Flashback: ‘X-Men’

Summer 2000 saw the arrival of Marvel’s ‘X-Men’ on the big screen, leading to an explosion of superhero blockbusters at the cinema…

X-Men Xavier & Magneto

Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan provide heaps of gravitas in Bryan Singer’s ‘X-Men’ (image credit: 20th Century Fox).

Year:  2000

Starring:  Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellan, Famke Janssen, James Marsden, Halle Berry, Anna Paquin, Tyler Mane, Ray Park, Rebecca Romijn (as Rebecca Romijn-Stamos), Bruce Davison

Directed by:  Bryan Singer / written by:  David Hayter (Story by Tom DeSanto & Bryan Singer.  X-Men created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby)

What’s it about?

The not-too distant future: as the U.S. Government contemplates the introduction of a registration act for mutants – evolved humans with paranormal abilities – the benevolent ‘X-Men’, led by Professor Charles Xavier must stop Xavier’s old friend, Erik Lensherr and his Brotherhood of Mutants from igniting a conflict with the rest of humanity…

Retrospective/review

Although it could be argued that the contemporary explosion of comic book superhero films was initiated by the success of Blade in 1999, it was actually X-Men that brought the genre to the masses – leading to an (at least presently) endless crop of big screen comic book adaptations.  Helmed by The Usual Suspects director Bryan Singer, X-Men would become a smash hit for film studio 20th Century Fox in the summer of 2000 and although it may now seem a little tame when placed alongside Marvel Studios releases such as the colossal Avengers Endgame, it remains an enjoyable superhero action adventure that has an important place in the history of superhero cinema.  It would also spawn a lucrative film franchise spanning almost two decades, concluding with last year’s unfairly maligned (albeit flawed) X-Men: Dark Phoenix…or technically, will conclude with the still as-yet unreleased New Mutants spin-off.

By enlisting a director of proven calibre and having its cast include two of the world’s most talented and experienced actors, Star Trek legend Patrick Stewart as Professor Charles Xavier – leader of the ‘X-Men’ and a mutant with incredible mental powers – and Ian McKellan as Xavier’s old friend turned enemy, fellow mutant Erik Lensherr – aka ‘Magneto’, with the ability to control magnetism – X-Men would take a serious and somewhat believable approach to the source material without betraying the core fantasy and socially aware elements Stan Lee and Jack Kirby infused into the original Marvel comics (and which was so well portrayed in the classic 1990s Fox X-Men animated series).  Some may have been upset by the lack of more colourful costumes, but the cool black leather X-uniforms are indicative of the style and creative intentions favoured in Singer’s film.

X-Men Wolverine

Hugh Jackman debuts as Logan/Wolverine (image credit: 20th Century Fox).

In X-Men, as U.S. senator Robert Kelly (Bruce Davison) debates the perceived danger of those with mutant abilities and presses for the Mutant Registration Act, Erik Lensherr, with his ‘Brotherhood’, believing that a war between mutants and the rest of humanity is all but inevitable, plots a pre-emptive first strike which Charles Xavier and his benevolent mutant X-Men must prevent.  In order to uncover Magneto’s plans, Xavier must investigate the link with two stray mutants – the young and afraid adolescent girl going by the name ‘Rogue’ (Anna Paquin, future star of TV hit True Blood), with the ability to absorb the powers of other mutants and the mysterious Logan, otherwise known as the cage fighter called ‘the Wolverine’, who is unable to recall his past or how his skeleton was grafted with the indestructible metal adamantium – a process he only survived thanks to his mutant-healing factor.

Although he may be taller than his comic book counterpart, Hugh Jackman – receiving top-billing – is instantly and effortlessly Logan/Wolverine, perfect casting in a role that would quickly become popular with audiences and fans alike.  Jackman simply is Wolverine, aside from matching the obvious physicality of the character (minus the height difference, which really isn’t an issue given the strength of Jackman’s performance) he embodies the spirit of Logan, from the raging temperament to the emotional depth arising from his nightmare flashes of lost memory and his befriending of Anna Paquin’s Rogue.  It’s a sublime portrayal right from the outset in X-Men and one that would only become more refined and assured in later instalments.

The cast of X-Men is filled out commendably with a generally strong group of actors who are a good fit for their characters.  James Marsden, Famke Janssen (previously a femme fatale in the James bond film Goldeneye) and Halle Berry make for pleasing live action versions of fan-favourite X-Men, respectively: the optic-blasting team leader Scott Summers/aka Cyclops (the conflict between Cyclops and Logan intact from the comics), the telekinetic Jean Grey (with no X-alias) and Ororo Munroe/aka Storm, with the ability to control weather effects.  Magneto’s Brotherhood boasts Rebecca Romijn as the shape-shifting Mystique, Tyler Mane as the feral Sabretooth and Ray Park (Darth Maul in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace) as the agile, whip-tongued and slime-spitting Toad.  They may not be afforded anything in the way of character development, but non-the-less help facilitate the threat to the central heroes.

X-Men Cyclops

‘Cyclops’ (James Marsden) leads the X-Men as they attempt to prevent a war with the rest of humanity (image credit: 20th Century Fox).

From a story by Singer and Tom DeSanto, the script is provided by David Hayter (best known for voicing iconic video game character Solid Snake in Metal Gear Solid) which captures the essence of the X-Men comics, it’s characters and the themes of prejudice and persecution which sadly remained as prescient in 2000 as they were in the 1960s, transposing it all into a more grounded reality.  Despite the more serious elements of the story (immediately evident from the bleak flashback opening at a World War II concentration camp, where the young Erik Lensherr is separated from his parents and his mutant abilities are first demonstrated) there’s still some fun to be had with a smattering of black humour and entertaining action sequences which complement the human and emotional aspects of the film.  The narrative wisely focuses on Logan and Rogue as the lone outsiders who cross paths with the X-Men, acting as a mirror for those in the audience unfamiliar with the world and characters of Marvel’s X-Men.  Bryan Singer’s direction is tightly and expertly executed, with a clear sense of visuals, tone and character deftly balanced with the action set-pieces which meld seamlessly with the special/visual effects which make full use of the $75 million budget (a princely sum back in 2000 but small change compared to today’s cinematic superhero offerings).  The Liberty Island finale is suitably tense and exciting bringing X-Men to an action-packed crescendo which may pale in comparison to the more epic and effects saturated climaxes of subsequent entries but is a satisfying close for Singer’s first effort.

Whilst the overall quality of Fox’s X-Men franchise may be inconsistent, the films are generally entertaining and sometimes excellent (see: X2, X-Men: First Class, X-Men: Days of Future Past and Logan) and Bryan Singer’s X-Men is certainly one of the better early Marvel Comics big screen adaptations, the success of which (along with Sony/Columbia Pictures’ Spider-Man) would allow more comic book blockbusters to hit the big screen and inevitably become the dominant genre in film and television.

Geek fact! 

Amongst the serving producers of X-Men was later Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige, mastermind and guardian of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Image(s) used herein are utilised for illustrative purposes only and remain the property of the copyright owner(s).

Film Review: ‘X-Men: Dark Phoenix’

It’s farewell to the ‘First Class’ as Fox’s X-Men series draws to a close…

X-Men Dark Phoenix (a)

The finale to 20th Century Fox’s Marvel film series – ‘X-Men: Dark Phoenix’ (credit: 20th Century Fox/Marvel).

 

Spoiler-free review

Starring:  James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Sophie Turner, Jessica Chastain

Directed and written by:  Simon Kinberg / 114 minutes

What’s it about?

Whilst on a mission to rescue the crew of a stricken space shuttle, X-Men team member Jean Grey encounters a mysterious cosmic force which amplifies her psychokinetic powers to dangerous and uncontrollable levels…

In review

Serving as the finale of 20th Century Fox’s mainline X-Men film series (although troubled spin-off New Mutants is still, presently, set for an eventual theatrical release) – the rights to the property now with Marvel Studios following Disney’s Fox acquisition – X-Men: Dark Phoenix follows 2016’s X-Men: Apocalypse with a plot once again based on the iconic comic book storyline previously adapted (superbly) for the 1990s X-Men animated series and incorporated (not so successfully) into Fox’s original X-trilogy capper, X-Men: The Last Stand (released back in 2006).

Written and directed by long-term X-Men writer and producer Simon Kinberg, the 90’s-set X-Men: Dark Phoenix (simply known as just ‘Dark Phoenix’ in the U.S.) isn’t the rousing, wholly satisfying finale the series deserved but nor is it a crashing failure.  It doesn’t hit the heights of previous entries First Class or Days of Future Past but is comfortably superior to The Last Stand and a fair leap above X-Men Origins: Wolverine, arguably the franchise’s lowest point.  Aiming for a more grounded and character driven focus than the divisive Apocalypse, Dark Phoenix is unlikely to sway viewers left unimpressed by Bryan Singer’s X-sequel but it’s a laudable approach and Kinberg’s script packs an emotional punch whilst the sombre and dark tone lends some emotional maturity and tension to the proceedings.  The only issue here is that it doesn’t feel as though we’ve been given enough time to truly care about the newer X-Men team members introduced in Apocalypse and besides Sophie Turner’s Jean Grey they don’t actually get a whole lot to do in Dark Phoenix beyond playing their part in the action.  There’s also some drag in the pacing during the second act due to the slow-burn narrative, with much of the action saved for the finale which together with that desire for a more restrained and personal approach can leave Dark Phoenix lacking a larger sense of adventure and excitement, something First Class and Days of Future Past were able to accomplish whilst still delivering on character.

Cast performances are generally strong, Sophie Turner (Game of Thrones) does a solid enough job with a lot of dramatic weight to carry as Jean Grey, unable to control the temptation and danger of the Phoenix force descends into turmoil.  Returning First Class alumni Jennifer Lawrence is suitably dour and weary as Raven/Mystique and fellow first generation X-Man Nicholas Hoult has a poignant and contemplative turn as Hank McCoy/Beast.  Interstellar’s Jessica Chastain makes for a sinister if underdeveloped villain, her manipulation of the increasingly fragile Jean and her Phoenix force heightened powers providing high stakes and a cause for our heroes to rally against.

X-Men Dark Phoenix (b)

Tye Sheridan returns as Cyclops (credit: 20th Century Fox/Marvel).

Again though, it’s James McAvoy and Michel Fassbender – Charles Xavier/Professor X and Erik Lensherr/Magneto respectively – who are the standouts and both actors are provided with some good material, especially McAvoy as Xavier grapples with fracturing friendships, a reluctance to acknowledge his mistakes and an uncertain future for the X-Men and consequentially, mutantkind.  Sadly, despite having roles to play in the action, Alexandra Shipp’s Storm, Evan Peters’ Quicksilver and Kodi Smit-McPhee’s Nightcrawler are not afforded a large enough presence for the majority of the film and tend to withdraw into the background with no significant character arcs of their own.  Tye Sheridan’s Scott Summers/Cyclops fares better but, again, there hasn’t really been time enough for the actors and their respective characters to grow beyond their debuts in X-Men: Apocalypse.

Making his feature film directorial debut, Simon Kinberg handles it fairly competently – keeping things level and focused in the more character-driven scenes whilst skilfully staging the action which aside from the initial space rescue mission (accompanied by some nicely atmospheric music from score composer Hans Zimmer), includes a climactic battle aboard a speeding train that ramps up the tension as Dark Phoenix reaches its denouement.  Despite the months of extensive re-shoots, Kinberg’s film hangs together in a coherent manner.

So, although Dark Phoenix isn’t a runaway hit it’s not a disastrous misfire either resulting in an entertaining diversion that doesn’t live up to the high-points of the X-Men franchise or it’s potential as a grand finale but is a stronger take on a beloved story arc with some decent character beats and an action-packed final act.

The bottom line:  Not the train wreck it was feared to be nor the epic final chapter it could’ve been, X-Men: Dark Phoenix is still a reasonably enjoyable time for those willing to give it a chance.

X-Men: Dark Phoenix is in cinemas now.

TV Review: ‘The Gifted’ S1 E01 “eXposed”

20th Century Fox launch their newest small screen X-Men offering…

The Gifted Prem

On the run: The lives of the Strucker family are turned upside down in Fox’s new ‘X-Men’ series ‘The Gifted’.

Starring:  Stephen Moyer, Amy Acker, Natalie Alyn Lind, Percy Hynes White, Coby Bell, Sean Teale, Jamie Chung, Blair Redford, Emma Dumont

Series created by:  Matt Nix

Written by:  Matt Nix / Directed by:  Bryan Singer

What’s it about?

When an incident at school forces teenagers Lauren and Andy Strucker to reveal that they have mutant abilities, the Strucker family find themselves on the run and hunted by the authorities…

Episode review

Following the launch of Legion earlier this year, 20th Century Fox Television add another X-Men universe show to the roster with The Gifted, developed by Burn Notice creator Matt Nix with an enjoyable, if slightly flawed, series premiere.

Unconnected to Legion and taking place apart from the X-Men films, The Gifted is unshackled by the demands of shared universe canon that can sometimes by more of a curse than a blessing.  It’s a wise move in this instance given the loose, unclear approach to continuity of the big screen X-Men outings – The Gifted establishes a world where mutant groups the X-Men and the Brotherhood have disappeared, leaving the series free to chart its own course.

The premise is nothing new (mutants are of course still hated and feared) and The Gifted is more of a straightforward comic book action adventure series in the vein of Heroes or Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. than the arty head-tripping experience Legion is, yet it certainly doesn’t try to be anything else other than an entertaining watch.  As Reed and Caitlin Strucker, Stephen Moyer (True Blood) and Amy Acker (Person of Interest) are capable leads, along with their mutant teenage children Lauren (Natalie Alyn Lind) and Andy (Percy Hynes White), their characters are likeable and have potential but it doesn’t feel as though we get to know all that much about them and their backgrounds in this first episode in order to really root for them.  For example, we learn from the outset that Reed works as a mutant prosecutor but “eXposed” doesn’t quite delve into this properly and explore more deeply the fallout and consequences of him learning that his offspring have mutant abilities.  Hopefully this will all come later as the series progresses and the writers have had more opportunity to develop the principal characters.

Whilst there are no ‘A-list’ X-Men present (nor was it expected), the mutant underground sought by the on-the-run Strucker family does include fresh takes on iconic characters – Eclipse (Sean Teale), Polaris (Emma Dumont), Thunderbird (Blair Redford) and Blink (Jamie Chung).  They’re obviously not literal spandex-clad translations of their comic book counterparts but are a welcome addition that solidifies the show’s X-Men credentials.

The Sentinel Services and their spider-like drones are also a nice twist on established lore, a television budget pretty much ruling out the inclusion of the gigantic mutant-hunting robots seen in X-Men comics (and reimagined in X-Men: Days of Future Past).  Likewise, mutant powers are somewhat restricted and less elaborate than what we’ve seen on the big screen but that’s understandable and director Bryan Singer – who has helmed four X-Men feature films (including two of the most popular, X2 and Days of Future Past) – brings skill and experience in utilising the tools available to him and where “eXposed” may falter a little in characterisation it compensates for with relatively tense pacing and satisfying action beats.

With its premiere, The Gifted establishes an interesting set-up, the fugitive scenario promising plenty of excitement and the intolerance and prejudice towards mutants offering some social relevance in these sadly turbulent times.  There’s work to do with the characters but if the writers are able to flesh them out and explore them more deeply in episodes to come then The Gifted could prove to be a solid accompaniment to Legion and a worthy addition to Fox’s X-Men universe.

The bottom line:  Despite some initial shortcomings, the season premiere of The Gifted is non-the-less entertaining and shows potential for the series ahead.

The Gifted airs in the UK Monday nights on Fox UK.  U.S. viewers can catch it on Fox every Sunday.

Film Review: ‘X-Men: Apocalypse’ (spoiler-free)

The end is nigh…

Starring:  James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Oscar Isaac, Rose Byrne, Sophie Turner, Tye Sheridan, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Ben Hardy, Alexandra Shipp

Directed by:  Bryan Singer / Written by:  Simon Kinberg (story by Bryan Singer, Simon Kinberg, Michael Dougherty & Dan Harris) / 147 minutes

What’s it about?

Professor Charles Xavier unites a new generation of X-Men to battle against the ancient and mighty mutant known as Apocalypse…

In review

Following the huge critical and commercial success of X-Men: Days of Future Past, director Bryan Singer returns once again to helm the latest chapter in 20th Century Fox’s long running X-Men film series, based on the lucrative and ever popular Marvel Comics property.  Given that Singer’s original foray into the Marvel mutant universe was with 2000’s X-Men (the success of which is credited with launching the modern superhero film craze that we enjoy today), you would be forgiven for thinking that he would not have anything further to give to the franchise – yet it feels that Singer channels just as much passion and energy into X-Men: Apocalypse as he did on the rather excellent Days of Future Past.

The story for this X-Men outing centres on the emergence of the all-mighty and powerful being known as Apocalypse, believed to be the world’s first mutant.  Ruling over the denizens of ancient Egypt, he is betrayed and left for dead until revived in the film’s setting of the early 1980s.  Needless to say, Apocalypse soon plots revenge against humanity and seeks to use his powers to reshape the world as he sees fit.  It’s this threat that sees Charles Xavier unite fresh blood with some familiar faces to build a new team of ‘X-Men’ and prevent the annihilation of the human race.

The threat is a familiar one for comic book superhero films but world-ending scenarios coupled with epic action and jaw dropping special effects is what the audiences for these films have come to expect and it makes proceedings all the more entertaining.  Like Days of Future Past and Marvel Studios’ recent smash Captain America: Civil War, Apocalypse features a large roster of characters yet never feels as though it falters under its own weight.  Whilst future X-Men Storm, Angel and Psylocke (Olivia Munn) feature in largely introductory roles the story of Apocalypse focuses more significantly on younger versions of Cyclops, Jean Grey and Nightcrawler who under the guidance of Xavier, Hank McCoy (aka X-Man ‘Beast’) and Raven (aka the shape-shifting Mystique) learn to use their abilities ‘for the cause’.  The new cast fit their parts well and complement each other nicely with plenty of room to further develop their characters in future instalments.

McAvoy and Fassbender are as great as they always have been as Professor Xavier and Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto respectively, the latter served with some really great dramatic elements to chew on, it’s just a shame that Fassbender’s part feels diminished in the film’s later acts as he falls under the control of Apocalypse.  it’s also a little disappointing that although the two actors are (rightfully) given an appreciable amount of screentime, there is actually little that they share together, as the chemistry between them has been such a key part to the success of their previous X-Men outings.

But what of Evan Peters, who stole the show as Peter Maximoff – aka the speedster called Quicksilver – in Days of Future Past?  Well, the good news is that he does so again and this time he enjoys a much larger role and Singer and his team outdo what they did in Days of Future Past to deliver one of the film’s greatest and most pleasing sequences.  As the titular antagonist of the film’s subtitle, Oscar Isaac (crack pilot Poe Dameron in Star Wars: The Force Awakens) imbues Apocalypse with a – for the most part – subtle intensity, the make-up design allowing him to express and emote with an appropriate mix of intellect and sinister snarl.

The finale of Apocalypse facilitates the requisite spectacle as the triumphant unison of this new team of heroes plays out against peril and large scale destruction on a level that exceeds that of Days of Future Past and with a few surprises and fan pleasing in-jokes thrown in for good measure, X-Men: Apocalypse is another successful entry for the franchise.

The bottom line:  With the same level of fun and excitement as Days of Future Past, X-Men: Apocalypse is a pleasing addition to the long running series, featuring some promising new cast members amongst beloved familiar faces.

X-Men: Apocalypse is in cinemas across the UK now and opens in U.S. theatres and other territories on 27th May.

Oscar Isaac prepares to wreak havok in 20th Century Fox's 'X-Men: Apocalypse'.

Oscar Isaac prepares to wreak havok in 20th Century Fox’s ‘X-Men: Apocalypse’.

Film Review: ‘X-Men: Days of Future Past’ (spoiler-free)

Starring:  Hugh Jackman, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Evan Peters, Peter Dinklage, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen

Directed by:  Bryan Singer / Written by:  Simon Kinberg (story by Jane Goldman, Simon Kinberg & Matthew Vaughan) / 131 minutes

What’s it about?

In a war torn future where mutants are being hunted to extinction by robotic ‘Sentinels’, the surviving X-Men send Wolverine back in time to the year 1973 to change the course of history…

In review

Following the surprise hit of the rather excellent prequel X-Men: First Class, X-Men: Days of Future Past is an assured entry in 20th Century Fox’s X-Men film franchise – bolstered by director Bryan Singer’s return to the series.

Based on the classic Chris Claremont comic book story (itself adapted for the 1990s X-Men animated series), Days of Future Past successfully melds the X-Men cinematic universe into a relatively cohesive whole by neatly combining the casts of the original X-Men trilogy and First Class to provide an ambitious slice of comic book film entertainment with some laudable dramatic weight.

With the narrative set-up by the film’s opening Terminator-esque dystopia, the bulk of DoFP takes place in 1973 with Wolverine (the ever reliable Jackman) on a mission to prevent Raven/Mystique (The Hunger Games’s Lawrence) from assassinating Dr. Bolivar Trask (Dinklage) – creator of the future mutant-slaying Sentinels.  To do so, he must unite a withdrawn and despondent Charles Xavier (a suitably dishevelled McAvoy) with former friend and ally Erik Lensher (Fassbender) – aka Magneto.

With DoFP, Kinberg delivers a much stronger narrative than X-Men: The Last Stand, no doubt assisted by his collaboration on the film’s story with First Class director Matthew Vaughan and screenwriter Jane Goldman.  There’s a lot to take in given the scope of the story and the plethora of characters yet DoFP remains relatively focused and its slow-burn approach allows the viewer to keep up with proceedings.  It’s also notable that just as First Class neatly incorporated Cold War zeitgeist into the comic book universe, DoFP also ties in with real-world events and concerns, at least, as they were in 1973.

The franchise is once again lead confidently by Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine but that’s not to say others are side-lined.  McAvoy and Fassbender continue where they left off in First Class and make use of every opportunity to develop the complexities of their characters’ relationship and Lawrence bring us a more intense version of Raven given the character’s significant role in the story.

The film’s biggest surprise though is Evan Peters who provides a healthy dose of levity and fun via his performance as Peter Maximoff/Quicksilver but unfortunately the excellent Peter Dinklage is hindered by lack of exposure and character development and a missed opportunity to deliver a truly compelling villain.

Although Ellen Page’s role of Kitty Pride isn’t significantly larger than it was in The Last Stand it’s at least functional and as with Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen’s appearance as the elder Xavier and Magneto (respectively), is key to the story.  There are of course many cameos from X-Men past and present (some surprising, some not so much) and to name-check everyone would probably require a post of its own.

Despite the film’s darker themes there’s still a healthy dose of fun and humour, mainly via those sequences where Wolverine, Xavier and Beast (Hoult) team up with Quicksilver to ‘liberate’ an imprisoned Magneto.  There are also numerous pleasing nods and winks to the X-Men universe that will provide fans with endless delight.

The film’s exciting climax is a showdown of epic proportions (and oddly reminiscent of Iron Man 2) that provides dramatic as well as visual punch, wisely saving the best of the film’s action until last.

DoFP is a HUGE film in terms of casting, design and narrative scope and luckily Bryan Singer (already attached to X-Men: Apocalypse, due for release in 2016) once again proves his abilities to handle such a production with skill and precision.  It’s a welcome and triumphant return for the director who seems to have fallen from grace since his decision to exit the franchise in favour of helming the divisive Superman Returns.

So, is DoFP the best X-Men film yet?  Well, no, whilst it may sit comfortably more-or-less on equal footing with First Class, X2 easily still wears that crown.  Those expecting an indisputable rectification of continuity errors between the original X-Men and the Frist Class universes may be disappointed that DoFP raises more questions than it answers but the end result is an effective marriage of dramatic, cerebral storytelling with strong cast performances and epic action set-pieces that points to a bright future for X-Men on the big screen.

The bottom line:  With Days of Future Past, the X-Men film franchise continues to prove its worth amongst the current slew of comic book blockbusters.  It’s a pleasing and bold entry in the series that will raise anticipation for future instalments.

X-Men: Days of Future Past is in cinemas now.

What are your thoughts on X-Men: Days of Future Past?  Leave your spoiler-free comments below!

X-cellent entertainment from 20th Century Fox with 'X-Men: Days of Future Past'.

X-cellent entertainment from 20th Century Fox with ‘X-Men: Days of Future Past’.

Film review: ‘The Wolverine’ (spoiler free)

The clawed one is back and he’s hurting…

 

Starring:  Hugh Jackman, Tao Okamoto, Rila Fukushima, Svetlana Khodchenkova, Hal Yamanouchi

Directed by:  James Mangold / Written by:  Mark Bomback and Scott Frank / 126 minutes

What’s it about?

Living in isolation, a chance encounter leads to a grieving and haunted Wolverine travelling to Japan where an old acquaintance offers him the opportunity to become mortal…

In review

Hugh Jackman returns for his sixth outing as Logan/Wolverine and it’s evident that he relishes the role as much as ever, passionately conveying the complex layers of everyone’s favourite (Batman aside) gruff hero.  More significantly I’m happy to report that The Wolverine is shoulders above the abysmal X-Men Origins: Wolverine, released back in 2009.

Following a short flashback to Nagasaki in 1945, The Wolverine sees Logan at rock bottom and living out a meagre – almost primal – existence up in the Canadian mountains.  He is tortured by persistent hallucinations of his beloved fellow mutant and late X-comrade Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), who he was forced to kill for the greater good (see X-Men: The Last Stand).  Encountering the raven haired Yukio, he travels to Japan and is faced with the proposition of becoming mortal but soon finds himself becoming embroiled in a conflict between Japanese clans and the threat of a deadly foe, whilst falling for the enigmatic Mariko (Okamoto).

Although chronologically The Wolverine takes place after X-Men: The Last Stand, seeing the latter is not absolutely essential to give the former context (but, hey, no doubt you’ve probably seen all of the other X-Men films anyway) and nor does it (thankfully) rely on reference to the afore-mentioned X-Men Origins.  That’s the beauty of this film, although it is clearly linked to 20th Century Fox’s expanding X-Men cinematic universe (and those links will certainly deepen with next summer’s X-Men: Days of Future Past – be sure to stay for the tantalising post credits scene) it firmly and capably stands on its own and gives us the Wolverine solo flick we should have had four years ago.  There’s a much stronger narrative that draws on the highly acclaimed Chris Claremont/Frank Miller comic book storyline of the 1980’s and explores one of the most interesting themes of the character, namely the pain that comes with immortality as Logan sees all those he dares to care for fade around him as time marches on.  It’s also a journey of rediscovery for Logan as tries to come to terms with who and what he is, although this has been explored countless times in comic books and their big screen counterparts (Spider-Man 2 – to offer a vague example) it’s a theme I personally never tire of as it allows for some deconstruction of the characters we become invested in.

The cast is fairly decent if – beyond Jackman – relatively unknown with more than adequate turns from Okamoto and Yamanouchi but it is newcomer Fukushima and the slightly underused Khodchenkova that stand out from the crowd as ‘sidekick’ Yukio and the sexy, fiendish villainess called Viper, respectively.  That they are the only other mutants in the film aside from Wolverine himself is a testament to righting the wrongs of Origins which relied too heavily on random mutant overload and video game pyrotechnics.

Those expecting all out action on the epic scale of Avengers Assemble or Man of Steel may be a tad disappointed (but in fairness would you really expect it from this particular film?).  Granted, there are a number of beautifully staged and thrilling action set pieces (highlights of which include a riveting roof top chase and the subsequent white-knuckle fight atop a speeding bullet train) and ninja duels but for the most part, The Wolverine is a drawn out character piece which although threatening to verge on sluggish around the middle act is non-the-less a reminder that the heroes are just as compelling as the heroics themselves.  This being said The Wolverine’s climax does descend into Iron Man-esque CGI chaos that although highly entertaining does feel a little at odds with the rest of the film.

All in all, Copland director James Mangold handles the drama and action with aplomb and The Wolverine never becomes muddled despite the switching of pace between those various scenes.

The 3D post-conversion is rather good, with a decent amount of depth that enhances the action scenes nicely and leaves you feeling like you are actually watching a 3D film without drawing you away.

The bottom line:  After navigating some rocky terrain, Wolverine is back with vigour and hopes for further solo outings.  Whilst it may not be the familiar summer superhero blockbuster, The Wolverine tells a good story with interesting characters whilst still providing some decent action thrills.

See it if you like… X-Men, X2

The Wolverine is in cinemas now.

 What do you think of The Wolverine?  Leave your spoiler-free comments below!

Hugh Jackman is back and better than ever as Logan/Wolverine.

Hugh Jackman is back and better than ever as Logan/Wolverine.