Tuesday’s Reviews – Deadpool (2016)

comic book, film, review, Ryan Reynolds, X-Men

You have to hand it to Ryan Reynolds. He’s been saying he’d get this film made for over 10 years and he bloody did it. I’m a Deadpool fan, like a lot of you out there, and I have been willing him to succeed for fucking years. There have been plenty of actors who belligerently stick to their hope that they’ll get to create the film they want. We quickly saw through Kiefer Sutherland constantly banging on about a 24 movie but Reynolds was the kind of person who could get it done. He pretty much is Wade and cares so much about the character that it made so much sense to give him what he wanted. To everyone but Fox, of course. Then when the test footage was leaked a couple of years ago it was like a fucking miracle. Deadpool is exactly the kind of character who needed a film and that’s not just to rewrite the injustice of X-Men Origins: Wolverine.

The final trailer for Batman vs Superman played before our screen of Deadpool on Sunday. All I could think whilst I sat through it was “we get it Synder, you’re taking this seriously”. It’s fucking ridiculous how high that film’s opinion of itself is. I’ve gone through stages with it and I think I’m firmly in the “can’t really bring myself to give a shit” camp. It’s exhaustingly earnest. The film industry was ready for a comic book movie to come along and fuck shit up. Nobody was better suited for the job than Deadpool.

It’s difficult not to watch Deadpool with a smile on your face from the opening scene. With its alternative credits including names like “British villain”, “moody teen” and “gratuitous cameo”, Deadpool isn’t pretending to be anything other than itself. This isn’t the shitty mute Deadpool that we last saw in Origins with retractable arm swords, ability to teleport, or eye lasers. This is Deadpool as he should be; the merc with a mouth. He’s talkative, witty and breaks the fourth wall at every given opportunity. Deadpool is set in the same world as X-Men but is as far removed from Byran Singer’s sensibilities as it possibly can. He’s not a superhero and will do anything he can to prove that.

Deadpool starts out life as Wade Wilson, a mercenary paid to deal out justice for a healthy price. After meeting beautiful prostitute Vanessa (Morena Baccarin) Wade decides its finally time to settle down until he is diagnosed with terminal cancer. A lifeline is handed to him thanks to a mysterious programme granting subjects mutant abilities. Of course, this comes with a price and Wilson loses his boyish good looks, which forces him to take up the mask. Newly suited and booted, he’s pissed and looking for revenge. British villains better watch their fucking backs.

Although, the film actually starts midway through the narrative after Wade has already accepted the Deadpool mantel and is tracking down his foe. An epic fight ensues where we get to see the characteristics that set this comic book movie apart. There’s plenty of sass, bloody violence, swearing and mid fight pauses to show us what makes this guy stand out. How many X-Men have you seen pause upside down in mid-air to muse about leaving the stove on or get shot up the arse during their first fight scene? The action then flashes back and forth between the present and Wade’s past, revealing to the audience what is driving him to such wanton destruction.

It’s a clever way of getting around the typical origin story problem of not seeing our hero in action until at least halfway through the film. Instead, our first shot is of the familiar figure in his red suit wielding his two blades. This film is action-packed from the word go. This format also masterfully disguises how thin the plot really is. When it comes down to it Deadpool is origin, fight, kidnap, fight. There is no typical superhero “save the world” plot because it doesn’t need it. Deadpool isn’t really about what the main man is doing but how he’s doing it.

This is a film built upon quips rather than intricate plot. Something that is both it’s saving grace and its biggest downfall. When the humour hits it hits hard. Like when Deadpool is showing self-awareness and questioning which Xavier he’ll be meeting or musing on why only two mutants (Colossus and Negasonic Teenage Warhead) are ever present at the mansion. The knowing and clever jokes keep this film feeling fresh and exciting. However, in order to keep the humour constant, it mainly comes down to dick jokes, which, unless you’re a 12 year old boy, will eventually get old. Now I have nothing against the puerile nature of the film but I felt it needed something with a bit more substance to change it up a bit.

Although, I can’t deny that this is the happiest I’ve felt walking out of a comic book movie for a while. There was never a point when I felt that it’s lack of finesse ruined it. It is, after all, a flawed film but it makes up for that thanks to its very nature. Ryan Reynolds and co. made this film because they loved the character and it shows. It’s fun and, in an age of super dark superhero movies, that’s exactly what we needed. We don’t need Captain America’s righteousness; we need a hero willing to chop his hand off just to give you the finger. I can’t wait to see this film again… and again… and again. It’s fucking awesome.

TBT – X-Men (2000)

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Last week when I was blissfully celebrating the 20th anniversary of one of the greatest teen movies of all time, one of the greatest comic book movies of all time was also celebrating a milestone birthday. On July 14thX-Men, Bryan Singer‘s first step into the murky world of mutants, turned 15 years old. With Days of Future Past coming out last year and X-Men Apocalypse less than a year away, Singer really is still a force to be reckoned with in the world of superhero movies. Now I won’t lie to you, X-Men isn’t the best: it has been overshadowed by Singer’s second outing and, perhaps, by Days of Future Past itself.However, Singer brought together a fucking amazing cast and introduced Professor X’s squad of mutant heroes to the big screen. It’s not perfect by any stretch of the imagination but there is no doubt that it is a film that deserves to be recognised.

Before he made X-Men Bryan Singer admits to not being a fan of comic books. Instead he was interested in making the film more human and pick up on the social ramifications of the introduction of mutants to the world. Since it’s release 15 years ago, Singer has continued to stick his toe into the waters of superheroes and, after a brief stop at the abysmal Superman Returns, has come back to take his rightful place at the head of the good ship X.
The strength in Singer’s first film comes mostly from the amazing cast that he brought together to bring to life the people that filled so many of our childhoods. Most notably were veteran actors Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen. They have so much fun with their characters but, in the way they have with every role, never bring anything less than their A game. Without wanting to get too deep in hyperbole, these two were born to play Charles Xavier and Magneto. I love McEvoy and Fassbender as much as the next person but they’ll always be the understudies.
Although admittedly, the pair aren’t exactly given a lot to do. For this is, first and foremost, Wolverine‘s film. Yes, this was the film that turned Hugh Jackman from some Australian actor into a bona fide God in the geek world. Wolverine is angry, funny and fucking hard. Jackman became Wolverine and over the years I’ve become more and more worried that he’s lost his grip on reality. Seriously, have you seen how fucking huge he was in Days of Future Past? Someone needs to stop him.
The list of great actors is seemingly endless with the likes of Halle Berry, Anna Paquin, and Famke Janssen. However, none of them really get much to get their teeth into; Halle Berry in particular gets short shrift as Storm who is relegated to a portable wind machine instead of the badass she is in the comics. So X-Men does have a problem with it’s massive cast and a lot of the characters remain underdeveloped.
Well aside from Paquin’s Rogue who is a central part of the narrative. Magneto, a metal manipulator who resides in the pro-Mutant/anti-Human camp, sets out to create a mutant world by turning all of human kind into the freaks they fear. The narrative is pretty simple and, after a short introduction to Magneto and some other key players, it basically gets straight to the point. There is a bit of guff that could probably have been lost here and there but Singer’s film is actually pretty lean. It’s over far too quickly for my tastes.
You could, as Roget Ebert did back in the day, argue that the conclusion isn’t quite as dramatic as it ought to be. There is something of an anti-climax but it does the job. X-Menset out to introduce us these new characters. Whilst it doesn’t do it as well as it could, it is still a highly enjoyable film. You won’t be disappointed: just eager for more. What he maybe lacks in an explosive finale, Singer more than makes up for with quality. The production design is great, the special effects were impressive at the time, and there were some truly satisfying set-pieces to enjoy. X-Men, as a first step into this new world, was a strong and important film. I defy anyone to watch it and come out truly hating it.

X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)

fucking awesome, Hugh Jackman, Ian McKellen, James McAvoy, Jennifer Lawrence, Michael Fassbender, Patrick Stewart, review, sequel, time travel, Wolverine, X-Men

(Sorry it’s another long one.)

As I’ve already spent time on here trying to prove that we owe a lot to Bryan Singer and his early adaptations of Marvels’ mutant heroes. Without the well-made and still brilliant X-Menback in 2000 we quite probably wouldn’t have been treated to such cinematic delights as Christopher Nolan’s Dark Night trilogy, Joss Whedon’s Avengers and the revamped Amazing Spider-Man. Singer was the guy who, after the heartbreak from Joel Schumacher’s reign of terror, reminded us that comic book films could be great. The moment he stepped away from the franchise was when it all started to go wrong. So I have been on tenterhooks ever since it was announced that Bryan Singer would be back to direct this sequel to 2011’s acclaimed X-Men FirstClass. Add to that the fact that it would be an adaptation of the brilliant ‘Days of Future Past’ storyline and we have a painstaking wait for the release date on our hands. I watched the trailers so many times that I was acting them out in private doing my best P. Stew impression.

Singer’s film takes inspiration from the 80s storyline that saw Kitty Pryde’s consciousness being sent back to her past self in order to prevent a horrific dystopian future. However, with the dismal Last Stand showing Kitty (Ellen Page) to be only about 20, there was always going to be a problem creating a sequel to First Class that centred on her character. Step forward everyone’s favourite magnetic Canadian and we have a guaranteed hit with film audiences.

Opening with scenes of an apocalyptic future where a small band of mutants, some very familiar, are going to great efforts to avoid the deadly and now adaptable Sentinels. They are soon discovered by ex-headmaster Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and ex-villain Magneto (Ian McKellan) who have a plan to prevent the moment that started this horrific chain of events. Using Kitty’s newly discovered power to send people’s minds back in time, Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) is sent back to his 70s body to gather the younger Charles (James McAvoy) and Eric  (Michael Fassbender) together to stop Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) fucking everything up by shooting the creator of the aforementioned Sentinels.

Queue plenty of 70s paraphernalia, including lava lamps, flairs and questionable hair styles. I read a review that suggested Days of Future Past didn’t have as much fun with recreating its chosen era as First Class did. Having seen the film twice I can only assume that the critic responsible missed the previous films historically accurate but fucking ridiculous misogyny and objectification of women. Singer does everything he has to do to show that Wolverine is back in time without needing to continually force his female cast to strip off unnecessarily.
Instead, Singer focuses on plot and has gone to great lengths to ensure that the potentially confusing time-travel narrative doesn’t get out of control. The two timeframes are handled beautifully and come together perfectly. The film’s climax, where the action jumps between past and future, is expertly conducted and provides the first time in 15 years that Storm (Halle Berry) becomes as awesome as she is in the comics. He has great control of the special effects and, unlike plenty of these films, doesn’t get bogged down with gratuitous action sequences. Under Singer’s firm hand, everything happens to help the narrative move forward. Of course there is the usual check-list of things X-Men clichés and there is something of a bloat of in-jokes to keep the hardcore fans happy. However, there are also so many fantastic things: the introduction of Blink, whose power is used fantastically in the future battle sequences; terrifying Sentinels; a sharp script and exciting cameos.
Without a doubt, the film’s stand out sequence is the scene in which the newly introduced Quicksilver (Evan Peters) is shown diffusing a tense situation in bullet time set to Jim Croce’s ‘Time in a Bottle’. It’s a fucking beautiful scene and is incredibly funny. Had someone told me prior to my first viewing that Evan Peters would have the standout performance in this film I’d have slapped them for being so absurd. However, the brief moments that Quicksilver is on screen show that the character has great potential in future films. So much so that I’m terrified of the way Marvel will handle the character in Avengers 2.  Peters made the character his own and I was genuinely sad when Xavier sent him on his way early on.
Since, despite having a cast of great names, of both the acting and comic book worlds, this film is all about James McAvoy. McAvoy made a fine start in First Class but was outshone by his more prominent co-stars. Here we see Charles Xavier as we have never seen him before: both physically and emotionally broken and without his powers. He rejects his purpose and is willing to turn his back on his future. McAvoy is mesmerising as he struggles to reconnect with the two people who turned their back on him. Even alongside the physically intimidating and much loved Wolverine, McAvoy comes out as one of the standout stars.
An even more impressive task considering the legendary Patrick Stewart, the name that will forever be synonymous with Xavier’s, is back along with his partner in crime Ian McKellan. Ever since the post-credits scene after The Wolverine (after which I felt compelled to applaud) I have been impatient to see their return. I have always appreciated the fact that these two classically trained actors have never approached this material in anything but a professional manner. Having Stewart and McKellen on screen in these roles is a fucking joy to watch and, during the films climactic moments, nearly had me in tears. It’s always great seeing amazing actors in roles that they clearly enjoy.
A quality that you can always appreciate about Hugh Jackman: no matter how terrifying his continually pumped body gets (seriously it’s beginning to worry me. Look how veiny he is in this film. Step away from the weights Hugh) he always has fun with the character. Unfortunately, he doesn’t get a great deal to do here. Wolverine is left to take his shirt off and act as little more than the facilitator to the younger generation. This could have been worked with anyone being in his place but I guess it’s always nice to see the ole bone claws every now and then.
Wolverine goes back to prevent Mystique from assassinating Trask and causing the government to take greater action against the mutants. One would assume this would be good news for all J Law fans but I have to say I was utterly disappointed with the way she was used. Despite a few awesome fight sequences, Mystique had very little to work with. There is little explanation for her sudden descent into super villainy and no real attempt to further flesh out the character from the first film. There are hints at a relationship with Magneto and a tiny reference to her history with Hank but nothing to excite. J Law is really just going through the motions here.
This is something of a problem with the film as it has such a large cast to work with that many end up getting swept under the carpet. You know you’ve got too many characters when you introduce someone as fucking cool as Bishop only to have him do nothing. It’s fucking criminal. I mean Peter Dinklange is one of the greatest actors working at the moment and his casting as Boliver Trask, designer of the mutant killing robots that haunted all of our childhood dreams, seemed like pure genius. For some unknown reason Dinklage turns up for the odd political meeting where he spouts on about mutants and robots and then just stands around. I don’t understand what these people were thinking. Great actors deserve great roles even in the fantasy world of mutants, robots and time travel.
Likewise Michael Fassbender is once again unable to really get to grips with the supposedly evil Magneto and is only given one sequence of slight conflict. This is Fassbender’s second time playing with the mental manipulator and he has failed to come close to greatness he briefly displayed in the opening moments of First Class. This wasn’t Magneto’s film, I know, but there still doesn’t feel like there is any connection between Fass and McKellen’s truly villainous version besides their name and power. With an actor of Fassbender’s calibre you could create a fucking gruesome nemesis (I mean this is the man who appalled us in 12 Years a Slave after all) if only you gave him something to do besides making a football stadium float.

To be fair though the floating stadium is a pretty amazing visual. It’s the closest Singer gets to unnecessary but it stands for everything this film is about. Days of Future Past flirts with darkness in the opening sequence (we see death, destruction and a glimpse of mutant prison camps) but it is all about fun. It’s the film that comes closest to the feeling and tone of the original comics whilst remaining sophisticated and well-crafted.

It’s been just over a week since Days of Future Past was released in the UK and I’ve already had to fit in a double viewing. It’s safe to say that Bryan Singer has more than made amends for the disappointing Super Man Returns and returned to near enough his comic book best. Unfortunately, Days of Future Pastis, undeniably, a flawed film: it ignores some of its better cast members and characters and sometimes gets a little too self-indulgent. However, it’s exactly what it should be: an unashamedly joyous, exciting and well-made superhero movie. You finally get the sense that, after 15 years of trying to avoid it, Bryan Singer is finally comfortably with the idea of making a comic book movie and it’s entertaining as fuck.

The Wolverine (2013)

comic book, Hugh Jackman, Marvel, review, Wolverine, X-Men

The Wolverinemarks Hugh Jackman’s fourth (fifth if you insist on counting the shameless cameo in First Class) outing as the mutton-chopped mutant and, after the disappointing Origins four years ago, it had a lot to prove. For those who have read my brief historyof X-Men movies will know, I didn’t hate Origins as much as the average person appeared to. So yes, the plot was weak and confused about what it was trying to do. Yes, there were a lot of characters added and destroyed without any attempt to give them any depth. However, despite the huge list of faults, I sort of enjoyed it. Especially after the travesty that was Brett Ratner’s The Last Stand. Yes, it may have something to do with my unquenching love of Remy LeBeau but there were some good moments. If nothing else, I certainly think there was enough to Origins to suggest that a Wolverine centric film was possible. Despite the many differing opinions that came out after its release. So there was really just one major question that director James Mangold and co needed to address: would that film be The Wolverine?

Unlike its predecessor which, obviously, took a look into Logan’s lengthy past, The Wolverine picks up some time after the events of Last Stand. It starts off in fairly similar territory to First Class where, instead of an angry and brooding Magneto seeking vengeance, we find Logan doing his best Grizzly Man impression. Plagued by heavenly visions of his lost love, an even hairier than normal Wolverine spends his days mooching about in the mountains feeling sorry for himself with a bear serving as his only friend. After his companion meets a very grizzly end we see a glimpse of the mutant we remember when Logan comes out of hiding to seek revenge on the hunter’s responsible.
The plot then moves us to Japan after the mysterious Yukio (Rila Fukushima) whisks our hero off to the bedside of her dying employer, Yashida (Haruhiko Yamanouchi). Through several flashbacks we learn that Logan saved Yashida from the atomic bombing of Nagasaki and now, as the old man lies dying, he wishes to say his goodbye face to face. Rather than simply presenting a sword to his saviour, he offers to take on Logan’s accursed healing ability in order to provide him with a mortal existence. For the sake of making a substantial film, Wolverine refuses and the old man dies hours later. In the preceding days all hell breaks lose and the grumpy metallic mutant must race through a series of stereotypically Japanese settings in order to protect Yashida’s meek granddaughter, Mariko (Tao Okamoto) from pretty much everyone else in Japan.
One of the greatest things about anything involving Wolverine is Hugh Jackman. His dedication to and love for this character is clear to see. Especially when he finds himself more vulnerable than he is used to and has to deal with the consequences of a possible mortal existence. This film, more than his previous outings, gives Jackman the chance to give the world’s favourite mutant a human side. It’s Jackman’s own likeability and clear enjoyment of everything he’s asked to do that has led to the character being so well received by audiences. Just like Robert Downey Jr. has become synonymous Iron Man, Hugh Jackman is Wolverine. There has never been a hint that he has given anything less to this role than he would to a more traditional genre and it’s always fun to watch him striking down his enemies with his galvanised bone claws. He puts his all into the role. Something that can be most obviously seen in his overly ripped new body. It’s obviously a source of great pride for both the actor and the film-makers as every scene Logan stars in there seems to be a problem with his shirt staying in place.
Although that might have something to do with the sheer number of fights his manages to get himself into. They come so thick and fast that it becomes painfully obvious that Mangold had such a little amount of faith in the overall product that he felt the need to distract his audience with an endless supply of over-the-top action sequences. That is not to say that these aren’t enjoyable moments. The film’s stand-out sequence takes place a top the speeding bullet train where Logan must face off against a gaggle of evilly inclined men whilst avoiding the many obstacles along the way. Yes, it may be nothing more than a CGI fuelled romp but it is one of the best ‘fighting on a train’ moments in cinematic history. Logan really gets the chance to dig his claws in and show just what he is capable of.
Of course, the problem with a standalone Wolverine film isn’t the character himself as many have suggested. The major problem is laziness. Just like Captain Jack from the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, Wolverine became a firm favourite with fans which has turned him into nothing more than a way to bring money in. Neither The Wolverinenor his first solo outing have been given the care and attention that the previous instalments were given. Clearly Mangold wasn’t as invested in the project as he should have been and his direction is at best lacklustre and at worst outrageously laughable. It’s easy to understand why the positive moments are forgotten when you compare them to the worst. Take for example the moment when Wolverine is struggling to save Mariko while ninjas impale him with poisoned arrows. Seeing Logan slowly make his way up the hill with ropes coming off his back like a freaky rope hedgehog is one of the stupidest scenes I’ll probably ever see on film. You have to question what Mangold thought he was doing in these moments.
Like the decision to include those dream sequences where Logan discusses his issues with an ethereal Jean Grey. Famke Janssen turns up wearing a slinky white negligee to remind us all why Logan was undertaking a hermit existence during the first section. Aside from getting the chance to place a camera in direct sight of the dearly departed Jean’s chest, these scenes add little to the overall narrative. If anything they are distracting and cloying. It’s a horrible clichéd and lazy method to give the main character some depth and emotional turmoil. These scenes become nothing more than a horribly cheesy and silly way to keep the film within the canon and attempt to prove that there is a softer side beneath the muscles and glower.
When it comes to The Wolverine the biggest disappointment has to be the lack of convincing villain. Yukio and, at a pinch, Mariko aside the supporting cast have no character development. The list of enemies working against Wolverine is a long one and includes an incredibly suspect blonde doctor (Svetlana Khodchenkova), a ninja bowman Harada (Will Yun Lee) and Mariko’s jealous sword-wielding father (Hiroyuki Sanada). Although it never really becomes clear what is motivating any of them. In fact, in some cases their motivations seem to conflict with their actions so it is completely incomprehensible why they make the choices they do. As cool as Harada seems when he is introduced wearing a hoodie, flinging arrows at baddies and racing across rooftops, he quickly becomes a pointless addition to the plot. On the one hand he is serving Yashida and on the other he is in love with Mariko; how he decides to follow creepy blonde doctor is an utter mystery.
Blonde doctor has way more potential once she reveals herself to be Viper (or at least a terrible version of Viper) but, once again she is given no real chance to develop. There is never a point where she seems as though she’s going to be a real danger. She has very little memorable moments aside from that one fairly gross scene where she sheds her skin. We know nothing about where she came from or why she is doing what she’s doing. A superhero film needs more than just a great protagonist and with antagonists like this you have to ask why Wolverine even bothered making the effort.
In fact, the only welcome new addition to the cast is Fukushima as the very manga Yukio. A mutant with the ability to see the moment when a person dies she is also very handy with a sword. With her shocking red hair and anime schoolgirl-inspired clothing, she provides a much needed injection of energy and excitement. Watching her whip and weave and slice her enemies is both an energetic feat and a treat for the eyes. It looks set to be a great partnership is she makes it into any following X-Men/Wolverine projects. Undoubtedly she is one of only good things to come out of the uninspired final act is her showdown with Viper. Without her it simply descends into a chaotic mix of robots, ninjas and plot twists that have been signposted since before the opening credits. Clearly by this point the makers had decided that their audience were so exhausted with the previous mass of fights that the final showdown didn’t matter… provided you amp up the fighting and the danger. Logan is basically going through the motions and trying to get out of here as soon as possible.
Which is exactly the feeling that most of the critics had upon watching. For my part I can understand why they felt disappointed in this second attempt to give Wolverine a solo film that he deserved. It’s better than Origins but, compared to the great X-Men ensemble pieces this just doesn’t seem good enough. Although, I can’t deny that I bloody enjoyed this film. As you’ve just read, I had my issues with the overall slickness and quality of the film but, ultimately, I left feeling satisfied enough. I mean you’ve got Wolverine facing off against ninja and yakuza for 2 hours. How can that fail to provide even a modicum of excitement in an audience of comic book fans?
It falls down because, in an age of incredibly good superhero movies, Mangold and his team just didn’t give the genre the care and attention it deserved. The narrative is mechanical, the dialogue is fairly uninspired and most of the characters are mainly used for window-dressing. Thankfully this film has one major lifeline in the shape of Hugh Jackman. He’s played Logan since 2000 and it’s become second nature to him. Despite obviously being able to pull of a performance without any effort he still plays the role with as much gusto and effort as he would in the early days. This is Wolverine’s film and, I for one, hope we see more of the man with metal bones for a few more outings… just without the underlying impression that this is simply about exploiting fans for as little effort as possible.

X-Men: First Class (2011)

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It is undeniable that comic book movies have come a long way since their early days. Tim Burton’s Batman(1989) gave us a dark tale starring the Dark Knight that was stylistically very similar to the original comics. His two Batman movies introduced us to a gothic world and gave us just enough danger, humour and excitement to make it ok to be a bit of a geek. Bryan Singer’s original X-Men (2000) showed us that superhero movies could be all round good films and Spider-Man (2002) made them smash hits with cinemagoers. Lastly, with Batman Begins and more recently The Dark Knight, Christopher Nolan gave us an intelligent, grown-up and very dark look into the world of costumed crusaders. Comic book movies were no longer just for fans of the original source material. They became hits with movie fans as a whole. Gone are the days of the simplistic and silly Batman of the 1960s, audiences want something clever, exciting and just a little bit terrifying.

Talking of the 60s, X-Men First Class takes us back to this most swinging of eras and puts us in the middle of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Called upon by the FBI, Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Erik Lensherr (Michael Fassbender) must bring together a group of young mutants to help stop former Nazi scientist, Sebastian Shaw, (a familiarly terrible Kevin Bacon) from bringing about World War Three. Whilst I liked the idea of giving the mutants a non-superhero threat, I think this was the wrong film to introduce us to the idea. There was far too much going on and, in the long run, many plot lines feel rushed and never quite reach their mark.
This film needed a simpler plot in order to ensure the mutants themselves were the major focus. Instead, we have to contend with new faces; the tension between America and Russia; Nazi Germany and the subsequent revenge plot; problems in the CIA; Kevin Bacon’s gang; and an unnecessary and frustrating romance between Charles and Rose Byrne’s CIA agent. This romantic plot only goes to suggest that it is impossible to make a film that doesn’t rely on love to keep the audience engrossed. Well bollocks. I can see no real benefit for it; well, aside from the infamous line “Gentlemen, this is why the CIA is no place for a woman.” A statement which, during both of my in-cinema viewings, caused the people around me to gasp in disgust (to be honest, as soon as Moira mentioned being part of the CIA I was sceptical about the historical accuracy of this plot point).
However, the scenes where Charles trains his new recruits were enjoyable to watch. James McAvoy is a great talent and is able to bring us a fresh perspective to a role that will always truly belong to Patrick Stewart. On top of this, it gives us the unintentionally hilarious moment of bromance between McAvoy and Fassbender when the two shed a manly tear over Magneto’s long forgotten memory. It’s a beautiful moment I’m sure you’ll agree. Although, for the most part, the chemistry between these two great actors is awesome. The films finest moments are the ones where these two are free to explore their characters and the relationship they once shared. Unfortunately, these key moments are over much too quickly and each new mutant is given an unjustly small amount of time to find their inner strength.
Magneto is the only character to get an considerable back-story and, because of this, it is his storyline that leads to one of the most interesting aspects of the film. After seeing snippets of his childhood, we return to his life story once the young Erik has grown up into Michael Fassbender and he’s really, really pissed off. What follows is a revenge plot that sees Erik get all Quantum of Solace on us and torture and kill everyone who gets in his way. Yes, he’s like an angry James Bond with the ability to manipulate metal running through Russia to seek vengeance. Why the fuck wasn’t that the entire film?
Obviously there was a great pressure to release this for a certain point and the film ends up feeling as though it is lacking cohesion. The film relies heavily on special effects but, whilst they were much better than those on show in The Green Lantern (released around the same time), it is nowhere near as impressive as it could have been. I mean what the fuck happened with Beast? We live in an age of great possibilities when it comes to computer graphics so I have to ask who decided to make Beast look like a cheap university student’s fancy-dress outfit?
Most frustrating of all is Fassbender’s accent throughout the entire film. If someone decided to start a drinking game where you have to take a shot every time he slips into his Irish brogue it would have descended into utter mayhem halfway through the 2 hour running time. I have to question the decision to forgo ADR just to ensure the film was released that little bit quicker. The whole film ends up looking quite amateurish and messy, which is an utter shame.
Although, I have to admit that the script is, for the most part, well-written and entertaining. Vaughan brings a fresh feeling to this seemingly washed-out franchise. His film is action packed, fun and thoughtful: he manages to breath new life into familiar characters and helps the lesser known cast members to flourish. Especially the rising star Jennifer Lawrence who makes a decent job of trying to recreate the character of Mystique. She even managed to bring conviction to the disappointingly flat underlying message about remaining true to yourself. (‘Mutant and Proud’ never quite seems to get off it’s feet and the film seems a little self-conscious about what it is trying to teach its audience.)
As we saw from Kick Ass, Vaughan knows how to put together a good fight sequence and the large action sequences are pretty spectacular. Unlike Singer’s films, Vaughan has created an X-Men film that is not afraid to show itself to be a comic book movie. It may have been far from perfect but we are so much closer to the level that Bryan Singer introduced us to back in 2000. There is certainly enough on show here to keep both fans of the comics and newer audiences alike satisfied. Thankfully, it leaves us with the impression that a sequel, if given the deserved amount of time and care, will be a wonderful addition to this newly awoken franchise.

X-Men: A short history of Marvel’s mutants in movies.

comic book, Marvel, summary, Wolverine, X-Men

I sat down in front of my computer with the intention of writing a witty and charmingly disorganised review of X-Men: First Class. Instead I found myself delving into the history of the relationship between the popular Marvel series and the cinema. Turns out I had quite a few issues to work out in terms of the later two films. So apologies for this impromptu therapy session but getting this out in the open has prepared me to write a decent enough analysis of the latest mutant outing.

The history of cinematic adaptations of Marvel’s popular band of heroic mutants is certainly a chequered one. It all started with the good but definitely not outstanding X-Men in 2000. Bryan Singer came on board to direct and, in my opinion, his lack of interest in the comic book series made the film. Singer had something to prove with his first foray into the world of comic-book heroes after his follow up to his hugely popular The Usual Suspects, Apt Pupil, failed to make it. Singer’s interest in the franchise came about because of it’s references to prejudice and discrimination. X-Men was a decent film that suffered thanks to the inevitable need to introduce the key characters and concepts. Just as Batman Begins wonderfully led the way for the outstanding sequel The Dark Knight, X-Men set us up for an exciting follow up, that was to become the wonderful X2. This film kicked off the franchise and brought life back into superhero films after Joel Schumacher’s disastrous turn threatened to remove all life from it. Singer showed that films based around popular comic book characters didn’t just have to be loud, colourful and silly. They could be clever, a little bit more serious and very well made.

Singer’s 2003 sequel X2 is often quoted in lists of great comic book movies and for very obvious reasons. The film delves deeper into the mystery surrounding Wolverine’s past and reasserts the importance of the themes that were so strong in the first film. It is a very well made film and, though it is far from perfect, the plot really increases the pace after the more sedate opener. The script was inspired by the story of the 1982 graphic novel God Loves, Man Kills in which Reverend William Stryker stirs up religious anti-mutant feeling and attempts to wipe out all of mutant kind (Incidentally, this is still one of the finest X-Men graphic novels. I thoroughly suggest having a read if you fancy that sort of thing. It is where the idea that mutant/human relations should be read as a metaphor for race relations really comes to the forefront.). The rules changed in the second film and the X-Men didn’t find themselves fighting one and other but teaming up to fight ‘the Man’. The great cast are much more comfortable in their roles here and Singer knows how to use them. McKellen and Stewart add a touch of class to proceedings whilst offering the perfect amount of ham in their portrayal of the characters Magneto and Professor X respectively. It clearly looks like both actors, McKellen in particular, had a fantastic time whilst filming and I love their performances. X2 showed cinema goers what comic book films could really be. It’s smart, very well made and, lest we forget, contains one of cinema’s finest cliff-hangers and paves the way for an eagerly anticipated third installment.

Unfortunately, that third installment was X-Men The Last Stand (2006). This was the first film to be made without Singer’s input (after he jumped ship to make Superman Returns. Turned out really well for you there Bryan. Good choice.) and it is the silliest X-Men film ever made. After X2, Singer was keen to make a third and fourth film in his franchise and, before he left, he had already started working on a Phoenix based narrative. There were plans to make more of the younger characters (Rogue, Iceman and Pyro) and the intention was to introduce new characters, including a Sigourney Weaver shaped Emma Frost (that sounds both awesome and horrific to me) and Keanu Reeves’ interpretation of Gambit (really glad this didn’t happen. I love Gambit and I greatly dislike Reeves. He’s nowhere near as charming as our favourite Cajun). After his exit, new writers were brought in and a plan to include parts of the ‘Gifted’ storyline from Joss Whedon’s phenomenal Astonishing X-Men was suggested to take centre-stage. Brett Ratner took his place in the empty director’s chair and filming commenced in 2005. I admit that the plot, revolving around a pharmaceutical company’s development of a mutant cure, had a great deal of potential but X2 had so obviously and expertly set us up for a roller coaster ride with Dark Phoenix. The terrible decision to make this a secondary plot point was an absolute travesty and one of the most dangerous and powerful characters from the series was utterly wasted. Neither story, ‘Gifted’ or The Dark Phoenix Saga, are given enough time or respect to be played out to their full potential. The first two films were beloved in part because of their subtlety and intelligence. This film basically comes down to blowing shit up. There are too many ideas that are being introduced at once and the consequences of both narratives are glossed over in order to get back to the lengthy and, often, unnecessary action sequences. Ratner’s direction was to the point but lacklustre. Any of the emotion and heart that the first two films contained was replaced with action sequences and special effects. The third film was loud, fast paced and confused about what story it was trying to tell. It is a film that could have finished off a fantastic franchise that had a great deal of potential.

Of course that didn’t happen because Fox saw the commercial potential of continuing this franchise. Whilst The Last Stand was being made work was already going ahead on a spin-off, X-Men Origins: Wolverine which was eventually released in 2009. Unsurprisingly, this film is a prequel dealing with Wolverine’s history, looking at his life before and during his time with Team X and looking at the events that led to his skeleton being bonded with adamantium. Wolverine is a fan favourite both in terms of the comics and, thanks to Hugh Jackman’s portrayals, the films. An origin story was an obvious choice for making money but the film doesn’t stand up next to the pre-existing material. I will admit that I was pleasantly surprised by this film but that was only because, after the third film, I had such small expectations that I probably couldn’t have thought less of it. On the plus side, Origins introduced us to Taylor Kitsch’s Gambit (who, despite having very little to do, showed great potential) but, on the other hand, it completely fucking ruined Deadpool. The film’s plot is hardly exciting and contains enough holes to be able to drain pasta with it. Normally a film that raises so many questions has enough excitement and fun to hide this. Unfortunately, there is too much downtime in the film to give you time to worry about ridiculous introduction of an adamantium bullet and the consequences it might have. As origin stories go, Wolverine’s is visually interesting, mainly thanks to the exciting scene where our hero becomes a bit more magnetic, but, I have to agree with the majority of critics here, it is a bit dull. Wolverine is immortal so his story is just a long list of times where he got into trouble but couldn’t die. It’s the Captain Scarlett thing all over again. (Even as a child I never really enjoyed watching Captain Scarlett. Week by week he got into life or death situations but there was never any danger. It’s why I’ll always prefer Thunderbirds or Stingray.) When a character is immortal, they simply become a vehicle for action and special effects. Unfortunately, the CGI in Origins is pretty appalling. There is no real point to this film because the audience pretty much know where we are heading. In this sense, to feel like a fulfilling film it would have to be a wonderful spectacle and incredibly well acted. This film ticks neither of these boxes (Team X in particular is awash with wooden and laughable performances. I mean Will.I.Am? Who made that insane decision?)  Whilst it is undeniably better than The Last Stand, Origins is nowhere near the type of film that this franchise reached at its peak. It gave enough of a spark to restart the heart in this battered series but the pulse remained weak and almost undetectable. Then in walks Dr Singer and expert consultant Matthew Vaughn to perform the much needed kiss of life…. but more on that story later.