X-Men: The Last Stand

So, it’s time to finish off the X-Men series with X-Men: The Last Stand– a film which does nothing to shake off the superhero threequel curse.

X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)


X-Men: The Last Stand
held the record up until recently of the only X-Men related film I’d seen in the cinemas. I remember walking out of there with not so much of a grin on my face, but more disappointment and a hint of depression. I had the feeling that the franchise was dead and not only that but it had gone out with a rather meek “phut” rather than a triumphant bang.

“Don’t you know who I am? I’m the Juggernaut, bitch!”

The film centres around U.S. business Worthington Industries when it discovers a cure for mutation. This scientific breakthrough complicates and intensifies the battle — both physical and ideological — between Professor X’s (Patrick Stewart) integration-friendly X-Men and the human-hating mutants led by Magneto (Ian McKellen). I have no problem with the actual plot. After the slow-burning first film and the considerably more epic second one, this seemed to be where they were headed- a face-off between Magneto’s Brotherhood and the X-Men. However, the proverbial tits went up when Singer left to direct Superman Returns and they hired Brett Ratner, who is a direct-by-numbers kinda guy who lacks the character driven focus that Singer brought to the series. This is a huge misstep as The Last Stand features more mutants than ever and it needed someone like Singer to keep everything in check. As it stands, there is no real development for the main group. Wolverine is downgraded to a gruff punchline and Cyclops barely features at all.

Believe it or not, the Storm issue (see my X2 review) gets worse. Now it’s suddenly been decided that Storm is the emotional heart of the film, with ample oppurtunity for Berry to show off those Oscar-winning mournful looks and silent tears. Pretty rich for a character who has been to Pauline Fowler‘s local hairdresser. Ororo Munroe related gripes aside, there is one other character that irritated me throughout. I’ll give you a couple of clues- he’s blue, he’s furry and his name rhymes with “Yeast”. Yup, seems like someone thought it was a good idea to dip Frasier Crane in a bucket of blue paint, coat him in dog hair and kick him out onto the set, telling him not to embarrass himself. Don’t get me wrong, I think the casting of Grammer was spot-on, but why oh why did they not make the character CGI and keep Grammer’s dulcet tones? Every time Beast is on screen, he looks awkward, probably due to the immense padding and silly make up. I don’t often call for a computer-generated character to replace a physical one, but by Christ does it need to happen here. It’s a shame, as Grammer’s performance is great, it’s just hard to ignore all the blue make-up and padding issues.

The one thing that I really liked was a small moment after (Invisotexted to avoid spoilers) Mystique gets injected with the cure. I love the way Magneto looks down on her with contempt and coldly declares she’s not “one of them any more”. It’s a brief glimpse of actual characterisation and I was left wanting more. I felt the Rogue sub (sob?) story about her choice between her powers and her boyfriend was poorly handled too. I wanted to feel sorry for her, but I couldn’t. I just didn’t care, which shouldn’t be the case in an X-Men film.

“They wish to cure us. But I say to you, we are the cure!”

When it comes down to it, X-Men: The Last Stand just doesn’t have the heart and intelligence that the first two did. It’s very impressive in terms of special effects (the Golden Gate Bridge sequence is admittedly very cool), but in the end ultimately soulless. There’s a few bits to like, but not nearly enough.

X2

Sorry about the delay in my reviews of late- goddamn University work had to be done at some point. Oh – due to some e-mails, I’m dropping my overuse of quotation marks from film names and using the classier italics. To those who e-mailed, thanks and I’m “sorry”. Anyway- sequel time.

X2 (2003)

Before you start, yes that is the title. It’s not “X-Men 2” or anything, it’s X2. As baffling as the decision was to call the second outing for the X-Men the minimalist X2 at least we in the British Isles didn’t get the lame sounding US title of X2: X-Men United. It’s not only as corny as hell, but it seems like “X-Men United” could quite happily co-exist with “Spider-Man Rovers” and “Daredevil Hotspur” in some kind of Marvel football league- oh, and whilst we’re at it, that’s the proper football where you use your feet, instead of that jumped up, padded, sissy version of rugby where you primarily use your fucking hands. Enough with the international game bashing though, let’s actually look at the film now, shall we?

“Have you ever tried… not being a mutant?”

Following a mutant assassination attempt on the President, Colonel William Stryker (Brian Cox) initiates a war on mutants, specificially the superhero group, the X-Men. Now, they must join with their sworn enemy, Magneto (Ian McKellen), to survive; while Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) discovers that Stryker holds the key to his murky past. The plot’s great, taking now familiar characters into unfamiliar territory and advancing their stories, whilst at the same time introducng new characters to proceedings. Hats off to Bryan Singer, who seems more confident in his blockbuster director’s chair in this one and keeps everything running smoothly. The cast are great, with the exception of Halle Berry as Storm. Due to the fact that she had gone from merely Halle Berry in X-Men to “Oscar winning actress Halle Berry” in this one, her role as Storm is considerably beefed up, which is a shame because the cinematic Storm is actually quite a boring character. So we have a case of big actress, small role which didn’t sit well with me. The new additions are really good, with the jerk Pyro (Aaron Stanford), teleporting blue guy Nightcrawler (Alan Cumming), female Wolverine (Wolverina?) Lady Deathstrike (Kelly Hu) and William Stryker, a man so evil we actually feel sorry for Magneto in one surprisingly brutal scene.

You know what? X2 just works. The film starts strong and maintains that pace and quality. A highlight for me was the fantastically realised prison escape sequence. The tension (which will be lessened somewhat if you’re reading this and haven’t seen the film. Sorry about that.) beforehand starting when Magneto states that there’s something “different” about Mr. Laurio is pitch-perfect. Mad propz to McKellen too. I also loved the idea of Bobby ‘coming out’ to his parents about his mutation. The action quota is significantly bumped up for this installment and every sequence is exciting and awesome in equal measures. The X-Mansion raid is incredibly well done and (thanks to Wolverine’s claws) pretty damn vicious. The general tone has also been lightened, which is a welcome change as the first one is a bit of a downer.

I only really have one gripe with X2. The character of Cyclops, the supposed leader of the X-Men is pretty much ignored. I suppose this was inevitable due to the massive influx of new characters as well as the advancement of the old ones, but it strikes me as a shame as I rated James Marsden’s approach to the character. I’d have much preferred Storm to be sidelined rather that Cyclops, but nevermind. I suppose one could argue that he’s more of an altruistic, goody-two-shoes action figure than a decent character, but dammit- I liked him.

“You know all those dangerous mutants you hear about in the news? I’m the worst one.”

X2 builds on the solid foundations of the first and has fittingly evolved into a very slick superhero film. The films manages to introduce new mutants and characters, expand on most of the core group from the original whilst keeping them true to their roots, up the action significantly, keep a strong narrative focus AND remain damn entertaining throughout.It really is one of the best superhero films out there.

X-Men

Inspired by Mr. James Howlett’s solo effort, I’ve gone back to the original “X-Men” film and see if it is still mut-astic 9 years later.

X-Men (2000)

 

I nearly watched “X-Men” twice in the early 2000s. Whilst this may seem like the beginning to the worst anecdote ever, it leads on to a valid point, so cram it. Around the age of 13/14, it’s safe to say I was an idiot, mainly because back then I could take or leave film as a medium. I remember watching the opening scene on good ol’ VHS and then distinctly remember stopping it because I got bored. My point is I don’t think I was mature enough for “X-Men”. Thanks to the ravages of time, I grew up, watched it and guess what? I loved it.

“Magneto’s right: there is a war coming. Are you sure you’re on the right side?”

In a near future world, mutants with special powers exist alongside humans. The mutants must choose to side either with Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart) who want them to use their powers to help the world or with Magneto (Ian McKellen) who wants the mutants to take it over. Along the way we are introduced to the emotional heart of the film, Rogue (Anna Paquin) and the gruff, ridiculously haired Wolverine (Hugh Jackman). In terms of acting, this has got to be one of the best, most varied ensemble cast for a long time. We have experienced, respected thesps like Stewart and McKellen mixing with younger actors like Paquin. I liked everyone really, apart from Tyler Mane’s Sabretooth who doesn’t do much apart from growl, roar and occasionally utter a line containing the word “scream”. I thought Ray Park’s Toad was brilliant though, but the dude’s Darth Maul so I can’t really be impartial. For a film with so many plotlines, it fares well- which can mostly be attributed to Bryan Singer who handles all the characters with equal care. He gives as much screentime to fan-favourite, but ultimately boring character Wolverine as he does to Xavier and Magneto’s subtly played friendship/rivalry. I get the feeling that if the recent “…Wolverine” film was in Singer’s hands he wouldn’t have ignored Deadpool (Sigh)

In fact, if you ignore the typically fanboyish Deadpool comment, you have a neat link to one of the most interesting things about this film- the Xavier/Magneto relationship. Comic books have the ill-deserved reputation of being very black and white when it comes to heroes and villains. Heroes are spandex-clad, muscled and always on the side of justice, whilst villains are scarred, unbelievably evil bastards who have so many issues they could fund their therapist’s trip to Mars and back on a spaceship made of diamonds and Sony products. The relationship between McKellen and Stewart’s characters is best likened to the Martin Luther King/ Malcolm X differing approaches in the Civil Rights movement. Xavier, the MLK of the two, believes that the public are just ignorant in their fear and hatred of mutants, whilst Magneto is on the side of action and violence if necessary. Magneto wants what Xavier wants but he’s seen the ugly side of humanity and so therefore believes the human race is beyond saving.

This may all sound like it’s too deep for a comic book adaptation, but “X-Men” puts us in that frame of mind right from the off with a powerful opening scene where a young Magneto is forced to watch his parents be carted off to a concentration camp. If I may borrow Pokémon terminology, it’s super-effective at drawing you in. I loved the introductions to all the mutants and finding out what their powers are. Special mention to Rebecca Romijn for making the blue-skinned, scaly, yellow-eyed Mystique both an interesting and oddly sexy character. The fight scenes are great too- the stand-out being the Wolverine vs Mystique sequence which is fantastically done.

Casual references to the Holocaust and Civil Rights aside, “X-Men” isn’t a perfect film. The one thing that really gets to me is an awful (and apparently Joss Whedon-written) line spoken by Storm (Halle Berry) to Toad, before she hits him with a lightning bolt- “You know what happens to a toad when it is struck by lightning? (Pause) The same thing as everything else.” In your head this line may not sound that bad, but it’s the delivery that gets me. You can tell it’s meant to be a bad-ass, kiss-off line but it just doesn’t work. I am well aware this is nit-pickery to the nth degree, but it genuinely takes me out of the film, which in my terms is inexcusable.

“You homo sapiens and your guns…”

So that’s “X-Men”. A great, enjoyable flick with some actual brains and heart behind all those stunts and special effects.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine

Decided to interrupt my seemingly endless film review catch-up to review the brand new X-Men prequel. Er…that’s it… Blah blah blah. End communication.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)

 

It’s been a while since the last X-Men film. I’ve always thought that out of the Marvel superheroes, the X-Men suited film best (yes, even over my beloved Spider-Man), so I’m always going to be first in line for any X-Men related goodness. After the hugely disappointing “…Last Stand” in 2006, it looked like the franchise was done for. After much Ratner strangulation, Fox heard the word “prequel” and decided to kick a Wolvie film into production. However, without the back-up of a memorable team including classic characters such as Weatherella, Beam Eyes and Baldy Crippleface, would the clawed one be able to carry a film by himself?

“Well, well, well. Look what the cat dragged in…”

Beastly badass Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) is a member of elite military mutant squadron Team X, led by William Stryker (Danny Huston), before he became all Brian Cox-ish. But when he tries to leave violence behind to become a family man, he finds his past catching up with him in brutal fashion — not least his carnage-loving half-brother Sabretooth (Liev Schreiber). We’re not really presented with anything new here, but I can forgive this because it adheres to the various Wolverine origin stories quite religiously in places. Hugh Jackman was as good as ever as Wolverine, but I really liked Liev Schreiber’s Sabretooth, giving us a huge change from Tyler Mane’s snarling brick shithouse in the original “X-Men”. However, the Sabretooth character was a bit too much like “Heroes” baddie Sylar for my liking. Still, an improvement. Will.I.Am’s inclusion was as needless as it was baffling. I liked Dominic Monaghan’s Bolt though, but again he was largely ignored.

I liked the intro too, with the film whipping through pretty much every American war ever with a frenetic speed. Although it was a bit Dr.Manhattan, it was good to see Wolverine and Sabretooth show Spielberg how he should have done the Omaha Beach landings- with superpowers! I liked Team X too, it was such a damn shame we didn’t get to see more of Ryan Reynolds’ Wade Wilson/Deadpool though as he was by far the most interesting character. One of my main problems with “…Wolverine” was the fact that we don’t see much of Wilson for the first act, he’s completely omitted from the second and he turns up in the third fully transformed into Deadpool. If you’re going to include a fan-favourite character, at least show him some respect. It’s like the whole Venom situation in “Spider-Man 3”.

The action sequences were very impressive, with a lot of money clearly being spent on huge explosions. The stand-outs for me were the war montage, the Wolverine vs helicopter bit and the Three Mile Island showdown. The only part that was disappointing in terms of action was the Las Vegas alley scrap between Wolverine, Sabretooth and Gambit (Taylor Kitsch) who was, like Deadpool and Bolt, criminally underused. Unfortunately, the film has plot holes you could pilot the X-Jet through. For example, Stryker states that after the operation, the only way to kill Wolverine was with Adamantium bullets, but later changes his mind and says they’ll only wipe his memory. Huh? I realise they had to wipe Logan’s memory at the end, but couldn’t they have come up with something better than that? Having said that, I liked the classic shot of Wolverine carrying Kayla (Lynn Collins) into the sunset, only for Stryker’s gun to emerge and shoot him in the back of the head.

“Logan isn’t the only piece of this puzzle.”

Overall, you could do much, much worse than going to see “X-Men Origins: Wolverine”. It’s fun, entertaining and has some really decent action. Here’s hoping the success of this film persuades them to finally start work on the long- awaited Magneto origin story.

Spider-Man 3

Before we start, I’ll admit that I’ve demonised this film over the past year or so. I’m going to try and explain why as best I can whilst reviewing it, so buckle up. It’s going to be a long (and I do mean long) and bumpy ride.

Spider-Man 3 (2007)

Internet hype is a dangerous thing. In the weeks leading up to the film’s release, I was trawling the Internet for any Spidey 3 information I could find (Christ, I need a girlfriend). I’m admitting this because “Spider-Man 3” was the film that made me swear I’d never get caught up in the hype machine again. As a film fan, it hurt, as a Spidey fan, it doubly hurt and as a hyped up Spidey film fan, it was a kick to the balls with Rosa Klebb’s shoe from “From Russia With Love”, tipped with an STD.

“This man killed my uncle, and he’s still out there!”

The plot? Okay, I’ll try my best. After Peter (Tobey Maguire) and Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst) got it together at the end of Spidey 2, things are going well. M.J. is in a Broadway musical and Spider-Man is getting the recognition he deserves from the New York City public. The shit hits the (Spider) fan when M.J. is sacked, Harry Osborn (James Franco) takes some of ol’ Normie’s home-style insanity gas and Peter finds out that newcomer Flint Marko (Thomas Haden-Church) was actually the guy who killed his Uncle Ben instead of the crook in the first film. Bung in rival photographer Eddie Brock (Topher Grace) too and I’m about quarter of the way through explaining. That’s one of the major problems- it’s too damn convoluted for its own good. We have no less than three villains in this film and of those three, two get a fairly decent amount of screentime.

Another problem is making Flint Marko (who becomes the Sandman) Uncle Ben’s killer. This seems to be an attempt to add an emotional punch to a new character. It doesn’t work. What we actually get is “Jurassic Park III” syndrome where an expansion of the original story actually harms it, rather than enhances it. It wasn’t that way in the comics, so why do it here? Plus, the whole point of the origin of Spider-Man was that it was just a random crook. Tim Burton’s “Batman” did this too, making the Joker the murderer of Wayne’s parents- it didn’t work then and twenty years on it still doesn’t work. So, I beg you Hollywood, for the last time- stop fucking with the source material!

“Spider-Man 3” also suffers from Too Many Villains syndrome. With Harry turning into the New Goblin, the newly created Sandman causing trouble as well as obvious afterthought Venom showing up, the film seems to be constantly playing catch-up with itself, like it’s spinning too many plates at once. With multiple plate-spinning, you’re always going to have the problem of concentrating on one whilst two others topple and crash to the ground. At the risk of straining this similie any more, let me explain with an example. Venom is just wrong. He’s clearly only in this film because of studio pressure to shift more Spidey toys. I loved the character of Venom in the comics and cartoon. He was the anti-Spidey, what would have happened if Peter had decided to turn to evil instead of good. In this film, he’s played by Eric Forman from “That ’70s Show”. Okay, slightly unfair as Topher Grace is a great actor and he’s weighed down with clunky dialogue and, for some reason, fucking stupid fangs.

There are just so many problems with this film. What is baffling however, is how Raimi, who directed “Spider-Man” and “Spider-Man 2”, films which subverted nearly all of the traps comic book films fall into, directed “Spider-Man 3” which categorically falls into every single one. There are stupid moments that range from unintentionally funny (the comedy “twang!” sound when Harry is clotheslined off his board) to the blood-boilingly annoying (that supposedly British reporter whose every line makes me wants to jam rusty steak knives into my ankle). The music is jarring too, with the absence of Danny Elfman being felt heavily. Plus, the ending is very weak with everyone sobbing and blubbering like clinically depressed walruses.

“Look, I want to kill the spider, you wanna kill the spider. Together, he doesn’t stand a chance. Interested?”

Despite the amount of acidic bile that is festering above, there are things to like about the film too. The fights are very well done, the Sandman effects impressive and it has the funniest Bruce Campbell cameo yet. On this occasion, the bad outweighs the good and what we’re left with is a dull thud rather than a triumphant ending to the trilogy. Let’s hope “Spider-Man 4” learns its lessons from this.

Spider-Man 2

It’s time for me to review the superhero sequel. Does he continue to do what a spider can? Or does he get washed down the plughole? Well, assuming you can’t see my rating at the bottom, let’s find out…

Spider-Man 2 (2004)

As great as 2002’s “Spider-Man” was, I always had the feeling that it was let down by the fact that its villain had his face hidden most of the time. Plus, he was kinda cheesy, I admit. Thank Stan Lee then, for the character of Dr. Otto Octavius or “Doc Ock” as he’s colloquially known.

“No, Uncle Ben. I’m just Peter Parker. I’m Spider-Man… no more.”

The basic story follows directly on from “Spider-Man”. Harry (James Franco) wants revenge, blaming Spidey for his father’s death, M.J.’s (Kirsten Dunst) unrequited love for Peter (Tobey Maguire) starts to dwindle and Peter is finding it harder and harder to balance his normal life and his crime fighting life. Throw a great villain into the mix (Alfred Molina) and you’ve got a super sequel on your hands. It does everything a sequel should do- it continues the characters’ stories without diminishing the work the original has done whilst also taking it to darker places- and oh boy, does it get dark.

Peter is basically tortured throughout the film. Mary-Jane has moved on, Harry resents him for not telling him who Spider-Man is and to top it off, he’s losing his powers. Plus, there’s a mad scientist tear-assing around town who only Spidey can stop. (Sigh) It makes me depressed just watching it.

“The power of the sun-in the palm of my hand!”

There are two scenes that really typify this film for me. The first is the operation scene where Doc Ock (or rather his metal tentacles) wipe out an entire room of surgeons attempting to remove them. It’s damn disturbing and brilliant at the same time. Only the director of “The Evil Dead” could pull off such a scene in a mainstream film so effortlessly (there’s even a cheeky reference to “Evil Dead II”). The second scene is the train fight where Spidey and Ock duke it out on, in and on the side of a speeding train. I really like the way a frustrated Ock grabs to innocent passengers and lobs them away carelessly. Such a bastardly thing to do- I love it!

Then there’s another fantastic Jameson scene and another hilarious Bruce Campbell cameo. The music is even better than that of the first too, with Danny Elfman adding a more complex, accomplished sound to the familiar Spidey themes. “Spider-Man 2” just does everything right. It’s the perfect sequel and definitely the best Marvel superhero film. As for all time best superhero film? It’s a tie between this and “The Dark Knight”* Yeah, it’s that good.

*Review coming soon!

Spider-Man

Six whole days without an update? That’s a lifetime in internet terms! Better make it up to you then. Join me on a web-slinging journey through the “Spider-Man” trilogy. First up- er…”Spider-Man”

Spider-Man (2002)

I’ve made no secret that I’m a Spidey fan. I’ve read the comics since I was an ankle-biter and watched the Saturday morning cartoon religiously. Debatably, I’ve grown up since then but a love of the adventures of Peter Parker and his arachnid alter-ego has stayed with me.

“Who am I? You sure you want to know? The story of my life is not for the faint of heart…”

The basic plot follows the life of high-school science geek Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire). During a school trip to a genetics lab, Parker gets bitten by a genetically modified spider (as opposed to the radioactive spider from the comics) and gains superpowers. I can’t really say anything against the plot, as silly as it may be, because it’s part of my childhood. It’s as classic as they come in my book.

I never really bought Tobey Maguire as Peter Parker/ Spider-Man in the first film. He just seemed miscast against the brilliant Willem Dafoe (playing Norman Osborn/ The Green Goblin) and the passable Kirsten Dunst (Mary-Jane Watson). Maybe this is what the director was going for however, a type of misfit. That’s not to say I have a problem with Maguire, he just wasn’t Parker in my eyes. You can’t mention good casting without mentioning J.K. Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson. It was like the character burst out of the comic pages and onto the big screen. Fantastic.

“Spider-Man” in general is a great film. It stays faithful to the comics whilst taking certain artistic liberties with the comic. I always wondered why they chose the Green Goblin as the main villain though. As a character, he’s probably one of the hardest of the Spidey villains to make believable, but I suppose the mask and suit work well enough, the only downside being that you can’t really see Dafoe emoting behind the permanent sneer of the mask. Still, the glider is cool.

There are some great scenes too. I really like Osborn hearing the Goblin’s laughter for the first time and vainly searching for it, only to be confronted by his own reflection. Creepy. I also love the montage of Peter designing the Spider-Man suit. I was glad to see that even with big Hollywood money and production values, Raimi was able to keep his trademark visual twists and turns. I was surprised at how violent the ending was too. You feel every punch and kick delivered to poor Peter. The image of the torn mask revealing both sides of Peter Parker is great too. Subtlety is always welcome.

” Can Spider-Man come out to play?”

So that’s it. It’s a great film. It’s not as amazing as I thought it was when I first saw it in 2002, but it still holds up. Good stuff.