Tag: Sebastian Shaw

X Men: Saved by the Decades (Part Two)

Laughing Wolverine Cavalier

 Laughing Wolverine Cavalier

Following First Class‘ success, the X-Men franchise had hurdled the reboot trap in a way typical of the franchise.  but could Marvel’s box office excellence spur Fox on to create a cinematic career that would rival the mutant team’s comic career?  A look at  X-Men Days of Future Past and past future…

X-MEN DAYS OF FUTURE PAST’S TRICK IS NOT ONLY THAT IT CONTINUES, NEAR-RESOLVES AND REBOOTS THE X-FRANCHISE BUT THAT IT DARES TO REACH SOME OF THE SPECTACULAR SCIENCE FICTION OF THE COMICS IN ITS ATTEMPT. Purists will gripe, Chris Claremont ideologists will rant, Jackman-fans will blush.  Mostly they’ll be right, but the ambition can’t be doubted. But there’s no doubt that that on-screen X-Men have jumped a mile, like, well, Ripcord from a wall.

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


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 with far too much falling to the gruff, over-tall Wolverine who couldn’t carry a spark into his solo missions…  In that original trilogy it was almost swept under the carpet as sheer class (McKellen, Stewart) rose above in search of the inner-Shakespeare.  The others were a dry bunch.

Cyclops was an underdeveloped straight-laced foil to Wolverine’s outsider. Late-arrival Angel 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 be onscreen.  Even when Beast eventually appeared he was mostly anguishing in the War Room, propping specs on his nose.  Good guys are dull.  Not that Magneto’s recruitment strategy was conducted at Jongleurs.  He just received the less academic mutants.  That Toad wasn’t seen chronologically after the first film wasn’t the lightning bolt as much as that delivery.

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

But surely the humour’s around to stay, alongside huge set-pieces that put 200’s compact but slight X-Men film to shame.   Hopefully, while we wait for a sequel unlikely to involve the original trilogy cast, we can at least anticipate 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…


Amidst Future Past’s fusion, the futurism of the original trilogy is for once rightly serious. 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.  That said, things are not necessarily less serious in the past; the threat there is heightened in turn by the causal shorthand that comes when science-fiction rules box office.   But when in the past, the film has ample time to breathe, soaking in the flares and sideburns of another generalised decade: the 1970s.  This time, it may actually be more fun than the swinging ‘60s. Certainly, Bryan Singer directorially weaves news real and fake into the film more skilfully than Vaughan managed in First Class.


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

There’s playfulness in a film that knows it’s going to be good.  At its most brash, it’s easy to think that Magneto’s stadium lift is a poke at The Dark Knight Rises, as could be the Russian templedom of the film’s last stand.  Most of all, it’s inescapable that Quicksilver was included to take a slice out of The Avengers rather than snaffle some of the zeitgeist.

Quicksilver is highly effective.  In the dour, modern-day Captain America: The Winter Soldier the post-credit cameo by the silver speedster was sinister going on creepy.  Its inclusion seemed to be a clear attempt to beat Fox’s franchise to the punch.  As an effective member of The Avengers and X-Men, Quicksilver falls between the two studio camps.  This Quicksilver is realised as an ADHD kid with an attention disorder to match his metabolism and a predilection for a con.  That he can take on the main mantle of comic relief so well, makes Marvel’s pre-release dig seem all the wiser.

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 well used music of the era).  And in that audacious escape, the throwaway quip about Magneto (Father to Quicksilver in the comics, and here it seems) is neat.  It’s perhaps just a shame that Magneto couldn’t, before his Nazi hunting days, also sire a rights detente between Marvel and Fox.

Perhaps the best are Wolverine’s cryptic comments about Quicksilver in the future, so far unseen although his younger self will certainly return …

Quicksilver’s set-piece is not just for laughs though.  It adds a necessary balance to darker onslaughts.  The step-up here is huge.  While First Class’ Shaw-led CIA invasion may have beaten the set pieces of X2, Future Past has at least three that blow the other films in the franchise out of the water.


The weight of opposition

Wolvie’s back in the limelight but it’s fortunate that the plot device gives him plenty of room to share the comedy around. Here again, it’s worth noting the strength of the cast.  These mutants have been gifted with greater plot roles, but also excel in the period-ridiculousness.  Fassbender and Mystique are once again the highlights, one who started as an assassin, the other a confused teen – now both terrorists.  With his fair share of scenes, it seems even stranger that Wolvie cut loose struggled to hit the humour and imagination of his solo comics.

Perhaps the greatest sign is continued bold casting in villainy.  Peter Dinklage’s curiously emphatic Trask in particular.  There are few ambiguities here, from the files of subjects recalling Shaw’s hypocrisy although he’s a quite defenceless human cowering bewildered in the White House panic room by the end. Overall however, the weight of opposition against the strong core cast is more important than paradox or logic, reason or rhyme.

Although it can lead to blips…  It’s a shame Magneto of the future, faced with the ultimate mirror of his grand design in the future is so vulnerable; just as we see the fruition of the loner master of magnetism rise in the past. 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.

If there’s anything the tremendously satisfying Future Past leaves the audience with, it’s a dose of its own confidence.  I only hope Matt Vaughn’s Secret Service, for which he supposedly jumped the X, can live up to expectations as well. Bryan Singer only has one further goal in mind…
Wolverine cavalier close up

The 1980s… Apocalypse (2016)


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. There was the prophetic, epic style of the post-credit teaser, Pyramid building, his 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 this progress. Perhaps more important is the time span. In general terms, there has often been three years between each X-Film, at least between the main franchise films (or 2011’s First Class if you spring from 2009’s Wolverine). Apocalypse (you can see the build-up already) signals a sign of intent in name alone. And hell, even Hugh Jackman’s started to reconsider hanging up his claws.


A reboot trick greater than 2009’s Star Trek…

In picking up the reigns of Days, Singer’s unearthed a reboot trick possibly greater than 2009’s Star Trek. Only a few logical things ruin it on scrutiny, such as Xavier’s resurrected physiognomy following The Last Stand but then in a world of mutants who can say?  Perhaps more importantly, you couldn’t have refused Patrick Stewart an invite (he simply wouldn’t let you now) and you shouldn’t go searching for plot holes in a film all about paradox.

We have a reset character list, with the benefit of them being near exterminated, and we have a returning Cyclops and perhaps most importantly a chance to redo The Phoenix. But there may be no greater indication of the luxury that the franchise now has than the fact Apocalypse is unlikely to touch that generation and choose to be a further sequel to First Class.


For so many years a simple and elegant, and crucially funny answer to the age old debate as to whether a prequel or sequel can diminish an earlier film. It can’t, but Days of Future Past shows that a sequel/prequel can even enhance The Last Stand. As Professor X said, “Infinite decisions mean infinite consequences, for the future is never truly set…” If that’s all that these two films have in their favour, it’s still is incredible. But it isn’t. Having traversed comic storylines with aplomb, reignited the passion of the Wolverine and with a world of mutants to delve into and a Marvel schedule to take on, this is a franchise that’s 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

X-Men Days of Future Past has enacted justice. Not Magneto’s, Trask’s, Phoenix’s or Apocalypse’s justice, but the only one that counts. It took well over $500 million in two weeks, crushing X-Men: the Last Stand’s diabolical record in its puny hand. Now comfortably over $700 million it looks like the X-Franchise’s future is secure off the screen… And it took a trip back to school of course…

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, for Fox who sat on the consistently best selling comic book and watched their partner rivals Marvel slip into the comic slipstream like a Mario Quicksilver. “Let’s a go!”


As we all know, it was 1998’s Blade that kick-started the ongoing comic boom, not Bryan Singer’s X-Men in 2000. However, that film did add veracity, even a little realism – or perhaps better put, actor gravitas – to proceedings. But hooking itself around, and concentrating on, the core of black leather-bound mutant superheroes it was just a little low key. It needed an extra action scene, it needed to marry the themes of division, segregation and history over a longer run-time.

Three years later, X2 converted that subtlety to a strength. It built on every aspect, teasing new metaphors while retaining mysteries and most importantly, setting a phenomenal cliff-hanger. Expectations were so high, the third film would have always struggled. That must be why they surrendered 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 that lurched slowly toward wasted chances of spin-offs and inevitable reboot.

It took Marvel’s determination to build an interlinking and self-selling franchise to make Fox appreciate what they had. Perhaps an easy mistake to make in the era of ‘back-to-back’ filming and in-built ‘trilogy’. Possibly inadvertently, when Fox woke to the fact they found everything was in place to not only quick fire a spawning franchise that lived up to its name, but also lived up to the scope, ambition and behemoth status of its parent comic book. It just took a few risky hires and a step back to that comic’s birth decade.

Wolverine close-up

The 1960s – X-Men: First Class (2011)


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

The first’ reboot’ film, wasn’t the film that single-handedly changed things, but what a start. To think it could have been released as X-Men Origins First Class. After X-Men Origins Wolverine, it’s chilling to remember the threat of a repetitive title.

Behind the lens, they couldn’t have chosen better for the reboot. Matthew Vaughan’s main qualifier was 2010’s Kick Ass, and it was an astute if not unpredictable move by Fox to bring him on board to capture some of that energy for themselves – with franchise midwife Bryan Singer present as producer. Vaughn brought trusty lieutenants with him, including writer Jane Goldman.

It would be totally partisan to suggest that this British weight added a lot, but it certainly didn’t hurt. That said, the creative team would have struggled to mess up the 1960s setting.

It just works. Sure, things are a little creatively flourished. This isn’t particularly 1961/62 in fashion, music or scope. It’s a generic 1960s of Bond, referencing a few points of that franchise’s mid-decade high points. What it didn’t shirk on was the contemporary politics, tying directly into the backbone of metaphor in the X-universe and crucially; using the past to find new ways of looking at the future. “We are the children of the atom” is Sebastian Shaw’s repeated mantra. And when the threat of nuclear war was never stronger, those children of atom form the first class of the Xavier school.


Cultural landmarks that familiar characters can grow against

1960s politics is woven into the plot to a satisfyingly surprising degree – feeding on the era’s paranoia while building on the period otherworldliness. It makes the idea of another film like X-Men Origins: Wolverine hitting the franchise impossible. This is different to the futurism that X-Men presented, but so much more effective. It was a shrewd move to copy X-Men’s opening, creating n almost divergent timeline and setting a serious agenda that fuelled into Lehnsherr’s Boys from Brazil hunting, even if Shaw is a little too conveniently tied into that plot point.

First Class presents a far more varied palette than its predecessors. At the heart of Shaw’s emphatic reasoning, the Cold War is most striking. Rather perfectly, it’s central but disassociated from the plot. The proto-X-men are formed by the CIA, but they soon learn to live without them. And the plot survives Shaw’s disinterest in politics; the Nazis and later the Russians merely feed his agenda – a precursor if vastly different slant to Magneto and, if it can be put that way, Apocalypse. These are well known cultural landmarks that the familiar characters can grow against. While the Russians give Shaw the classic Magneto helmet, America gives Lehnsherr and Xavier the Lincoln statue as a background to mull over freedoms, liberty and implications that will come to hit the franchise in the future past – one’s that were present from the very first scene of this and X-Men.

First Class uses its politics as well as its pop culture references. Xavier and Lehnsherr’s first meeting comes on the back of a pure Bond set-piece. Very Thunderball at a time when the Bond franchise had only just arrived at the cinema. Of course, it needs a great soundtrack to match  – and serves up the best in the franchise. The ‘60s themed titles/credits are a wonderfully thought out touch.  Well, until it closes with Take That (one British contribution it could do without). And alongside these bits and bobs, First Class packs some fine action, avoiding the pitfalls of X-Men. Shaw’s CIA breakdown manages to compete with the sublime Whitehouse incursion that kicked off X2.


Absolute power corrupts absolutely

As that set-piece shows the casting is generally superb, particularly Kevin Bacon’s wicked turn. It helps that no one else in the franchise has rivalled Magneto (and no, Dark Phoenix doesn’t count). But aside from the contrived origin, his character journey is a little too sketchy. His seemingly convincing “We don’t hurt our own“ adage doesn’t stay true for long, as he nears the end of a road unbridled by any kind of moral purpose. Perhaps he works simply as that broad prototype of Magneto; a crucial part of the main villain’s genesis but also part of a time where he had to take on a succession of real human names before being replaced by mutants who take on real mutant names. Perhaps he’s just the truism inside the larger metaphor – that absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Elsewhere, aside from another range of forgettable evil mutants (a series trademark), seeds are set surprisingly well for the trilogy we’ve already seen .  And that’s down to 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. That Magneto’s path is the most compelling is not surprising (yet another film that makes a sorry example of The Phantom Menace). What is impressive is that Xavier’s isn’t far off, mainly thanks to his dynamic with Mystique.

This is all about sewing those seeds, but as an actual origin story four films after ‘the origin’ film, it has the wise approach – and all credit to Vaughan for retaining his fresh Kick Ass sensibilities – to have fun with it and not pay too much lip service to the rules of an established franchise. Thank goodness for that rounder, new comic book era style storylines are brought in such as Mystique’s strong ties to Xavier.  The sequel would build on this even more impressively.


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

Something else that would be built on is perhaps First Class’ greatest contribution: humour. There are the in-jokes, particularly about hair, but also a general wryness greatly missing from its earnest forbears. The Wolverine cameo, with the certificate sparing use of “Go fuck yourself” is the major crowd pleaser – taking its leads out of character for comic effect. When X-Men Days of Future Past comes to reference it, it’s not as effective. That film would need to raise the stakes to ensure the Canadian hairy one’s involvement but here it’s clear he would have a significant destabilizing impact. Previously Wolverine had carried the humour while here the others can let loose. That he had his own solo mission to undertake, poor as that was, probably saved the franchise.

For quite 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 it was so much more. 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.

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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