The X-Men Movie Franchise
Recently, there's been a lot of talk - and hype - about the new X-Men: First Class film in advance of its upcoming release. For some, the movie's mix of past comic continuity and 1960's era production style provides the movie with a very interesting look and feel; for others, it's seen as nothing more than a cynical attempt for Fox to hold onto the movie rights, and/or capitalize on the retro-cool of shows like Mad Men.
What is it about the X-Men movie franchise that inspires such loyalty in fans? Why are people so increasingly torn about this attempt? This month's TV Party undertook a challenge - seeing the first three movies in the X-Men Trilogy (and X-Men Origins: Wolverine, because that's how we roll), and seeing how and why these films work....and in one case, how it sadly and painfully didn't work.
In the interests of full disclosure, I have to admit that I have a personal stake in this column. I've been an X-Men fan all of my life - my first exposure was a childhood copy of the 1960s-era "Along Came a Spider", coming of age during the Claremont/Byrne run, and only giving up in the 1990s when it become more about overcomplicated angst and continuity than about gaining acceptance. My godson Logan was also named after Wolverine....and one of his first experiences is seeing X-Men 2. (Here's a photograph to prove it). So if I sound a little defensive in this column, it's only because I have a great love of these characters. Hopefully, I won't sound obnoxiously fannish, but if you choose to disagree with me, I will fight you, and as Winston Churchill once remarked, I love a person who grins when they fight....
In many ways, the first X-Men film reinvented the super hero movie as much as Tim Burton's Batman did in 1989. (Or as much as Richard Donner's Superman invented the superhero movie in 1978). Directed by Bryan Singer and written by David Hayter (with some rumored script doctoring by Joss Whedon), X-Men succeeded by making the analogy between mutants and similar real-life groups more explicit, turning the conflict into a character study of two men with dramatically competing ideologies. Hiring two lead actors who are graduates of the Royal Shakespeare Companywas a masterstroke, providing a much stronger psychological and moral grounding for both Professor Charles Xavier and Erik Lensherr - one a man who believed in the fundamental goodness of humanity and that it would bring cooperation; the other bitterly dismissive of humanity and believing that mutant dominance should occur by any means necessary. Granted, the first film isn't perfect - Magneto's plan to "convert" humanity into mutants seems counterproductive - but much in that film really elevates it, especially the supporting cast. (Hugh Jackman is a dead-on Logan/Wolverine, so much so that it is hard to believe that he was a last minute replacement for another actor).
What really makes X-Men work is that, quite frankly, it avoids doing a straightforward adaptation of the comics, choosing instead to mix and match continuity into a slightly different texture. (Cyclops' line to Wolverine about wearing black leather - "What did you expect, Yellow Spandex" - is an obvious wink to the audience). Unlike some modern comic films, the first two X-Men films didn't pander by providing straightforward adaptations of comic stories - it used them as a launching pad for much more ambitious stories. There is a much more ambitious tone in the first two movies, and a greater sense of spirit about them.
So much so that X-Men 2 is a much stronger, more satisfying movie, especially when it takes the ultimate narrative chance - the suggestion that humans (like Magneto suggests) really are the enemy. Taking several pieces from the graphic novel, God Loves, Man Kills, this film feels much more complete in terms of story, plot, and overall tone. Although the movie does seem a little overlong, there doesn't seem to be a wasted shot or story point. X-Men 2 has a great "middle act" feel like The Empire Strikes Back, yet somehow manages to avoid having obnoxiously dangling plot threads in anticipation of a sequel....
....unfortunately, X-3: The Last Stand is a crushing, unsatisfying disappointment. Although many blame the change in directors (Brett Ratner taking the place of Bryan Singer), much of the blame must lay in the changeover of scriptwriters from David Hayter to Zak Penn. Unfortunately, in an effort to become more action-oriented, the third film in the franchise reveals a very flawed screenplay that severely underestimates the audience's intelligence.
OK, some of you may take issue with that, so in an effort to provide the kind of quality and insight that you have come to expect from Comic Related, let me offer at least three points in my defense:
- First, the premise of the film is that there is a "cure" for mutation. However, if you remember sixth grade science, you will recall that most mutations happen naturally as a product of changes in the environment, and are permanent. So you end up with, well, really bad, misinformed science driving the major plot of the filim..
- Secondly, one of the major characters seems to be killed off in a way that suggests that he will be "revived" towards the end. Although I have a non-spoiler policy, I will state for the record that it's Scott Summers, aka "Cyclops".
- Thirdly, characters behave in the way that doesn't fit their basic nature - Magneto allowing himself to be vulnerable from an attack from the rear? Mystique being de-powered and turning traitor? Wolverine becoming angst-y and lovesick in response to Cyclops' death? Really?
But Gordon, you may be thinking, at least it wasn't X-Men Origins: Wolverine...
Actually, for what it was - a two-hour prequel to the movies with Wolverine doing what he does best, Origins is not that bad a movie. In fact, it actually is a much better, much more logical and consistent film than X3. It may not be in the same league as the first two X-movies, but then again, it does serve as an exploration of Wolverine's character....and that is the secret to the X-films: when they work, they work as both super hero action flicks with a huge character-driven sensibility.
But enough of my ranting - if you want to read more, visit the blog at blogthispal.com, follow me on Twitter, friend me on Facebook, or you can now read my occasional forays into Sherlock Holmes at the Baker Street Blog.
Until next time, folks, keep watching!
Read More! For more of Gordon's writings, insights, and
general information, please visit his blog at blogthispal.blogspot.com.
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