It is rant time again. Normally I reserve my rants for real life, keeping my written rants to a blessed minimum. No one wants to read daily whines, not when you can be entertained by them on YouTube. But as I don’t do vlogs and I would probably forget a lot of my grievances if I did do it as a vlog, so normal, written blog it is.
My topic for ranting today, in keeping with the overall theme of the blog, are the films of that – close to my heart – team of mutants, shunned by society at large, the Uncanny X-men. Unlike some of the comic geeks online and forums, I do not claim to be a definitive expert on everything mutant related. I was a comic collector – X-men, Daredevil, New Mutants, The Dark Knight (not Batman, just the Frank Miller series) Alan Moore/Alan Davis run in Captain Britain – over a period of maybe five or six years, when Forbidden Planet was still a basement store, way before anyone cared about comic book movies.
Even though the X-men comic and characters debuted in nineteen sixty-three, it is the eighties Chris Claremont run that made the comics famous. His Jean Grey/Phoenix/Dark Phoenix story arc, encompassing the Hellfire club run – very important in the cannon in relation to Grey’s mind – the original Days Of Future Past comic (spoiler, Kitty Pryde was the lead in that comic. Logan dies.) plus other crucial character arcs.
Logan/Wolverine was always the most popular character and it is easy to see why. He, more than any other character, embodied the freedom, otherness and injustice many of the readers of the comics identified with. It stood to reason that his popularity would translate to the big screen.
Bryan Singer’s X-men in 2000 kicked off their cinematic journey, followed three years later by the, unusually for a sequel, better X2, also directed by Singer.
As is the nature of film sometimes and it is not something I usually have an issue with, they like to change things so as to accommodate the story. This is common especially for a book to film translation. Singer’s adjustments were….interesting. I did enjoy the first two films, but that does not mean they were right. The first thing to go, as has been common in most superhero films, was the costumes. Obviously, brightly coloured spandex was never going to be taken seriously on the big screen. The costume changes were a necessary evil.
Anyone who read my review of Logan – loved it – knows I thought it was by far and away the best X-men film. It was gritty and raw, emotional and gripping. Hugh Jackman was astonishing as the broken Logan. He is still nothing like the comic book character. Logan in the comics is five foot three, butt ugly and also gorilla hairy. Jackman, as one would expect, nails the manner and attitude, but he could not make himself ugly or nearly a foot shorter.
The other stand out characters in the films have been Magneto, played by Sir Ian McKellan and Michael Fassbender and Professor Charles Xavier, played by Patrick Stewart and James McAvoy. In an ensemble film, based on the eighties best-selling comic, only three characters stand out. Even in the sequel, that opened with the fantastic Nightcrawler attacking the White House scene, Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine is still the lead character.
In the comic, Cyclops is the group leader, with Storm taking over the leadership when Cyclops takes an indefinite leave of absence. The Scott Summers/Cyclops and Jean Grey/Marvel Girl/Phoenix relationship are also very important in the X-men story, not that you would get that from the films. The casting for all of the films, strangely casting two statuesque actresses as Jean Grey – Jean was never a physically imposing character – in Famke Janssen and Sophie Turner, whilst casting underwhelming Scott Summers’ in James Marsden and Tye Sheridan, neither screen couple ever convincing.
I’m not sure I can talk about Mystique. Singer got it so right initially, casting Rebecca Romijn who was perfect in the first two films. After the worst X-men film ever made by, when Brett Ratner stepped in for the risible Last Stand, Singer, who had left after the first sequel, returned to try and save the franchise. He did a good job as well, even if he did completely change the story and make Wolverine the central character – surprise, surprise – side note: for an openly gay man, one would have thought that an opportunity to have a female-focused superhero film out first would have appealed to Singer. Apparently not.
In the sequel, Singer replaced all the main X-men characters with younger actors, with the exception of Jackman. The mangling of the cannon continued in Apocalypse with Jennifer Lawerence – an actress I like a lot – reprising the role she had taken over from Romijn in the previous film, as Mystique, becoming a….hero. This is so far from the comic character! Romijn had nailed it, as had Lawerence in the first reboot, but the Apocalypse Mystique is terrible and unknown to this comic book geek. I will salute Singer for what he did with the Sentinels though. Genius.
Even as I am writing this I am realising that it could run on two or three blogs. There are so many aberrations to the cannon and as I said before, it is expected that there will be differences. What is so galling is, if they are going to follow or be influenced by stories that have already, for many a comic fan, been movies, in essence, having been panelled in comics, just make a new story. Stop rewriting perfectly good histories and characters and changing their ages and relationships and…argh! Too much. Just stop.