Month: July 2014

Doctor Who: The Doctor, the BBC and the Unstoppable Leaks #Who-ly

7D

A rather sad and unexpected first post in the #Who-ly series…. On the leaked Doctor Who Series 8 scripts and THAT question… Clue: It has to be a no. Why is that Doctor..?

“There are some corners of the universe which have bred the most terrible things, things which act against everything that we believe in. They must be fought. “ – The Moonbase

A QUICK POST WRITTEN IN ANGER WITH AN OLD ‘TOON – WISTFUL AS EVER AND THE SEVENTH TO BOOT.  CRUCIALLY, PERHAPS HE WAS THE LAST DOCTOR IN A FULL, OR EVEN MINI-ADVENTURE, WHO DIDN’T HAVE TO ENDURE THIS… THE INTERNET.

There is absolutely no excuse…

Today saw the BBC apologise for the biggest lapse of ‘New Doctor Who’ era. Yes, more than that American DVD release last year, more than the premiere plot point reveals in 2011, more than any ill-thought out appearances by Graham Norton, deliberate or otherwise… This time the scripts of five episodes of the new series have been leaked to the masses. The BBC’s response was contrite regret. Mea culpa was all they could cry, kicking themselves with a giant and very public shoe.

It seems that in the sprawling growth of one of the Corporation’s big brands, it once again came a cropper of its own success, and the need of its constantly static/constantly beleaguered sole owner to wring the most from its own properties across the globe. The lapse lies with the BBC, the apology was correct, but yet again fans and television lovers alike are left with the same conundrum: Not ‘should the scripts be tracked down on the web?’ or not, but ‘how do we spend a good run in until late September avoiding spoilers?’

Because of course, there is absolutely no excuse to read the scripts.

A Poisoned Chalice

Wasn’t it worth it?

I have known BBC whistle-blowers I believe, heard of financial whistleblowers, but this is more destructive than revealing the Beeb’s idiosyncrasies. It’s all small-fry compared to the ongoing Yewtree investigation of course, and not to the detriment of that, I’ll keep matters closely defined to this intellectual property leak.

If it’s an act of love, it’s a misguided one, if it had good intentions, they laid down a path to The Satan Pit.  Of course, once they’re out there, why not, eh..?

Well… It’s been almost two years since the last nominal series debuted, this is the most anticipated Doctor, and it’s a full five episodes. With a feature length opener that’s feasibly 250 minutes of storyline to complete the spectacle. Could there be a more anticipated time? Or to twist it around, a time when the storyline should remain the greatest kept Who surprise of all time?

Of course, that’s why these scripts should be avoided at all costs, who’d want to ruin that? Steven Moffat will no doubt be apoplectic once again. Let alone the craft, graft, the hard work, the perseverance to get these episodes to screen – from him and hundreds of others – it’s the effort in maintaining those secrets. Maintaining those secrets in a show where secrets are crucial.

Remember the look on Moffat’s face last 23rd November, utterly petrified before the world simulcast. I was lucky enough to ask him a question that day, the answer playfully batted back under the towering auspices of BBC PR. And then there was the relief that the faith in fans and press everyone else had kept those secrets. And then the telling truism: ‘wasn’t it worth it?’

Surely, after the events of last November’s secret operation  it wasn’t overconfidence that led to this leak. But whatever the cause, what’s the excuse for reading those scripts that find themselves lost and cold in the public domain? Love? Starvation? Love and starvation of the show? Believe me, I along with many others believe this is a fundamental show, one that’s been a crucial part of this country’s make-up, played an active part in my existence as a person, an Englishman, a writer – it’s potentially morally affected me growing up as I’ve gone to some lengths to explain. I’m not alone. And that’s why there is no excuse.

Praise for the Beeb

She is unique.

I have railed against the BBC splitting episodes, splitting seasons, creating the illusion of continuity with specials and season breaks obscuring budget and other issues. All the while American networks, writer strikes aside have easily pushed out 13 episodes a year of genre TV, often 26. But then, this is the BBC. Very few broadcasters match them in scope and even then, with not nearly as many debilitating fronts of defence. For all the faults that come with the organisation, a civil service organisation despised by the ‘ruling’ party it is crucial to add, they are unique and a jewel not just in this country’s crown but the world’s. What the BBC represents is precious, as a Brit, and even – if incomprehensible to many – as a human in the 20th or 21st century. Of course there are bigger issues, crippling, destructive issues, for the BBC and humanity. There are many humans, and many billions more who will never know the name.

But she is unique.

And for all the effort she’d put into retaining a commodity she crafted by accident, she will never and should never give it up for want of all the baying capitalists who poke and prod.

Blame for the Geek

Anathema to what Doctor Who’s fundamentally about

Perhaps there’s something worse than the uncontrollable need to give into this temptation; the inevitable fan snidery that comes with it. There’s no science-fiction fan who shouldn’t feel that they could write and create better than the crafters of their favourite shows, novels and properties. That’s part of the deal. But go out there and do it. For all the friends I have who delve and snob between Wells, Asimov, Lem or Gibson to Trek, Who, V or goddamit even Andromeda, there will always be a tipping point where you can choose to give into this.

And often for unfortunate reasons I find. The arrogance and pseudo-intellectualism may be self-confessed. But why does it always seem to simply be so that you can pass judgement first?  While, as in this case you may have a unique chance to see the script prior to premiere, I fail to see how that’s different from looking back at the well distributed scripts of past adventures, especially of the RTD era. To reach for what I pretentiously tried to call out to day as ‘Eliotian transformation’ seems  anathema to what Doctor Who’s fundamentally about.

Television First

“I just hope that guy never watches my show again” – Steven Moffat, 2011

True, it’s spun across the time vortex, using literature, scripts and journalism as its iron lung at points, but it’s no Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. There, one-time Doctor Who script editor Douglas Adams created a different copy for radio, television, book and by proxy film. Doctor Who is, and ever was an immovably televisual phenomenon. It should be watched and judged first and primarily on the small screen.  I think that’s fundamental. Quick, responsive unpretentious. Reading filming scripts just doesn’t count. And to read those scripts seems mean and self-satisfying at the very least.

Not that I’ve ever resisted turning a novel a few pages further on, but I’ve never jumped to the final page. This script leak for me is not about recapturing that band at a point before they’re mainstream. The ‘I knew them’ first and ‘I’ll know this first’ culture is the entropy of fandom as I see it. Or as Moffat rather pointedly summed up ‘slighter’ plot leaks in 2011:

“It’s heartbreaking in a way because you’re trying to tell stories, and stories depend on surprise. Stories depend on shocking people. Stories are the moments that you didn’t see coming, that are what live in you and burn in you forever. If you are denied those, it’s vandalism. So to have some twit who came to a press launch, write up a story in the worst, most ham-fisted English you can imagine, and put it on the internet, I just hope that guy never watches my show again, because that’s a horrific thing to do.”

And true, what a shame it is. For all the bile poured at the BBC for letting paying customers in America see footage of the 50th anniversary special last year, before us ‘license fee payers’, BBC One has uncharacteristically set down a near-two month campaign of promotion. This leak is no publicity stunt, for a few it is really heartbreaking.

Patience Most

“In years to come, you might find yourself revisiting a few. But just the old favourites, eh?” – The Great Curator, The Day of the Doctor, 2013

For context: This year is the 40th anniversary of Tom Baker. The greatest Doctor (certified once again in Doctor Who magazine #474), now the curator infinitum. For all the years I’ve been a fan, for all the chance I’ve had, I’ve put myself in the position of never seeing two Baker stories.  Two left: one that’s gleefully ridiculed, the other an apparent bona fide classic. I’ll have to reserve judgement as that classic, though it’s sat on my shelf for a great while, will not be watched until the 40th anniversary of Robot comes around. To find out what that is, tune in this December – if you can wait. I can’t mention it, because obviously someone will feel fit to rather pointlessly spoil it.

Being a fan isn’t about gorging, even with content 30, 40 or 50 years old. It’s hard to choose a quote about moderation, there are so many. But “Moderation is the silken string running through the pearl-chain of all virtues” works as good as any.

Try it, the benefit’s there.  It really is.

In paraphrasing Robert Louis Stevenson in The Sensorites, perhaps the Doctor’s Granddaughter summed it up best:

“Isn’t it a better thing to travel hopefully than arrive?”

 

Batman at 75: Ra’s al Ghul…The Dark Knight Villain to Beat

Ra's al Ghul Winner Batman

Ra's al Ghul Winner Batman

At the forefront of the campaign to bolster Batman’ darkness in the early 1970s, Ra’s al Ghul has taken a journey to the core of the Dark Knight’s story befitting the Demon’s Head himself. In fact, as Batman turns 75, could he have possibly become the indispensible Batman villain?  Spoilers guaranteed for those not up-to-date with Ra’s on screen and page…

HE’S NOT QUITE THE HOUSEHOLD NAME, BUT TAKE A MOMENT TO CONSIDER THE TALENT WHO HAVE PORTRAYED THE ENIGMATIC VILLAIN ON SCREEN IN THE LAST TWO DECADES…

David Warner, Peter Woodward, Oded Fehr, Lance Reddick, Liam Neeson, Ken Watanabe (well, yeah), Jason Isaacs, Giancarlo Esposito, Don Leslie, Dee Bradley Baker, Steven Blum…

A mixed bag, but one stashed on the shelf of extreme quality, and he only made it out of the comics in 1992… 22 years on and it’s difficult to envisage a new iteration of Batman that doesn’t feature Ra’s al Ghul – from Christopher Nolan’s box office stomping Dark Knight trilogy to cash cow Arkham videogames. So, who is he and why has his media career mirrored his fictional rise?

Paper

Origin of the Demon

A villain every bit the Caped Crusader’s equal…

Ra’s first appeared in 1971, the creation of legendary creative team writer Denny O’Neill and artist Neal Adams and a reaction to the campery of the Batman TV series that had finished just a few years earlier.

Master criminal Fu Manchu, who had also recently completed his peak run on screen and 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service – arguably the highlight of Blofeld’s cinematic exploits – fed into the creation of a villain every bit the Caped Crusader’s equal. Ra’s was a globe-trotting tour-de-force, albeit one who could engage all the key levels of Gotham’s first son. Ra’s ongoing mission was one that could reawaken Batman’s deduction, increase his international exploits, gift him a physical match and necessarily darker those shades of grey.

That creative dynamic duo not only succeeded in creating an effective and distinctive character, but one who quickly headed to the top tier of threat in the DC Comic Universe. In the pantheon of super villains he was soon established as a global threat who could not only hit Batman on multiple levels but also the Justice League of America.

In many ways, despite the lack of innate supernatural powers, he provides similar opposition to the Justice League of America as immortal mutant Apocalypse does to the X-Men, soon to be seen as the X-Men ‘s greatest cinematic threat yet. The 1996 Amalgam project even fused them into Ra’s Al-Pocalypse.

And in 1971 it all started with a girl…

The Demon’s Daughter

..>When he’s not dead or stark raving mad or both.

Batman’s girl that is. Ra’s first appearance, Batman 232’s Daughter of the Demon was a complicated trap to test the Dark Knight as a suitable suitor for his daughter Talia. Well, it was more a test to see if the man Talia was infatuated with was worthy. He was, earning Ra’s ongoing respect on the way. It’s no coincidence that this original plot was seized on at the start of the arc that ended Batman’s pre-New 52 run (RIP). Through strenuous canon-or-not debate, Talia and Wayne’s relationship resulted in a son, Damian, who in a few short years has become a well regarded part of the DC universe. On the al Ghul side, Talia wasn’t the subject of a forced or false marriage; the attraction was mutual, and so any machinations on Ra’s part were replaced with the fact that he had a point and was essentially open to logical reason.

And he often is, when he’s not dead or stark raving mad or both.

Eternal Mystery

Ripped straight from the pages of Dorian Gray…

That would be the supernatural coming in to play. There is the inherent mystery of the ill defined Arabia he hails from of course, and the inbuilt Bond villain / Fu Manchu army that comes as the head of the League of Assassins. Christopher Nolan would take this as an additional, or main, motivation for the Mantle of the Bat in his Dark Knight trilogy. But then there’s the immortality. He may be over 600 years old, but it’s actually a cheat. Ra’s rejuvenation comes from Lazarus Pits, chemical wells laid out on the ley lines of the Earth that grant the Demon’s Head life extension, at the cost of temporary insanity. A short spell of enhanced strength encourages the idea that these Pits are rabidly crazy ways to extend one’s life. There is also the hint that over use could lead to the gradual mental instability. Ra’s long life is ripped straight from the pages of Dorian Gray.

That gifts Ra’s not only a supernatural stint by default, tied into his motivation, but also a reason for his sporadic appearances. The New 52 played soft boot with the DC universe, changing the use of Lazarus Pits but retaining story points such as Ra’s apparent death in the 2004 storyline Death and the Maidens.

Eco-Terrorist

Tied into the fabric of Gaea, rightly or wrongly…

Ra’s is therefore mortal, and possibly couldn’t be ‘more of Earth’. From the off, his motivation has been humanity’s cradle itself; the achievement of balance that often necessitates the eradication of the majority of humanity. Unlike fellow ‘immortal’ Vandal Savage he does not seek mastership particularly, simply that balance. Often Ra’s methods are biological. Plagues and viruses in particular. When the concisely named DC Universe Animated Original Movies Doom replaced Ra’s with Vandal Savage as villain of their adaptation of the monumental Tower of Babel storyline it just didn’t feel as wholesome.

Of course, Batman himself meant that genome and lineage was tied into the Ra’s story from the start, and that has an overall impact. He’s tied into the fabric of Gaea, rightly or wrongly, and that can only reflect well and to the credit of Batman, the man suitable to be his heir. Just as the League of Assassins can be seen as a splinter of The Demon movement, the lineage of al Ghul or his children is utterly unknown. Recent years have seen the introduction of Talia’s older sister Nyssa Raatko and their White Ghost brother. Ra’s adds inflation to every storyline he’s brought near. World danger elevates any story and what is Gotham but a microcosm for the world?

Mirroring

His is not the equalling yang of Joker…

Perhaps most compelling is how Ra’s reflects the key facets of the man he honourably calls ‘The Detective’. He’s no slavish copy or inverted Man-Bat. Ra’s had soon deduced the Dark Knight’s true identity, although the secret could hardly be in better hands. While Batman’s alter-ego is to a degree open for exploitation, Ra’s own is lost in mystery and his relationship with The Detective based on a level of respect.

He respects Batman’s skill through the eyes of centuries of accumulated knowledge, which is no bad reference. And of course, he wouldn’t lead the League he does without considerable fighting prowess. His is not the equalling yang of Joker, the jealousy of Riddler nor the benchmarking of Bane. He’s a father-in law-in waiting and both have a grudging respect for the other’s methods and abilities.

As a Batman villain however, he requires a level of gothic grotesque. There’s no mistake he verges across his Arabic roots and British Empire, often portrayed by European actors. He’s a shadowy variant of Dickens as much as Wilde.

Relevance

With every passing day since his conception he becomes more relevant

His motivation is one made for the modern age. No matter any other consideration, Ra’s could not have been conceived as a villain of the Dark Knight in the late 1930s, but with every passing day since his conception he becomes more familiar and more integrated to the Dark Knight’s agenda. And the veracity of that has been proved on film more than anywhere else.

Batpull

Celluloid

A Theme for the Dark Knight

A major preoccupation for the trilogy

Following Batman and Robin, Ra’s was an eminently sensible villain for the Bat-franchise to pick-up. Untouched by previous films, breaking the TV series expectations of camp and classic villains, but also bringing a strong back story with good fan following but ripe for reinvention. Christopher Nolan fused him with Ducard, the French fighter who had trained young Bruce Wayne a decoy that totally threw me just as Ken Watanabe decoy fooled Bruce Wayne. It all worked rather well in a film I thought an otherwise underwhelming start.

It was a further surprise when it became apparent that Ra’s provided the thematic link of the Dark Knight trilogy. The surprise was lessened however, given Bane’s links to the al Ghul family in the comics and Marion Cotillard’s casting – just too perfect not to be Talia. The Dark Knight Rises had the pit, but there was no venom for Bane, no resurrection for Ra’s – except in the mind, a major preoccupation for the trilogy.

Fight Training

Chief educator of Queensbury Rules

An interesting offshoot was the need to retcon and revise Batman’s training. Post-New 52 there’s a clear tendency to build up Alfred’s role as Bruce Wayne’s chief educator of Queensbury Rules. Perhaps a natural conclusion as original fighting role model Wildcat and other Justice Society Members become increasingly less plausible 70 years on from World War II. In comics, this recently became apparent in Geoff John’s Earth One where Alfred Pennyworth is appointed head of security by Thomas Wayne. On the small screen, it will be pursued by Sean Pertwee’s role as Batman’s batman in Gotham, this time a former SAS officer.

It would also come to bear in Batman’s latest animated exploits, along with a certain mystical super villain…

Ras wcu

Beware the Bat

Ra’s makes a significant contribution…

A sad legacy of Beware the Batman is that it appears to have been shelved in Batman’s anniversary year.

The first solely CGI animated series, Beware the Batman was designed as a more serious reaction to the marvellously joyful and successful Silver Age campery of Brave and the Bold. After many continuous years of Batman stories, a more serious soap storyline in Gotham necessitated a shift. Robin was out, but in was a Katana ready to reference her traditional Outsiders role alongside Metamorpho.

The CGI created crisp, dramatic, fight scenes but there’s always something a little flat to my taste as you can read here. Care was made to make villains as grotesque and over the top as possible, yet never quite hits the high it should despite the interesting run of lesser known villains. In Catwoman’s place is stolen by Magpie, filling in for the Joker’s anarchy is, well, Anarky. Recent additions are Grant Morrison’s Professor Pyg and Toad, bringing a demented Wind in the Willows to town.

Fittingly for a show that was itself a reaction, Ra’s also makes a significant contribution. Again, the supernatural is deflected. There is no talk of Lazarus Pits, but Ra’s is transported in cryogenic suspension. The MacGuffin of the Soultaker sword is the chief nod to the mysticism surrounding him and proves to be his, probably not ultimate, downfall. His chief underling is Lady Shiva, in the comics another trainer of young Bruce Wayne. Here it is an aging Alfred who trained Batman, a former Mi6 agent who interestingly had previous with Ra’s. It’s strange to hear The Demon’s Head refer to the butler as Agent Pennyworth as much as the flashbacks to Alfred in combat action.

Post Dark Knight, something different is expected and Beware the Batman doesn’t falter. Ra’s huge Gotham-centred plot picks up some comic exploits, especially Knightfall, and when foiled it leaves a vacuum that inadvertently leads to Harvey Dent’s arrival and decent to Two Face.

The battle concluded, it now looks unlikely that we’ll see the war continue on that show. But with the cinematic reboot underway, it’s unlikely we’ll have to wait long for the League and The Demon’s Head to reappear. Although it’s unclear how the cinematic and rapidly expanding televisual adaptations of DC will fit together, Nyssa al Ghul (Raatko) has recently made an appearance in The CW’s Arrow described as the ‘child of Ra’s al Ghul’.

It’s a considerable nod to Ra’s al Ghul that it’s difficult to envisage a new iteration of Batman that will be able to resist him.

X Men: Saved by the Decades (Part Two)

Laughing Wolverine Cavalier

 Laughing Wolverine Cavalier

The X-Men franchise hurdled the reboot trap with the aplomb thanks to the excellent First Class– befitting the extraordinary abilities of its growing cast of characters. But the challenge of where to head next remained. Could the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s growing box office spur Fox on to shape a career for the mutants on film that could rival their history in comic books?  A look at  X-Men Days of Future Past and past future…

X-MEN DAYS OF FUTURE PAST’S TRICK IS NOT JUST THAT IT CONTINUES, NEAR-RESOLVES, AND REBOOTS THE X-FRANCHISE, BUT THAT IT DARES TO TOUCH SOME OF THE SPECTACULAR SCIENCE FICTION FAMILIAR TO READERS OF THE COMICS ON THE WAY. Purists will gripe. Chris Claremont idealists will rant. Fans of Hugh Jackman will blush. Mostly, they will all be right, but the ambition of the fifth main X-Man film cannot be doubted. The cinematic X-Men have jumped like, well, Ripcord from a wall.

1970s – X-Men Days of Future Past (2014)

Skylark

Magneto’s recruitment strategy was never conducted at Jongleurs…

Crucially, the reboot’s ongoing chrono-oddesey allows it to build on First Class’ major contribution: humour.  That was cruelly lacking in the original trilogy as most of it fell to the gruff rebellion of an over-tall Wolverine who couldn’t carry a spark into his solo missions…  The original trilogy almost swept it under the carpet as sheer class (McKellen, Stewart) rose above it, in search of the inner-Shakespeare. The other characters made for a dry bunch.

Cyclops was an underdeveloped straight-laced foil to Wolverine’s outsider. Late-arrival Angel was a tortured idealist. Kitty Pryde’s fall into a love triangle with Rogue and Iceman didn’t so much add steam as highlight how artificial and dull teenage romances can appear onscreen.  When Beast finally appeared he mostly anguished in the War Room, specs propped on his nose.  Good guys are dull they say.  But it’s not like Magneto’s recruitment strategy was conducted at Jongleurs – h simply attracted the less academic mutants.  Toad’s disappearance from the chronology that followed the first film wasn’t because of the lightning bolt that hit him. It was because of Storm’s delivery.

The great news is that following the events of Future Past all the good guys are back! Party-hat-materialising mutant power, go!

In the second life of the X-Men, the humour is here to stay. Along with huge set-pieces that put 2000’s compact but slight X-Men film to shame.   Hopefully, while we wait for a sequel that’s unlikely to involve the original trilogy cast, at least in the way this manages, we can expect more of that. After all, there’s little worse than a dull X-Man. That’s why we never see Solemno sitting there quietly in the corner waiting for Apocalypse…

Cypher

As Future Past’s takes the initiative of fusing a franchise past and present as quickly as it does,  the futurism of the original trilogy becomes a dystopian refuge. The near-future stylings of the 1999 original inevitably make more sense. The future, no matter how harrowing, suits it. For all the spectacular devastation and nods at Portal, other X-Men films, and other X-Men yet to come, it carries a heightened level of threat. 

In comparison, the past carries the fun of the film, by dint of not being the dead-end of the future, but also the melancholy of nostalgia. Things are not necessarily less serious in the 1970s, an interesting point of reversal considering the franchise’s start nearly 30 years later. While the science-fiction of the future and the mechanism back to the past, the film is afforded the time to breathe, this time soaking in the flares and sideburns, although the decade is as generalised as the 1960s was in First Class. It’s a credit to director Bryan Singer, returning to the franchise in the big seat for the first time since the triumphant X2, weaves news real and fake into the film more skilfully than Vaughan managed in First Class and his 1970s may actually be more fun than the swinging ‘60s. That’s some achievement.

Spirit

Marvel’s pre-release dig seem all the wiser…

There’s a playfulness in a film that knows it’s going to be good. The X-Man franchise has never had that kind of swagger before, and it descends directly from First Class, bolstered by an incredible cast. It’s tempted to see it directly challenging competitors. At its most brash, Magneto’s stadium lift could be a poke at The Dark Knight Rises, as could be the Russian templedom of the film’s last stand.  Thanks to the ridiculousness of the Marvel properties rights issues, it’s an inescapable conclusion that Quicksilver was included to take a slice out of The Avengers rather than snaffle some of its zeitgeist.

Radically different from the fleeting appearance of the MCU‘s speedster, Future Past‘s Quicksilver is highly effective as a face of the 1970s and a main carrier of comedy.  In the brilliant but dour, modern-day but near-future, Captain America: The Winter Soldier the silver speedster’s post-credit cameo was sinister going on creepy.  Its inclusion was understandable, but it also handily beat Fox’s franchise to the punch.  As an effective member of The Avengers and X-Men, Quicksilver falls between the two studio camps under the old rights deal, a messy situation but one that the mutant-verse got the better of.  the X-Men’s Quicksilver is realised as an ADHD kid with an attention disorder to match his metabolism and a predilection for a con – a great screen adaptation. His intriguing characterisation combined with his comic mantle suggests that Marvel’s pre-release was wise.

Future Past lets Quicksilver carry the key joke set-piece of the film, with Jim Croce’s 1973 If I Could Catch Time in a Bottle backing his speed force antics (another extra-diegetic nod in a film that uses the music of the era expertly).  there’s even time to nod to the character’s deeper comic roots. During that audacious escape, the franchise’s second magneto jailbreak, a throwaway quip about the Master of Magnetism (father to Quicksilver in the comics, and here it seems) is neat.  It’s a shame that Magneto couldn’t, before his Nazi-hunting days, also sire a rights detente between Marvel and Fox. the time conceit enhances the comedy. Wolverine’s cryptic comments about the Quicksilver he knows in the future, so far unseen, are intriguing. His younger self will certainly return, but who knows if he’ll make it through to the 1990s.

But Quicksilver’s set-piece is not just for laughs.  It adds a necessary balance to darker onslaughts and the step-up in terms of threat is huge.  And it brings a heightened palette for action to match it. While First Class’ Shaw-led attack on the CIA may have challenged the opening set-piece of X2, Future Past features at least three that blow the other films in the franchise out of the water.

Deathstrike

The weight of opposition

Wolvie’s back in the limelight after his cameo in First Class, and once again he is the nearest thing to a leading mutant in the team.  It’s fortunate that the plot device gives him plenty of room to share the comedy around and it’s worth noting the strength of the cast that came in to portray the younger versions of established characters.  The younger mutants have been gifted greater plot roles, but they also excel in the period-ridiculousness.  Fassbender and Mystique are highlights once again. A film before, one had started as an assassin, the other a confused teen. Now both are terrorists.  Given a fair share of screen time, it seems all the stranger that Wolverine struggled to hit the same heights of humour or imagination in his solo films.

Perhaps the greatest sign of intent comes in the continued bold casting of villains, as once again Magneto is kept as a secondary, conflicted anti-villain. Peter Dinklage’s curiously emphatic Trask is a particular highlight in a film that relishes throwing up ambiguities, no doubt set free by Magneto’s greyer journey.  Files of subjects recall Sebastian Shaw’s hypocrisy, although Trask is a quite defenceless human, cowering bewildered in the White House panic room by the end.

But it’s the weight of opposition set against the strong core that is more important than paradox or logic, reason or rhyme. Although this can lead to blips…  It’s a shame Magneto of the future, faced with the ultimate mirror of his grand design is so vulnerable, an inverse of the ascendancy of the loner master of magnetism in the past. Naturally, McKellen and Stewart are superb in their relatively static scenes. A high-point? Possibly the ambiguity of Magneto’s skulking off at the approach of the Sentinels. he seizes the role of antihero at the end.

If the tremendously satisfying Future Past leaves the audience with anything, it’s a dose of its own confidence.  I only hope Matt Vaughn’s Kingsman: Secret Service, for which he supposedly jumped the X, can live up to expectations. In the resurgent X-Universe he helped to create, Bryan Singer only has one further goal in mind…

Wolverine cavalier close up

The 1980s… Apocalypse (2016)

Caput

a sign of intent in name alone

X-Men: Apocalypse. Now that’s got a ring to it. And a villain who might just knock The Avenger’s Thanos into a Cosmic Cube. At the close of Future Past is a prophetic, epic post-credit teaser –  Pyramid building, the ominous Four Horsemen in the background… Trailing what has been described as a disaster (level) movie. There’s every likelihood that Bryan Singer will return and that the awe-inspiring story of X-Men versus a mutant God will build on the progress laid in the 1960s and 1970s as they head to the 1990s. The time between films may prove to be most important. There have generally been three years between each ‘main’ X-Film, (including 2011’s First Class if you spring from 2009’s Wolverine). Apocalypse faster arrival (you can see the build-up already) signals a sign of intent in name alone. It’s even enough for Hugh Jackman to reconsider hanging up his claws.

Quill

A reboot trick greater than 2009’s Star Trek…

In picking up the reigns of Future Past, Singer’s unearthed a reboot trick that exceeds First Class, and may p[rove greater even than 2009’s Star Trek ruse. On scrutiny, there are only a few logic flaws that chip away at it. Professor X‘s resurrected physiognomy following his brutal assassination in The Last Stand is unexplained, but then this is a world of mutants so who can say?  Still, it would have been impossible to refuse Patrick Stewart an invite (he simply wouldn’t let them) and one shouldn’t go searching for plot holes in a film all about paradox.

At the end we have a reset character list, the distinct benefit of them being near-exterminated, a reanimated Cyclops and perhaps most importantly, the chance top redo The Phoenix story line. But there may be no greater indication of the luxury that the franchise can now enjoy than the fact Apocalypse is unlikely to touch the reborn generation of the first trilogy as it serves up a far more straightforward sequel to First Class.

Magik

The years have confirmed the simple, elegant, and crucially funny answer to the age-old question of a prequel or sequel can diminish an original film. Simply, neither can – though many try. Days of Future Past proves that a sequel/prequel (two-for-one!) can even enhance a previous film, correcting the wrongs of The Last Stand. As Professor X said, “Infinite decisions mean infinite consequences, for the future is never truly set…” If that’s all this and First Class have in their favour, that’s not bad going. Fortunately, it isn’t all they have. Having traversed a key comic story line with aplomb, reignited the passion of the Wolverine, righted the timeline, and with a whole untapped world of mutants to delve into and a Marvel schedule to take it on its mutant toes, this franchise is clearly flying.

Read the first part of X-Men:Saved by the Decades here

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