Breaking Down (Logan, 2017)

logan-movie-posterFirst things first.  You might figure this is a super-hero movie and safe for kids.  Logan is a hard ‘R’ and earns it in the first five minutes.

It has been known for quite some time that this was Jackman’s swan song.  Seventeen years is a long time to play the same character.  Just a few days ago Stewart said this was his final time playing Professor X.  And Logan is, without a doubt, a way to go out on top.

Taking the approach of Unforgiven, Logan is set in the not to distant future of 2029.  We meet a Wolverine who is not quite the best at what he does anymore.  He is sickly, he claws don’t work quite as well and his healing abilities are significantly slower.  He drinks, stumbles and is quietly hiding an even more troubled Charles Xavier.  There are hints and references to a massive tragedy that Charles is guilty of causing.  Logan and another mutant  Caliban (who is able to sense and track other mutants) keep Charles drugged because he has seizures that could destroy a city.

Although it is believed mutant kind is essentially wiped out, a young girl named Laura falls into their lap, forcing them to run from a nefarious organization that wants to get her into their possession.

Logan is a dark film, one that feels from the start that it has only one end for our leads.  It is a bloody struggle to get Laura to freedom.  However, it has it’s light moments.  These are primarily between Jackman and Stewart, as well as with Laura.  She is a feral child in some respects and has powers very much like Wolverine’s.

This is most certainly one of the best films in the X-Men franchise.  The story is compelling and the performances engaging.  The quality of the Wolverine films is a rare example of going from bad to great.  Logan is worth a watch.

Prison Without Prison Bars (Prisoners, 2013)

prisoners-posterIn this compelling, but bleak, tale Hugh Jackman is Keller Dover.  His Daughter and her friend have disappeared and he is working aggressively to find them.  As he feels the police are not working hard enough, he opts to kidnap the lead suspect.  He tortures the young man, Alex, who is mentally about ten.  And the deeper it all goes, he becomes more and more obsessed.

But there becomes question on whether Alex is truly guilty.  The downward spiral of Keller as Detective Loki tries to solve the kidnapping is frightening.  He becomes that thing he is seeking to stop.  The film ends on a truly dark note.

Visually, it is every bit as colorless and gloomy as it’s story.  You hope for a resolution and finding Dover’s daughter and her friend.  And yet, even the resolution of the film has a futility.  This is not to say it is a bad film.  But you don’t walk out with a sense of hope, that is for sure.

Back to the Future (X-Men: Days of Future Past, 2014)

X-Men-Days-of-Future-Past-posterDays of Future Past is a well loved storyline where Kitty Pryde is thrust into a future where Mutants are herded in camps, marked and in some cases killed.  They are hunted by giant robots called Sentinels.  And for the most part, Days of Future Past keeps these ideas.  Except the film begins in the future and instead of Kitty Pryde going to the future, they send Wolverine back in time to stop it from ever happening.  Kitty Pryde is still a part of this, as she can use her phasing ability to phase people through time.  Only to a few days earlier, so they are playing a cat and mouse game with the Sentinels finding their hideout, Kitty sending Bishop back in time to warn them.  They decide they need to go farther back, but it is to taxing on Kitty and the brain of the person she sends back.  Wolverine volunteers to go, arguing his healing factor makes him the best choice.

Wolverine awakes in the 70’s and finds that the School Xavier opened is in shambles…there are no students.  Xavier is addicted to a drug that allows him to walk, but also prevents him from using his powers.  Beast is also there as his aide.  They do not initially buy Wolverines arguments, but he eventually persuades them to the cause.  They are trying to stop Mystique from assassinating Bolivar Trask.  Trask is the creator of the Sentinels and he has been using mutants as part of his R&D.  The research is fatal, and this is actually used to kill several characters from First Class off screen.

This is without a doubt one of the strongest films in the entire X-Men series.  The return of Bryan Singer as director was clearly a smart choice.  There is well timed humor and exciting action.  We see the return of the original (still living cast).  The future sequences are full of cool uses of power and we get new characters like Blink (who creates wormholes characters can escape through-the film is very inventive with these powers) and Warpath (a character from the 1970’s return of the X-Men comics).  We have Storm and Iceman back.  The films have always had a hard time placing Magneto on the side of evil and seeing real life friends Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan back together again.

And the new characters are pretty memorable.  Quicksilver appears only a short time, but he totally steals every scene.  He is funny and likeable.  Peter Dinklage makes Trask a sympathetic and misguided villain.  He is not simply evil…he is consumed by fear of what mutants mean for the human race.  It does not make his actions acceptable.  His choices are evil, but you can see what takes him there.  William Stryker returns to the series and is trying to weaponize mutants, treating them as less than human already.  The film is, of course, very Wolverine-centric.

There are two cuts of the film out on Blu-Ray.  The theatrical cut eliminated Rogue entirely with the exception of the film’s final scene, even though they filmed several scenes focused on Rogue.  The second is not a directors cut, it is the Rogue Cut and restores Rogue to the story.  Both versions are good, but it is nice seeing the inclusion of Rogue and the important part she plays.  It also brings things back to the first film and Rogue’s relationship to Wolverine.

The film has continuity issues in regards to the film series.  One being how Patrick Stewart is back…it is a bit more focused on undoing X3 and “fixing a timeline”…which results in questions.  Like First Class, Days of Future Past overcomes a lot of these questions while watching it.  This film feels like the passing of the baton to the new cast (much in the way Star Trek Generations tried to do…but this does it oh so much better). It is, like X2, a film that has a strong identity that is built on strong performances.

Lil’ Wolverine (X-Men Origins: Wolverine,2009)

x_men_origins_wolverine_posterNo doubt, the fan favorite of of the X-Men films was the comics fan favorite Wolverine.  Hugh Jackman held his own with some top talent in those first two films… a solo Wolverine film was kind of a no-brainer.  And putting it in the hands of the director of the stunning Tsotsi, Gavin Hood seemed like a terrific idea.  Then casting started to leak… Ryan Reynolds as Deadpool (what a good choice), Liev Schreiber as Sabertooth-wait…what?  In the first X-Men Movie, Sabertooth was played by wrestler Tyler Mane.  Now, the change in actors is no big deal,  It happens.  But the first movie played off the characters as unfamiliar with each other.  Wolverine’s memory loss is his easy defense…Sabertooth’s?  Don’t know.

Borrowing heavily from the comic series Origin the film establishes Wolverine and Sabertooth to by half brothers.  Big plot point to miss.  The opening credits feature a really nice montage of the young men growing to adult hood as soldiers in a series of wars, world war one, two and so on…finally settling on Vietnam …Jame’s brother Victor goes ballistic and kills civilians, as James tries to stop him…they end up being court marshaled.  They are recruited by Stryker (Danny Huston) who is putting together a special ops team comprised of mutants.  After a mission snafu, James, now called Wolverine walks.

Wolverine hides out in the wilds of Canada where he meets a beautiful young woman named Kayla Silverfox (Lynn Collins).  They fall in love and live in a cabin.  After she is killed (as super-hero girlfriends are prone to do) by Sabertooth, Wolverine seeks revenge.  Wolverine is approached by Stryker with an offer to make him stronger to be able to take revenge.  It is no surprise they try and double  cross Wolverine.

He escapes and meets up with surviving members of Stryker’s crew, discovering that Stryker has a secret plan to build the ultimate mutant soldier that he can control.  Wolverine finds out that Stryker is kidnapping young mutants and using his brother to do the deed.  Wolverine runs off to the secret base with the help of Gambit (who doesn’t do much beyond fly Wolverine there and wish him luck.

A final confrontation results in Wolverine and Sabertooth fight Deadpool to the kind of death, Wolverine losing his memory via a magic Adamantium bullet and Kayla’s death-but not before sending Stryker for a long walk, and a digital Professor X who needs no chair.

The truth is, this film is what you call a major mess.  By setting it in a vague “the 70’s” you start forcing the films into a specific timeline.  The first three X-Men films all took place in “the near future”.  The film features a high school age Psyclops.  Making him in his mid to late 40s.  Actor James Marsten was about 27 at the release of the first X-Men.  And there are the confusing aspects of why nobody seems to remember this moment of history.  It is hard to believe that Professor X knew where to pick up all those kids and yet is oblivious to Wolverine.  And good grief did they muck up Deadpool, nearly killing the plans to spin Deadpool off.

The real positives of the films are the strong casting choices (Lost’s Kevin Durant is great as the Blob…Danny Huston, Liev Schreiber and Ryan Reynolds are strokes of genius).  Jackman shows why he owns the character on screen again.  The performances are mostly good…but they are in a story that seems overly convoluted and needlessly confusing-even by comic book standards.  It has a nice beginning, but it falls apart quickly.  It has some very goofy action set pieces and some legit humor going for it.  It is so busy packing the film with so many characters and killing several of them off and making sure to fill in all the missing blanks of the original trilogy (How did Wolverine get his metal skeleton? How did he lose his memory?) that it becomes bloated.  And it is under two hours.  The fan service is very careless.  We meet young Emma Frost, we meet Gambit, we meet…oh, it goes on.

There were plans for a series of X-Men Origins and the next film was going to be Magneto…but this film ended those plans.  And no small wonder…in spite of excellent casting and a talented director, this film fails hard.

First Mutations (X-Men, 2000)

x-men-2000-PosterX-Men kind of set a template for Marvel films that they have stayed fairly close to and it has served them well.   Get a director with some real film cred, and the rest will follow.  X-Men is certainly proof that it is an effective approach.

Really, it was the hiring of Bryan Singer (then most recognized for the Usual Suspects) that got actors to take notice.  Most of the actors admitted no familiarity with the comics, and Bryan was not a fan of the series when he came on board.  While having a non-fanboy running the show ruffled some feathers (especially when it was revealed that none of the X-Men would be wearing costumes), it really seemed to miss the point.

A good storyteller need not be a fan to tell a great tale about these characters.  Patrick Stewart’s lack of interest in Sci-Fi did not stop him from becoming a beloved Star Trek Captain or Professor X.  And many of the actors opted to research their characters by reading the comics.  Sir Ian McKellan devoted an extensive section of his website to Magneto, he found simple ways to connect the characters to real life.

Of course, the big issue was Wolverine.  Hugh Jackman was way to tall to play the runt.  Oh, the frustrations comic fans are forced to deal with.  Along with the previously mentioned news that Singer was ditching the costumes in favor of leather uniforms.  So, things were stacking up against it in the eyes of fans and creators.

The film begins in the early 1940’s.  A concentration camp to be specific.  Weakened and fearful Jewish families are herded through an iron gate.  The Nazi soldiers begin to separate out children. One young boy and his parents reach for each other, and as the young boy becomes more frantic, we notice little things.  The metal in the gates starts to reach back towards the boy-and he and the soldiers holding on to him are dragged towards the warping gates.  After knocking the boy out, the soldiers stare in confusion at the mangled gates before them.  Next is an introduction to Rogue (Anna Paquin).  She is in her room with a young man and they start to kiss…suddenly, he starts to appear sickly, veins seeming to grow across his face.  She starts screaming as the boy convulses before her.  These are dramatic starts for a very ambitious film.  A few years earlier Batman and Robin crashed the comic book movie boom.  And yet, Singer was taking the X-men seriously.

The film quickly works to bring all the characters together.  and there is little time wasted in creating the team, tying it around Wolverine and Rogue.

The film, despise an easy premise, suffers from the problem from so many first films for a franchise…”Introductoritus”.  It is a large ensemble, and I get wanting to put in all sorts of stuff for the die hard fan to get excited over.  But it is a big cast and that means some folks will get glossed over.  Halle Berry’s Storm is flat and pretty lifeless.  Some of it is the writing, some is the performance.  Hugh Jackman does a terrific job as Wolverine.  He is convincing as a loner, yet the (sibling like) bond with Rogue is believable.  As his his friction with Cyclops and the magnetism with Jean Grey.  Unfortunately, Marsten’s Cyclops is often kind of boring when not interacting with Wolverine.  Their verbal sparring is definitely a highlight of the film.  It often feels like the film really is not sure how they want to portray Storm and Cyclops.

But in the end, Storm gets the biggest shaft in character development.  Some of the film’s worst lines come from Storm.  There is the scene where she and Wolverine are discussing the coming war between mutants-those who wish to peacefully co-exist with homo sapiens and those who wish to rule as homo-superior.  She tells Wolverine at least she has chosen aside.  As if merely choosing a side gives you some nobility (hint-it does not).  I mean, yeah, she chose Professor X’s side…but what if she had chosen Magneto’s side?  There is also the infamous “what happens to a toad when struck by lightning” gag.  It falls flat.  It was a contribution of Joss Whedon, who swears that it was all Halle Berry’s delivery that resulted in it being so ridiculed.

Both Patrick Stewart and McKellan give rousing performances, while Hugh Jackman proved that he could embody Wolverine even though he was of average height.  Stewart and McKellan really provide a sense of a longstanding friendship that is needed as the foundation of the story.  The effects were solid for the time, many mutant powers from the comics really came to life.

On the other hand, the film is so busy introducing the concept and the characters, the plot seems under developed.  It is a pretty herculean task to try and bring a single character with over forty years of backstory to a finite two hour movie.  Trying to bring the X-Men-full of hundreds of characters together cohesively?  You have to choose who you want to focus on, knowing you will deal with complaints either way.  Singer, Tom Desanto and David Hayter struggle valiantly to bring together character and story, but really, it fell mostly on the side of character development.  Understandable, as the X-Men have a rich cast to choose from.

Toad and Sabertooth come off as pretty bland and one dimensional for most of the film, not contributing much until the end.

For Singer, this was easily his most ambitious film to date.  Not so much in story, but in cast size, and general scale.  But he does a pretty solid job with the film overall.  He seems to understand the sense of scope a film like this needed-in spite of his background in smaller films, he seemed to transition quite well to the grand scale needed for the X-Men.

The film’s overall plot is probably less memorable than it’s various character moments, and in that sense, the movie is hurt.  What could have been a terrific film is simply a good start…it is just a set up.

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑