Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Reel Facts & Opinions: X-MEN - A Blog of Future Past

This weekend, 20th Century Fox offers its 8th film in its series of adaptations of Marvel Comics’ famed X-MEN franchise, in the form of X-MEN: APOCALYPSE. The road to get here has been a long and twisty one, with several steps forward, backward, and sideways in its evolution. Here now is a look back at the X-MEN in film.

In the 1990’s, the superhero genre in film was a joke, thanks to several low-budget bombs and stinkers. No one took the genre seriously, but that all changed in 2000 when director Bryan Singer’s X-MEN arrived. X-MEN centered its universe around three main characters, played by Hugh Jackman (Wolverine), Patrick Stewart (Professor Xavier), and Ian McKellen (Magneto), and surprised everyone by inserting social issues into its narrative. By making super-powered people (called mutants) deal with civil rights issues, X-MEN vaulted itself and the genre into legit filmmaking. Today, there is a lot of focus on universe-building over several films, and Singer’s X-MEN established everything it needed to in a film that ran less than two hours.

As good as X-MEN was, it was topped by the superior X-MEN: UNITED in 2003. Commonly referenced as X2, Singer’s second film kept the civil rights issues in the crosshairs while adding some great character-work with his large cast of mutants. There are strong family themes at work, and despite the bigger stakes, operates firmly as a character piece. This Blogger holds X2 as one of the top five best superhero films ever made.

With such a high bar set by X2, it was difficult for the third entry, X-MEN: THE LAST STAND to come close. Trouble started early when Singer left the franchise and was replace by Brett Ratner, who shot the film in a de-saturated look which sucked the life out of it. The plotline involving a possible cure for mutant-powers was great on paper, but missed the obvious ethical grappling the characters should have had. X3 was met with critical drubbing, and long-time X-MEN fans revolted over some decisions made with the characters. It had its moments, but fell way short of the high bar set by X2.

At this point, Hugh Jackman had elevated his character to household name status, and was the obvious choice to be the first character to get his first shot at a solo career. X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE arrived in 2009, and was to be the first in a series of origin films. Intending to tell Wolverine’s backstory before he received his famed metal-claws, the film suffered from some silly moments (even for a comic book film), and an overabundance of crappy CGI.

Plans for further origin-telling solo-shots were scrapped, and Fox instead went with a broad-strokes origin-tale with X-MEN: FIRST CLASS in 2011. Telling the story of a young Professor Xavier (now played by James McAvoy), and Magneto (Michael Fassbender), FIRST CLASS was directed by Matthew Vaughn with Singer as a producer. Although this Blogger considers this movie to be a step sideways; neither moving things forward or back…the film was met with critical praise, and for many, righted the ship.

Fox wasn’t done playing with the immense popularity of Jackman’s Wolverine, and in 2013 gave him another shot at a solo career with THE WOLVERINE in 2013. Directed by James Mangold, THE WOLVERINE explored more of the character’s backstory while taking him forward, and the film stands as the most visually stunning of them all. THE WOLVERINE was met with OK praise thanks to a hokey third-act, but the film was enjoyable, didn’t spark much outrage…and kept the mutant wheels turning.

In 2014, the existence of X-MEN: FIRST CLASS was finally justified with the magnificent X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST, which saw Bryan Singer return to the director’s chair. The film brought the old and new cast together though some clever time-travel, had some of the most stunning sequences to be seen in an action film, and once again put society back on trial for the way it reacts to people who are different. The time-travel fuckery in DAYS OF FUTURE PAST actually corrected many wrongs by completely erasing the events of the less-than-favored X-MEN movies, which made a lot of fans happy.

DAYS OF FUTURE PAST also served as a bit of a send-off for the original cast, which means the stage is now set for our new team of X-MEN to take over. And that they will in this year’s X-MEN: APOCALYPSE. Once again helmed by Singer, APOCALYPSE brings McAvoy and Fassbender back in their roles, and adds Oscar darlings Jennifer Lawrence and Oscar Isaac, along with Nicholas Hoult, Rose Byrne, Tye Sheridan, Lucas Till, and Olivia Munn. So what can we expect? The trailers and posters seem to be promising the biggest threat the X-MEN have ever faced, and even though they say that nearly every film, this time around seems to hold the promise of some epic setpieces. Singer has always had a confident hand in guiding these characters and the overall franchise, so it’s good to know that he’s there. However it turns out, the X-MEN on film have always been the characters who are a little different; an island of misfit toys who just happen to have super-powers. Anyone can relate to that, and find a little bit of themselves in a friendly, or even an un-friendly mutant.


X-MEN: APOCALYPSE opens May 27th.   

No comments:

Post a Comment

A few rules:
1. Personal attacks not tolerated.
2. Haters welcome, if you can justify it.
3. Swearing is goddamn OK.