Famke Janssen

REVIEW: The Wolverine (2013)

When Logan (Hugh Jackman) travels to Japan to meet Yashida (Haruhiko Yamanouchi), an old friend whose life he saved in World War Two, he becomes entangled in his family’s politics and a conspiracy involving the yakuza – all the while seeming to lose his power to heal.

The Wolverine chronologically takes place after all the previous X-Men film, including X-Men: The Last Stand. That means we have a Logan that’s alone, hurting and has had to deal with the death of so many people he knew and cared about. Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) haunts his dreams as he shuts himself off from the rest of the world.

The Wolverine is perhaps one of the more serious and character-driven X-Men films so far. There’s always been discussions of mutants and the hatred and fear they face (they can be used as a stand in for any minority group) but this film really digs deep in Logan’s psyche and what it means to him to be immortal. He’s always seen it as a curse and while Logan may be ambivalent towards his death, it’s still not something he’d want to pass on to anyone else, even Yashida.

When Logan appears to start becoming mortal, healing a lot slower than normal and some wounds not healing at all without medical help, it shows another side to this character. Logan has always been almost reckless with his life due to his accelerated healing, so for him to now feel pain and even getting tired it’s a whole new experience for him. Jackman really gets the character and how he shows both Logan’s surprise at this new situation and his stoicism in dealing with it is great. There are bad people to stop and an heiress to save, Logan doesn’t have time wallow and as he says, at his hear he’s always been a soldier.

Having The Wolverine set in Japan naturally brings in a lot of Japanese culture and references to samurais and ninjas. Logan is referred to as a Ronin, a samurai with no master, multiple times. Harada (Will Yun Lee) leads the Black Clan who are sworn to protect the Yashida family for hundreds of years and his fighting style is an interesting juxtaposition to Logan’s. A lot of the men Logan fights in this film are highly trained and skilful compared to Logan who uses his brute force and rage, meaning the fights are different to what we’ve seen in previous X-Men films. Logan going up against people with swords and bows and arrows instead of just guns makes a much more interesting and entertaining fight.

The final act does let the film down a little bit. Compared to the more grounded action sequences and character moments before it, it does come across quite cartoonish as Logan must fight what’s basically a giant robot samurai. It’s not necessarily terrible but it doesn’t really fit the film it’s in. The sequence before it of Logan verses dozens of ninjas was a lot more visually interesting and impressive.

The Wolverine is an excellent character study of Logan, morality and duty. For a 12A film the fights are suitably brutal and bloody and it’s clear to see the foundations being laid here for Logan – in terms of character, themes and action. 4/5.

REVIEW: X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)

When the government develops a “cure” for mutations that will turn mutants human permanently, Magneto (Ian McKellen) rages war and the X-Men must choose what side they’re on. Meanwhile Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) returns and is more powerful than ever, calling herself the Phoenix and turns on her friends, aligning herself with Magneto.

X-Men: The Last Stand is one of the X-Men films that I’m pretty sure I hadn’t seen it in its entirety since the cinema, 15 years ago. I remember being a bit disappointed by it but not necessarily why and a lot of my thoughts and opinions on it before this rewatch were probably thanks to the general internet consensus over the years.

The Last Stand definitely isn’t as good as the first two X-Men films, but I don’t think it’s as terrible as I’d been led to believe. The main problem with it is that it tries to cram two storylines together in a film that’s less than two hours long.

The “cure” plot is good though because of the other stuff there isn’t as much time to give the emotional and ethical dilemma some characters face, namely Rogue (Anna Paquin), space to fully develop. Sure, mutants were born with these powers but for some if they change how they look or make them unable to be close to anyone, they can be a curse. But does that mean they should change who they are? The conversation between Storm (Halle Berry) and Rogue touches on these things but there’s so much more that could’ve been explored. Storm thinks every mutant is perfect the way they are, and that’s perhaps easy for someone like her who can control the weather but is otherwise completely normal. For Rogue who can’t touch someone without harming them, it’s very different.

The Jean Grey/Phoenix Saga story line is what feels shoehorned in. If The Last Stand had just focussed on the cure storyline, or even the Phoenix Saga one, it would’ve had the potential to be a much better film. Jean returns suddenly evil and far more powerful than any other mutant. She has a completely different personality and it’s hard to care about what she’s going through. Every time the plot moves forward with the cure stuff it then has to pause to go back to Jean, and often Logan (Hugh Jackman’s) love for her, and it grinds the film to a halt.

The opening sequence in the Danger Room is great as you see the X-Men in a battle situation, most of which you haven’t seen use their powers to their full capabilities before so that’s cool. Likewise, the final battle is exciting as there’s so many different powers on display and each of the X-Men do get their moment to shine there.

Rewatching The Last Stand I remembered what disappointed me most. After all the promo of Angel (Ben Foster) being in one of the X-Men suits I thought he’d become a proper part of the team, so I was disappointed when he was pretty much a cameo. Generally, that’s another problem The Last Stand has, it introduces a lot of new characters, as well as already having quite a full roster, that a lot are given minimal screen time and little to know character development – I couldn’t name half the new characters that joined Magneto. Scott Summers (James Marsden) really is given the short end of the stick in this film. He’s given nothing to do, is used to bring Jean back to the story, and barely anyone misses him when he’s not there.

X-Men: The Last Stand is a bit of a mess. There’s some good stuff to be found but with an over abundance of characters and conflicting plots that each deserve a whole film it’s a bit of a let down as an end to a trilogy. Still, the final battle is pretty great (even if it goes from day to night in a second) so it does leave you on a high and maybe in a more forgiving mood. 3/5.

REVIEW: X2 (2003)

When the rise of anti-mutant sentiment led by Colonel William Stryker (Brian Cox) leads to Professor X’s (Patrick Stewart) school being attacked and students taken, the X-Men must join with their adversaries Magneto (Ian McKellen) and Mystique (Rebecca Romijn) in order to stop Stryker.

X2 starts with a bang with the opening sequence still being talked about almost twenty years later. Nightcrawler’s (Alan Cumming) attack on the White House is thrilling and eerie and the special effects for his teleportation makes you believe that someone really could disappear, and reappear, in a puff of blue smoke. The make up Alan Cumming wears is also incredible and that along with his performance brings this socially awkward mutant to life.

The other standout sequence in X2 is the attack on Xavier’s school. Whoever thought having an home invasion sequence where it’s just Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) against a load of military men was a genius. It’s tense and exciting as Wolverine goes full feral mode to protect the children under his care. There are also glimpses of different students’ powers like Shadowcat and while Colossus (Daniel Cudmore) isn’t in it much, how he takes down the invaders while saving his fellow students is great.

While the action is great in that sequence, the way it suddenly pauses as Wolverine and Stryker come face to face and allow them to talk is good too. Stryker may hold the key to Wolverine’s lost memories and Jackman continues to walk the line between feral, confused and caring with that character perfectly.

One of the many things X2 does well is show how pretty much all the characters, including the heroes, are morally grey. Storm (Halle Berry) is not all forgiving and is instead angry at what humans do to mutants, Pyro (Aaron Stanford) is tired of hiding who he is, and it’s easy to see where Magneto is coming from.

As well as the various fight and action sequences, X2 also amps up the emotional stakes. Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) and Scott’s (James Marsden) relationship is given more screen time, and the budding romance between Rogue (Anna Paquin) and Bobby (Shawn Ashmore) is handled well as they navigate how to be in a relationship. While it’s a quieter moment, Bobby talking to his parents and showing off his powers is an important one not only to the character but to show the wider issues facing Bobby and his fellow mutants.

X2 is a well-paced, fun and action-packed superhero film. It introduces some interesting new characters while also giving the ones we already know space to develop. The special effects still hold up and it really is a fantastic superhero film that shows the duality of so many of these characters. Also must give a shout out to composer John Ottman, the X2 Suite is one of my favourite superhero themes. 5/5.

We shall see how this X-Men rewatch goes but I’m pretty confident that X2 is my favourite film in this franchise – it’s definitely one of my favourite superhero films in general.

REVIEW: X-Men (2000)

Due to a certain character’s appearance in a certain Disney+ show, I got the urge to rewatch (and then review) all of the X-Men films. A lot of the more recent ones with the younger versions of the characters I’ve only ever seen once in the cinema and I can’t even remember the last time I watched the original trilogy in their entirety.

In the near future some people have evolved into mutants, people with special abilities, and live with the threat of discrimination from the rest of humanity. The supremacist group the Brotherhood led by Magneto (Ian McKellen) believe that humans and mutants cannot live in peace and while the X-Men led by Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) believe that can be achieved. Mutants Rogue (Anna Paquin) and Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) get caught up in the fight between the two groups.

Even though I know that X-Men as a comic series was an allegory for the oppression of minorities and Erik Lensherr (aka Magneto) has always been Jewish and motivated by his experiences in the Holocaust, I’d forgotten that X-Men began with a young Erik having to watch his parents be led to the gas chamber as his powers manifested. It’s quite a bold and hard-hitting sequence to have to start a summer superhero flick.

The scenes where Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart are talking are a real highlight. From their first scene together and their performances you can tell these characters have a long history and were even close once. Though really they’re never just talking. Erik and Charles are both smart men and so it’s like they’re verbally sparring as they both have respect for one another while having opposing set of ideals.

Logan (aka Wolverine) and Rogue’s relationship is really the heart of this film. It’s an easy dynamic to like as Rogue can’t be physically close to anyone without hurting them and Logan has built up a lot of emotional barriers. Hugh Jackman really does a good job of portraying Logan’s gruff attitude and often brutal, impulsive side, while also showing a softer, caring side around Rogue – and to a lesser extent Jean Grey (Famke Janssen). She and Storm (Halle Berry) and Cyclops (James Marsden) round out the main trio of heroes. They all do well in their roles even if some of the dialogue is a bit clunky.

Some of the special effects in X-Men has become dated but the casting of these characters was pretty spot on and it’s easy to see why some of them became staples in the X-Men franchise. Though equally it’s unfortunate how some seem to have got the short end of the stick over subsequent films.

While Blade was the superhero film that made superheroes a viable financial option for film studios, X-Men really is the blueprint for a lot of the subsequent superhero films. It has a pretty simple but compelling plot, does a good job at introducing this huge cast of characters and it balances the action and emotional beats well too. 4/5.

REVIEW: Don’t Say a Word (2001)

dont say a wordPsychiatrist Nathan Conrad (Michael Douglas) is horrified to discover when his young daughter Jessie (Skye McCole Bartusiak) is kidnapped the abductors demands is that he break through a post-traumatic stress disorder suffering young woman, Elisabeth Burrows (Brittany Murphy), who knows a secret the abductor will do anything to get.

Don’t Say a Word is a tense psychological thriller that may be a bit simple at times but it makes it no less enjoyable. It is a slick looking film, with a great score and any chase sequence is well shot and easy to follow. While Don’t Say a Word can be a bit paint-by-numbers when it comes to a psychological thriller, it really does have a great cast who gives it their all – bar the bad guys, they really are cut-and-paste villains.

Jessie is a smart kid and her mother Aggie (Famke Janssen) is resourceful. Detective Sandra Cassidy (Jennifer Esposito) the police officer who stumbles into the kidnapping through a seemingly separate case, is smart and capable and doesn’t let the men in the force fob her off with excuses. I liked her even though she really wasn’t sure who to believe to begin with. The team of abductors is led by Patrick Koster (Sean Bean) who really is your typical bad guy that could walk from the pages of any thriller. He’s not particularly interesting, or that threatening, he just wants what Elisabeth can tell him. It’s the female characters in Don’t Say a Word who are more interesting and proactive in the plot.

Really the highlight of the film is Nathan Conrad and his relationship with Elisabeth Burrows. Elisabeth is suffering from PTSD but she is very smart and manages to fool a lot of other psychiatrists to think that she’s got many more problems than that. Elisabeth is a fascinating character and Brittany Murphy’s performance is brilliant. The way she can switch from one emotion to another so quickly is great but at the same time you can see how she is slowly starting to and wanting to trust Nathan and as much as trusting him will help her, she’s also scared to do exactly that. Nathan is great as obviously he will do anything to get his daughter back but at the same time you can tell he is a good psychiatrist who does care about his patient. How he gets through to Elisabeth is sometimes tough to watch but their chemistry really is great and elevates the film.

Don’t Say a Word is a thriller that may be a bit predictable sometimes but it really thrives on the relationship and chemistry between the two leads. 3/5.