X-Men

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: First Class (2011)

Mutants Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Erik Lensherr (Michael Fassbender) bring together a team of mutants to stop Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon) from starting a nuclear war.

I hadn’t seen X-Men: First Class in years and I’d forgotten how good it was! The casting is spot on almost across the board. McAvoy and Fassbender have such great chemistry and while thanks to Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen’s performances in the original trilogy you could sense the years or friendship and respect, seeing how Charles and Erik met and the foundations of their relationship was just great to see. McAvoy and Fassbender both do a great job of showing the younger versions of these iconic characters while still making their own mark on them. Fassbender especially is great at showing the almost warring sides of Erik as he has a single determination for revenge but also likes and understands Charles’s point of view.

The differing ideologies of Erik and Charles don’t only come into play but also Charles and Raven aka Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence). Having them being adoptive siblings adds this whole new dynamic to characters we already thought we knew. Raven trying to figure out who she is leads to a lot of the sort of moral conversations about trying to fit in verses being true to yourself that wasn’t always discussed so much in the original trilogy.

The whole 60s vibe on First Class is a lot of fun. The use of Gnarls Barkley’s “Run” during the montage sequence of Erik and Charles recruiting mutants fits perfectly and the score composed by Henry Jackman is one of my favourites in the X-Men franchise and helps make First Class feel like its own thing outside of the rest of the X-Men films we’d seen so far.

Having X-Men: First Class be set during the Cold War adds another level of politics to the usual dynamic of humans vs mutants. There are humans being used by mutants, mutants trying to protect humans – it’s all put together so that the final conflict is truly satisfying.

While Charles, Erik, Mystique and Hank McCoy (Nicholas Hoult) are all characters we’ve seen older versions of before, the rest of the mutants – both good and bad – are all new to the films. Naturally not all of them get the same amount of screen time and development but thanks to good casting and chemistry between them means they, and their powers, are all fun to watch.

X-Men: First Class is the near perfect blend of action, humour and fun. The cast is great, as is the special effects and the yellow X-Men uniforms are just the best. X-Men: First Class was the perfect way to reboot/reimagine the franchise and these characters after X-Men: The Last Stand. The subsequent films with these younger versions of the characters might not all have been as impressive as First Class, but it certainly gave the franchise a whole new lease of life. 5/5.

REVIEW: X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)

A prequel to the original X-Men trilogy, X-Men Origins: Wolverine shows the early years of James Logan (Hugh Jackman) who would one day become the Wolverine.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine tries to cram a lot in and very little of it works. A big part of this film is the relationship between Logan and his brother, Victor Creed (Live Schreiber). How they are each other’s only family until Victor’s violent streak gets too much for Logan and they go on different paths. Schreiber, and his creepy/gross nails, does look like he’s having a good time playing a villain that’s one step away from moustache-twirling. But the film never really delves into the hows and whys of the character instead having it pretty black and white – Logan = good while Victor = bad.

There are a lot of new mutants as a part of the team, led by Stryker (Danny Huston), and I couldn’t tell you any of their names – except Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds). X-Men Origins: Wolverine is possibly the most derided X-Men film and a big part of that is because of its treatment of that character and what it turned Deadpool into. God bless Ryan Reynolds for sticking with it and getting a Deadpool movie made seven years after this one made the character unrecognisable. The other members of the team aren’t given much more than the barebones of a personality and most are quicky killed off.

Gambit (Taylor Kitsch) makes his one and only appearance in the entire X-Men franchise
(so far) and he really is a bright spark in this otherwise dull film. He’s probably got less than 10 minutes of screen time, and he doesn’t appear until an hour into the film, but Kitsch still manages to bring more charm and charisma in that time than Hugh Jackman does in the whole film.

Speaking of Jackman, considering how layered his performance as Logan in previous films was and how it looked like he was giving a good performance even if the script wasn’t great (looking at you X-Men: The Last Stand) here he looks like he’s checked out of it and doesn’t really care anymore. That may be down to the poor script or the fact he’s supposed to be playing a slightly different Logan than the one we’ve seen before, one who remembers the 100+ years of his life so is more weary due to the things he’s seen or done. Either way, it’s not a great performance.

There’s a lot of X-Men Origins: Wolverine that feels contrived because it’s a prequel. There are things like where Logan gained the moniker Wolverine and even where he got his cool, brown leather jacket – were we really desperate to know that? – and often it seems unnatural as the film screeches to a holt so you pick up this obvious reference. Then there’s a problem that prequels often fall into – you have a good idea of how the story is going to end. If you’ve seen the original trilogy (which you probably have) then you know Logan is “experimented on” and he must lose his memory by the end of the film. If the stuff leading up to that was more compelling maybe Logan’s amnesia would then be bittersweet as a viewer as then what he’d lost would be more affecting but it’s not.

The CGI in X-Men Origins: Wolverine is so bad. I’m one to forgive some shoddy CGI if it’s just in one scene or the rest of the film in terms of plot and characters is good and entertaining, but as X-Men Origins: Wolverine doesn’t meet those requirements it’s worth mentioning. The most noticeable thing is Wolverine’s claws. Obviously, they aren’t real but they look so fake and far worse than they did in X-Men which was released nine years earlier. They look stuck on Logan’s hands rather than a part of the characters body.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine is pretty much one fight/action scene after another, and it gets boring pretty quickly as none of the characters Logan goes up against (besides Gambit) have much of a personality or a compelling story arc – and the actual plot of the film isn’t that entertaining either. 1/5.

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.

X is for X-Training by Henry Jackman

X is always the hardest letter when it comes to the A-Z Challenge but luckily, I had a couple of songs on my iTunes that began with the letter X. I’m pretty sure the majority of X posts over the year for this challenge have been X-Men related and who am I to break that tradition!

X-Training is from X-Men: First Class and is featured in this sequence, where Xavier attempts to train the young mutants how to use their powers.

X-Training is my favourite piece of music from the film. It’s upbeat and builds through the song but at it’s heart is these strings which sound amazing. I think I like this piece of music the most from the entire score is because it’s more of a fun, light piece than the rest of the soundtrack, but it’s still got echoes of the main theme from X-Men: First Class.

X is for X-Men

I always say X-Men was my gateway to everything superhero. I watched the 90’s cartoon (the video below is of the iconic theme song) and then the X-Men: Evolution cartoon was on TV on a Saturday morning (forget about X-Men: Apocalypse, if you want to see the Apocalypse story-line, watch X-Men: Evolution, that show did it amazingly) and then of course are the films.

Now the films are a huge rolled up mess of continuity if you think about it too hard. The best way to not give yourself a headache in my opinion is think of it as; the original trilogy (X-Men, X2 and The Last Stand), the First Class trilogy (X-Men: First Class, Days of Future Past and Apocalypse) and then the various Wolverine movies are their own little trilogy. It still doesn’t really make sense as the characters in X-Men: Apocalypse are twenty years older than they were in First Class but the actors all look exactly the same, and Wolverine keeps popping up everywhere so his backstory is a huge mess if you want a straight timeline – but that’s the X-Men movies for you!

My favourite X-Men films are X-Men, X2 and Logan. I adore the attack on the school scene in X2, it shows off so many different characters’ powers and you get to see some of Wolverine’s berserker rage that you don’t really get to see that much – until Logan that is when there’s no holding back.

I’ve tried reading the X-Men comics but there’s so many timelines and so much history that I’ve found it pretty difficult so far. I’ve read and loved Old Man Logan and I read the iconic Days of Future Past story before the film came out so I think self-contained stories are the way forward for me and X-Men comics.

Still, I love everything to do with X-Men – weird, convoluted timelines and all.

REVIEW: Logan (2017)

logan-movie-posterIn the near future, an older and weary Logan (Hugh Jackman) is caring for and hiding an ailing Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) on the Mexican border. But their isolation is disturbed when a young mutant named Laura (Dafne Keen) arrives, bring dangerous forces with her.

Logan is a magnificent film quite unlike anything in the superhero movie genre we’ve seen before. It’s set in a near dystopian future, most mutants are gone and those who are left are in hiding, and the imagery and setting often feel more like a Western than a superhero film. This almost change of genre makes Logan a much smaller, character driven film. While there are other characters, both good and bad, throughout the film it really is all about Logan, Charles and Laura, their relationships and their journeys.

Also with Logan being a more personal film, there appears to be less CGI. While it’s naïve to think there’s not a lot (every time Logan unsheathes his claws there’s computer work there) it feels more real and there’s not the usual explosions and over the top superhero fight scenes. That being said, there is definitely a lot of violence in Logan (it is a 15 after all) but while it is brutal it isn’t gratuitous. There is also more swearing which, like the violence and both Logan’s and Laura’s rage, fits the characters and film perfectly. Logan never goes over the top with what it’s “allowed” to do with a 15 certificate, every choice is true to the characters and to the story.

In Logan you get to see a different side to the titular character. He’s older, a drinker, his body doesn’t heal like it used to, he’s not a happy man but he’s trying to make a living and keep those he cares about safe. It’s incredible to think that Hugh Jackman has been playing this character for 17 years and in Logan he gives his best performance, mainly because we get to see Logan a completely different man compared to the previous films. Life has gotten Logan down and it takes a lot for him to care for anyone or anything and he definitely doesn’t care about himself. Patrick Stewart also gives a great and very different performance as Professor X – he’s forgetful, he’s cranky and is very much an old man in need of help. Then there’s Dafne Keen as Laura. She is a captivating presence, feral but also has this innocence making Laura someone you’re wary of but also someone you want to protect. She holds her own against Stewart and Jackman and when it comes to the fight scenes she manages to be both awe-inspiring and terrifying. Dafne Keen is an actress to watch.

Logan is the perfect swansong for Stewart and Jackman as well as being a brilliant and unique addition to the X-Men franchise. Though Logan is a part of the X-Men universe (a universe where the continuity is pretty wonky to say the least) you don’t need to have seen every single X-Men film to understand and enjoy it.

Logan is tense, exciting and thrilling. It has moments of humour that never lessens the stakes and it has moments of heartbreak as you watch these characters’ struggle to achieve what the set out to do. Not to speak too soon but I feel Logan is (hopefully) a game-changer in the superhero genre, showing not everything has to be connected to a wider universe and character driven stories work just as well – in fact good stories full stop are what the superhero genre needs. Simple, character focused stories with a good plot automatically make a good film, while I enjoy pretty much all superhero fare it would be nice for the studios and filmmakers to remember that. Hopefully Logan will join the likes of Spider-Man 2 (2004) and The Dark Knight (2008) as one of The Best Superhero Movies ever made. 5/5.

REVIEW: X-Men: Apocalypse (2016)

x-men apocalypse movie posterWhen the world’s first mutant Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac) re-emerges after thousands of years, the X-Men must unite to defeat him and his plan to destroy all of humanity.

X-Men: Apocalypse see’s the return of Professor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and his students. There’s many familiar faces including Hank McCoy/Beast (Nicholas Hoult), Alex Summers/Havok (Lucas Till) and Peter Maximoff/Quicksilver (Evan Peters) as well as a host of new students. These newer characters, playing younger versions of characters we’ve seen before, all fit in well with the action and do a good job – especially Kodi Smit-McPhee as a young Nightcrawler. Raven/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) also returns and she plays a bigger role and is on a different side to the one you might expect.

Quicksilver steals every scene he’s in. Much like in Days of Future Past, there’s a scene in X-Men: Apocalypse which really shows off his power and it’s both funny and exciting. Plus, he bounces off a lot of the other characters well and brings a level of humour to an otherwise potentially very grim movie.

X-Men: Apocalypse is surprisingly violent comic book superhero movie aimed primarily at kids. There’s scene where characters get brutally beaten and there’s a lot of blood, there’s what could be described as body horror with Angel (Ben Hardy) and overall it’s definitely the darkest and goriest X-Men movie to date. It is jarring and disturbing to see though it does the job of showing how powerful and threatening Apocalypse can be.

While Apocalypse is sometimes an opposing figure, he is not a terrifying villain. His four horseman, bar Magneto (Michael Fassbender) who gets another tragic backstory, are seriously underdeveloped. Angel’s character is non-existent and Psylocke (Olivia Munn) is given little to do, Storm (Alexandra Shipp) fares only slightly better as you encounter her before she becomes a disciple of Apocalypse.

X-Men: Apocalypse is an entertaining film, it’s gripping and exciting but it’s the heroes you find yourself more invested in than an average villain. 4/5.