Tag Archives: Charles Xavier

Logan

Logan Movie PosterIt seems like much of the recent success of comic book and superhero movies can be traced back to Bryan Singer’s first two X-Men films which laid the groundwork, not only for their own ongoing and expanded franchise, but the Avengers series, and most other films in that genre as well.

In 2016 this initial foundation was expanded (with mixed results) by Deadpool, adding an ‘R-rated’ flavour to the now Sony/Marvel X-Men universe, and now James Mangold’s Logan has grabbed that more adult notion by the throat and, well, driven three claws through its head.

Despite being the X-Men film series’ most compelling character the previous pair of standalone films based on Wolverine (X-Men Origins and The Wolverine) had, to a greater or lesser extent, not quite the hit mark; either for the character’s long time fans or more casual moviegoers. Here then it was refreshing that from the start this Wolverine, again played by Hugh Jackman, felt far more true to the essence of the character established but never really seen previously.

Hugh Jackman in Logan

Jackman as Logan/Howlett/Wolverine

Opening on a shot of an ageing Logan (aka Wolverine, aka James Howlett) waking up in the back seat of a limousine and then swiftly and brutally dealing with a gang of thugs trying to steal his hubcaps, it’s clear that Jackman, Mangold and co are using all of their R rating (15 in the UK) allowance of profanity and violence.

The story centres on the now somewhat less superpowered Logan and his efforts to care for a frail and elderly Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and a young mutant named Laura (aka X-23, played by Dafne Keen). While the film has its fair share of action, mostly in a close up more personal style than the now common city-destruction of other comic book movies, the majority of the film focuses on these three leads.

Jackman puts in not only his best performance as the character to date, but one of the best performances I’ve ever seen from him, as he carries the weight of the film with a surprisingly nuanced delivery, capturing the essence of faded glory and un-graceful ageing excellently, while also delivering hugely in the action set pieces while keeping the now developed character intact.

Patrick Stewart and Hugh Jackman in Logan

Stewart as Xavier and Jackman

Stewart reveals new sides of Xavier, and seems to have a lot of infectious fun doing it, as he balances a streak of humour that clearly comes naturally to him with the emotional heft necessary for his position in the film and with the same weighty presence he’s always had in the role.

Keen meanwhile is a revelation as the intense Laura. Largely silent, her movements and facial expressions capture and transmit everything you need to know about this feral child and grow as the films goes on to a massively satisfying climax beyond I think anything seen elsewhere in the comic book movie canon. To be honest the same can be said of both Jackman and Stewart’s parts too and even Steven Merchant as Caliban puts in a good showing.

As well as tremendous acting, helped by a story and script rooted in more down to earth feelings, Logan comes with more of a sense of consequences than other superhero films.

Dafne Keen as Laura/X-23

Keen as Laura/X-23

Here you really feel like what is taking place matters and that there are real stakes for those involved, unlike the Avengers movies where we ultimately know the outcome from the start for a number of reasons.

So every action set piece, and there are a fair few, comes with a sense of genuinely not knowing what could happen – both Wolverine and Laura are vulnerable enough to not come across as instant winners in every fight and this is exploited in variously clever ways as the film goes on.

Rather than climaxing on a moment of light relief like comic book movies are wont to do, Logan cuts to black at an emotional peak leaving the audience satisfied and with the sense that this was a complete story but (crucially I guess for the studios) with avenues open for more to come, but in far less obvious ways than most other franchise films manage these days.

Hugh Jackman in Logan

Logan takes comic book action to the next level

In the end Logan may well not only have eclipsed X2 or Days of Future Past as the best of the X-Men series but taken its place at the top of the mainstream comic book movie pile by daring to be different in ways that almost remove it from that canon, if it weren’t for the super powered mutants leading the story.

And the Johnny Cash track that kicks off the credits is the cherry on top of an already exceedingly good cake.

And here’s that Johnny Cash song, just because…

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X-Men

x-men movie poster16 years ago, in the wake of Blade, the first bona-fide Marvel comics based blockbuster movie hit the screens in the form of director Bryan Singer’s version of X-Men. Since then the franchise has gone on to become a long series of sequels (some good; X-Men 2, First Class, Days of Future Past, Deadpool – some less so; X3: The Last Stand, X-Men Origins: Wolverine – some a bit average; The Wolverine), but what was its origin like?

The film traces the story of what seems to be the X-Men’s first clash with The Brotherhood of Mutants and their leader, Magneto (Ian McKellen), through the eyes of new recruit Logan, aka Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) and young mutant Rogue (Anna Paquin). This structure cleverly offers an audience potentially unfamiliar with the comics an easy way into this already established world on two levels, though both with the sense of the outsider.

This outsider nature is one that Singer laces heavily throughout, making it into something of a motif from the opening prologue showing us the origin of Magneto in the Nazi concentration camps of the Second World War, to the introductions of Wolverine and Rogue to the whole notion of Xavier’s School for Gifted Children.

Anna Paquin as Rogue

Anna Paquin as Rogue

Echoing the comic books’ 1960s origins that, supposedly, dealt with issues surrounding the civil rights movement, Singer incorporates a broader version of this theme more suited to a millennial audience, showing the two sides of the divide on the argument of integration and isolation/hostility that is still relevant now.

At barely an hour and 40 minutes Singer doesn’t deeply explore these issues but they are evident, what he does do in that time though is create a fast paced action movie. Unfortunately the short run time (something of a blessing compared to some of the over long movies that now populate this genre) means the large number of characters are, for the most part, underdeveloped; Wolverine, Magneto and Professor X (Patrick Stewart) get a decent amount of time to become slightly more than 2D but really the rest of the pack are fairly weakly painted hero or villain types.

Hugh Jackman as Wolverine

Hugh Jackman as Wolverine

A highlight scene comes early on that sets the ground for Magneto and Professor X as they attend a debate on mutant rights and meet afterwards outside the meeting hall. Here the chemistry between McKellen and Stewart that has become the stuff of legend sparks and they certainly provide the most convincing aspect of the film and are amazing to watch just talking – though McKellen does go on to ham it up a bit too much later.

The action across the movie feels like a hybrid of what had come before, with a particularly physical feel often in the vein of an 80s action movie (prior to these things becoming almost entirely computer generated spectacles) and what was to come later with hints of the CG smash-fests of more recent movies. This gives it a split feel that isn’t entirely effective, but serves its purpose and we get great signature moments from all the main heroes and villains even if these do feel a little gimmicky.

The film’s climax, based around the Statue of Liberty, lacks a certain weight within the story which is something that marks the whole of this first X-Men film giving it the feeling of being at best the start of something, at worst a hyper-extended trailer for the franchise. That said, its enjoyable enough on its own merits and certainly at the time was successful enough to warrant the superior sequel that really allowed the characters and story more room to breathe than they had here.

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X-Men: Days Of Future Past

X-Men Days of Future Past-Movie posterI will admit that, in the past, some of my straight from the cinema reviews of comic book movies haven’t lived up to scrutiny in the cold light of day, once the whiz-bang has all died down (see Avengers and to a lesser extent Man of Steel and Iron Man 3). Recently I have also become somewhat disillusioned with comic book movies in general and Marvel based fare in particular, thanks to the likes of Thor: The Dark World.

So, it was with some trepidation (but hope) that I headed in to see the latest installment of the extended X-Men franchise, Days Of Future Past.

Inspired by the comic story of the same name the film deals with a dystopian future where mutants (and most of humanity it seems) have been all but destroyed by The Sentinels – big robots designed to hunt and kill mutants and sympathisers – and one of the X-Men being sent back into the past to try to save the future.

James McAvoy

James McAvoy

While this may sound a bit like its going to hit logical snags it deals with it fairly elegantly by not really even trying to explain things and just putting it down to mutant powers, in this case those of Kitty Pryde. From there most of the movie takes place in the early 1970s with the First Class cast along with the ever-present Hugh Jackman as Wolverine and Peter Dinklage on fine form as primary antagonist, Bolivar Trask.

This is something of a masterstroke as (with a bit of retconning) it manages to link both franchises, while making it clear that the main team is now the one led by James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender’s Professor X and Magneto, rather than Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen’s.

Michael Fassbender

Michael Fassbender

It is their performances that really anchor the movie. While Jackman does what he has been doing for the best part of 20 years McAvoy and Fassbender’s performances are where the heart lies. McAvoy in particular stands out bringing (a very toned down version of) what he did in Filth to a much broader movie and still making it clearly the Charles Xavier Patrick Stewart portrays.

Really it’s the performances that stood out for me as, while there was plenty of spectacle on offer, at no point did it feel like the characters and story were being ignored while CGI people got thrown through buildings and the like.

Some have bemoaned the fact that a lot of the characters from the previous films are somewhat glossed over here, particularly the likes of Storm, Iceman and Colossus, and that newcomer Bishop is under used.

Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart

Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart

For me though, I liked the fact these characters were there (and played by the same actors as in the past) as it showed this was the same universe but without having to extend the film with needless sub-plots just to serve, in this case, superfluous characters.

All of this is backed up by, returning director, Bryan Singer’s vision for the movies that he laid out in X-Men and X2 as he uses the mutants’ story as an allegory for various issues relating to human rights, much like the comics have done throughout their history, while never becoming bogged down in the issues and still making a fun action-adventure.

I know it’s probably a bit old-hat now but I’m still relatively new (and a bit skeptical) about 3D, so I was pleasantly surprised as to some of its uses here. While most of the 3D remained somewhat superfluous, there were a few moments where it seemed Singer was using it to highlight things, particularly in regard to Charles’ chessboard, which has been an ongoing motif between both sets of characters.

By the time a franchise reaches its seventh instalment it would normally be expected that any freshness would be gone and things would have become painfully repetitive. With X-Men: Days Of Future Past though this feels like a franchise fully rejuvenated and ready for more, and with a post credits sting that certainly hints at much more to come.

Quicksilver

Quicksilver

I just hope Zack Snyder and co over on Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice were taking notes from Singer, Vaughan and the X-Men team…

Also, new mutant Quicksilver was really only a cameo, but an excellently done one that also hinted at the bigger universe of the X-Men with a couple of subtle (by comic book movie standards) nods and winks.

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