Tag: Michael Fassbender

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

X Men: Saved by the Decades (Part One)

X-Man Wolverine Monalisa

 X-Man Wolverine Monalisa

Finally, In 2014, X-Men: Days of Future Past enacted justice. Not the justice of Magneto, Trask, Phoenix or Apocalypse, but the justice that really counts. The fifth ‘main’ X-Men film took well over $500 million in two weeks, crushing the diabolical record set by X-Men: the Last Stand in its puny hand. Now comfortably over $700 million it looks like the X-Franchise’s future is secure off the screen… And one of its tricks was taking a trip back to school…

IT’S BLOODY GREAT TO BE ABLE TO SAY THAT X MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST IS THE BEST FILM IN THE X- FRANCHISE SINCE X2. It really is. Good for comics, cinemas, the genre, competition… But it’s been a rather long and painful 11 years. Not just for Fox’s stuttering franchise, for the hopes of a real Magneto standalone, for a mostly limping Wolverine, of for Fox. The studio has sat on the consistently best-selling comic book for 15 years, but in last half decade they’ve watched their partner/rivals Marvel slip into the comic slipstream like a Mario Quicksilver.

“Let’s a go!”

Forge

As we all know, it was 1998’s Blade that kick-started the ongoing comic boom, not Bryan Singer’s X-Men that followed two years later. It’s true that film did add veracity, even a little realism – or perhaps better put, actor gravitas – to proceedings. But in finding a hook in the core of black leather-bound mutant superheroes, the results were a little under-powered. At a lean 104 minutes, it could certainly have added an extra action scene. But more importantly, it would have benefited from marrying its intoxicating themes of division, segregation and real-world history across a longer run-time.

Three years later, X2 consolidated its predecessor’s subtlety as a strength. It built on every aspect, teasing new metaphors while keeping mysteries close to its characters and at the heart of the story. Most importantly, its phenomenal  cliff-hanger hasn’t been troubled since. It set expectations so high that the third film, popularly characterised as a trilogy-closer – would always have struggled. It must have been the tacit realisation of that which led the filmmakers to surrender at the first hurdle. X-Men: the Last Stand squandered its predecessor’s set-up and frankly, the less said about it the better. It rocked the box office hollowly, leaving a franchise lurching more to toward the wasted chances of spin-offs than recapturing its previous highs, and on to inevitable reboot.

It took Marvel Studio’s determination to build an interlinking and self-selling franchise for Fox to appreciate what they had. Perhaps it was an easy mistake to make in the era of ‘back-to-back’ filming and in-built fashionable ‘trilogies’. It may have been inadvertent, but when Fox finally woke up to the promise of their licensed IP, they found everything was in place to not only quick establish a spawning franchise they could build summers around, but also one that lived up to the scope, ambition and behemoth status of its parent comic book.

Wolverine close-up

 

It just took a few risky hires and a spot of time travelling. A wry step back to the decade the comic was born in.

The 1960s – X-Men: First Class (2011)

Darwin

The children of atom form the first class of the Xavier school…

The first ‘reboot’ film, wasn’t a film that could change things single-handedly, but what a start it made. To think First Class could have been released ash grammatically-troubling  X-Men Origins First Class is chilling. We should be thankful to X-Men Origins Wolverine for something

Behind the lens, they couldn’t have chosen a better team for the reboot. Still better known as a British producer, Matthew Vaughn’s main qualification was 2010’s Kick Ass, an edgy, positively un-family comic adaptation that established a fine relationship between Vaughn and that comic’s creator, and former Marvel Comics stalwart Mark Millar. His hiring was an unpredictable but astute move by Fox. After the earnest blockbuster pretensions of the first three films, the first couple of which lent towards the artistic if anything, rightly recognising that this early realignment required new and risky energy. There was a distinct link to the past though – Vaughn wound back the X-Men back to school from their futuristic  beginnings with franchise midwife Bryan Singer present as producer alongside the director’s own trusty lieutenants, including writer Jane Goldman.

It would be totally partisan to suggest that British weight added a lot to the film, in front of and behind the camera, but it certainly didn’t hurt – just as Singer’s securing of two RSC alumni elevated the original trilogy. That said, this film was taking the superhero genre to period and any creative team would have struggled to mess up the 1960s.

First Class just works in that setting. Sure, there’s a little creative flourish: the setting in the early 1960s isn’t particularly 1961/62 in fashion, music or scope. It’s a generic 1960s, run through popular consciousness and particularly the prism Bond. It wisely references the mid-decade free-wheeling highs of that franchise. Crucially, for all the sheen of the era, it doesn’t shirk on contemporary politics, tying the plot into the backbone of metaphor that supports the X-universe. Crucially, it uses the past to find a new way of looking at the future – essential for a franchise established in a strange and fast-dating near-future and a huge part of its pacey, comic propulsion. 

“We are the children of the atom” is Sebastian Shaw’s repeated mantra, reasserting a key mantra of the X-Men at source, when the threat of nuclear war was never stronger. The children of atom that emerge form the first class of the Xavier school.

Polaris

Cultural landmarks that familiar characters can grow against

The politics of the 1960s is woven into First Class‘ plot to a satisfyingly surprising degree – feeding on the era’s paranoia, building on the period other-worldliness, and adding a real weight to the young cast. In the immediate aftermath, First Class‘ major success was clearly rendering any repeat of a film like X-Men Origins: Wolverine utterly impossible. Fox had stumbled on a conceit that marked them out from the meta-competition but also side-stepped the horror of bland contemporaneity. It presents a different futurism to the one that 1999’s X-Men presented, and thanks to the weight of history and the radical social change of the 1960s, does so more effectively.

In another shrewd move, First Class copies X-Men’s opening, almost creating a divergent timeline and serious agenda that feeds into Erik Lehnsherr’s Boys from Brazil hunting, and James Bond globe-trotting, even if villainous comic mainstay, but by no means a household name, Sebastian Shaw is a little too conveniently tied into that plot point. When it comes to the mutants parallel history however, Shaw and the Children of the Atom fare a lot better.

First Class’ palette is far more varied than its predecessors thanks to its mid-Twentieth Century setting. At the heart of Shaw’s emphatic reasoning, the Cold War takes on a new resonance. But rather perfectly, it’s both central and disassociated from the plot, reinforcing the necessary mutant sub-culture, even if their threat is far greater. Unexpectedly, the proto-X-Men are formed by the CIA, but they soon learn to live without them. The plot survives Shaw’s marked disinterest in politics; the Nazis and the Russians are merely tools to forward his agenda – a precursor to Magneto’s quest, even if it’s significantly different and more, if we can say, Apocalyptic.

The proto-X-Men benefit from growing against the backdrop of significant cultural landmarks. While the Russians gift Shaw what will soon become the classic Magneto helmet, America gives Lehnsherr and Xavier the background of the Lincoln statue to mull over freedoms, liberty and implications that will come to hit the franchise in the future past. These themes were present in the first scenes of this and X-Men and the franchise requires their continued exploration.

First Class’ nods to its politics are only matched by riffs on contemporary pop culture. Xavier and Lehnsherr’s first meeting comes on the back of a set-piece taken from a a generic Bond memory. It’s a very Thunderball moment set at a time when the Bond franchise was only just arriving at the cinema. Naturally, it needs a great soundtrack to match and duly serves up the best in the franchise. The ‘60s themed titles/credits are a wonderfully thought out and implemented and the audio quality continues until the anachronistic introduction of Take That at the end – one British contribution it could do without. And alongside these bits and bobs, First Class packs in some fine action – responding to the criticisms that met Bret Rattner’s brash direction in The Last Stand and doesn’t short change like the original  X-Men. On the way, Shaw’s CIA breakdown manages to compete with the sublime and legendary White House incursion that kicked off X2 – and that’s praise indeed.

Beast

Absolute power corrupts absolutely

The CIA set-piece demonstrates how superb the casting is, particularly Kevin Bacon’s wicked turn. It helps that no one else in the franchise has yet rivalled Magneto (and no, The Last Stand‘s Dark Phoenix does not count). But Sebastian Shaw’s contrived origin is followed by a character journey that is just a little bit too sketchy to stay in the franchise memory. His “We don’t hurt our own“ adage may sound convincing, but it can’rt survive as he nears the end of a road unbridled by any kind of moral purpose. His main purpose is in crafting a prototype Magneto – from application to helmet. Not only a crucial part of the genesis of the franchise’s main villain, but also during those crucial formative years, when the rogue was taking on a succession of ‘real’ human names before being replaced by mutants who take on ‘real’ mutant names. On one level Shaw is just the truism inside the larger metaphor – that absolute power corrupts absolutely. Interesting in the overall arc, it’s a shame that there isn’t more room to develop the Bond Villain or his ‘henchwoman’ Emma Frost.

Elsewhere, aside from another range of forgettable evil mutants (a series trademark), surprisingly stable seeds are set for the trilogy we’ve already bought into (those days of future past once again).  A great deal of that, perversely comes from the strength of the mutants who are yet to fall. There’s the older Mystique in-joke of course, while Michael Fassbender and Jennifer Lawrence capture the menace and echoes of the future, and on a satisfyingly more even level. This is another in a long line of films that puts The Phantom Menace in the shade when it comes to the genesis of evil. It’s not surprising that Magneto’s is the most compelling is not surprising, but it is impressive is that Xavier’s isn’t far behind, mainly thanks to the well structured dynamic with Mystique.

First Class is all about sewing those seeds, but coming as an actual origin story four films after ‘the origin’ film, it takes the wise approach – and all credit to Vaughn for retaining his fresh Kick Ass sensibilities – of having fun with it and refusing to pay too much lip service to the rules of an established franchise. First Class that treated Mystique in the same way as as it’s preceding trilogy is unthinkable. Thank goodness for those rounder, new comic book-era style story lines the Marvel Cinematic Universe has ushered in. Mystique’s strong ties to Xavier are essential to the drama and The sequel would build on this even more impressively.

Dazzler

Previously Wolverine had carried the humour, here the others can let loose

That is not all that would be built on. First Class’ greatest contribution may be humour. There are the in-jokes, particularly around Xavier’s surprisingly lush hair, but also a general wryness that was greatly missed in its earnest forbears. The Wolverine cameo, with the judicious use of “Go fuck yourself” (the target certificate allowed for one use) is a major crowd-pleaser. it takes its leads out of character, threatens the timeline and derails the plot for a split-second all for comic effect. When X-Men Days of Future Past comes to reference the joke it’s not as effective. The second ‘prequel’ would need to raise the stakes to ensure the Canadian hairy one’s involvement, so this flash of a scene also makes it clear how destabilising his presence, or absence, can be – something the comics have struggled with for four decades as well. Previously, Wolverine had carried the franchise’s humour, but now the other are free to let loose. That the feral antihero had his own solo mission to undertake, poor as that was, probably saved the franchise.

For some time afterwards, First Class was talked about as the start of a trilogy to rival the original. Fortunately the ‘rising phoenix’ of Marvel and some behind the scenes jiggery-pokery made sure that the X-Franchise had far greater aims. And so a plan was hatched that would draw on the original comics more than ever, the sterling work of X-Men’s main Brit/American: Chris Claremont. And following the 1960s, it was only right that we’d pick up on the children of the atom’s adventures in the 1970s. 

Next up on X-Men through the Decades: Flares and New Romantics… 

“There’s little worse than a dull X-Man. Except Solemno there, sitting quietly in the corner waiting for Apocalypse… “

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