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#NowWatching “X-Men.”

A film franchise with a complicated, but surprisingly important legacy.

Although there were obviously superhero films before, and films like “Blade” are often overlooked, “X-Men” is ground zero for the modern superhero boom.
Of course, it is, quite rightly, impossible to talk about the series without acknowledging that Bryan Singer is a well-documented sexual predator.

This informs the films’ legacy, although it seems under-discussed compared to the emergence of the MCU.

The cornerstone of the modern American popular landscape was laid by a serial sexual predator. Built to a blueprint he laid.

While it seems like the cultural mood has shifted on the “X-Men” films, it’s strange to me that this isn’t the catalyst.

“X-Men” seems quaint by modern superhero blockbuster standards.

A fifty million dollar budget, a one hundred minute runtime, and abundance of exposition accounting for things modern audiences take for granted.

It feels almost like a “beta” release for the superhero blockbuster.
It’s notable how “X-Men” hedges its bets, unsure that audiences are ready for a proper full-blooded superhero blockbuster.

The film’s setting is still synopsised as “the near future” and Patrick Stewart’s narration (and Patrick Stewart himself) contextualise it as a sci-fi film.
Notably, “X-Men” is much more careful about its blunt “this is what each character can do” exposition and set-up than a lot of later blockbusters that take this stuff for granted.

I actually don’t mind this (almost Claremontian) excessive clarity.
However, “X-Men” is surprisingly like the superhero films that would follow.

The opening to “X-Men” was a rarity for a blockbuster to that point, but unheard of for a comic book film.

It’s still one of the iconic comic book movie scenes. It takes the premise seriously.
Opening a superhero film at a concentration camp was a risky move. It’s an absurdly fine line to walk in terms of taste. (See: “Apocalypse.”)

But it signals a willingness to accept the source material at face value in a way no previous comic book adaptation had.
This willingness to take the material seriously carries over in other ways.

I love the Burton “Batman”, Donner “Superman” and the first two “Blade” movies, but “X-Men” takes its characters more seriously.

“When they come out... does it hurt?”
“Every time.”

A beautiful moment.
“... to become what the children affectionately call X-Men.”

I had completely forgotten about Charles Xavier’s extended voice over guide to the School for Gifted Youth.

Which is another example of the film’s uncertainty about whether or not the audience can keep up.
It also helps that “X-Men” cannily casts Wolverine as an extremely cynical audience member. He’s basically a sulking teen doing RiffTrax on the film.

It’s similar to the ironic deadpan snarking we’ve come to associate with MCU films, but not quite as self-satisfied.
Underrated narrative choice in “X-Men”: the twist that the film is about Rogue and not Logan.

The twist works in the context of the film, of the source material and ESPECIALLY of the films that follow.

All of which suggest the audience should focus on Logan.
While there’s no doubt bringing back Patrick Stewart was the right choice, I wonder if a version of “Logan” with Logan and Rogue could have worked.

(There is nice symmetry in “Logan” in how the film parallels the Logan/Laura relationship with the Logan/Rogue one from “X-Men.”)
As an aside, “X-Men” benefits greatly from doing a lot of low-key comic book stuff very well. It’s a bit more serious than a lot of comic book films to that point, but it’s still very comic-book-y movie.

The soap opera Logan/Jean/Scott triangle is pure comic book, for example.
Similarly, Magneto’s frankly insane plot to turn a bunch of world leaders into mutants (who will most likely explode) is pure comic book nonsense.

And the film is unapologetic about that, committing whole hog to a scheme that’s comparable to Lex Luthor’s landgrab in “Superman.”
“X-Men” gets away with a lot just by casting Stewart and McKellen.

Again, I love the Donner “Superman” or Burton “Batman” movies, but Stewart and McKellen raise the bar on the types of performances in the live action superhero genre.

McKellen treats Magneto as a real person.
“You going to tell me to stay away from your girl?”
“If I had to do that, then she wouldn’t be my girl.”

The “X-Men” movies have no real idea how to use Cyclops, but I dig his straight laced stuck-in-the-mud western hero persona here.

To the surprise of nobody who knows me.
It feels like pop culture has only recently caught on to James Marsden’s strengths as a performer; his very old-fashioned factory-designed good-looks-and-forthrightness persona.

Cyclops typifies that persona very well. He’s a standard hero. Just a kinda dull one.
So, hey, where’s the internet outrage mob about Wolverine stealing Cyclops’ motorbike?

As an aside, there are few cultural markers in “X-Men” that anchor the film as firmly in the context of 2000 as firmly as the inclusion of Fluke’s “Atom Bomb” in Logan’s joyriding sequence.
There’s a sense of the film not entirely understanding the genre that it’s codifying.

The film has an ensemble roughly equivalent to that of the first “Avengers” movie. Twelve years early.

However, while it gives Storm and Cyclops good scenes, it struggles to give them arcs.
As an aside, Toad is one of the great goofy comic book elements in “X-Men.”

There’s a short scene where he kills guards on Ellis Island by hopping on them in the style of Mario.

Ridiculous in a comic book fashion.
In terms of balancing its influences and being its own thing, I really like Michael Kamen’s score to “X-Men.”

It comes close enough at times to evoking the iconic soundscape of the nineties cartoon - especially in the Blackbird sequences - but without ever being pandering.
“You're so full of sh!t. lf you're really
so righteous, it'd be you in that thing.”

Much like how Nolan’s “Dark Knight” later approaches the Joker, “X-Men” is clear that Magneto is a villain.

No matter how good their rhetoric or arguments, they still cause innocents to suffer.
It’s interesting how effectively “X-Men” codified a nascent genre.

In particular, despite being released in July 2000, it feels surprisingly like a “War on Terror” blockbuster in terms of tone, theme, content.

Which may explain why “X-Men II” feels much more comfortable.
The first “X-Men” movie finds a terrorist hatching a plot to radically destabilise global political structures, which involves weaponising (and destroying part of) a New York landmark.

Again, it’s odd that the film arrived in July 2000.
This is one of those strange synchronicities of “X-Men” and the soon-to-be-standard superhero blockbuster.

The film prefigures a lot of what would follow, but not everything. And so it feels out of place slightly, out of time. A genre uncanny valley.
Similarly, “X-Men” provides the first formal intersection of Joss Whedon and the superhero genre, its influence on “Buffy” notwithstanding.

But again, the synchronicity is weird and uncanny. Only two of Whedon’s lines made it into the finished film.

Almost, but not quite.
In terms of that weird transitional uncanny valley that “X-Men” occupies, the ending is surprisingly old-fashioned.

The music soars in a way that an MCU film would never allow. The characters cradle each other melodramatically.

There is heightened, emotive ANGST.
It also helps that “X-Men” cleverly decides to close on a low-key closing scene between Charles and Erik, allowing Stewart and McKellen to wrap a bow on the film.

Part of this just two great actors, but part of this is also helpful reframing of thematic concerns.
#NowWatching “X-Men II.”

It’s perhaps the film in the franchise most impacted by revelations about Bryan Singer.

It’s harder to separate Singer from the film than other “X-Men” films, as it’s both the one most about young men and most explicit in its metaphors about sexuality.
Which is a shame, because “X-Men II” is comfortably one of the best three films in the franchise. And one of the best superhero movies ever made.

It’s a staggeringly confident piece of work, and one that feels much more sure of what it is than the original “X-Men.”
While the original “X-Men” felt like a twenty-first century blockbuster waiting for the future to arrive, “X-Men II” understands that the future is now.

It’s more confident, more comfortable, more assured. It looks and feels a lot more like a modern blockbuster.
The budget has been bulked up, the runtime is now a muscular (and soon to be standard) two-hours-plus, the cast has been expanded, the action has been escalated.

“X-Men II” feels like a model more confidently built to the outline that the original “X-Men” traced.
That opening scene with Nightcrawler in the White House is an all-timer, immediately escalating both the scale and the stakes of “X-Men II.”

(In some ways, it’s a reminder of the under-acknowledged influence of “The Matrix” on the form of modern superhero blockbusters.)
This applies in narrative as well as spectacle. “X-Men II” expands on the dichotomy of “X-Men”, adding a third spoke to the franchise wheel.

Stryker is a human mirror to Magneto, positioning Charles between them. The film even literally signposts Stryker as a foil to Xavier.
Alkali Lake is the twisted mirror of Xavier’s School for Gifted Youth; Stryker can literally move Cerebro there and corrupt it.

Wolverine is condemned at Alkali Lake, but redeemed by Xavier. Stryker labotomises and exploits his son, while Xavier guides his surrogate children.
“X-Men” and “X-Men II” have little idea what to do with Xavier, narratively. Each incapacitates him for extended chunks of the plot.

But this works thematically, showcasing the idea that Xavier has trained his children to succeed without him. He has succeeded as a parent.
This is probably the best unambiguously heroic portrayal you can offer of Charles Xavier, who is a deeply complicated figure if you stop to think about him at all.

I much prefer the approach that “First Class” takes to Charles Xavier, but we’ll get to that, if there’s time.
(Of course, there’s something awkward in the way that “X-Men” and “X-Men II” present the old dude training a bunch of young kids into a paramilitary fighting force as a monument to his own ego as “unambiguously heroic.”

Again, Singer casts an uncomfortably long shadow.)
I’m a big fan of thematic exposition, so I adore the heavily symbolic reintroduction of the eponymous team at a museum discussing themes like extinction and evolution.

Again, “X-Men II” feels a lot like a modern superhero blockbuster; allegory, theme, metaphor.
Brian Cox never went away, but one of the many things that modern cinema owes to “X-Men II” is the reintroduction of Cox to a modern cinematic audience.

He’s amazing here. And, as a gruff no-nonsense Scot, an effective contrast to the more refined English Stewart and McKellen.
“Stryker, do you really want to turn this into some kind of war?
“I was piloting black ops missions in Vietnam while you were sucking on your mama's tit. Don't lecture me about war. This already is a war.”

See what I mean about “X-Men II” as a twenty-first century blockbuster?
Despite coming out in July 2000, the original “X-Men” felt like a template for the modern “War in Terror” blockbuster.

So it’s no surprise that “X-Men II” feels in step with the mood of the moment, down to casting Stryker as an embodiment of the military-industrial complex.
“These lights represent every living person on the planet. Through Cerebro I'm connected to them, and they to me. You see, Logan? We're not as alone as you think.”

Interestingly, “X-Men II” plays Xavier as a hangover of sixties liberalism.
To a certain extent, this itself feels like a hangover from nineties blockbusters; the decade isn’t entirely gone by this point.

The nineties was haunted by anxieties concerning the legacy of sixties liberalism; “Forest Gump” is perhaps the most explicit example.
In that context, “X-Men II” explicitly frames the “War In Terror” as the latest cultural battle between the military industrial complex embodied by Stryker and classic idealistic liberalism embodied by Xavier.

And the film treats it as something of a hangover from the sixties.
Stryker’s conscription/enslavement of Lady Deathstrike is another point of comparison with Xavier’s redemption of Wolverine.

(Magneto even helpfully articulates the contrast by comparing Xavier’s attempted redemption of Wolverine to his failure with Jason Stryker.)
In terms of “X-Men II” as a twenty-first century blockbuster, it’s notable how the film chooses to adapt the character of William Stryker.

In the comic that inspired the film, Stryker was a preacher; maybe he would be today. But in 2003, it made sense to cast him as a soldier.
The mansion attack in “X-Men II” remains one of the genre’s great set pieces.

It’s visceral, atmospheric, emotive and effective. It still works today.
The reunion between Logan and Stryker during the mansion attack is positively Spielbergian; an estranged, confused son confronted with a bad, absent dad.

It’s surprisingly emotionally powerful. It’s much more evocative than anything in “Infinity War” or “Endgame.”
And then the film takes a sharp pivot into pure pulpy exploitation; the surprisingly brutal “too much iron in your blood” sequence.

It’s weird, macabre, goofy. And it is arguably more comic booky than anything in the majority of Marvel Cinematic Universe films.
“X-Men II” also riffs on older blockbuster templates.

The splitting of the team into smaller groups, scattering them to the wind to expand the scope of the story, is from the “Empire Strikes Back” template.

It makes “X-Men II” feel much bigger than “X-Men” did.
This expanded scope also means (paradoxically) “X-Men II” does a much better job with its characters than “X-Men”, despite a much larger cast.

Alan Cumming’s Nightcrawler is great, despite his small role. Although it still seems like the films have no idea what to do with Storm.
And there’s still room for lovely small scenes that ground the narrative, like Bobby’s awkward reunion with his family, which firmly anchors “X-Men II” as a queer narrative.

In what feels like a conscious and effective updating of the franchise’s history as a metaphor for race.
Any fantasy metaphor for race or sexual orientation will inevitably be clumsy and awkward - at the very least, literally “othering.”

But “X-Men II” makes a strong argument for the franchise working better as a metaphor for sexuality than for race.
That said, the sequence in which dull white dude Ronny Drake calls the cops (who respond hyper-aggressively) about some mutants just chatting in his house suggests that the racial metaphor of the X-Men may have (tragically) aged better than anyone would have anticipated in 2003.
As with the original “X-Men”, there’s something very melodramatic and heightened in how “X-Men II” approaches its emotional storytelling.

It’s a lot more earnest than contemporary blockbusters, a lot more transparently emotional. There’s nothing wrong with this.
In keeping with the recurring sense that “X-Men II” is solidifying the blueprint of the modern comic book movie, it includes a lot of foreshadowing and set-up.

A lot of Jean’s role in “X-Men II” is set-up for a hypothetical sequel, rather than existing for its own purpose.
In some ways, the relationship between “X-Men II” and “X-Men III” showcases the risks of taking such an approach.

Because “X-Men III” has no idea what to do with Jean, it casts a weird shadow over her otherwise solid arc in “X-Men II.”
“Why not stay in disguise all the time?”
“Because we shouldn’t have to.”

Despite how complicated the plot to “X-Men II” becomes, it cannily remains focused on its core thematic dynamics.

It never loses sight of its core ideas, which keeps it steady despite its scope.
“We love what you’ve done with your hair.”

I love catty Magneto. Indeed, McKellen spends an extended stretch in the middle of “X-Men II” just being sassy and condescending to the rest of the cast.

It’s brilliant.
The “enemy mine” plot in the second half of “X-Men II” is a shrewd narrative choice.

It allows for a bit of tonal variation without unbalancing the movie, casting Magneto and Mystique as showy, snarky and vampy foils to the more earnest heroes and villains.
Magneto’s betrayal in the third act cleverly rebalances the film.

It initially appears like “X-Men II” is setting Stryker up as an opposite to Xavier, but the climax reveals Magneto as the true opposite of Stryker.

Magneto conspires to just reverse Stryker’s genocidal plan.
This positions Xavier as the balance between the two extremes of Stryker and Magneto, earnestly believing in the possibility of peaceful coexistence between man and mutant rather than dominance of one over other.

It’s the franchise’a purest argument for Xavier’s heroism.
On that note, it’s amazing how much of the “X-Men” franchise flows from “X-Men II.”

It is very much the franchise’s ur-text, more than the original “X-Men.” Which makes sense, as it’s much more successful.
“X-Men III” is obviously a direct sequel.

“Origins” extends a few disjointed flashbacks to a film. Which means so does “Deadpool.”

“First Class” shifts the emphasis in its homo sapien history lesson. “DoFP” involves Stryker. Even “Apocalypse” goes back to Alkali Lake.
I wonder if the success of “X-Men II” tainted the franchise, introducing ideas that became albatrosses around the franchise’s neck.

The need to include Magneto in EVERY “X-Men” movie, the centring of the mythology on Logan, needing every film to be about mutant/human prejudice.
This is similar to how “Goldfinger”, while brilliant of itself, codified a number of tropes and conventions that came to overwhelm a lot of later entries in the “James Bond” franchise.

Just because things are good ideas in particular cases doesn’t mean they’re ALWAYS good ideas.
“We've got to get to Washington. I fear this has gone beyond Alkali Lake.”

“X-Men II” is willing to put its heroes in the Oval Office, threatening the sitting President of the United States.

“Black Panther” would have been a better film if it had been that brave.
“We're here to stay, Mr President. The next move is yours.”
“We'll be watching.”

It’s strange to see the “X-Men” movies had a much stronger political conscience less than two years after 9/11, than the Marvel Cinematic Universe has had two years into the Trump Administration.
#NowWatching “X-Men III.”

Bryan Singer’s gone. Now surely Fox can hire a director who isn’t a sex pest.

There have to lots of great options out there, right?

Brett Ratner. I’m sure he’s a perfectly solid gu—

Speaking of aspects of “X-Men III” that have dated horribly, that CGI That they used to de-age Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen is really something, isn’t it? In the worst way.

(Again, the “X-Men” movies herald the future in a variety of ways, not always for the best.)
There’s a lot to like in “X-Men III”, perhaps too much to love. The film seems unable and unwilling to focus on any one thing, instead awkwardly hedging its bets.

Notably, the film contains two pre-credit teasers from two different plots; Jean and Angel. Pick one of the two.
In keeping with the “too much of a good thing”, look at the secondary cast on this think; Bill Duke, Anthony Heald!

None of whom get anything to do, but it’s kinda good to see them.
“When an individual acquires great power, the use or misuse of that power is everything. Will it be for the greater good or will it be used for personal or for destructive ends?”

“X-Men III” carries over that theme-as-dialogue from “X-Man II”, but it’s clumsy and lacking nuance.
“I don’t answer to my slave name.”
“Did he just call me boy?”

This lack of subtlety or nuance carries over to the dialogue and politics of “X-Men III.”

There’s something mocking and cartoonish in how ”X-Men III” appropriates the language of African American experience.
“X-Men” and “X-Men II” seemed more genuinely sympathetic to their oppressed characters than “X-Men III”, which has (African American) woman-who-controls-the-weather lecture the-girl-who-kills-all-she-touches and blue-lion-man about solidarity

It’s an ill-judged moment.
There’s a sense in which “X-Men III” loses its grip on the queer subtext that made “X-Men II” so effective, and which gave it so much depth.

After all, the entire “Cure” storyline is built around contemporary concepts like “conversion therapy”, which should be easy to build on.
And there are shades of this that carry over, such as the use of “Angel” as the focal point of the cure storyline.

Angel implicitly ties the whole “cure” storyline to a broader religious context, but “X-Men III” refuses to articulate its politics as clearly as “X-Men II.”
Then again, one of the big problems with the “cured” storyline is that it breaks the central metaphor of the “X-Men”, which - as discussed - is a fragile thing.

There’s a reason why Rogue might want a cure. There’s no real-life justification for “conversion therapy.”
So “X-Men III” seems very mealy-mouthed and full of false equivalences.

Coupled with the deliberately mocking use of “slave” dialogue, and the awkwardness of the “Phoenix” plot, this makes “X-Men III” feel very reactionary in its politics.
“X-Men III” has no idea what to do with the “Phoenix” plot it inherits from “X-Men II”, hence hedging its bets by heaping ANOTHER a-plot on top of it.

This means the “Phoenix” plot is simplified down to “woman gets too much power, needs to be killed.”

Which is not ideal.
To be fair, emphasising Charles’ manipulation of Jean avoids the worst possible reading of this.

However, the film doubles down on the very simplistic moral of “absolute power corrupting absolutely.”

((Which paradoxically helps make the “cure” plot seem more reasonable.))
One of the most surreal things about “X-Men III” is that it’s only one hundred minutes long; about the same length as the original “X-Men.”

The edit is chopping, jarring, abrupt. Ratner doesn’t give anything room to breath, even WITHIN his action scenes.
Oddly enough, “X-Men III” feels a lot like the contemporary superhero “event” blockbusters, like “Infinity War” or “Endgame.”

It’s an ethos of “more!”

More characters, more plot, more stakes, more spectacle; all crammed into a tightly-defined space with no room to breath.
Much like the standard superhero blockbuster didn’t exist when “X-Men” was released, nobody could imagine “Infinity War” or “Endgame” when “X-Men III” was invented.

It’s not too hard to imagine a version of “X-Men IIl” with an extra hour added on to it; an even more unholy mess.
It’s a shame, because there are a lot of little elements in “X-Men III” that work of themselves, the flip side of the “more” philosophy driving the films.

Kelsey Grammar is great casting as Beast. (Being honest, even just his voice; it’s telling he was brought back for “DoFP.”)
Similarly, Magneto’s characterisation in “X-Men III” is pretty much perfect, such as his attempted manipulation of Jean and his eagerness to eulogise Charles once he’s no longer a threat.

But I especially love how easily and casually he abandons Mystique when she’s depowered.
A microcosm of the problems with “X-Men III”: the entire montage set to R. Lee Ermey explaining that the military is using plastic weapons, when the film can’t take an equivalent amount of time for characterisation.

This speaks to what “X-Men III” thinks is important.
Incidentally, the cynical deaths of recurring characters to raise the stakes in “X-Men III” is another way in which it accidentally prefigures the cynicism of “Infinity War” and “Endgame.”

It’s the comic book concept of “the illusion of change”, as Charles is back soon enough.
“You men guard the doors! Everybody get together and hold this line!

The presentation of the climax of “X-Men III” as a literal military battle for Alcatraz also prefigures the explicit militarisation of the superhero blockbuster.
Notably, a lot of later Marvel Cinematic Universe entries - “Black Panther”, “Infinity War”, “Endgame” - all feature our heroes literally serving as battalion commanders.

“X-Men III” seems ahead of the curve in that regard.
The inclusion of elements like the memetic “I’m the Juggernaut, b!tch!” (and even the Iceman/Pyro battle) in “X-Men III” also speaks to the future.

“X-Men III” prefigures a lot of the modern fan service and pandering we expect from modern studio blockbusters.
Unsurprisingly, Ratner’s style works best when he can handle “X-Men III” like a late nineties blockbuster, asking over-qualified actors to deliver cheesy one-liners.

“I thought you were a diplomat.”
“As Churchill said, "There comes a time..." (Smack!) Oh, you get the point!”
So, question for the audience:

Should I watch “X-Men: Origins - Wolverine” or jump straight to “X-Men: First Class”, knowing that I may not get through this binge if I do the Wolverine films?
As an aside, I feel like I should clarify that despite all of this, I don’t hate “X-Men III” as much as most fans.

I find it a fascinating misfire, a bizarre curiousity that has more in common with contemporary superhero blockbusters than many of its detractors would concede.
In terms of the major superhero franchise misfires of the 2000s, “X-Men III” has lower highs and higher lows than the similarly compelling car crash that is “Spider-Man III.”

“X-Men III” is probably a better film than “Spider-Man III”, but a less interesting one.
Because I’m at home for the weekend, and because mum likes Hugh Jackman, apparently my “X-Men” binge has taken a turn.

#NowWatching “X-Men Origins: Wolverine.”
Look, I suspect I’m going to be scrounging for nice things to say about “X-Men: Origins - Wolverine.”

So that historical montage opening credits sequence is pretty great, eh?
One of the strangest things about “X-Men: Origins - Wolverine” is how it refuses to learn any lessons from “X-Men III.”

I mean, this is nominally a Wolverine origin story, and they can’t help but cram it to the gills with unnecessary super-people.

It’s absurdly cluttered.
Much like “Always Be My Maybe” reflects the actual (rather than the remembered) quality of the nineties romantic comedy, “X-Men: Origins - Wolverine” reflects the actual (rather than the remembered) quality of the eighties action movie.
There are a lot of issues with “X-Men: Origins - Wolverine”, but one of the most damning is that it’s just retreading ground that “X-Men II” already covered efficiently.

And using stock clichés to fill out the gaps created by stretching it to an hour and fifty minutes.
The fridging of Kayla Silverfox to spur Wolverine to action is a great example of “X-Men: Origins - Wolverine” using tired clichés to paper over the gaps in the plot outline given to it by “X-Men II.”

Why did Wolverine enlist in Weapon X? Because his girlfriend died. It’s lazy.
Similarly, there’s something more ominous suggested in “X-Men II” than “X-Men: Origins - Wolverine” delivered.

In “X-Men II”, Stryker suggested Logan was a monster before Weapon X, meaning that his redemption arc has weight.

But “Origins” insists he always had a conscience.
While these decisions to use clichés to fill the gaps in the template established by “X-Men II” are lazy, there are other more inexplicable choices.

There’s a weird extended “Superman” homage in the middle of “X-Men: Origins - Wolverine”, which makes no damn sense.
As an aside, Liev Schreiber is the best thing about “X-Men: Origins - Wolverines.”

He deserved a much better film.
While the decision to have Logan lose his memory at the end of the film makes narrative and structural sense for “X-Men: Origins - Wolverine”, it does unfortunately divorce his memory loss from the physical reinvention at Weapon X.

Which thematically muddles his story somewhat.
To be fair, “X-Men: Origins - Wolverine” works best when it’s willing to be a stupid eighties action movie about a dude who rides a motorbike, flips trucks, and blows up helicopters.

🎵Cool guys don’t look at explosions...🎶
Similarly, the sequence in which Logan has to get information out of his old washed-up combat buddy who now lives in a grimey gym through the medium of boxing is goofy stupid eighties action movie fun.

It’s very, very silly, but I’m kinda on board with it.
Unfortunately, for every scene like that one, you get nonsense like “X-Men Babies: Cyclops.”
“X-Men: Origins - Wolverine” is also a grim reminder of those dark times when Hollywood was trying to make Gambit and Tyler Kitsch things.

Well, at the very least they’ve given up on the latter.
The second half of “Wolverine” is just a mess. It’s a bunch of tie-ins and cross-brand promotion, set up for spin-offs and sequels that would never materialise.
That said, the sequence in which Wolverine chops through a fire escape like a log allows me to forgive a lot of the problems with “X-Men: Origins - Wolverine.”

But not nearly enough.
Another inexplicable narrative choice: William Stryker’s primary motivation is the murder of his wife by his son Jason.

“X-Men: Origins - Wolverine” somehow decides to deliver this motivation entirely through one clumsy exposition-driven scene with a minor character.
Speaking of mistakes that “X-Men: Origins - Wolverine” imports wholesale from “X-Men III”...

... it’s creepy CGI Patrick Stewart!
Again, there are flashes of trashy b-movie brilliance amid the over-stuffed and muddled climax, including the sequence in which Wade’s decapitated laser-firing head is dumped into a cooling tower causing spirals of destruction.
#NowWatching “X-Men: First Class.”

Which is the best “X-Men” movie. I will not be taking questions at this time.

In part because I’m about to have dinner.
“I won’t make you stay. I could. But I won’t.”

The best thing that “X-Men: First Class” has going for it is that it understands how creepy Charles Xavier is.

Is eschews the simplistic heroic portrayal of Charles in “X-Men” and “X-Men II.”
From its opening scenes, “X-Men: First Class” repeatedly makes the point that idealistic liberalism of Charles Xavier is a result of insulated privilege.

Charles has the wealth and the luxury of avoiding the sort of prejudice that people like Erik and Raven experience firsthand.
“Honestly, Charles, I don’t know how you survived, living in such hardship.”

“X-Men: First Class” renders this subtext explicit with the Xavier family mansion.

It’s no surprise that Charles’ stepfather built a bomb shelter. Charles is building a shelter for human extinction.
In many ways, “First Class” is a much more cynical work than “X-Men II.”

“X-Men II” opened with an argument that cohabitation between two subspecies was possible.

Charles’ theses in “First Class” argues that one subspecies must eventually replace the other.
“First Class” owes a lot to Mark Millar’s “Ultimate X-Men”, which isn’t a surprise given that Goldman and Vaughn have a history with Millar.

Millar’s cynical portrayal of Charles Xavier as a manipulative self-centred egotist was the highlight of an otherwise messy run.
It’s very clear watching “First Class” that Charles believes that human extinction is inevitable, and that the best he can do is to make sure the death throes are as painless and non-disruptive as possible.

He’s effectively preparing mutantkind to wait mankind out.
“Are you really so naive as to believe that they won’t battle their own extinction? Or is it arrogance?”

“First Class” implies that Erik understands Charles better than anybody else.

They both believe in mutant supremacy, in different forms.
The difference between Charles and Erik is that, insulated by wealth and privilege, Charles believes that he can “go along to get along.”

Notably, he unthinkingly “outs” Hank at his job and is perfectly willing to help the CIA identify and track mutants as long as it suits him.
Shrewdly, “First Class” realises that an upper class white dude with mind control powers is a #metoo nightmare waiting to happen.

((Even if he wasn’t using mind control, he’s likely using mind reading. And even if he isn’t, he’s still a professor hitting on drunken coeds.))
I like this more cynical and complicated portrayal of Xavier, because it’s the only one that really makes sense.

This is a dude with mind control powers who trains a bunch of kids to be his own private militia.

Plus, it makes his relationship with Magneto more interesting.
“First Class” also benefits from a mesmerising performance from Fassbender as Magneto.

Fassbender has been a lot less efficiently served by his scripts than McKellen, but I don’t think McKellen was ever *quite* as good as Fassbender is here.
It helps that (superficially) “First Class is the best-looking “X-Men” film. Some of the CGI is a bit ropey, but still looks better than “X-Men III” or “X-Men: Origins - Wolverine.”

It’s amazing so few superhero films are period pieces. The sixties hypersaturation really works.
There are a number of really breathtaking shots/sequences from “First Class.”

I’m fond of this cross-cut tracking shot, cutting between the coin going through Shaw’s head and Charles experiencing the pain of that coin going through his head. Some great work from Vaughn.
I’m also very fond of how Vaughn uses the 180° rule in the early scene with Erik and Shaw.

The room looks like an office for the first half of the conversation, and only THEN do we get a shot of the monstrous laboratory.
Due to time constraints, I may not get to rewatch “The Wolverine” before “Dark Phoenix”, so here’s a thread from my last rewatch.

I am very fond of it, for all its flaws.

Incidentally, one of the projects I pitched that never came to fruition was a collaboration with @Speakin_Geek and @GrahamGeekEire looking at the “X-Men” franchise film-by-film.

But time gets away from us.
#NowWatching “X-Men: Days of Future Past”, which is a very odd film.

The “X-Men” franchise doing a gigantic crossover event film, but realizing that they have a finite number of characters.

So what do we do? We bring back all the old actors for one big hurrah!
To a certain extent, “Days of Future Past” feels like a series finale. It feels a lot closer to “All Good Things...” than “Endgame” does.

At its heart, the film is about reconciling past and future with one another, which gives it a strange air of finality.
Matthew Vaughn reportedly wanted to position “Days of Future Past” as the third and final installment of his prequel “X-Men” trilogy.

This arguably makes a great deal more sense than jumping directly from “X-Men: First Class” to this.
Indeed, much like “First Class”, the opening scenes of “Days of Future Past” consciously evoke the iconic opening of “X-Men.”

This solidified the sense in which these two films are bookends of one another. History repeats, unless a cycle can be broken.
“You’re going to have to do for me what I did for you a long time ago.”

Similarly, there’s a nice symmetry in Logan becoming a mentor to Charles, reflecting how much the character has grown and evolved.

(Similar to Jason Aaron’s superb “Wolverine and the X-Men.”)
Indeed, “Days of Future Past” finally delivers on the threat of the Sentinels, teased through the original trilogy but outside of production capacity at the time.

It feels like the logical conclusion of the “feared and hated” arc that has run through the four films to date.
((Of course, playing “Days of Future Past” as a culmination of all of this creates an obvious problem.

What do the “X-Men” films become with all these ideas taken to their logical conclusion? What’s next?

To be fair, this is not a problem with “Days of Future Past.”))
“Days of First Class” does demonstrate some of the unintended and unforeeable issues created by the success of “First Class.”

Most notably the manner in which the good fortune of casting Michael Fassbender and Jennifer Lawrence distorts the flow of the prequel films.
This is an example of the “X-Men” franchise existing in the uncanny valley between modern comic book films and more conventional fare.

Lawrence and Fassbender are stars, so folding them into “Apocalypse” and “Dark Phoenix” is a necessity, even if Magneto and Mystique don’t fit.
There’s no need for Magneto and Mystique to hang around after “Days of Future Past” wraps up the larger “feared and hated” arc, and as the franchise tried to move on.

But the gravity of Fassbender and Lawrence is too strong. Even in “Days of Future Past”, they seem squeezed in.
That said, the seventies setting of “Days of Future Past” is perfect.

The sense of lost idealism after all the tumult and potential of the sixties, disillusionment and cynicism creeping into discourse.

(And it helps that it echoes the 2010s, when the film was released.)
As an aside, I love that “Days of Future Past” has Trask quoting from Charles Xavier’s college thesis from “First Class”, pointing out that even the “good” mutants believe human extinction is inevitable.

In case you didn’t get that Charles is not as nice as he presents himself.
The Quicksilver sequences in “Days of Future Past” are phenomenal.

And, given that a different version of Quicksilver appeared in “Age of Ultron” a year later, they are a handy illustration of the differences between the X-Men films and the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
“Age of Ultron” (and the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe) refuses to have the same sort of fun with superpowers as “Days of Future Past” (and the larger X-Men films).

The MCU has nothing as fun as “... too much iron in your blood” or “Time in a Bottle.”
((Of course, the MCU doesn’t have Bryan Singer, so it probably has the better part of the deal. To be fair and clear.))
“Days of Future Past” cleverly carries over Charles’ characterisation from “First Class.” Most notably the sense that his self-importance doesn’t always reflect his ability or intelligence.

The sequence of him trying to bluff the Pentagon guards without his powers is hilarious.
As with “First Class”, “Days of Future Past” does an excellent job invoking pop history; the texture of the memory of the seventies.

The anxiety, the disillusionment; Vietnam, the Pentagon, the Paris Summit.

Again, it’s a shame so few superhero films are period pieces.
“The girl I raised was not capable of killing.”
“You didn't raise her, you grew up with her. She couldn't stay a girl forever, that's why she left.”
“She left because you got inside her head.”
“That's not my power. She made a choice.”

Charles confronts his attitude to women.
Again, as with Trask citing his thesis from “First Class”, there’s a sense in which “Days of Future Past” is explicitly acknowledging Charles’ creepy and exploitative attitude towards Raven in particular and women in general in “First Class.”
The entire Paris sequence is pure blockbuster brilliance.

Magneto turning on Raven; Magneto dragging Raven along the ground using the bullet; the use of stylised camcorder footage intercut with the action; Wolverine’s “really bad acid trip.”

All happening simultaneously.
Also, I’m always a sucker for pop culture that uses Richard Nixon as Cinematic shorthand for public disillusionment and the erosion of the American Dream.

So that’s a bonus point for “Days of Future Past.”
Despite the convoluted nature of the plot driving “Days of Future Past”, which has at least as many moving parts as “X-Men III”, the film works because it retains a tight focus.

At its core, “Days of Future Past” remains a simple story about one woman’s choice and decision.
“Days of Future Past” all comes down to Mystique’s choice.

This is perhaps an overly simplistic approach to the arc of history and to the franchise’s broader themes about oppression and systemic violence.

But it tethers an otherwise messy, complicated film in a simple conflict.
Like “Endgame”, “Days of Future Past” is a film in which the past and future exist in conversation; the old and the young.

But while “Endgame” makes the past subject to the whims of the present, “Days of Future Past” understands that the future belongs to the young.
“Days of Future Past” is about an older generation realising how horrifically they’ve screwed up, and that the best thing they can do is to erase themselves from existence to give a younger, newer generation a chance.

Again, a very seventies (and very contemporary) theme.
It’s a theme common to a lot of contemporary pop culture, most notably films like “The Last Jedi.”

Yoda’s advice to Luke, “We are what they grow beyond.”

They idea that the older generation’s primary responsibility is to help ensure their children no longer need them.
I quite like the “Rogue Cut” Of “Days of Future Past”, even if it throws off the rhythms of the film somewhat.

It gives the older generation something to do. It also very effectively cross-cuts between younger Magneto and his older self, underscoring his growth and evolution.
Notably, even giving the older cast another “big damn heroes” moment in the middle of the film, the “Rogue Cut” retains that theme of the future belonging to the young.

It literally burns down Xavier’s Mansion as it existed in the original trilogy.
Unfortunately, “Days of Future Oast” falters a bit in its third act.

This isn’t quite the culmination of the MCU-ification of the “X-Men” films, as “Apocalypse” is just around the corner.

However, it comes close. A climax on a blockbuster scale just to have one.
There’s a point with these films where it just becomes “too much”, where what are fairly simple conflicts get drowned out in CGI and spectacle.

“Days of Future Past” doesn’t go as far as many, or even most, but it goes a little too far.
By the climax of “Days of Future Past”, Magneto already feels like a gatecrasher at the party.

It’s a shame, as there’s a lot of good stuff involving Magneto earlier in the film and “First Class” is pretty much the best Magneto story you could ask for.
That said, the decision to have Magneto literally kick Wolverine out of the climax (and into the river) is a smart decision.

It allows the climax to focus on the characters to whom the climax actually belongs.
Interestingly, the action choreography in the future sequences is much better at balancing the number of actors in play than the climactic seventies sequence.

It features some genuinely inventive use of superpower physics, while remaining easy to follow. That’s no mean feat.
I suppose we might as well finish this.

#NowWatching “X-Men: Apocalypse.”

Which is strange. Although released a year earlier, and although this is only two years ago, I tend to think of “Apocalypse” as coming after “Logan”, instead of vice versa.
With “Apocalypse”, you have the “X-Men” film franchise confronting an existential question.

The past five films have all been about anti-mutant prejudice. The well is dry after sixteen years.

So... what else do you have?
The comics always understood that “anti-mutant” prejudice couldn’t be the only support for the “X-Men” franchise.

The “X-Men” are one of the most versatile comic franchises out there; time travel, parallel worlds, space adventures.

But the films had never really branched out.
You could argue that “Days of Future Past” opened the door with its time-travel plot, but even that was in service of a very overt “anti-mutant hysteria” story.

And almost a decade and a half into the franchise. As a result, leaving “Apocalypse” in a bit of a bind.
To be fair, “Apocalypse” starts off well enough.

McAvou’s opening monologue is a bit much, but the ancient Egyptian setting is different enough to suggest a fresh start.

It’s a literal and metaphorical broadening of the franchise’s world.
I also really like the bonkers opening credits of “Apocalypse”, which feel distinct from what came before.

Religion! Art! ... Culture!? ... Fascism!

It’s weird, but “Apocalypse” needs to be weird.
However, things start to get out of control pretty immediately.

“First Class” and “Days of Future Past” have a large enough cast, so it’s absurd that “Apocalypse” tries to heap a new cast on top of them.

And, to be frank, many of the younger cast members are... not great.
This feels like conscious and overt “franchise-building.”

“Apocalypse” is introducing these actors, to quote “Deadpool II”, to “carry the franchise another ten to twenty years.”

It’s a cynical exercise, subsequently revealed as a tragic one. The franchise won’t last that long.
At the same time, while introducing all these new franchise-carrying actors and characters, “Apocalypse” also has to make room for Magneto and Mystique on top of everything else.

Despite the fact that they have no place in this narrative, because they’re Fassbender and Lawrence.
These two problems are compounded by the fact that Apocalypse really isn’t that fascinating a character. In comics, he’s notable for a single storyline, one set in a parallel timeline.

But, understandably following “Days of Future Past”, “Apocalypse” doesn’t want to do that.
So the only thing that “Apocalypse” can really do with its eponymous character is use him as a generic superhero movie heavy.

He’s a stock omnicidal threat rather than an ideological menace. He’s pretty much similar to your stock MCU baddie; Malekith, Kaecelius, Ronan, Ego, etc.
All of this gets at how “Apocalypse” answers the question of, “what now, after we’ve exhausted the thematic core of the X-Men films?”

“Apocalypse” answers, “Let’s make a pretty standard superhero blockbuster with this intellectual property.”
“I felt... it was the best thing for her.”
“And for you?”
“It didn't really matter what's best for me.”

One of the creepier aspects of “Apocalypse” is how it completely misunderstands the characterisation of Charles in “First Class” and “Days of Future Past.”
“First Class” and “Days of Future Past” understood Charles was a deeply creepy and deeply selfish man, with little respect for the women around him.

In “First Class”, his wiping of Moira’s mind was selfish and pervy. However, “Apocalypse” tries to paint it as self-sacrifice.
The first time I saw it, I was quite forgiving of “Apocalypse.”

It seemed very much like the “X-Men” franchise luxuriating in the bloated blockbuster aesthetic that the original “X-Men” had helped to usher into existence.
That was before the true extent of the Singer accusations came to light. (See unthread.)

As a result, I am a lot less likely to give “Apocalypse” that benefit of the doubt today.
“Apocalypse” is what happens when you strip all the markers of the “X-Men” out of an “X-Men” blockbuster.

Most notably - and inexplicably - “Apocalypse” is the longest “X-Men” film (with the exception of the “Rogue Cut”) by a considerable distance.

Despite being fairly generic.
That genericness is particularly grating in contrast to “First Class” and “Days of Future Past.”

“Apocalypse” has nothing to say about the eighties, beyond superficial trappings and soundtrack choices. The setting is empty, vapid.

Which is perhaps metacommentary on the decade.
“Apocalypse” has nothing to say.

Magneto has been the focal point of enough “X-Men” movies his character arc seems exhausted.

His destruction of the concentration camp should be powerful and emotive, but instead seems trite and ridiculous.
Notably, none of the characters seem to have really grown or changed in the decade between “Days of Future Past” and “Apocalypse”, unlike the gap between “First Class” and “Days of Future Past.”

Even Quicksilver is still living in his mother’s basement.
Sure, Magneto has a wife and daughter in that decade between “Days of Future Past” and “Apocalypse.”

But they exist purely to serve as leverage to reset the character to factory default settings of “vengeful murderous monster.”
To give “Apocalypse” some credit, the nuclear missile launch sequence, set to Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony, is both evocative and effective.

The film could use more sequences like that.
While the “Sweet Dreams” sequence in “Apocalypse” is a rip off of the (better) “Time in a Bottle” sequence from “Days of Future Past”, it has an engaging energy.

“Apocalypse” needs more of that sort of energy, and it’s a shame so much of it is concentrated in the second act.
The film then sharply pivots from those two sequences back to the standard assembly-kit franchise-building template.

We’re back in “Weapon X”, in a sequence that exists largely to shoehorn in Hugh Jackman and completely rewrite “X-Men: Origins - Wolverine.”
At the same time, the “Weapon X” sequence in “Apocalypse” feels like it falls in the uncanny valley of franchise-building.

Much as “X-Men” landed in the uncanny valley of “War on Terror” blockbusters and “X-Men III” landed in the uncanny valley of crowded superhero blockbusters.
Of course, the uncanny qualities in “X-Men” and “X-Men III” were predictive, awkwardly foreshadowing the way in which the genre would evolve.

In “Apocalypse”, the uncanny quality comes from clumsy imitation of the franchises that have long surpassed it.
The fan service in the “Weapon X” sequence provides a bice Hugh Jackman cameo, it’s strangely backwards looking for a film that should be looking to the future.

This is revising a seven-year-old failure, featuring an actor who would be done with the franchise the following year.
It’s recognisably the sort of pandering fan service comics blockbusters do these days, like Falcon in “Ant Man” or Skurge in “Ragnarok.”

Jackman’s even wearing the costume from the comic.

But “Apocalypse” is clumsily groping at the tropes of the MCU without the in-house skill.
The climax is similarly built around “Apocalypse” trying to reconfigure the “X-Men” franchise to do what comic book movies have been doing for the previous half-decade.

Notably, “Apocalypse” is the first “X-Men” movie to feature urban devastation on the scale of an MCU film.
Again, similar to the model of fan service expected of comic book blockbusters, it’s notable how much emphasis “Apocalypse” puts on Charles Xavier finally losing his hair.

(Which was a heavy part of the marketing. “You’ll finally get to see McAvoy bald!” as a selling point.)
There’s a paradox in comics fans scoffing at the misfire of “Apocalypse” and wanting the characters incorporated into the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

“Apocalypse” is a very good indication of what an MCU “X-Men” movie would look like. Minimal politics, lots of CGI and fanservice.
“Apocalypse” is an “X-Men” movie largely stripped of what makes “X-Men” movies unique, and trying to restructure its signifiers to adhere to a more conventional comic book blockbuster template.

At the time, I thought it a curio. Now I worry it’s a harbinger.
Anyway, that wraps up my “X-Men” rewatch.

I may rewatch “Logan” tomorrow night, I may not.

If anyone cares, here are my completely “X-Men” film universe rankings.

To be honest, anything from “Deadpool” up is pretty damn watchable, in my book.
On the off-chance that you’d like slightly more refined takes on these tweet storms, I have a @letterboxd where I post slightly tweaked versions of these sorts of tweet threads.

Here’s my review of “X-Men”, for example.

Oh, and here’s my @letterboxd thoughts on “X-Men II.”

These entries are a bit longer than usual.

In some ways, “Logan” feels like a more overt follow-up to “X-Men” or “X-Men II” than “Days of Future Past” or “Apocalypse.”

Reflecting the concerns of contemporary America, its anxieties have shifted from the military-industrial complex.

“Not the car!”
In the end, “Logan” suggests that it wasn’t the military or the intelligence community that extinguished the potential of mutantkind.

It was pure unadulterated American capitalism. The soft drinks they consumed, the processed food they ate.
“Logan” is a tale of late capitalism.

The abandoned industrial space that serves as Charles’ retirement home, the shift work to pay for essential medication, the shiny casinos, the automation replacing drivers and works.

Mutantkind was rendered redundant. Man may soon follow.
Even Charles is introduced as a shell of a man, his utopian ideology absent, replaced with empty cynical shilling for the latest menu item for Taco Bell.

It’s implied his plucked it from the physic air. Of course Taco Bell survives the apocalypse.
There is no small piece of metacommentary here. After all, the “X-Men” were always a product. They’ve always cashed in.

That was particularly true after “Logan” came out, the spectre of a Disney merger on the horizon to effectively restructure the intellectual property.
“Hey, Clyde. It's 2029. Why are we still talking about mutants?”

“Logan” has a funereal tone, that rather effectively mirrors the similar sense of loss in “Days of Future Past.”

There is a sense of the “X-Men” Cinematic Universe as a spent force. This is the end of the line.
This sense of symmetry between “Days of Future Past” and “Logan” underscores how the seventies are still present in the current moment.

This is a decade of cynicism, disillusionment, recession; an era where dreams have been not so much shattered as eroded.
As ever, the internet’s ambivalence to the “X-Men” franchise seems positively surreal.

The last two films in the franchise were “Deadpool 2” and “Logan.” Skipping “Apocalypse”, the third of the last four was “Days of Future Past.”

That’s an impressive track record.
I’ve remarked before, but Donald Pierce is a great antagonist for “Logan.”

Notably, the film makes a point to emphasise how crap Pierce is as a villain. He’s repeatedly humiliated and embarrassed.

However, the fact he’s a match for Logan underscores how far the hero has fallen.
Pierce’s unashamed (and endearing) crappiness does a great job of de-escalating the stakes of “Logan.”

Which is welcome and refreshing after the numbing superhero spectacle of “Apocalypse.”

The stakes of “Logan” are more manageable, more comprehensible.
It helps that the world has already ended in “Logan”, even if the characters won’t acknowledge it.

As with the film’s anxieties about late capitalism, this taps into contemporary fears about things like climate change.

What if the world already ended, but we haven’t realised?
This is not to suggest that I believe it, merely that it’s an idea bubbling through contemporary pop culture.

This is not an anxiety unique to this cultural moment. It was quite common in late sixties and early seventies cinema.

This just a more modern take on the idea.
The modern pop cultural apocalypse tends to be more like a societal zombie; a civilisation lurching inevitably and inexorably towards an apocalypse, already well past the point of no return.

“Logan” is just one of the strongest, most successful and best examples.
“Do not think them as children. Think them as things with patents and copyrights.”

Zander Rice is an update of William Stryker for the second decade of the twenty-first century.

Unlike Stryker, Rice is not a soldier. He is a market force.

“This is business.”
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