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Posts Tagged ‘Kevin Bacon’

X-Men Franchise Re-Watch

I have spent the last few days re-watching the X-Men movies, here are a few thoughts.  The MCU has reshaped cinema, nine of the twenty  movies have grossed over $1billion.  Their success is responsible, not only for imitators, but also setting a new benchmark for film budgets, and what is deemed successful.  Back when a comic book movie looked like Batman & Robin (1997) this would not have seemed possible.  A series of events, or to be more precise films set the foundations that made the MCU possible.  I believe it started in 1998 with Blade, but there are two other franchises that were the key stepping stones: Spider-Man starting in 2002, and X-Men franchise starting in 2000.  At the time I knew the X-Men better than most MCU characters, I’m sure the same is true for a lot of viewers.  From that point of view, it was probably a safer franchise to begin with.  But they still started off small with relatively small budgets.  After all, none of the X-Men were as big or well known as DC’s big hitters, Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman, or Marvels big two, Spider-Man, and The Hulk! It’s worth remembering, this is all before Marvel Studios, when Marvel properties were made by other companies under complicated licence agreements that are still being unpicked to this day.  The X-Men movies were co-productions between Marvel Entertainment and 20th Century Fox.   Marvel, 20th Century Fox, and lots of companies are now owned by The Walt Disney Studios.  That’s enough of the business, what about the movies? Here goes:

X-Men (2000) – The first movie X-Men was limited by a relatively small budget.  While $75million is a lot of money (think how many indie movies you could make for that), it is relatively small by blockbuster standards, around half that of The World Is Not Enough (1999), the most recent Bond film at the time.  The financial limitations probably helped with the creativity of writer/direct Bryan Singer, and he his co-writers David Hayter, and Tom SeSanto.  There are a few key reasons the film works: The story starts with the X-Men as a established group, not an origin story.  But we as the viewers have a way into both the world of the X-Men (both the group, and the world they inhabit) with minimal exposition.  We are introduced via Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) and Rogue (Anna Paquin).

With a vast array of characters within the comic book universe all with their own abilities, it would have been easy to flood the story with them.  Partly due to the limited budget the groups are kept small, with the X-Men consisting of Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), Storm(Halle Berry), and Cyclops (James Marsden).  The Brotherhood of Mutants are Magneto (Ian McKellen), Mystique(Rebecca Romijn), Sabretooth (Tyler Mane), and Toad (Ray Park).  This restraint and the benefit of is shown in later films when the cast gets bloated and it detracts from the story.  This leads nicely onto the next point, the casting is perfect throughout, with a special mention for Stewart, McKellen and Jackman.  The real revelation is Hugh Jackman, a late replacement for Dougray Scott who was stuck doing reshoots on Mission: Impossible II (2000).  At 6’2″ Jackman is a foot taller than the character in the comic book, this is never an issue.  At the time of the first movie, he was a relative unknown, the only thing I had seen him in at the dime was Paperback Hero, a romantic comedy drama.

The plot is relatively simple in a world that is just learning about mutants, but doesn’t accept them there are two opposing views Xavier who believes humans and mutants can live together, and Magneto who believes mutants are superior and should rule the world.  The film is filled with all the ideas that are at the heart of the comic books, the most overt of those are acceptance for people who are perceived to be different.  That people are stronger when they work together as a team.  There is also a recurring idea that no one is all bad, this depicted by Charles’ refusal to give up on Eric/Magneto, and significantly Charles winning in a game of chess.

X2 (2003) – The X-Men were back just two years later, again with Bryan Singer at the helm.  There are two references to the Arthurian novel The Once and Future King (1958) by T.H. White.  Firstly we see Eric/Magneto reading it early in the movie, then at the end Charles asks his class of they know of the story.  While not a blueprint for the X-Men, or the movie X2, there are similarities.  Charles’ School is clearly Camelot, and the X-Men the Knights of the round table.  But who is who.  Charles is not Arthur as you may first think, he is Merlin.  We see in both this and the first film other taking the public lead, such as when Jean Grey address government.  Charles is the power in the background, he also fights with his mind not with his body.  We then have the love triangle between Arthur, Guinevere and Lancelot. Cyclops, Storm and Logan.  Most importantly, in this sits Magneto.  But who is Magneto in this analogy?  He is probably a combination of Morgan le Fay (Sorceress, half-sister and sometime ally, sometimes antagonist of Arthur.  Mother of Mordred) and Mordred (Arthur’s illegitimate son who ultimately kills and is killed by Arthur), but who he is, is less important than who he thinks he is! He believes himself to be Merlin and/or Arthur, he even has his own round-table in the form of the Brotherhood of Mutants.  But he can never be Arthur, as his table is never truly round, he is always at the head of it!

Longer and with a higher budget, it is the step up you expect from a sequel.  The story is a little more complicated both telling its own story, and delving into Logan’s back story.  With a new antagonist, Magneto teams up with Charles and X-Men.  This is one of the most interesting things about the film, the filmmakers understand the character.  Magneto never goes all the way to Charles’ side, they team up to fight a mutual enemy, but he is always on his own side, or more accurately on the side of mutants, at least from his own point of view.  The visual effects also go up a notch.  Amazingly this does not come at a cost, the film is as good, potentially better than the first film.  The notable additions to the cast are Alan Cumming as Kurt Wagner aka Nightcrawler.  Brian Cox as Colonel William Stryker and Kelly Hu as Yuriko Oyama aka Lady Deathstrike (I don’t think she is actually referred to by this name in the film).

X-Men: The Last Stand (2009) – Bryan Singer left the franchise to make the oh, so dull Superman Returns and handed directing duties to Brett Ratner.  Although not as bad as I remember, the film isn’t great.  To the credit of the earlier films, recognising that film is its own medium, they did not use existing stories from the comic books, they created cinematic ones in keeping with the mythology of the characters.  The biggest issue with this film, they took a beloved story, “The Dark Phoenix Saga” and developed it, poorly!

The centre of the plot revolves around a “cure” to the mutant gene.  This results in some interesting questions, the most overt being the mutants being a metaphor for homosexuality and the idea that you can’t cure someone who isn’t sick! while touched upon, it is never really explored.  The plot is unnecessarily  bloated, as is the cast of characters.  To its credit, the film looks good, and the visual effects are good, except the de-ageing of Stewart and McKellen that may have been groundbreaking in its day but is truly horrific.

As the previous films worked for their efficient use of characters, this film is dragged back by them, and the need to give them something to do.  Even killing two major characters, and sidelining two more early in the story there are still too many.  The most notable addition to the cast was Ellen Page as Kitty Pryde, a mutant with an ability to walk through walls, or to be precise through just about anything.  Not a new character having had a small part in previous films, but a huge character within the comic books, and portrayed by Page who was on the cusp of superstardom.  As with the comic books, by the time the film was make Logan/Wolverine had become the fans favourite.  In the first film he was the main character (although it could easily have been made Rogue’s film).  The second film had a plot that easily put him to the for front, but here, it always feels forced.  It was clear, Wolverine needed is own movie, and the X-Men needed a to tell a story without him.  Both of these were to come, to good and bad effect!

X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009) – While I had seen the first two movies many times, and The Last Stand twice, this was my first re-watch of Wolverine.  After a cold open showing the origin of Logan, and Victor Creed/Sabretooth (Liev Schreiber), we get the best part of the film.  The opening credit sequence is truly excellent.  Showing the brothers Logan and Creed fighting together in the American Civil War, WWI, WWI and Vietnam; each time showing Creed getting more bloodthirsty.  The first act with the pair fighting as part of Team X led by Major William Stryker (same character as Colonel Stryker from X2, now played by Danny Huston).  This is brief but good as is the set-up as we see Logan try to live a normal life also works, it is when he gets his adamantium, once Logan becomes Wolverine/Weapon X that the film loses its way.

This is the film that introduces Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds) to cinema audiences.  Referred to as Wade Wilson, Weapon XI, and Deadpool, this is the movie that infuriated the fans.  Understandably as it is a million miles from ” the merc with a mouth”.  This is unfortunate, in the early scenes show promise, after they sewed his mouth shut, it was never going to work! Taylor Kitsch’s Remy LeBeau/Gambit isn’t as far from the comic book character, but still isn’t great.  Over a decade later,  the idea of a Taylor Kitsch Gambit movie still keeps comes up every few years but has never happened.  Liev Schreiber is very good as Creed, and would probably have made a really good Logan.

An interesting point of note is the use of the Three Mile Island accident.  This is the first, but not the last time the franchise incorporated real events within the narrative.  The fact that the first (nearly) half of the film is good, but is persevered to be terrible proves the theory that a good final act can save (our perception) of a film, and a poor ending will destroy a film.

X-Men: First Class (2011) – After eleven years, two good, and two not so good movies the franchise took a new direction.  Matthew Vaughn steps into the director’s chair and wrote the screenplay along with Jane Goldman, Ashley Miller, and Zack Stentz.  Expanding on the opening of the first movie with a young Eric/Magneto discovering his powers in Nazi-occupied Poland tells us we are in the same universe as the original films.  Recasting with younger actors and telling the origin story of both The X-Men, and Magneto.  Following the previous films use of Mile Island accident, this film doubles down, and uses The Cuban Missile Crisis.  James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender have the unenviable task of stepping into the shoes off Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen as younger versions of Charles Xavier and Erik Lensherr, they are both excellent, particularly Fassbender.  There is more than a hint of James Bond about the 1960’s setting.  Every time I see the film I think how good Michael Fassbender would be as Bond.  The film also gives a new and interesting take on Mystique’s origin and her relationship with both Xavier and Magneto.  With hindsight she is the most interesting casting; it was Jennifer Lawrence’s first big budget movie, when she only had one Oscar nomination (Winter’s Bone), and before The Hunger Games.  The main antagonists are Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon) and in true Bond Villain style his henchwoman Emma Frost (January Jones).  Rose Byrne gets to have fun as Moira MacTaggert, it’s a shame she is so underused in future films.

There are so many things about the film that shouldn’t work from the training montages, the period setting, playing with history, and the actors playing a version of the characters to fit with the older versions; but strangely it does work making it one of the best films of the series.

The Wolverine (2013) –  Just over a year after taking part in the Normandy landings, Logan finds himself as a prisoner of war in Nagasaki in August 9 1945, not the time you want to be in Nagasaki.  Most of the film is set in the present day, after the events of The Last Stand.  Following the events in Nagasaki seen at the start of the movie, Logan finds himself in Tokyo.  This is no great stretch for the character, within the comic book Logan has a lot of stories set in Japan and is closely associated with Samurai and Ronin culture, the character has always essentially been a Ronin.

The most stand alone movie in the franchise up to this point, none of the characters introduced appear again, the only character from previous movies is Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) who appears in Logan’s head.  The most interesting of the rest of the cast are the only other mutants to appear in the film (other than a cameo).  Yukio (Rila Fukushima) A precognitive mutant and member of a deadly assassins clan.  And, Dr. Green / Viper (Svetlana Khodchenkova) one of the movies main antagonists.

A personal story for Logan on a smaller scale than the other movies within the universe, it is more in keeping with a standalone story.  Logan’s “healing factor” has always been his key to his identity, to take that away should diminish the character, in a way it does, but in doing so, it actually enhances the film by raising the stakes.  The whole film, both in plot, and execution feels more grounded and real (until the final act) than previous films in the franchise.  The Shinkansen fight is excellent. Sadly, the final act is terrible, both in story and visual effects, but the MCU struggles with final acts too, so it isn’t exactly unique!

X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014) – Days of Future Past sounds like a terrible idea.  Bring the old cast, last seen in The Last Stand, together with the new cast of First Class, and tell a much loved epic tale from the X-Men comic books. However, it really works and is if not the best, close to the best movie in the franchise.  Simon Kinberg provided the screenplay, based on a story by himself along with Jane Goldman, and Matthew Vaughn.  Vaughn was set to direct but agreed to hand it back to the boss, producer and director of the first two movies Bryan Singer.  Understanding that cinema is a very different medium to comic books, the writers took the brave, but ultimately correct decision to not tell the same story as the comic book.  Using a lot of the same characters, and using the idea of travelling back in time to prevent an assignation in the past to save the present/future.

The cast is huge: The bulk of the movie taking place in 1973 with Logan/Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), Charles Xavier (James McAvoy), Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto (Michael Fassbender), Raven / Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), and Hank / Beast (Nicholas Hoult).  All are given plenty to do, and most importantly is in keeping with their character, nobody is making up the numbers.  In the furure section we have lots of recognisable characters Logan/Wolverine (Hugh Jackman – who due to the characters slow aging is able to play the part in past and future), Professor X (Patrick Stewart), Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page), Storm (Halle Berry), Magneto (Ian McKellen), Bobby / Iceman (Shawn Ashmore), Colossus (Daniel Cudmore).  They are joined by Bishop (Omar Sy), Blink (Bingbing Fan), Sunspot (Adan Canto), and Warpath (Booboo Stewart).  The past section also includes a small part for Peter / Quicksilver (Evan Peters), who in one scene steals the movie.

The film looks, and sounds spectacular.  The visual effects are the best we have seen within the franchise, and the photography and production design are both fantastic.  Thanks to changes in the timeline, this film undoes a lot of the narrative of the previous movies leaving (two in particular) of the original characters in a better place than we last saw them.  Given this was the last time the majority of them were to be used in the franchise, this is great fan service without pandering.   The story also leaves the door open to make future stories easier without having to worry about the fitting the continuity,  Sadly they didn’t exactly make the most of it.

X-Men: Apocalypse (2016) – Be careful what you wish for, The Empire review of Days of Future Past ends with the line “We want X-Men: Apocalypse, now.” Sadly the film is terrible, in many ways the weakest X-Men movie.

Oscar Isaac plays the title villain, En Sabah Nur / Apocalypse.  He is hid beneath lots of CGI and makeup, and frankly isn’t very good. Fan favourite from the comics Psylocke (Olivia Munn) is given a sexy outfit, but no character.  She is given more to do than Mei Melançon did in The Last Stand, we know nothing of her.  Even the outfit doesn’t work, it looks like it doe on the pages of the comic book, but not in the flesh.  And that’s kind of the problem with the film it is all big, bold bright, and brash, you would be forgiven for thinking Michael Bay had directed it, it was actually Bryan Singer.  And that’s the sad thing about it, we know Singer can do so much better,  Michael Fassbender gets a couple of brilliant moments that remind us of this.

The cast is huge again.  As well as the usual suspects, Lucas Till, who sat out the last movie returns as Alex Summers / Havok.  He is joined by new younger versions of characters we have seen in the original three movies: Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), Scott Summers / Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), Kurt Wagner / Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee), Ororo Munroe / Storm (Alexandra Shipp), Angel (Ben Hardy) Kodi Smit-McPhee, and I believe for the first time in the movies Jubilee (Lana Condor). Evan Peters gets to do another set piece as Peter Maximoff / Quicksilver, taken on its own merit, it is the best seen in the movie, but offers nothing new, and isn’t as good as what we saw in the last movie.  There is no place for Wolverine within the corner they have painted themselves into with the timeline; rather than embracing this they squeeze him into the story.

The bigger, bolder and brasher it got the less I cared about it.  A sad end to Bryan Singer’s time at the helm of the X-Universe!  Let’s it to one side and remember the three great films he gave us.

Logan (2017) – Firstly, it is worth mentioning, for my re-view, I watched Logan Noir, the black and white version that comes on a separate disk with the Blu-Ray version.  It’s the first time I have watched it this way.  While it isn’t as spectacular as Fury Road: Black and Chrome, it does add to the atmosphere of the movie, and what a movie!  While I have described Days of Future Past as the best X-Men movie, Logan is something different, in a lot of ways, it isn’t an X-Men movie, it doesn’t even look like a comic book movie.  Written (along with Scott Frank and Michael Green) and directed by James Mangold who was also responsible for the previous movie, The Wolverine.  Not only is this Logan’s  most personal story, it is also the most grounded movie within the X-Men universe.  The cinematography by long-time Ridley Scott collaborator John Mathieson is fantastic (in both black and white or colour).  The low angles give a feeling of space reminiscent of with a western.  This is further enhanced by big mood skies straight out of an Ansel Adams photograph.

Set in a post super hero universe where very few mutants remain, and a 90 year old Professor X and Logan are the last of the X-Men.  Charles is struggling to contain his powers and Logan’s powers are fading as he is poisoned by his Adamantium.  There is often a theme in movies like this where the hero has to balance their own survival with a reluctant search for redemption associated with helping somebody else.   This comes in the form of Laura (Dafne Keen – who went on to play Lyra Belacqua in His Dark materials) recognisable to comic book fans as X23, a young mutant with abilities with a striking resemblance to Logan’s.  Richard E. Grant is wonderfully sinister as the movies main villain Dr. Rice.  Other notsble cast members are Boyd Holbrook as Pierce, the main henchman, and Stephen Merchant as Caliban, a mutant friend of Charles and Logan.

This isn’t a comic book movie for all.  New fans of the genre, those who have come along since the start of the MCU, and DCEU will not find what they are used to.  But it’s the comic book movie we need, one that doesn’t end with a giant something hovering over a major city threatening to destroy the world.  The stakes may be smaller, but not for those involved, making it more personal, and relatable.  Even before the Disney takeover, Hugh Jackman had decided to end his time as Logan/Wolverine, this is a brilliant and fitting end to his seventeen years portraying the character, he is going to be a hard act to follow in the inevitable remake.

X-Men: Dark Phoenix (2019) – OK, time to confess, I didn’t re-watch all the movies.  Its less than a year since I saw Dark Phoenix.  It is only available to me by rental, which I wasn’t prepared to pay for as quite frankly, it wasn’t very good.  This is a real shame, it represented so much: The final film in both the reboot since First Class, and of the whole franchise before Marvel/Disney take back the franchise, But most importantly a chance to undo The Last Stand, and tell a better version of the Dark Phoenix Saga.  Most of the cast of the last movie return including Sophie Turner, James McAvoy, and Michael Fassbender, they are all good.  But Jessica Chastain is totally wasted.  This won’t be the last time we see the X-Men, but it is most likely the last time we see these actors portray them, the deserved a better send-off.DEADPOOL

Depending on your point of view, the bonkers, but brilliant Deadpool (2016), and the pretty good sequel Deadpool 2 (2018) may be set within the X-Men universe, but that’s for another day.

As mentioned, last year The Walt Disney Company acquired 20th Century Fox, and with it the film rights for the X-Men.  They soon put all film production within the franchise on hold, eventually cancelling all future films except The New Mutants which was already in the can.  The New Mutants is yet so see the light of day following multiple delays and some re-shoots.  This is despite a 2017 trailer promising a release date April the following year.  Its a great shame as the trailer actually looks good, more of a haunted house horror than a superhero movie.  The two most interesting projects to be cancelled were: X-23; James Mangold was to write and direct the continuing story of Laura aka X-23 from them movie Logan.  And, a Kitty Pryde movie.  Had it been made, it would probably have been an origin story as studios seem to like, if that was the case, it is no great loss, but if they were thinking of a stand alone movie with the character from the existing franchise played by Ellen Page, that would have been worth seeing.  Sadly it is not to be!  There will be new X-Men movies made by Marvel/Disney, I just hope they keep them out of the MCU, as the franchises are probably best not mixed.

 

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