptation once the X-Men inevitably enter the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And with any luck, Taylor-Joy will get a well-deserved second chance to bring Magik to life.
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