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Posts Tagged x-men

Marvel Movies Project: The Punisher

I’m seven films into this Marvel Movies Project and one of the most interesting things so far is the widely different target audiences for these first few films. There’s Spider-Man, which despite being quite violent is fairly kid-friendly. The X-Men franchise seems aimed at teens and up.  The rest of the movies, perhaps surprisingly, are more adult in tone. Daredevil is not as dark as it probably should be, but it does hold the distinction of including the first Marvel movie sex scene. (Granted, it is about as non-graphic as sex scenes get, but still.) Eric Bana’s bare butt makes an appearance in Hulk; on top of that, it’s hard to imagine kids being very interested in Bruce Banner and his weirdo father. Finally, there’s the Blade movies, grotesque and darkly violent with plenty of swearing: definitely not for the children. Which brings us to movie number eight:

Movie poster for The Punisher (2004)

Marvel’s most twisted hero character made it to the screen in 2004 in a movie I hope no one took their kids to see. The Punisher, starring Thomas Jane as Frank Castle, is sadly not about a superhero who loves puns, but rather a retired FBI agent who turns to vigilantism after his entire family is massacred. When I say entire family, I mean his wife, child, mother, father, siblings, nieces and nephews, uncles and aunts, cousins — this is a very thorough job. (Luckily, cousin Rick and his daughter Alexis skipped the family reunion that year.) Castle just wants his family back, but this is impossible. So, instead, he decides to seek revenge on the man responsible for their deaths — Howard Saint, played by John Travolta — by taking out his entire family, plus his entire criminal empire.

While carrying out his plan, Castle lives in a very strange apartment building with some very odd neighbours, two of whom are played by Rebecca Romijn, also known to Marvel fans as Mystique, and Ben Foster, who would go on to co-star in X-Men: The Last Stand. His interactions with these individuals gives the vengeance-obsessed Castle a bit of a connection to the human world and their scenes serve to lighten things up for a few minutes … until a team of hitmen shows up at the building and Foster’s character is having his piercings ripped out because he won’t give up Castle’s location.

Overall, this film is a dark and violent affair with offbeat characters and several bizarre moments (singing assassin Harry Heck!). Dark, violent, and weird: based on the stuff I’ve read (admittedly not that much), that is a pretty faithful representation of what Punisher comics are like. The movie contains a few very cool sequences, notably Castle’s insane fight with the blond Russian giant and his absolutely epic final revenge on Howard Saint, but I don’t think there are any outstanding performances. Thomas Jane is acceptable but not excellent (though hunky) and John Travolta is, well, John Travolta. It’s not a bad movie. It’s not a great one either.

The Punisher, who first appeared in an issue of Amazing Spider-Man in 1974, can be an interesting character; unlike Marvel’s other heroes, he kills people on purpose and he does it without much regret. He’s a descendant of wild west vigilantes — a lineage the film seems to draw on by including a couple of western elements, notably in the opening credits — and the ancestor of Dexter Morgan and other anti-heroes who right wrongs by illegal and morally questionable means. Unfortunately, the film doesn’t deal with the character’s shades of grey at all, never really questioning whether what Frank Castle is doing might be wrong, and ending with the idea that “in certain extreme situations, the law is inadequate. In order to shame its inadequacy, it is necessary to act outside the law.” The whole thing ends up feeling a bit like an NRA propaganda piece. It’s unfortunate.

Marvel Movies Project: X2

X2 movie poster

X2 (2003), aka X-Men 2: X-Men United, is a great movie. We’ve got the director of X-Men, Bryan Singer, directing essentially the same cast, playing the same characters we met in that first film: it’s a world we’ve already been introduced to, so X2 is able to dive right into the action — which it does fairly spectacularly, with the amazingly choreographed and CGI-ed opening sequence featuring the attack on the President of the United States by the teleporting German mutant Kurt Wagner (whose circus name is Nightcrawler). This is but the first of many brilliant action setpieces in X2. My favourite is probably the one where soldiers attack Xavier’s school while all the X-Men are away from home and Wolverine is babysitting. Talk about bad timing — for the soldiers, that is.

Alan Cumming as Nightcrawler is one of a few major new additions to the cast. He’s terrific, and I must note what a trip it was to see him in full blue again after having watched him as the forever-suit-and-tie-wearing Eli Gold on The Good Wife for the last three years or so.

Same guy? Same guy.

The other important new castmembers are the always excellent Brian Cox as William Stryker, Aaron Stanford as Pyro, and Kelly Hu as Lady Deathstrike. All the new additions work well; Lady Deathstrike is perhaps less well-used than some, but her fight scene with Wolverine is memorable, as is her horrific death by adamantium.

A couple of characters from the first film also take on larger roles in the sequel: Shawn Ashmore as Bobby “Iceman” Drake, boyfriend of Anna Paquin’s Rogue, and Rebecca Romijn as Mystique. Mystique wasn’t exactly invisible in X-Men, but I feel Rebecca Romijn gets more of a chance to shine in X2 as Mystique is clearly shown to be Magneto’s right-hand woman, and valuable for more than just her mutant power. Iceman, who really only had a cameo in the first film, is much more prominent here; the scenes featuring the “younger generation” — Rogue, Iceman, and Pyro — are integral to the plot, and each gets some good character moments. The scene that takes place at Bobby Drake’s house is classic, as his parents try to deal with the revelation that their son isn’t just really smart. “Have you tried not being a mutant?” his mother asks, calling to mind the real life struggles of GLBQT people (as well as a line from Buffy the Vampire Slayer). According to Bryan Singer, it was this metaphorical element of the story that drew Ian McKellen to the role of Magneto in the first place. From the Los Angeles Times’ Hero Complex blog:

As for Ian, he liked the idea of the movie because of the gay allegory — the allegory of the mutants as outsiders, disenfranchised and alone and coming to all of that at puberty when their ‘difference’ manifests. Ian is activist and he reality responded to the potential of that allegory.

Strangely enough, I sometimes find it harder to write about the movies I really love than the ones I’m not so crazy about. At this point, I’m kind of running out of things to say about X2 other than “it’s awesome,” so I will tell you a little story about the first time I saw this film in theatre. About half way through the movie, I started to feel a need … a need to have peed. Problem: the movie was so good I didn’t want to miss anything. So, I held it. And held it. I really, really had to go. I was just trying not to think about it, but it became a little bit hard to avoid what with the climax of the film featuring a dam bursting. Luckily, the flooding only happened on screen.

Next film in the series is Ang Lee’s take on the enormous green rage monster in Hulk. I didn’t like this movie much at the time, so I’ll be interested to see if my feelings have changed.

Marvel Movies Project: X-Men

In my first Marvel Movies Project post about Blade, I noted that it was partly Blade the character’s relative obscurity that made Blade the film’s success such a positive step for Marvel on film: if even Blade, 1970s Vampire Hunter, could sell tickets, surely some of Marvel’s really popular characters would do even better.

Enter the X-Men, dominant characters in the world of comics — according to Marvel, they were selling about 30 million X-Men-related comics every year by the time the first film based on the characters was being produced — and beyond: a very popular animated series based on the X-Men comics ran on Fox Kids from 1992 to 1997. According to Wikipedia, it was at least in part the success of the cartoon that inspired 20th Century Fox to buy the film rights to the characters in 1993.

X-Men (2000)

The resulting film was released in 2000. And Fox definitely got the bang they expected from their buck: the world’s most beloved team of mutants’ first foray onto the big screen grossed $54 million on its opening weekend, making poor old Blade‘s previously impressive $70 million total US box office look like a pittance. Ultimately, X-Men brought in about $296 million worldwide, which, okay, doesn’t even put it in the top 10 Marvel movies anymore. But at the time, it was a big deal.

The movie, directed by Bryan Singer, presents the ideological conflict between two mutant leaders who are also old friends: Magneto (the awesome Ian McKellen) and Professor Charles Xavier (the also awesome Patrick Stewart). Magneto, much like Deacon Frost in Blade, wants to see humans subjugated to a superior race — in this case, mutants. He believes regular humans will never accept mutants, so mutants must claim their rightful place in the world by force. Professor Xavier, meanwhile, remains hopeful that someday mutants and humans can coexist in peace and wants to to work with human leaders to achieve that goal. Professor X runs a school for “gifted” (mutant) children, where the teachers include X-Men team members Scott “Cyclops” Summers, Jean Grey, and Ororo “Storm” Munroe. Wolverine and Rogue come to the school after the X-Men rescue them from an attack by Magneto’s crew. Eventually, the team realizes that Magneto has a plan to turn many world leaders into mutants — and that Rogue is the key piece in his plan.

I re-watched X-Men last week for this project, but — unlike Blade, which I hadn’t watched since it first came out — I’ve seen the movie several times. In fact, X-Men was one of the DVDs I bought on the day I bought my first DVD player (along with The Matrix and season one of Buffy), which is to say that I really like this film. I think it does a great job of introducing the viewer to the world of mutants by showing Magneto and Rogue’s frightening origin stories. The furtive look that passes between Rogue and Wolverine at the bar in Alberta when the story about mutants is on TV also tells us a lot about the kind of secrecy and shame mutants have to deal with. I like the relationship between Rogue and Wolverine as it’s portrayed in the movie. Anna Paquin and Hugh Jackman have good chemistry and both do some nice work with their characters.

Speaking of Hugh Jackman: he has to be considered one of the best Marvel movie actors. I can’t prove this, but I’m going to go ahead and say everyone loves Hugh Jackman as Wolverine. Why? Because despite being a full foot taller than Wolverine, and despite doing a lot of musical theatre, which I can’t help feeling Wolverine would disapprove of (I, on the other hand, can’t wait to see Les Mis), and despite not actually being Canadian (a serious flaw) — despite having all those obstacles to overcome … he’s bloody fantastic. Plus, he’s played the role five times so far (including his best-part-of-the-movie two-second cameo in X-Men: First Class) with two more projects in development, according to IMDb (The Wolverine, which is in production now, and the First Class sequel X-Men: Days of Future Past). That, my friends — that is dedication.

Thumbs up for Hugh Jackman.

One of the truly interesting pieces of X-Men movie trivia is how close we came to being deprived of this extended run of cinematic excellence. Russell Crowe, soon to be seen as Jackman’s nemesis in Les Misérables, was originally offered the role of Wolverine, but he wanted too much money so they went with Dougray Scott. From Entertainment Weekly:

Singer […] was set to roll last summer [1999]. Then came the monkey wrenches. First there was Fox’s decision to move X-Men from Xmas 2000 up to July 14, putting pressure on Singer to get the film into postproduction as quickly as possible, since it required more than 500 special effects. Complicating matters was actor Dougray Scott, originally cast as Wolverine, whose availability became increasingly doubtful as shooting on M:I-2 ran long. Singer was forced to start filming in September without him, and ultimately Scott had to drop out. It wasn’t until late October that Singer got Scott’s replacement: Hugh Jackman, a charismatic Aussie coming off Trevor Nunn’s acclaimed London stage production of Oklahoma!

There is probably some horrific, Fringe-like alternative timeline in which Fox never moved up the release date and now Dougray Scott is playing Jean Valjean.