Talking Movies [X-Men Month]: X-Men: Apocalypse


To commemorate, the culmination of their long-running and successful X-Men movies, 20th Century Fox declared May 13th as “X-Men Day”, a day to celebrate all things Mutant and X-Men and celebrate Marvel’s iconic collection of superpowered beings who fight to protect a world that hates and fears them. After exhausting all of their storylines with their original cast, save for Hugh Jackman, 20th Century Fox began producing a series of loose prequels centred on younger X-characters and, to commemorate X-Men Day this year, I’ve been spending the month looking back at the first three entries in this “Beginnings Trilogy” to see if they still hold up today.


Talking Movies

Released: May 2016
Director: Bryan Singer
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Budget: $178 million
Stars: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Oscar Isaac, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Rose Bryne, Evan Peters, Tye Sheridan, Sophie Turner, Alexandra Shipp, and Kodi Smit-McPhee.

The Plot:
In 1983, the ancient Mutant En Sabah Nur, also known as “Apocalypse” (Isaac), awakens and begins recruiting his “Four Horseman” to bring about an area of Mutant supremacy, forcing Professor Charles Xavier (McAvoy) to lead a new team of untested X-Men into battle for the sake of the entire planet.

The Background:
Since debuting in 1963, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s X-Men have seen much success as a live-action franchise, spawning first a trilogy of movies, then two spin-offs focusing on breakout character Logan/Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), before Fox created a loose set of prequels that brought in a younger cast to portray the early days of the X-Men. Even before X-Men: Days of Future Past (Singer, 2014) proved a financial success, director Bryan Singer announced the production of a sequel; thanks to a post-credits sequence in that last movie, it was clear (and later confirmed) that the next film would not only focus on long-time X-Men villain Apocalypse but also bring in younger versions of beloved X-Men characters to help populate and expand upon this new, altered timeline for the X-Men franchise. Though it made considerably less at the box office than its predecessor, X-Men: Apocalypse still accumulated a total worldwide gross of over $540 million, more than double the cost of its production. However, unlike the last two movies, reviews were mixed, to say the least; once again falling into the same trap as other X-Men movies of focusing on style and a bloated cast over substance, X-Men: Apocalypse is generally regarded as one of the weaker entries in the franchise, perhaps only eclipsed by its follow-up a few years later.

The Review:
As is the traditional of pretty much all X-Men movies, X-Men: Apocalypse starts off strong enough but, as interesting as its opening sequence (set centauries ago in ancient Egypt) is, I can’t help but feel like it could, maybe, have been skipped and moved to later in the film. It’s one of those things where we get a detailed and visually interesting scene that gives us a glimpse at Apocalypse’s powers and motivations but, later in the film, Moira McTaggart (Byrne) literally sits down with Xavier and Alex Summers/Havoc (Lucas Till) and explains to them what we already know so this opening scene could have been inserted there as a flashback. Still, the film proper takes place ten years after the end of X-Men: Days of Future Past; it’s now 1983 and our main cast hasn’t aged a day. It kind of bugged me how Till didn’t look a day older for his brief cameo in the last film but, here, his character has to be approaching…what? Fifty? Late-forties?…and he still looks no older than twenty-five. The decision to set each of these films in a different decade really shattered any suspension of disbelief the viewer might have had as they could have easily taking place in a ten- or fifteen-year period and it would have been much more convincing.

Despite returning characters pushing forty or fifty, they’re still as young and sexy as the newcomers.

Yet, armed with the knowledge of the future brought to him by, and from the memories of, Logan, Xavier has officially reopened his school and has taken on a few familiar faces: Jean Grey (the delectable Sophie Turner) is now a student of his, Henry “Hank” McCoy/Beast (Hoult) is now a teacher at the school (and inexplicably back to suppressing his blue, furry form despite the last two movies constantly teaching him to embrace his true nature), and Alex brings his younger brother, Scott/Cyclops (Sheridan) to the school when his optic blasts begin to manifest. Although his characterisation has been pretty well defined over the course of the last two movies, Beast still gets a bit of a raw deal in this film; apparently, he’s the one who built all the X-Men’s tech and training facilities (how is never really elaborated on) but his character arc in this film is his disappointment that Xavier has benched the training of new X-Men to defend the world and his growth into a senior member of the new team. We don’t get to learn too much about Jean except that her powers are potentially limitless, to the point where other students fear her, and she is empathetic towards others; her arc culminates in an impressive, if illogical, display of power at the film’s climax that sets her in motion towards her fate in the next movie. Cyclops, though, finally gets a fair deal of focus and development; he starts off as a bit of a bad boy, almost a rebellious, Wolverine-type loner, but quickly warms to his new teammates in the face of the film’s threat.

Xavier has devoted himself to teaching rather than training new X-Men, so of course Mystique becomes their leader…

Xavier, finally wheelchair bound full-time, has also embraced his role as a mentor, teacher, and father-figure to his many young students. Unconcerned with training new soldiers, Xavier believes that the world has changed for the better but quickly learns that his views are blinkered somewhat as his focus is so completely on his own little perfect bubble. When his childhood friend, Raven Darkhölme/Mystique (Lawrence), returns into his life to ask him for help in reaching Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto (Fassbender), Xavier comes to realise that Mutants are still being persecuted and mistreated across the country, and the world, and that the X-Men will be needed to defend those who cannot help themselves. After publicly saving the lives of the President and other high-ranking government officials in the last film, Mystique has become a folk hero for the Mutant community; Ororo Munroe/Storm (Shipp), especially, looks up to her and wants to be just like her. Mystique, however, sees herself as more of a mercenary as she travels the world freeing oppressed Mutants and trying to keep them safe from those who would harm them. Although still closely aligned with Magneto’s cause, she has been forced to forge her own path, one of uncertainty that is filled with doubt about her identity for the first time since X-Men: First Class (Singer, 2011). In an unexpected twist, Mystique ends up coming full circle, learning once again to embrace her true self but also re-joining the X-Men and even ending up as the lead trainer for a new generation of the team. Again, I’m not a big fan of Jennifer Lawrence and the insistence on giving her, and her character, such a big role in the beginnings of the X-Men does irk me, especially as I wanted to see Xavier and Magneto working together in that role in these films.

Once again, Erik starts off having given up his crusade and only turns after suffering another tragedy.

Speaking of Magneto, Erik begins the film poised and ready to strike back against humanity, having assembled and recruited Mutants to his cause. What? Oh, no, that’s right; that’s not what happens. Instead, Erik is now inexplicably a doting husband and father, working as a factory worker in Poland, having retired from his violent life. However, when his powers are revealed to his co-workers, a bunch of townsfolk band together to out and confront him and, with tensions high, accidentally kill his wife and daughter. Angered, he once again reassumes the role of Magneto and quickly falls under Apocalypse’s sway as the ancient Mutant feeds his grief and rage just as he increases his powers tenfold. As I mentioned before, this is pretty much par for the course for Magneto, who begins each of these films in a place of innocence, turns morally grey throughout the film, briefly appears to be the Magneto we all know and love, only to wind up having walked away from his crusade in the next film. Honestly, I find it really contrived and a little insulting that the filmmakers decided to randomly throw in a wife and child for Erik; the guy has already lived through the Second World War, seen his family (and, specifically, his mother) and people slaughtered before his eyes, been tortured and abused, and seen the very worst of humanity so you’d think he had sufficient motivation already but apparently not and he needs to have suffered the loss of his wife, daughter, and idyllic, peaceful, normal life as well. I feel this was only added to the film to pad the runtime, allow new audiences to sympathise with his plight, and to add even more angst and anger to his already complex character. Ironically, Apocalypse later sparks Magneto’s fury further by taking him back to Auschwitz which, for me, would have been enough to get Magneto under Apocalypse’s sway.

Apocalypse certainly looks accurate enough but isn’t as imposing as he should be.

As for Apocalypse…well, there’s definitely a version of him in this film, that’s for sure. Oscar Isaac is a great actor and I always appreciate casting a great actor to elevate a role but I’m not sure if he was really right for this; for one thing, he’s way too short and the filmmakers don’t really make much effort to shoot him in a way that is physically imposing. I applaud them for making him visually interesting and comic accurate rather than just another guy in a suit and tie, and he is clearly the most powerful threat the world has ever seen, but that is also a bit of an issue. Apocalypse’s powers are quite vague; he’s able to transfer his consciousness into the bodies of other Mutants when near death, thus assuming and retaining a variety of abilities, can manipulate the elements, invade the minds of others (but only to a degree), and can vastly enhance the abilities of other Mutants but, while he has a superhuman healing factor, he’s also vulnerable and mortal despite his near-immortality. Thankfully, though, Isaac delivers Apocalypse’s many grandiose speeches with an alluring charisma and he’s definitely bringing a certain quality to the role but I do think an actor of larger build and stature would have been more appropriate and I question whether a character as visually “busy” as Apocalypse really works, but I applaud them for going all-in with his design even if he spends a lot of the film posturing, pandering, and just standing around like a doughnut.

The Nitty-Gritty:
Thanks to Days of Future Past setting the young cast on a divergent timeline, I can now forgive the many, many continuity discrepancies that are present in this film. However, it still bugs me that Logan’s actions in the last film caused Warren Worthington III/Angel (Ben Hardy) and Kurt Wagner/Nightcrawler (Smit-McPhee) to be born earlier than they originally were. I assume this decision was made because of the role Angel/Archangel traditionally plays as one of Apocalypse’s Horsemen and the popularity of Nightcrawler (whose abilities and presence has haunted the series since the second film) but, while Nightcrawler gets a fair amount to do and is generally the same kind-hearted character we saw in X-Men 2 (Singer, 2003), Angel is dramatically different. Both characters are introduced as cage fighters, with Angel being a brutal, violent bad-boy; truthfully, he’s a poor substitute for Wolverine despite his similar introduction in the first film and he ends up having less and less of a role as the film goes on, degenerating into just another mindless henchman whose death is hardly even noticed.

What is Apocalypse without his Horsemen? Or an X-Men film without a massive cast?

Speaking of which, as is also tradition for the series, X-Men: Apocalypse features a far bigger cast than its predecessor; there’s something odd when a film about time travel and actors and characters from the original movies meeting those of these new ones juggles its plot and pacing better than a film that focuses only on one set of characters. However, when you do Apocalypse, you obviously have to include his Four Horsemen but, rather than follow their own lead by having him recruit existing characters like Magneto, who have already received a lot of character development, the filmmakers throw in Angel, as mentioned, and have Apocalypse recruit a young Storm and even Betsy Braddok/Psylocke (Olivia Munn). Similar to her appearances in other X-Men films, Storm is criminally under-used in X-Men: Apocalypse; she’s the first Mutant Apocalypse recruits so you’d think she would have a bigger role than just being an angry, lightning-spewing antagonist but she doesn’t really. Her thing is admiring Mystique, which is enough to turn her away from Apocalypse by the film’s end, but that’s still more of an arc than Psylocke who, despite looking fantastic and having some bad-ass moments, could be taken out of the film and you wouldn’t even notice. Unlike Storm, she doesn’t even end up on the new X-Men team by the end and she never appears in the series again, completely wasting an actress like Munn and a character a popular and visually interesting as Psylocke. Also returning is Peter Maximoff/Quicksilver (Peters) who, despite being in his thirties, still looks and acts like a hyperactive teenager. Now fully aware of his true parentage, he wishes to confront his father, Magneto, but rather than this being the anchor to bring Magneto out of Apocalypse’s control, it is, of course, Mystique who reaches Erik. As a result, Quicksilver is primarily here for another impressive super speed sequence, this time rescuing Xavier’s students when his mansion explodes.

While the visuals and cameos are fun, the film is littered with inconsistencies and wasted potential.

Later, we see just how game-breaking his abilities are as he effortlessly attacks Apocalypse and the writers actually bother to give a decent explanation for why he doesn’t just end the film by himself; Apocalypse breaks his leg, incapacitating him, and necessitating that the rest of the team (but mostly Jean) end Apocalypse’s threat. Jean’s final display of power, while impressive, seems to align with the original trilogy’s narrative that the Phoenix Force is more an extension and manifestation of Jean’s true potential, which means, of course, that the entire next movie completely contradicts what happens here as Jean doesn’t receive her Phoenix powers until the beginning of that film. Still, it’s an impressive moment, one that comes after Xavier finds himself no match for Apocalypse’s vast abilities and must call upon Jean for help. Her role could have been bigger and a bit more of her background explored, however, to help set up for this moment and I almost feel like Nightcrawler could have been dropped from the script to give more screen time to her, but she does get an entire movie dedicated to her in the sequel so I guess that makes up for it. Finally, of course, we see the return of recurring character Colonel William Stryker (Josh Helman); now suddenly shifted back to his original characterisation as a military scientist obsessed with the Mutant threat, Stryker literally drops in out of nowhere and derails the entire plot and pacing of the film for a completely pointless side quest for the new/young X-Men. However, this does also provide us with perhaps the greatest cameo by Wolverine ever; fully garbed in the Weapon X outfit and twisted into a mindless, animalistic killer, Wolverine slaughters Stryker’s men and is only calmed when Jean manages to remind him of a small piece of his past. Still, though, as awesome as this moment was, it really could have been cut or replaced by scenes more relevant to the actual plot.

The Summary:
X-Men: Apocalypse is a decent enough effort but there’s something about its execution that is lacking compared to the last two movies. X-Men: First Class suffered from a bloated cast, similar to its predecessors, but managed to get by through its unique premise and the potential of exploring the early years of these familiar characters but X-Men: Apocalypse is just unnecessarily staked and convoluted. It’s a shame because expectations were quite high after X-Men: Days of Future Past and from the inclusion of familiar X-Men characters and the potential of a villain like Apocalypse. Yet, while Apocalypse is impressive to behold in many ways, the film squanders him, and Oscar Isaac, and bogs down its plot with too many redundant plot lines (particularly those involving Magneto) and under-developed characters. Like X-Men: First Class, the film is far more concerned with rushing through its narrative to establish a more familiar team of X-Men and a future sequel and suffers as a result, descending into mindless, bombastic action that fails to live up to the standards of other X-Men films.

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

How did you find X-Men: Apocalypse? Do you agree that it was a step back for the franchise or did you enjoy the film for what it was? What did you think to Apocalypse’s characterisation and the inclusion of more familiar X-Men? Which Apocalypse-centred storyline from the comics or other media is your favourite? Would you like to see the character revisited in a different film? Whatever your thoughts on X-Men: Apocalypse, and X-Men in general, feel free to leave a comment below.

Talking Movies [X-Men Month]: X-Men: Days of Future Past: The Rogue Cut


To commemorate, the culmination of their long-running and successful X-Men movies, 20th Century Fox declared May 13th as “X-Men Day”, a day to celebrate all things Mutant and X-Men and celebrate Marvel’s iconic collection of superpowered beings who fight to protect a world that hates and fears them. After exhausting all of their storylines with their original cast, save for Hugh Jackman, 20th Century Fox began producing a series of loose prequels centred on younger X-characters and, to commemorate X-Men Day this year, I’m spending the next few weeks looking back at the first three entries in this “Beginnings Trilogy” to see if they still hold up today.


Talking Movies

Released: July 2015
Originally Released: May 2014
Director: Bryan Singer
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Budget: $200 to 220 million
Stars: Hugh Jackman, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Peter Dinklage, Nicholas Hoult, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, and Anna Paquin

The Plot:
By 2023, Mutants and their allies have been hunted to near extinction by the mechanical Sentinels. Desperate to avert this dystopian future, Professor Charles Xavier (Stewart) has joined forces with his long-time adversary, Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto (McKellen) and opt to use Kitty Pryde/Shadowcat’s (Ellen Page) time-bending abilities to send the consciousness of Logan/Wolverine (Jackman) back to 1973 to team up with their younger selves (McAvoy and Fassbender, respectively) and keep Raven Darkhölme/Mystique (Lawrence) from causing the eradication of Mutantkind.

The Background:
Having been an integral part of Marvel Comics since their 1963 debut, the X-Men went on to have success in numerous videogames, cartoons, and a financially successful franchise under the banner of 20th Century Fox. After three blockbuster movies and two successful spin-offs focusing on breakout star Hugh Jackman, Fox opted to bring in a younger cast and shine a spotlight on the early days of the X-Men. With X-Men: First Class (Vaughn, 2011) planned as the start of a new trilogy, development began on a sequel that same year; however, rather than develop Vaughn’s ideas for a more grounded and fitting sequel, series producer Lauren Donner and returning director Bryan Singer set writer Simon Kinberg to work penning an adaptation of the classic “Days of Future Past” (Claremont, et al, 1981) storyline that would see the older original X-Men actors sharing the spotlight with their younger selves thanks to its time travel plot. X-Men: Days of Future Past is, for me, one of the better X-Men sequels and I actually rank it quite high despite my dislike for the dodgy timeline these prequels created, a belief shared by many as the film was met with a generally positive critical response that was matched by its box office gross as the film made over $740 million worldwide, the highest of out any X-Men movie to date (apart from the Deadpool (Various, 2016 to present) spin-offs). A year or so after the film’s release, Fox released The Rogue Cut, an extended version of the film that includes an entire excised subplot concerning Marie D’Ancanto/Rogue (Paquin); as I consider this the definitive version of the film, this will be the cut I am reviewing here.

The Review:
In best Terminator (Cameron, 1984) fashion, Days of Future Past opens to show a dystopian future, a war-torn wasteland where Mutants, Mutant sympathiser, and those who may one day produce Mutants, are relentlessly hunted and killed by massive, fearsome Sentinels. Those that survive are either constantly hounded, unable to defeat this terrifying foe, or experimented on by the very worst of humanity. It’s a bleak and depressing future, one that is decidedly at odds with both Xavier’s dream for human/Mutant cohabitation and Magneto’s dream of Mutant superiority. It is into this hellscape that we are reintroduced to a whole new team of X-Men, many of whom are comprised of old and new faces alike. The purpose of many of these characters is simply to die in horrific ways as the Sentinels carve through stone and metal, incinerating them, ripping them to pieces, skewing them, and constantly adapting to their abilities.

Kitty uses her newfound abilities to help allies and former foes escape from the unstoppable Mutant hunters.

Luckily, though, Kitty has…somehow, it’s never actually explained exactly how in the film…developed her powers of intangibility to the point where she can project a person’s consciousness into their younger self. This power, alongside the heightened senses of James Proudstar/Warpath (Booboo Stewart) and the portal-hopping powers of Blink (Fan Bingbing), has allowed the X-Men to stay just barely one step ahead of the Sentinels. However, when they finally reunite with Xavier, Magneto, Logan, and Ororo Munroe/Storm (Halle Berry), they learn of the true origins of the Sentinels; they were created back in the seventies by a scientist named Boliver Trask (Dinklage) and put into mass production after Mystique executed him on public television. Believing that keeping Mystique from killing Trask would erase their future from history, Logan volunteers to make the trip back into his younger body (as only he can survive such an extended trip) and bring the younger Xavier and Magneto together to steer Mystique away from her dark fate. The concept of Days of Future Past is past meets future; however, fans of the newer, First Class cast should be happy to find that the returning cast members from the original X-Men films don’t overshadow their younger counterparts. The older actors bookend the film, and are peppered throughout, but the majority of the film’s runtime is devoted to the new, younger cast and Logan’s interactions with them to prevent a nightmarish future. As a result, most of the older cast exist solely to deliver exposition or to shock us with their gruesome death scenes; once again, Peter Rasputin/Colossus (Daniel Cudmore) is dealt a shitty hand compared to returning characters like Storm and Bobby Drake/Iceman (Shawn Ashmore), who at least have a few lines and play a semi-important role in defending the X-Men from the Sentinels. The new characters follow the same blueprint we’ve seen from nearly every X-Men movie in that they look cool and have cool powers but we no nothing about them and they exist simply to be slaughtered by the Sentinels.

Though Xavier and Magneto are finally united in the future, the young Xavier is a disillusioned addict.

The focus is thus placed on Xavier, who drives the desperate dive into the past, Magneto, who has completely set aside his grudge against Xavier and is now despondent at all the years they wasted pointlessly fighting each other, and Kitty, whose powers anchor Logan in the past. They really sell the desperation and futility of their situation and seeing them all right at the end of their tether is an affecting moment that really helps to motivate Logan in ways we haven’t seen before. Awakening in the past with his bone claws, Logan inexplicably finds himself in America rather than causing waves over in Vietnam; travelling to Xavier’s mansion, he finds the young professor walking but at his wits end. Having fallen into a deep depression after the events of First Class and the outbreak of the aforementioned war, Xavier has become addicted to Henry “Hank” McCoy/Beast’s (Hoult) magic serum, which suppresses his powers and allows him to walk and sleep but has transformed him into a broken shell of his former, and future, self. This positions Wolverine in what is, for him, an uncomfortable position; with the clock ticking against him and frantic to prevent the future he has seen, Logan is forced to guide Xavier back towards his true self. Generally, this take the form of Logan’s trademark tough love but, when he begins to see just how far Xavier has fallen, he allows the younger professor to connect to his mind and converse with his future self in a fantastically poignant scene. Jackman gels really well with the First Class cast, portraying Logan as a blunt, war-weary soldier who has also matured and grown into a role of responsibility and duty. The knowledge that he is the only one who will remember the bad future is haunting as he is fully aware that he will remember seeing all the death and destruction even if their mission succeeds, basically sacrificing his own inner peace for the sake of the world.

While Xavier’s forced to confront his demons, Magneto seems ready to accept his destiny…until the next film…

McAvoy continues to show new sides to Xavier; he ended First Class taking his first steps towards becoming the mentor and father-figure he is destined to be but begins this film as little ore than a disillusioned junkie. Logan’s mission forces him to overcome those demons and also to do something even more difficult: reach out to his childhood friend and true to pursued her to veer from her path and join forces with his former friend, Erik Lehnsherr. At this point, Xavier feels nothing but hatred and resentment for Erik for not only inadvertently crippling him and turning him into the man he has become but also for taking Raven away from him. This is, of course, completely irrational as Xavier told Mystique to go with Erik at the end of First Class but this is actually the point; Xavier’s emotions, anger, and despair have clouded his mind and motivations, blinding him to his own failings. Erik, however, is more than happy to remind Xavier of these failings; once again, Fassbender is a magnetic (no pun intended) presence, dominating every scene he’s in thanks to his cold, calculating countenance and his ominous charisma. In an emotional outburst, Erik chastises Xavier for hiding and cowering in his mansion when their brothers, sisters, and teammates were captured, tortured, and slaughtered by Trask’s experiments, which really sells the idea that Erik is all about protecting and defending all Mutantkind, even those who would oppose him. As I mentioned before, however, Magneto’s story arc is almost exactly as it was in First Class; he begins the film as an ally, turns on his friends, and ends the film as a fully-garbed Magneto ready to enact his will on the world…only for the very next film to find him a doting family man who has retired from his war. It’s a shame, really, and I feel like the script could have been tweaked so that Erik is the one who is destined to kill Trask that solidifies his position as an all-out villain; it’s not that I don’t like Erik’s moral ambiguity and the conflict Fassbender brings to the role, it’s just frustrating to see him end up looking so much like Magneto with such promise for the next movie only to have to go through it all over again.

The battle for Mystique’s soul is as much a part of the plot as Trask and his Sentinels.

After First Class, Jennifer Lawrence shot to superstardom and thus plays a pivotal role in this film; having been working alone to free Mutant prisoners and campaign for Mutant superiority, Mystique uncovers Trask’s experiments and plans for the Sentinels and believes the only logical course of action is to execute the man responsible for so many Mutant deaths (including those of her friends from First Class). Now much closer to her bad-ass, emotionally closed off future self, Mystique rejects both Xavier an Erik when they attempt to stop her and the crux of the movie really becomes a battle for her soul as much as the future as all parties try to keep her from taking her first life and dooming them all. I’m still not a fan of Lawrence, and quite how her power to assume the form of others leads to Sentinels that can adapt to any form of attack is beyond me (Armando Muñoz/Darwin’s (Edi Gathegi) powers would have been more fitting), but her story arc here is quite engaging and she sells the character’s conflicted nature really well. Fulfilling the resident, Mutant-hating human antagonist role is Bolivar Trask, a scientist who views Mutants as a threat to all humanity that can unite the warring nations in a way never seen before. Dinklage is great in this role, portraying Trask as a man of conviction who both admires and fears the potential of Mutants and their threat to humanity. Like every good villain, he is completely convinced that he is in the right and is motivated by a sense of duty and patriotism but there is a sadistic side to him as he has been relentlessly experimenting on and killing Mutants. He is juxtaposed by, who else, but Major William Stryker (Josh Helman); rather than being a military scientist who wants to round up and experiment on Mutants (or being played by Danny Huston as he should have been considering where the character was at this point), Stryker is more like Trask’s muscle. In many ways, it feels like Trask has usurped Stryker’s usual role, which makes Stryker’s inclusion pretty pointless save for causing Wolverine to freak out. Of course, the film’s big selling point is the inclusion of the Sentinels; these massive Mutant hunting machines were hinted at (as was this entire storyline) in X-Men: The Last Stand (Ratner, 2006) but it still blows my mind that we got to a point where an X-Men movie would not only use time travel and the “Days of Future Past” storyline but the Sentinels as well. They appear in two forms here, the sleek, super-adaptive, semi-mimetic poly-alloy, relentless killers of the future and the large, bulky, more comic-accurate machines of the past. Personally, I prefer the latter and feel like an army of those would have been just as pressing a threat and would have negated to need to focus so hard on Mystique’s unique X-Gene, but the threat of the Sentinels is a very palpable one as we see how unstoppable they become in the future. Of course, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense that the government would either not put them into mass production for some fifty years or that they would not reactivate the program when Magneto emerged as a real threat but the comic book nerd in me finds their presence very exciting nonetheless.

The Nitty-Gritty:
Well, while McAvoy, Fassbender, Lawrence, and Hoult all get a good innings and time to shine, other characters from First Class aren’t so lucky; with the exception of Alex Summers/Havok (Lucas Till), who returns in a brief cameo, all of the Mutants from the previous film have died between movies, victims of Trask’s experiments. This is quite a kick in the teeth as we could have seen these characters actually develop and progress but, instead, they are unceremoniously killed off to fuel Mystique’s lust for vengeance and Magneto’s desire for Mutant supremacy. On the other hand, though, it does mean that the film does a far better job of juggling its cast of characters, putting the focus on Xavier, Erik, and Mystique with Logan along for the ride to remind us of the stakes.

Quicksilver is a breath of fresh air for the franchise who needed a far bigger role.

Of course, it wouldn’t be an X-Men movie without the gratuitous introduction of a brand new Mutant and, in this case, we get one of the best and yet more disappointing inclusions yet: Peter Maximoff/Quicksilver (Evan Peters). A superfast kleptomaniac, Quicksilver is an energetic ball of fun in a film that is generally quite serious due to its stakes. His powers also allow for a fantastic scene in which he travels so fast that the rest of the room appears to be stationary, a sequence that, perhaps, rivals the opening of X-Men 2 (Singer, 2003). Unfortunately, though, so great are Quicksilver’s powers in this film that the movie would be over too quickly if he were to play a larger role so, after helping break Erik out of his special prison, the film promptly ditches Quicksilver with the weakest of explanations. Like, I get it but he’s such a cool, fun, and interesting character that I would have much preferred the writers find a way to incorporate him rather than just taking the easy, lazy route out.

Rogue takes over after Kitty is injured, reuniting with Logan in the process.

Still, at least Quicksilver made it into the film; Rogue was reduced to a mere cameo in the theatrical cut but, here in The Rogue Cut, plays a pivotal role when Logan’s violent thrashing critically wounds Kitty, forcing Iceman and Magneto to go off on a side mission to rescue Rogue and have her take Kitty’s place. It’s nice to see the footage cut back into the film and helps to remind us of the stakes in the bad future but I can kind of see why it was cut as it is kind of unnecessary. They could have simply replaced one of the new future X-Men, like Sunspot (Adan Canto) with Rogue and had the best of both worlds but at least it leads to a tender reunion between Rogue and Logan.

Logan awakens in a good future that is, sadly, destined to also end in ruin…

Probably the biggest missed opportunity of Days of Future Past, however, is that the filmmakers don’t use the time travel plot more to their advantage to explain the discrepancies in the time line. They try to but only in relation to the future events rather than those of established canon, and Logan’s journey to the past clearly creates at least two new timelines (one for the younger cast and one for the older cast that, despite appearing idyllic, eventually turns just as bleak and dour as the Sentinel-ruled future), but they could easily have used this as an excuse to correct the existing continuity as well. Instead, we find Logan not in the middle of fighting alongside Team X or Xavier and Erik not working together at the school; in fact, the film’s ending goes out of its way to basically erase X-Men: The Last Stand and The Wolverine (Mangold, 2013) from continuity, which is actually quite lazy as The Wolverine proved there was still a lot of mileage to be made in dealing with The Last Stand’s ending, and although it refers to X-Men Origins: Wolverine (Hood, 2009), it pretty much pretends like that film didn’t happen and right when it ends with the ominous implication that seventies-Logan ends up in Stryker’s custody it’s revealed it’s actually Mystique posing as Stryker…despite the fact that Wolverine does end up Stryker’s prisoner in the next film.

The Summary:
X-Men: Days of Future Past successfully brings the two X-Men casts together in one era-spanning action/adventure; the stakes have never been higher and the calibre of acting never more affecting as two generations of X-Men seek to prevent a nightmarish future. It doesn’t do much to correct the existing canon; in fact, it actually screws up way more than it fixes with the new timeline it creates and repeats quite a few of the things I disliked about X-Men: First Class as well as making a few new ones (such as killing characters off-screen and dramatically expanding on Mystique’s importance). Yet, like X-Men Origins: Wolverine, there’s just something about this film that I really enjoy. It’s bombastic and action-packed at times but there’s more a sense of ominous foreboding, that the future is an inevitable tide the characters cannot fight against, that lends a lot of weight and urgency to the plot. Jackman’s interactions with the younger X-cast are fantastic, placing his character in an uncomfortable position where he finds himself having to inspire his future mentor and fighting against an enemy that he can’t just slice to ribbons with his claws. Is it a perfect movie? No, of course not; it’s an X-Men film and those rarely manage to be perfect because of one reason or another. Do I think it was too early to do this storyline and mash these casts together? Absolutely. And yet, this is easily in my top five (maybe even top three) X-Men movies purely for the thrill of seeing the past and the future collide, the presence of the Sentinels, and the fact that it ties up one storyline while setting up an entirely new timeline of events.

My Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Fantastic

What did you think of the Rogue Cut of Days of Future Past? Do you think it is superior to the theatrical cut or do you, perhaps, not care for its additional plot points? What did you think of integrating the old and new X-Men casts together? Were you also a bit confused about Kitty’s sudden ability to time travel? What are your thoughts on the “Days of Future Past” storyline from the comics? Which X-Men storyline would you like to see adapted to film one day? Whatever your thoughts, feel free to leave a comment below, and pop back next week for one last X-Men review.

Talking Movies [X-Men Month]: X-Men: First Class


To commemorate, the culmination of their long-running and successful X-Men movies, 20th Century Fox declared May 13th as “X-Men Day”, a day to celebrate all things Mutant and X-Men and celebrate Marvel’s iconic collection of superpowered beings who fight to protect a world that hates and fears them. After exhausting all of their storylines with their original cast, save for Hugh Jackman, 20th Century Fox began producing a series of loose prequels centred on younger X-characters and, while X-Men Day coincided with Friday the 13th this year, I’m going to spend the next few weeks looking back at the first three entries in this “Beginnings Trilogy” and see if they still hold up today.


Talking Movies
XMenFirstClassLogo

Released: May 2011
Director: Matthew Vaughn
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Budget: $140 to 160 million
Stars: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Rose Byrne, Nicholas Hoult, Lucas Till, Caleb Landry Jones, Zoë Kravitz, and Kevin Bacon

The Plot:
In 1962, right in the middle of the Cuban missile crisis, newly-graduated Professor Charles Xavier (McAvoy) meets Erik Lehnsherr (Fassbender) for the first time. United in their search for the Mutant terrorist Sebastian Shaw (Bacon), the two join forces with the United States government in forming the first team of Mutants and working to avert World War Three.

The Background:
The X-Men have been an integral part of Marvel Comics ever since they debuted back in 1963. Created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, the X-Men offered, through their Mutant heritage, an easy excuse to introduce multiple new superheroes with minimal effort. Since then, the X-Men, and all of Mutantkind, have existed as a metaphor for a variety of social issues and seen much success outside of the pages of Marvel Comics thanks to a number of action figures, cartoons, and videogames. After purchasing the film rights, 20th Century Fox profited greatly from the franchise; the first three X-Men movies (Various, 2000 to 2006) alone brought in over $600 million and they had seen similar financial success with a spin-off movie centered around the franchise’s breakout star, Logan/Wolverine (Hugh Jackman).

After profiting from the X-Men, Fox aimed to explore the team’s early years.

It was during the production of X-Men 2 (Singer, 2003) that the idea of a prequel revolving around younger versions of the X-Men was first proposed; after X-Men: The Last Stand (Ratner, 2006) effectively ended the series, with most of the main cast either dead, depowered, or having exhausted their story arcs, Fox returned to the idea of producing prequels with plans for a spin-off focusing on a young Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto (Ian McKellen). Perhaps shaken by the mediocre critical reception of X-Men Origins: Wolverine (Hood, 2009), Fox abandoned any further ideas of individual spin-offs and ordered a rewrite of the script to focus on Erik and Charles’s early years and the formation of the original X-Men. Although Bryan Singer, who had helmed the first two X-Men movies and very much set the tone and standard for Fox’s franchise, was unable to direct, he returned as a producer and Fox hired Matthew Vaughn (who had previously dropped out of directing the third film) to direct and the idea for the prequel began to take real shape. X-Men: First Class released to strong reviews, a warm critical reception, and eventually made over $350 million in worldwide gross; for many who were disappointed with X-Men Origins: Wolverine, X-Men: First Class represented a step in the right direction for the franchise but, for me, it represented the first sign that Fox were playing it fast and loose with continuity.

The Review:
X-Men: First Class begins with a shot-for-shot recreation of the opening from the first X-Men movie: that is, a young Erik Lehnsherr (Bill Milner/Brett Morris) first discovering his ability to control metal in a Nazi death camp. The purpose of this scene is blatantly obvious and two-fold; the film wants you to remember Erik’s tragic and complex beginnings while also wanting to course-correct back on track to align with Singer’s original vision for the franchise. Oddly, as I’ll get into later, this desire to shift the franchise back towards that quasi-science-fiction, grounded approach is at odds with the direction First Class’s script wants to take its characters so, for me, opening with this scene was more of an insult than a welcome homage.

Lacking Erik’s troublesome childhood, Xavier works to raise awareness of Mutants.

The film could easily have just began with Erik in the office of Nazi scientist Doctor Klaus Schmidt (Bacon); this scene extends that of Singer’s original, impactful opening to show how Erik’s powers were a source of fascination for the Nazis and does just as much to setup his motivations for the remainder of the film. Schmidt, a Mutant himself, forces Erik to use his powers by first threatening and then executing his mother, which would be the driving force for Erik’s lust for revenge and hatred of humanity. At the same time, a young Charles Xavier (Laurence Belcher) meets and befriends Raven Darkhölme (Morgan Lily) and, honestly, this should have been the first clue that these new X-Men movies were not going to concern themselves with things like logic or continuity. While X-Men: First Class gives some much-needed backstory to Raven (who, when she goes up to be Jennifer Lawrence, eventually takes the name “Mystique”), it does so at the cost of  the continuity of the original trilogy as Xavier never once mentions that he had this brother/sister relationship with Mystique (Rebecca Romijn) nor does the older Mystique ever use this relationship to her advantage in those films.

Michael Fassbender steals the show from the proto-X-Men with his complex, seething menace.

Still, we continue, giving the film the benefit of the doubt, when these characters grow into James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender, respectively. Rather than the wise, all-knowing father-figure of the original X-Men films, Xavier here is a young, post-grad student who downs alcohol and uses both his knowledge of Mutations and his mental powers to pick up chicks in bars. With his long, thick hair and sixties sensibilities, Xavier is a far more “hip and groovy” character but the moment he meets Moira McTaggert (Byrne) and learns of Schmidt’s (now calling himself Sebastian Shaw) plot to incite a third world war, he’s all about assembling his own team of Mutants and working alongside Moira and the CIA to build better relationships between humans and Mutants. It’s an interesting look at the character’s early years but it’s nothing compared to the far more interesting story involving the future Magneto; desperate to hunt down Shaw and make him pay, Erik has spent his entire life tracking down those responsible for his incarceration, torture, and the deaths of his family and people. Fassbender excels in the role, bringing a tortured, focused edge to the character and shines in every scene he’s in; his quiet, seething vengeance is tempered somewhat when he meets and befriends Xavier (another contradiction to the original films as Xavier is clearly not seventeen in this movie…) but their relationship is destined to fail based solely on Erik’s desire to kill Shaw, to say nothing of his own conflicting desire for Mutant prosperity. Still, once the two begin working together, they are introduced to Henry “Hank” McCoy/Beast (Hoult) and, thanks to his prototype Cerebro technology, begin recruiting a team of young Mutants to help oppose Shaw’s own club of misfits. In true X-Men fashion, this means a whole bunch of characters are suddenly thrown into the mix with little to make them stand out beyond them all being young and sexy and having cool-looking powers. Of them all, it is, thankfully, Hank who gets the most screen time and development thanks to his immediate attraction to Raven, his awkward, quirky characterisation, and his desire to develop a serum to suppress his more unattractive physical qualities. Though it seems he and Raven are united in the desire to appear “normal”, she ultimately comes to embrace her unique appearance and, when Hank’s serum actually accelerates his Mutation, he is forced to do the same.

Despite it literally being his Mutant power, Darwin is unable to adapt to survive Shaw’s attack.

The other members of this proto-X-team aren’t so lucky; Sean Cassidy/Banshee (Jones) does alright, being the amusing comic relief of the team, but Alex Summers/Havok (Till) is little more than the “moody bad boy” of the group who, with very little motivation, comes to accept the team as his friends and surrogate family. Angel Salvadore (Kravitz) randomly decides to defect to Shaw’s side when he offers them the chance, with no real explanation or reason beyond the deal apparently sounding better than being mocked by the CIA, but the real slap in the face is the ultimate fate of Armando Muñoz/Darwin (Edi Gathegi) who, despite literally being able to “adapt to survive”, is unable to keep himself from being blown to pieces by Shaw. I mean, we’ve seen that he is able to spontaneously grow gills and armour-plating but it’s apparently too much to find a way to resist Alex’s concussive blasts. Yet at least these proto-X-Men get a neat little training montage to show off snippets of their personalities and powers, however this loses quite a bit of its impact when it’s revealed that they trained and mastered their powers in one week, which honestly isn’t quite as bad as the fact that Xavier found it perfectly acceptable to use this time in this way even though the threat of war is literally hanging over their heads. It’s almost as if the film has too many characters and should have just focused on Xavier, Magneto, Beast, and Mystique as the primary protagonists but this is, of course, only exacerbated by the fact that Shaw has his own evil team of Mutants.

Shaw’s little club all look cool but are painfully under-developed as characters.

Similar to Magneto’s original Brotherhood, the sheer number of characters and the pace of the film demands that these antagonists simply look cool and not much else, with the exception of Emma Frost (January Jones), who also looks sexy and has a slightly bigger role as she is Shaw’s right-hand woman and a telepath. Azazel (Jason Flemyng) has a great look and is clearly meant to be evoking Kurt Wagner/Nightcrawler (Alan Cumming) but we learn absolutely nothing about him; no seeds are planted for a relationship between him and Mystique that might lead to Nightcrawler’s birth and he gets only one line. Still, it’s one line more than Janos Quested/Riptide (Álex González), who says nothing the entire movie and simply whips up a few mini tornados (or twisters, whatever) and causes some minor inconveniences for the team. Again, it’s almost as if Shaw’s team should have been scaled down to four characters rather than five. Luckily, though, Shaw gets plenty of screen time and Bacon is clearly relishing the role, chewing the scenery and portraying Shaw as an unhinged sociopath who lays much of the groundwork for the villain Erik is destined to become. Able to absorb and redirect energy to maintain his youth, Shaw is a near-unstoppable antagonist, even more so when he acquires a special helmet from the Russians to protect himself from psychic attacks. His motivations are simple to grasp; like Erik, he’s seen the lengths of man’s inhumanity to man and wishes to use a full-scale nuclear war to cleanse the Earth and bring about an age of prosperity for Mutantkind and, as such, he’s a despicable character through and through with an undeniable amount of charisma, making for a fitting challenge for these proto-X-Men.

The Nitty-Gritty:
X-Men: First Class has an interesting premise and does a decent job, for the most part, of fleshing out the early years of Xavier and Magneto. However, despite its pacing being far better than that of X-Men (Singer, 2000) and X-Men Origins: Wolverine, it suffers from trying to cram everything into its runtime despite the fact that a sequel was clearly set up and going to be produced that would have allowed some of these storylines to play out at a much more comfortable pace.

Desperate to cram everything into its runtime, the film inexplicably ends with Xavier paralysed!

As a result, we get numerous timeline discrepancies in the film: Xavier grew up with Mystique and meets Erik when they’re much older than first stated; Hank builds Cerebro rather than Charles and Erik, Xavier’s first students are wildly different than those hinted at in the previous films and, most egregious of all, the film concludes with Xavier being paralysed by an errant bullet and Erik assuming the role and name of Magneto. No matter how you slice it, none of this aligns with the continuity of the time as we saw a young, bald, walking Xavier, still friends with Magneto, in the opening sequence of The Last Stand and a young, bald, walking Xavier at the conclusion of X-Men Origins, both of which were still canon at this point. The film seems to be in a rush to catch up to the beginning of the first X-Men movie and, honestly, should have ended with Xavier fully-functional and planning to open his house to more Mutants alongside Erik, who would be affected and changed by his final confrontation with Shaw.

Erik eventually becomes Magneto and look ready to strike back at the world…until the next film…

There is quite a big inconsistency in this film as well, though, wider canon notwithstanding. Obviously, I touched upon Darwin being offed so easily but, for me, the main issue is how vehemently Xavier opposes Erik’s desire to kill Shaw. Xavier believes that killing Shaw in cold blood will set Erik down a dark path he won’t be able to recover from and he’s right, of course, but the inconsistency is that we’ve seen (and, thanks to reading Erik’s mind, Xavier has seen) that Erik has plenty of blood on his hands already. He describes himself as a “weapon” and this appears to be true; he’s tortured and killed numerous people in his bid to track down and end Shaw so why should one more death darken his fate? It doesn’t help that Erik’s descent into villain as told in this film is repeated over and over again in the next three sequels, all of which repeat the same arc (Erik starts off good, becomes morally grey, and ends the film fully-garbed as Magneto and ready to strike back at humanity…only to start the next film good and the cycle repeats). It’s one of those things that seems to work on the surface but falls apart when you think about it and is, again, something that could have been improved upon had the script focused on just Xavier and Erik and a slightly altered greater conflict rather than throwing in a bunch of under-developed or superfluous characters.

This brief cameo did more for Logan’s character than his own spin-off movie!

Speaking of which, the also contains a bevy of cameos; Rebecca Romijn briefly appears in a fun cameo when Mystique is randomly seducing Erik (seriously, their sudden sexual relationship kind of comes out of nowhere and is purely motivated by Raven wanting to hurt Charles and feeling alienated from Hank) and veteran actors like James Remar, Ray Wise, and Michael Ironside all randomly show up in the film’s third act but the true icing on the cake was the brief cameo by Hugh Jackman as Logan. X-Men: First Class was the first real test to see if an X-Men movie could survive and be just as successful without Jackman in a leading role and, judging by its box office and reception, it clearly succeeded in this regard but it’s still fun to see Jackman randomly pop up and tell his future mentor and adversary to “Go fuck [themselves]”.

The Summary:
X-Men: First Class is a fun and engaging X-Men movie; it’s got a fantastic revenge subplot involving the future Magneto and is clearly inspired not only by Singer’s original X-Men movies but also 1960s spy thrillers, all of which give it a familiar, and yet unique, flavour within the franchise. McAvoy and Fassbender steal the show from start to finish but Bacon is a deliciously devilish villain and the acting and action sequences are pretty good, overall, with the film showing new and interesting takes on established characters and shedding more light on events only previously hinted at. And, yet, for me, Fox made a massive mistake by marketing and constructing this film as a prequel. It honestly should have just been a straight-up reboot, restarting the franchise with young actors and a whole new timeline of events rather than trying to awkwardly align with the established canon. For me, continuity is everything and you simply cannot watch X-Men: First Class as part of the wider X-Men canon because it just doesn’t fit; they should have done what the James Bond franchise did and kept Jackman but recast everyone else and started completely fresh because, when you need a convoluted timeline to explain what’s going and where things fit and it still doesn’t completely line up, you’ve kind of lost me as a viewer. The irony is that the very next movie had the perfect excuse to explain these inconsistencies and chose not to, meaning that my opinion of X-Men: First Class is decidedly frosty and conflicted, at best.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

What are your thoughts on X-Men: First Class? Were you as annoyed by its disregard for the existing canon as I was or do you think the film is able to hold up despite this? What did you think of the cast and characters and the bigger role given to Mystique? Which heroes and villains, or storylines, do you think would have worked better for a proto-X-Men team? How did you celebrate X-Men Day this year? Whatever you think, feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions on X-Men below and be sure to come back next week for another X-Men review.

Back Issues [X-Men Month]: Giant-Size X-Men #1


To commemorate, the culmination of their long-running and successful X-Men movies, 20th Century Fox declared May 13th as “X-Men Day”, a day to celebrate all things Mutant and X-Men and celebrate Marvel’s iconic collection of superpowered beings who fight to protect a world that hates and fears them.


Story Titles: “Second Genesis!”, “…And When There Was One!”, “Assault Force!”, and “Krakoa…The Island That Walks Like a Man!”
Published: May 1975
Writer: Len Wein
Artist: Dave Cockrum

The Background:
In 1963, after achieving success with characters like the Fantastic Four, Tony Stark/Iron Man, and, of course, Peter Parker/Spider-Man, Marvel Comics’ Stan Lee and Jack Kirby dreamed up the concept of “Mutants”, ordinary people who developed extraordinary powers once they hit puberty. In contrast to lauded superhero teams like the Avengers and the Fantastic Four, the X-Men were hated and feared by the general public and thus used to tackle variety of social issues, most notably racism. Unfortunately, the X-Men initially struggled to find an audience and the comic was cancelled by issue sixty-six in 1970. Five years later, under the direction of Chris Claremont, Len Wein and Dave Cockrum collaborated on a revival of the title, which saw an international team of Mutants join the team, breathed new life into the title, and the X-Men have been an enduring and popular team in comics ever since, influencing an entire generation with a much-lauded animated series in the nineties and, of course, a series of massively successful live-action movies.

The Review:
The story opens in Winzeldorf, Germany where a torch-carrying horde of bigots are chasing after Kurt Wagner/Nightcrawler; despite his demonic appearance, Nightcrawler pities the braying crowd for their “mindless prejudices” and laments that they are so blinded by their hatred of him that they’re risking their own safety. Rather than teleport to safety, Nightcrawler opts to leap into the crowd and fight them off with the only language the bigots understand: violence. The numbers game is too much for the young Mutant, however, but he is saved from a fiery death by the timely intervention of Professor Charles Xavier/Professor X, who freezes the horde with his incredible mental powers and offers Kurt a place at his school in order to both shield him from such hatred and help him “find [his] true potential”, an offer that Nightcrawler gratefully accepts. The story then jumps over to Quebec, Canada where Xavier meets with another Mutant, Logan/Wolverine (also codenamed Weapon X by the Canadian government). Having been impressed with Wolverine’s recent fight against Doctor Bruce Banner/The Hulk, Xavier offers the abrasive Mutant a place on his team to help other Mutants in need. Wolverine jumps at the chance to be freed from the shackles Canadian government, resigning in typical Wolverine fashion and happily leaving alongside the wheelchair-bound professor.

Xavier is able to recruit his new team, despite some reservations from the would-be X-Men.

After Xavier quickly recruits former ally Sean Cassidy/Banshee over the course of three panels, the story jumps over to Kenya where a group of African tribesmen beg Ororo Monroe/Storm to use her powers of weather to end the drought that has ravaged their lands. Revered as a Goddess, Storm conjures winds and rain to help out the struggling natives and, after informing Storm of her Mutant status, Xavier appeals to her curiosity enough to recruit her to his cause as well. Siro Yoshida/Sunfire of Osaka, Japan is recruited even faster and easier than Banshee and then Xavier heads over to Siberia to draft Piotr “Peter” Rasputin/Colossus (despite his reservations about leaving his family), a muscle-bound patriot who is able to cover his skin in an organic metal that renders him strong and impenetrable enough to shield his sister from a runaway tractor. Finally, Xavier travels to Camp Verde, Arizona to recruit the last member of his new team of X-Men, John Proudstar/Thunderbird, a Mutant swift and strong enough to catch up to and bring down a charging bison. If Wolverine was a bit rough around the edges, Thunderbird is down-right rude as he offers Xavier little more than ridicule and boastful pride; Xavier is able to convince him to his cause, however, by questioning his courage.

The X-Men are attacked and captured, leaving Cyclops the sole survivor.

The team assembles at Xavier’s school in Westchester, New York, now garbed in uniforms made of “unstable molecules” that Xavier obtained from Doctor Reed Richards/Mister Fantastic. Sunfire demands answers and Xavier provides them by introducing them to Scott Summers/Cyclops, who informs them all that the X-Men have disappeared. Cyclops relates how the team were alerted to a new Mutant (who was “so powerful as to defy classification”) on the island of Krakoa by Xavier’s Mutant-detecting machine, Cerebro; Cyclops lead Jean Grey/Marvel Girl, Warren Worthington III/Angel, Bobby Drake/Iceman, Alexander Summers/Havoc, and Lorna Dane/Polaris to Krakoa but, shortly after landing, they were attacked by an unseen foe. Cyclops awoke disorientated, his costume in tatters, and without his visor and briefly unable to project his trademark optic blasts; he took the Strato-Jet back to Xavier’s mansion to alert the professor (finding his powers to have increased in the process) and assemble a new team to rescue the X-Men.

The new X-Men struggle to work as a cohesive unit thanks to their egos.

Although Sunfire initially refuses to go along with the mission, claiming to hate his fellow Mutants as much as humans, he intercepts the jet on the way to Krakoa to join the mission anyway. This, as noted by both Storm and Thunderbird, calls attention to the fragility of this new, untested team and they’re right to point this out as Xavier has effectively slapped together a team of egos, misfits, and strangers who have even less field training as a unit that the original X-Men. Regardless, the team soon arrives at Krakoa and Cyclops splits them into teams of two: Storm and Colossus head to the North, Banshee and Wolverine the East, Sunfire and Nightcrawler the South (much to Sunfire’s chagrin), and Thunderbird and Cyclops take the West. Upon landing, Cyclops and Thunderbird note that strange temples have suddenly erupted from the ground and, as they move to investigate, they are attacked by living vines. Over on the East side of the island, Banshee and Wolverine are similarly attacked by a giant crab but, thanks to Wolverine’s viciousness and Banshee’s scream, they make short work of the crustacean. Meanwhile, on the North side, Storm and Colossus manage to fight their way out of a seemingly sentiment landslide and, finally, Sunfire and Nightcrawler battle through a flock of raging birds on the South side all while Sunfire continually berates Nightcrawler with sarcasm and criticism.

By pooling their energies into Polaris, the X-Men defeat Krakoa and blast it into space!

Regardless, the team all rendezvous at the temple, break their way in, and find the X-Men being held captive and, apparently, fed upon by vines. After the X-Men are rescued, their prison crumbles to pieces and Angel scolds Cyclops for coming back for them as the island comes to life around them. It turns out that Krakoa itself is the Mutant Xavier detected, having been brought to ravenous life by an atomic blast, and referring to itself as “we” as it details its plan to feed upon “Mutant energies”. Krakoa attacks the two teams of Mutants, who struggle to co-ordinate their strategies and to make a dent on the Mutant’s considerable hide. Thankfully, Xavier telepathically contacts Cyclops and informs him of Krakoa’s one weak point; while Xavier mentally battles the creature, Cyclops directs the team from the ground, channelling Storm’s ability to conjure lightning into Polaris and then adding his and Havoc’s energy blasts to the building magnetic force. The result is a surge of magnetic energy that disrupts Krakoa’s ability to retain its humanoid form and, as the island breaks apart around them, the team blast their way to safety on an ice float. As they watch, Krakoa is hurled off the planet’s surface and away from the planet and the Mutants survive the tumultuous seas thanks to Iceman’s ice-bubble and are left united and victorious.

The Summary:
Those who read my review of The X-Men #1 (Lee, et al, 1963) will remember that I wasn’t exactly impressed with the X-Men’s debut appearance. Setting aside the sexist attitudes and outdated dialogue at work in that comic, the story was a plodding, laborious read that ended right as it was about to get interesting. Additionally, you may recall that I’m not exactly the most well-read of X-Men fans; I find the lore to be somewhat impenetrable because there are so many characters and so many stories that even trying to read the most famous arcs can leave you scratching your head in bemusement at the density of the mythology. Giant-Size X-Men #1 is therefore far more accessible, in some ways, as it acts as a soft reboot for the comic that features some of the most iconic X-Men ever created.

Most of the new X-Men get a chance to shine with their colourful powers and abrasive personalities.

What makes Giant-Size X-Men #1 a better read than The X-Men #1, though, is that the characters are much more visually interesting and distinct in their personalities. Wolverine, Thunderbird, and Sunfire are all different levels of abrasive, with Sunfire openly clashing with Nightcrawler, Wolverine resorting to violence at the drop of a hat, and Thunderbird offering criticisms on the stability of the new team. Conversely, Storm, having lived a sheltered life where she was worshipped as a Goddess, is somewhat naïve and Nightcrawler just wants everyone, human and Mutant alike, to be accepted. Banshee, Cyclops, and Professor X are, of course, some familiar faces to long-time X-Men readers. Thankfully, both Professor X and Xavier are far less annoying than in their debut comic; Xavier is less of a stern, uncompromising teacher and more a worried father-figure desperate to rescue his students from their mysterious fate and Cyclops, rather than trying to force his authority over the new Mutants, is similarly concerned only with holding the fledging team together long enough to rescue his friends and loved ones.

Krakoa exists mainly to bring the X-Men together and it doesn’t take much to defeat it.

Similar to The X-Men #1, Giant-Size X-Men #1 is more concerned with introducing and assembling its team of Mutants rather than all-out action but, as I say, it does a far better job of doing this than its predecessor as the new team is introduced in interesting ways rather than just expositing their abilities in the Danger Room. Although little is made of Nightcrawler’s teleportation abilities or Wolverine’s heightened senses, each of the new characters get a bit of time to shine, although the final battle against Krakoa boils down more to Polaris channelling various energies into herself rather than a concentrated group effort besting the island-sized Mutant. Still, I much preferred the dialogue, characterisations, and presentation here than in the X-Men’s debut story, though I’ll admit that a lot of that has to do with me favouring these characters and the move away from redundant exposition and storytelling from the sixties.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

What are your thoughts of Giant-Size X-Men #1? What did you think to the new X-Men and their introduction? Which of the new characters was your favourite? What did you think to Krakoa as the main threat and the way it was defeated? Which era of the X-Men is your favourite and who is your favourite ever team/character? How are you planning on celebrating X-Men Day this month? Whatever your thoughts, leave a comment below, and be sure to come back every Saturday for the rest of May for more X-Men content.

Back Issues [Crossover Crisis]: The Uncanny X-Men and The New Teen Titans


In April of 1985, the first issue of the ground-breaking, twelve issue Crisis on Infinite Earths (Wolfman, et al, 1986) was published. This event, which was easily the biggest in DC Comics at that point (and for many years), saw the destruction of the “Multiverse”, an infinite number of parallel worlds, and the awkward establishing of one unified DC canon. Over the years, DC have returned to this concept again and again, retconning it, expanding upon it, and milking it to the point of excess but that doesn’t change how influential this massive crossover was. To celebrate this momentous event, I’m looking at multiversal crossovers every Wednesday in April in an event I’m calling “Crossover Crisis”.


Story Title: “Apokolips… Now!”
Published: January 1982
Writer: Chris Claremont
Artist: Walt Simonson

The Background:
As I’ve mentioned on a couple of occasions, DC Comics and Marvel Comics have had a surprisingly collaborative and amicable relationship over the years that has led to some inter-company friendships, homages, and co-publications between the two comic book giants. By 1982, both Marvel’s Uncanny X-Men and DC’s Teen Titans were seeing a resurgence in popularity thanks to both teams featuring an exciting new creative and character line-up. Over in Marvel Comics, writer Chris Claremont had revitalised Marvel’s Mutant team by introducing a group of diverse and multi-cultural new characters while the New Teen Titans, under the pen of Marv Wolfman, had been aged up and also included some of the title’s most synonymous characters. With so many similarities between the two teams, and considering the success of the two titles were selling at the time, a crossover between the two was a smart business move for both parties.

The Review:
“Apokolips… Now!” begins at the Source Wall, an impossibly large stone wall that represents the edge of the known universe and which is comprised of the legendary Promethean Giants, who were turned to stone for trying to breach the boundaries of the cosmos. There, we find Metron, the generally impartial intellectual of the New Gods, conversing with all-mighty Darkseid, who gifts him with the “Omega-Phase Helmet”, a highly advanced crown that allows Metron’s Mobius Chair to achieve the impossible and penetrate the great stone wall in order for them both to achieve their heart’s desire (Metron for knowledge and Darkseid for power).

A normal day at the X-Mansion is interrupted by a vision of Jean.

The story then jumps to Westchester, New York where Professor Xavier’s X-Men are engaging in a training session within the Danger Room, an exercise that grates on Logan/Wolverine’s patience despite his respect for the professor. After impressing Xavier with their teamwork, the Mutants retire for dinner and the story takes the opportunity to catch us up not only with the current X-Men roster and their powers (the aforementioned Wolverine, Scott Summers/Cyclops, Ororo Munroe/Storm, Piotr “Peter” Rasputin/Colossus, Kurt Wagner/Nightcrawler, and Kitty Pryde/Shadowcat) but also the tragic rise and downfall of Jean Grey, who attained incredible cosmic powers as the Phoenix that eventually corrupted and consumed her. The X-Men’s memories of Jean are extracted by Darkseid and the Phoenix briefly assumes a corporeal form where she begs for help from Cyclops much like Barry Allen/The Flash did in Crisis on Infinite Earths.

Raven and Starfire are spooked by Phoenix while Robin is jumped by Deathstroke!

Meanwhile, over at Titans Tower (yes, in this story, the Marvel and DC universes again exist in a shared world rather than being separate, parallel worlds), Rachel Roth/Raven of the New Teen Titans finds her dreams interrupted by a prophetic nightmare of a woman, taking the shape of a flaming bird, destroying their world. When Garfield Logan/Changeling assumes the form of a similar bird, Koriand’r/Starfire randomly loses control of herself and attacks him; well aware of the threat that the Phoenix poses, Starfire summons the remaining members of the team (Wally West/Kid Flash, Donna Troy/Wonder Girl, and Victor Stone/Cyborg) away from their procrastinations, personal lives, and crimefighting antics to bring them up to speed on the Phoenix’s destructive power. Dick Grayson/Robin, however, is kept from joining his team mates when he butts heads with one of Darkseid’s Parademons only to be attacked by Slade Wilson/Deathstroke the Terminator, who not only reveals that he’s in cahoots with Darkseid but is easily able to knock Robin unconscious thanks to his superior physical and mental abilities. The X-Men discover that Jean’s parents and other areas across the world have also witnessed visions of Jean and mysterious incidents all linked to Jean’s past. After locating Robin, Starfire relates Phoenix’s legend as the “chaos-bringer” and a cataclysmic force; although Robin points out that cosmic threats are a little out of their league, and the more pressing issue of Deathstroke’s current plot, he promises Starfire that they’ll do everything they can to track down and stop Phoenix. The story then introduces us to Ravok the Ravager, another of Darkseid’s henchmen who he recruits as part of his plot to siphon the Phoenix’s vast cosmic powers.

Both the X-Men and Teen Titans are captured with a ridiculous amount of ease.

Weary from pushing himself too far, Xavier enters a deep sleep and barely has enough time to defend himself when Starfire bursts into the X-Mansion and attacks him in a rage. Xavier’s unparalleled psychic powers are subdued by a combination of Cyborg’s ultrasonic blasts and Raven’s dark “Soul-Self”, however Robin is disturbed and irritated at his team’s recklessness in breaking into the mansion and attacking Xavier without provocation. His reprimanding is interrupted by the arrival of Ravok and his Shock Commandos, who storm the mansion looking for the X-Men but quickly adapt to defeat and kidnap all of the Teen Titans but Changeling, who follows along undetected. While investigating New Mexico, the X-Men comes across Deathstroke and one of Darkseid’s “Psi-phons”; although they easily destroy the Psi-phon and are able to fend off the Parademons, Deathstroke quickly recovers from Wolverine’s initial attack to take each of the Mutants out with a “fear ray” that grounds Storm, a “toxi-grenade” that renders Shadowcat, Nightcrawler, and even Wolverine unconscious while a Parademon blasts Cyclops, and overpowers even Colossus’ hulking metallic form. Deathstroke and Ravok bring their captives to all-mighty Darkseid, who waits at the Source Wall and immediately sees through Changeling’s deception to subdue him, and then kills Ravok for his ineptitude with his destructive “Omega Beams”.

Darkseid summons Dark Phoenix but the heroes quickly join forces to confront the New God.

Darkseid secures his captives to a gigantic machine, the “Psychon-Wave”, which painfully and forcefully draws upon their superhuman powers and the Mutants’ memories of Jean, concentrating them on the breach in the Source Wall to bring Dark Phoenix back to life. He then regales the inquisitive Changeling with the reason for this plot (basically, he wants to use the Phoenix to transform the Earth into a new Apokolips that will allow him to conquer first New Genesis and then the length and breadth of reality itself). Hungry for destruction, Phoenix willingly accompanies Darkseid through a Boom Tube to begin this plot but, quite ludicrously, the heroes’ restraints disappear when Darkseid departs! Freed from captivity, the Teen Titans and the X-Men immediately agree to work together to stop Darkseid and Phoenix despite Wolverine not being happy about working with kids. While Shadowcat tries to flirt with Changeling and Kid Flash comments on the diversity of the X-Men, Cyborg, Xavier, Starfire, and Cyclops locate and acquire the Mobius Chair, which Shadowcat and Changeling accidentally activate to provide them with a means of escape. Tensions are stirred when Colossus sees Shadowcat flirting with Changeling and when Starfire kisses Colossus in order to learn Russian, but the team are soon carried back to New York in order to fulfil Cyclops’ solemn vow to make Darkseid pay for violating Jean’s memory and peace. They follow Phoenix’s unique psychic trail to a series of underground tunnels beneath the city where they are attacked by Deathstroke’s Parademons once more. Rather than waste time in a pointless battle, Robin and Cyclops give the order to collapse the tunnel and blast an escape route for their two teams, which conveniently brings them out right at Darkseid’s main base.

Dark Phoenix threatens the Earth’s safety so is subjected to a psychic attack.

Impressed at the tenacity of his foes, Darkseid dispatches Deathstroke and Dark Phoenix to hold the two groups off while he complete his work; although Starfire attacks Dark Phoenix in a fury, her starbolts succeed only in further empowering the corrupted Jean, who vehemently resists Nightcrawler’s attempts to reason with her and equally overwhelms even Raven’s Soul-Self. Dark Phoenix then powers up Darkseid’s “Hellpit” and Darkseid boasts about how this will transform Earth into Apokolips within mere minutes. Interestingly, he actually offers the X-Men and the Teen Titans the opportunity to yield and join his cause, which isn’t something I’ve ever seen Darkseid do before, but Shadowcat and Changeling opt instead to use their powers to try and disrupt and destroy the technology powering the Hellpit. For their insubordination, Darkseid commands Dark Phoenix to destroy them but they are saved at the last second by the combined power of Raven, Xavier, and the Mobius Chair. After Cyclops subdues Deathstroke and Robin spirits Shadowcat and Changeling out of danger, Dark Phoenix is bombarded by a psychic assault that simultaneously drains her rage and hatred and overwhelms her with love and affection.

Darkseid is defeated when the Phoenix Force is unleashed against him.

Drained, and close to unravelling, Dark Phoenix is easily goaded into reabsorbing the blast she fired at the Earth to sustain herself. When Darkseid moves to intervene, he is assaulted first by Kid Flash and then the combined forces of Cyborg, Wonder Girl, Colossus, and Starfire, who force his Omega Beams back into his eyes and therefore keep him from stopping Dark Phoenix from empowering herself and thus sparing the Earth. However, still at risk from being consumed by her raging power, Phoenix heeds Darkseid’s advice to focus her energies through a physical form and bonds herself to Cyclops. This, however, proves to be her undoing as Cyclops channels her powers with his undying devotion to his lost love and then turns the full Phoenix Force against Darkseid. The chaotic, flaming energy blasts itself, and Darkseid, across the vast cosmos of the universe to return to the Source Wall and thus imprison the New God within the Wall alongside the doomed giants of yore. Victorious, the two teams revel in how close they came to being destroyed and how fantastic their triumph was, while Scott finds some solace in Storm’s suggestion that Jean’s good soul ultimately saved them in the end. Finally, Metron returns to his chair and bids farewell to the imprisoned Darkseid, commenting that everything has returned as it once was as is to be expected.

The Summary:
“Apokolips…Now!” is quite the chaotic story; considering how many characters it has to juggle, it’s honestly surprising how coherent the story ends up being. If there’s one thing that always puts me off about team-based comics, especially X-Men and the Teen Titans, it’s the sheer abundance of characters and lore a single issue has to deal with so to mash the two together is no mean feat. The result is that no one single character from either team really gets any focus; indeed, many of the characters have next to nothing to do and the focus is, instead, on the meeting of the two teams rather than a bunch of separate interactions between them.

There are a lot of characters who don’t always get time to shine and whose interactions are a bit limited.

This is best seen in the fact that neither Robin or Cyclops get much of a chance to act as a field leader; Nightcrawler is basically a non-factor, and Wonder Girl may as well not be there. Sure, most of the characters are assumed to be busy in fisticuffs with the Parademons and the Shock Commandos but we don’t really get to see much of this. Indeed, we’re even denied a proper fight involving Deathstroke; he takes out Robin with a ridiculous amount of ease, subdues all of the X-Men largely single-handedly, and his fight with Wolverine all takes place off-panel! These days, I like to believe that you’d never see that happen given how prominent Deathstroke and Wolverine are but, in this, Deathstroke is little more than one of Darkseid’s minions who gets taken out pretty quickly to continue the focus on Dark Phoenix. Indeed, Jean’s presence gets more play here than a lot of the other characters; her death was still relatively new at the time and hadn’t been driven into the ground yet so her reappearance is a particularly emotional moment for the X-Men, particularly Cyclops. However, while it’s pretty cool to see Dark Phoenix enamoured with Darkseid and willing to commit global destruction on his behalf, it’s not really enough to elevate this story for me.

While the art is great, the story is just okay and wastes a lot of potential.

I’m not entirely sure where Metron went or what happened to him when he breached the Source Wall and Darkseid’s plot basically boils down to every other plan he has (he’s either seeking out the Anti-Life Equation or trying to conquer the universe, it seems) and, again, he really doesn’t do all that much. This isn’t entirely out of character for Darkseid, who typically allows his underlings to do his work for him, but it’s kind of weird to see him team up with Deathstroke. Like…did Darkseid pay Slade off? I can’t help but feel Trigon might have been a more suitable villain for the New God to ally with. Overall, it’s a pretty decent tale; we don’t get to see the X-Men and the Teen Titans facing off against each other (the closest we get to that is when the Teen Titans attack a weakened Xavier), which is a shame, but it’s fun seeing the teams co-operate. There’s a little tension in the brief Colossus/Shadowcat/Changeling “love triangle” but that’s about all the dissention we get; I would have liked to see how Robin and Cyclop’s leadership styles differ and more interactions from Kid Flash, Wolverine, Wonder Girl, and Storm. Instead, the comic is all about the spectacle of seeing these different comic publisher’s heroes and villains interact in as unspectacular a way as possible. A fun adventure, to be sure, but maybe a little too “safe” and it could very easily be any one of a hundred other X-Men or Teen Titan stories with a few tweaks…but at least the artwork is good.

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

Have you ever read The Uncanny X-Men and the New Teen Titans? If so, what did you think to it? Do you own a copy of the original comic or do you remember reading it when it was first published? Were you disappointed that the two teams didn’t come to blows or were you happy to see them just working together with no issues? Would you have preferred to see different characters in each team’s line-ups? What did you think to Darkseid’s plan and the return of Dark Phoenix? Would you like to see the X-Men interact with Marvel heroes again in the future and, if so, what stories would you like to see? Whatever your thoughts on The Uncanny X-Men and the New Teen Titans, and comic book crossovers of this kind, drop a comment down below and check back next Wednesday for the final instalment of Crossover Crisis.

Talking Movies: Hulk vs. Wolverine

Released: 27 January 2009
Director: Frank Paur
Distributor: Lionsgate
Budget: Unknown
Stars: Steven Blum, Fred Tatasciore, Tom Kane, Janyse Jaud, Colin Murdock, Mark Acheson, Nolan North, Bryce Johnson, and Tom Kane

The Plot:
After Doctor Bruce Banner’s (Johnson) rampaging alter-ego, the Hulk (Tatasciore), is suspected of destroying a town, Department H send Logan/Wolverine (Blum) in to confront the creature. However, their brutal brawl is interrupted by soldiers from Weapon X, who want the Hulk for their own reasons, forcing the two into a fragile alliance to keep the Jade Giant from being turned into a living weapon.

The Background:
Marvel Comics have had a long history with animated ventures; some of these, like the X-Men animated series (1992 to 1997), largely defined a generation of fans. In 2004, with the Marvel Cinematic Universe was still about four years away from it genesis, Marvel licensed many of their characters out for live-action films, many of which were massive critical and financial successes. To capitalise on this wave of mainstream popularity, Marvel made a deal with Lions Gate Entertainment to produce a series of direct-to-video animated movies based on their characters. Sales were initially very strong and, while the releases soon dropped from two per year to one, 2009 saw a dual feature release that pitted the Hulk against Wolverine and Thor Odinson in separate adventures. Hulk vs. would go on to make the second-highest gross out of all of these animated films and Hulk vs. Wolverine was met with generally positive reviews, potentially because of Wolverine’s inclusion and growing popularity at the time and the inclusion of fan favourite character Deadpool. Wade W. Wilson (also known as “Deadpool”) was created by Fabian Nicieza and Rob Liefeld and first appeared in The New Mutants #98 in February 1991. Though originally little more than a cold-blooded mercenary, the wise-cracking “Merc With a Mouth” went on to become one of the few comic book characters to be aware that they are comic book characters, leading to a warped, violent sense of humour, a tendency to break the fourth wall, and one of Marvel Comics’ most popular characters.

The Review:
Hulk vs. Wolverine begins with a narration by Wolverine, who awakens beaten and bloodied in the middle of the Canadian wilderness. Momentarily disorientated, he painfully shoves his arm back into his socket and his memory is jogged by the dramatic arrival of the enraged Hulk. From there, the feature flashes back to four hours earlier in the day; Logan was transported into Canada by Department H after a town was destroyed by a creature believed to be the Hulk. Wolverine’s senses give him the general sense of what happened and, excited at the prospect of hunting down the Hulk, is given carte blanche to stop the Green Goliath by any means necessary before he can hurt anyone else. Free-falling to the snow-encrusted wilderness, Wolverine follows his enhanced sense of smell deep into the forests and mountains in search of the Hulk (a search made all the easier by the gigantic impact craters the Hulk has left behind as he leaps across the mountains) but finds only the distraught Bruce Banner.

Wolverine is sent to stop the Hulk but their fight is interrupted by Weapon X.

Although Banner begs him to leave and laments his condition, his transformation into the rampaging Hulk s triggered when Wolverine catches the Hulk’s scent on Banner and threatens him. After being knocked clear across the valley from a single punch from the Hulk, Wolverine recovers as in the opening and an all-out slugfest between the two ensues. Rather than engage the Hulk in head-to-head combat, Wolverine initially tries to use his wiles to attack the Hulk from behind, stabbing him repeatedly in the back, but the Hulk’s unquenchably rage and strength quickly overpower Wolverine and leave him a beaten, bloody pulp. As tenacious as his namesake, Wolverine gives in to his bloodlust and continues the fight, gouging deep, bloody wounds into the Hulk using his Adamantium claws but their fight is soon interrupted by a barrage of tranquilizer darts fired by Deadpool (North) and the arrival of Victor Creed/Sabretooth (Acheson), Arkady Rossovich/Omega Red (Murdock), and Yuriko Oyama/Lady Deathstrike (Jaud). Succumbing to the dart, Logan recalls how, while drinking himself into a stupor, he was abducted by the mysterious Professor (Kane) and subjected to the Adamantium bonding process against his will.

Wolverine’s past in Weapon X comes back to haunt him with a vengeance.

In the aftermath, he became the brainwashed soldier code-named Weapon X and was forced into a series of combat scenarios alongside the other Weapon X “graduates”; in time, Sabretooth’s unheeded warnings regarding Logan’s stability came to pass and he violently escaped from the facility and fled into the Canadian wilderness. Wolverine is brought back to the present by a vicious beating from his former teammate; as Sabretooth beats on him, Deadpool chatters incessantly, but the Professor (now sporting a robotic claw hand) interrupts to proceedings to reveal that Weapon X has been pursuing the Hulk and causing the destruction attributed to the beast in their efforts to capture him. The Professor plans to wipe the Hulk’s memories and brainwash him using the same procedures they subjected Logan to back in the day and place Wolverine back into the containment capsule in order to subdue him once more. As each of the Weapon X members wants Wolverine dead, Sabretooth kills the Professor so that he and Deathstrike can torture Logan and rip him to shreds; however, Wolverine is able to goad Deathstrike into skewering him in such a way that frees him from Sabretooth’s grip and, after slicing off her arm, attempts to escape the facility, slaughtering a whole bunch of armed guards in the process.

Hulk tears his way through Weapon X but the film ends with his fight against Logan unresolved.

Although Deadpool isn’t convinced by Sabretooth’s story that Wolverine attacked the Professor, he agrees to hunt down and kill Logan, who frees Banner in order to get the Hulk’s help. A frail, despondent figure, Banner is tired of his dual existence and yet also terrified at the prospect of being turned into a weapon. Although horrified by Omega Red and Deadpool, Banner refuses to let the Hulk out so Wolverine stabs him in the gut to help speed up the transformation before engaging his adversaries alone; thanks to their individual healing factors, the fight is bloody and brutal and effectively pointless and yet each of them do everything they can to try and kill the other. Despite his best efforts, Banner is unable to hold off the transformation and, as Omega Red as Wolverine tangled up in his electrified tentacles, the Hulk attacks in a blind rage. The Hulk easily shrugs off Deadpool’s bullets and Omega Red’s tentacles, unwittingly saving Wolverine from Deathstrike’s clutches in the process; remembering Wolverine as an enemy, the Hulk charges after him, swatting aside Deadpool when Wolverine hilariously uses him as a human shield and dispatching Deathstrike with his patented clap before ripping her cybernetic limbs off. Hulk then pounds Omega Red into submission before bringing the entire facility down around them in his desperate need to escape; Wolverine is launched clear by the resultant explosion and the film ends with the two once again leaping to engage each other amidst the Canadian snow.

The Nitty-Gritty:
Unlike the other Marvel animated efforts, Hulk vs. Wolverine isn’t exactly what you would call a feature-length presentation; this is mainly because it was released alongside Hulk vs. Thor (Liu, 2009) and, together, the two are supposed to form a kind of double feature. While they’re not exactly directly related to each other, this does help explain the brevity of Hulk vs. Wolverine, which is more like a bite-size version of a much greater story.

Hulk’s fight with Wolverine is cut short, as is similarities between Banner and Logan.

You might think that this means the feature is a simple extended fight scene between the two characters but that isn’t actually the case; yes, Wolverine and the Hulk engage in bloody, brutal combat for a few minutes but their fight is quickly interrupted by the Weapon X members. The primary selling point of the feature then takes an extended break to touch upon Wolverine’s back story with Weapon X, which makes this much more like a snapshot of his character rather than a battle for the ages.

As amusing as Deadpool is, the Weapon X plot completely overshadows the title fight.

Indeed, Wolverine (and the Hulk, for that matter) spend more of the feature fighting against Weapon X than they do each other. On the plus side, this means there’s still a lot of violence and action packed into the feature’s short runtime and loads of opportunities for Deadpool to steal the show with his wit and wacky nature but those looking to see Hulk fighting Wolverine, as the title promises, may be left disappointment at how little of the action is actually focused on this fight. It’s interesting seeing a brief glimpse into Wolverine’s animosity against Weapon X but it’s all very rushed and glossed over to get to the next violent scuffle; I would have liked to see a bit more time spent exploring Banner’s desperation and downtrodden character at the sacrifice of, say, Omega Red (who was largely inconsequential overall) and a bit more time spent exploring the dichotomy between Banner/Hulk and Wolverine (since both are characters who rage and animal nature often overcome their rational minds). Instead, the feature blasts through a “greatest hits” package of Wolverine’s life, hints at relationships to characters many audiences might not be immediately familiar with (the past between Wolverine and Sabretooth and Deathstrike is given the bare minimum of lip service), and seems to have little faith in the concept of Hulk fighting Wolverine since it would rather skew its run time towards the more popular Wolverine.

The Summary:
Hulk vs. Wolverine is a fun, if brief, way to spend about forty minutes of your life. Although it doesn’t quite deliver on its premise, the fight between the Hulk and Wolverine is brutal and exciting and there is a great deal of violence packed into its short run time. Hulk vs. Wolverine definitely doesn’t shy away from the ferocious nature of its title characters, or their adversaries, which is refreshing to see since these are violent characters and should be treated as such, but it definitely feels as though Wolverine’s presence overshadows that of the Hulk and the core concept of the feature. Although Deadpool’s role in the animated is small, he definitely stands out and it was exciting to see him included but, in the end, the insertion of Weapon X and the focus on Wolverine’s character definitely keeps Hulk vs. Wolverine from living up to its potential. I guess seeing the Hulk and Wolverine go at it for about half an hour straight wouldn’t have been that interesting but, as I said, there was a lot of potential in paralleling Logan’s animalistic character and nature with Banner’s condition that was imply abandoned to capitalise on Wolverine’s incredibly popularity and that’s a bit of a shame despite the feature being chock full of violent action and bloody violence.

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

What did you think to Hulk vs. Wolverine? Do you feel like it wasted the potential of its premise or were you happy with what was presented? How do you feel it compares to Hulk vs. Thor and the other Marvel animated features? Which member of Weapon X was your favourite and how did you feel about the way Banner was portrayed here? What did you think to Deadpool’s inclusion and characterisation and would you like to see him featured in animation more often? How are you celebrating Deadpool’s debut this month? Whatever your thoughts on the Deadpool, or Marvel’s animated features, feel free to leave a comment below.

Talking Movies: Logan

Talking Movies

Released: 3 March 2017
Director: James Mangold
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Budget: $97 to 127 million
Stars: Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Boyd Holbrook, Stephen Merchant, Dafne Keen, and Richard E. Grant

The Plot:
It’s 2029 and Mutants are all but extinct. Jaded, world-weary, and suffering from Adamantium poisoning due to his weakened healing factor, James Howlett/Logan (Jackman) has been trying to keep the increasingly-dementia-ridden Professor Charles Xavier (Stewart) out of harm’s way but his already tumultuous life is thrown one last curveball when they are forced into protecting Laura/X-23 (Keen) from a group of mercenaries seeking to retrieve her and genetically engineer Mutants as potential soldiers.

The Background:
By 2017, 20th Century Fox had more than profited from their various X-Men movies and spin-offs, which had raked in over $1,800,000,000 at the box office. Although The Wolverine (ibid, 2013) received mixed reviews upon release, a sequel was still put into development thanks, in no small part, to the film’s worldwide gross of over $300 million and Hugh Jackman’s popularity and commitment to the role. Rather than produce a direct continuation of the last film, and on keeping with the loose continuity of Fox’s X-Men franchise, this new film drew inspiration from movies like The Wrestler (Aronofsky, 2008) and Unforgiven (Eastwood, 1992) as well as storylines such as “Old Man Logan” (Millar, et al, 2008 to 2009). Purposely developed to be the conclusion to Jackman’s time in the role, the film took the surprisingly simple title of Logan and was produced as an R-rated film in order to make Jackman’s last outing the most violent yet. Afforded a much smaller budget than its predecessors, Logan went on to be an unprecedented critical and commercial success, earning over $600 million at the box office and drawing rave reviews across the board for its bleak tone, violence, and emotionally affecting end to the character’s extraordinary popularity. Though potential follow-ups were thrown into uncertainty when Disney purchased the 20th Century Fox, regaining the rights to the X-Men franchise, among others, in the process, Jackman has, so far, remained adamant that Logan would be his last go-around in the role.

The Review:
Set in the far future of 2029, Logan (who has, somehow, regained all of, if not most of, his memories and now openly refers to himself as “James Howlett” and is even (mysteriously) carrying an Adamantium bullet from X-Men Origins: Wolverine (Hood, 2009) that he plans to use to kill himself with at some point) is now a dishevelled, world-weary, broken down limo driver who is succumbing to Adamantium poisoning and his weakened healing factor, which allows him to drink himself into a stupor but also results in a prominent limp and a visible amount of pain and discomfort. Completely done with the X-Men, Mutants, and pretty much everything in life, he has no time for anything or anyone, much less the assholes trying to steal the tyres off his limo. He doesn’t want to fight anymore and just wants to be left alone but is incredibly irritable and quick to anger because of everything he’s been through and brutally skewers, slices, and dices the thieves when they push him too far; though he is hurt in the process, he’s more annoyed that they damaged his limo.

Logan and Xavier have a rocky, dysfunctional father-son relationship.

Logan has no time or patience at the best of times but least of all of those who call him “Wolverine”, proposition him, or oppose him; he dismisses Gabriela Lopez’s (Elizabeth Rodriguez) pleas for help until she promises him a big bundle of cash and is angrily dismissive of the semi-cybernetic Donald Pierce (Holbrook). He just wants to be left alone and has no interest in helping or fighting anyone so, when Laura ends up in his care, he is extremely annoyed at being dragged out of his hole and Xavier’s insistence that they help and protect her. Logan is working as a limo driver to save up the money to buy a yacht and disappear from civilisation forever with the decrepit and increasingly irascible Xavier; Xavier now suffers from bouts of dementia, which results in mood swings, a fractured perception of time and reality, an overall grouchy demeanour and spite-filled outbursts, and, worse of all, awful seizures which cause incredible pain to those in his vicinity. He has a tumultuous relationship with Logan, resembling a petulant child at times, but also trying to stress the importance of Laura’s existence and safety and is still trying to teach him to be a better man.

Xavier’s seizures make him a very real danger to those around him.

Logan, of course, is the only one able to endure Xavier’s abuse and is doing everything he can to keep Xavier safe, and others safe from him, and to administer his medication to him. He sticks by the Professor out of a begrudging love and loyalty, seeing him as a father-figure, but isn’t happy about what he’s become, the world they live in, or the life he leads. It’s very heavily hinted that the Professor killed all of the X-Men during one of his seizures, which is haunting Logan and causing him incredible grief and pain since he, presumably, witnessed it and he has to live with the knowledge of it. We see a sample of Xavier’s seizures early on and Caliban (Merchant) complains about how they’re getting worse but we don’t really see their true, devastating effects until later in the film when Xavier lapses into a violent episode as Peirce’s men are coming for him and Laura. The effect is an intense, crippling version of Xavier’s “freeze ability” first seen in X-Men 2 (Singer, 2003), rendering all within his vicinity helpless and wracked with pain. This results in one of the film’s standout moments as Logan, struggling against the effects of Xavier’s mind the way a man struggles against the tide, rams his claws into Peirce’s men with a violent ruthlessness. Even after Logan delivers Xavier’s medicine and stops the seizure, though, it has lasting effects as those who suffered from it lie in agony or struggle to regain their composure.

Pierce is full of the kind of egotism that only youth can bring.

Caliban isn’t really given a lot of  backstory or focus but Merchant does a decent job with the limited time he has; it’s nice to see new Mutants/characters involved in the franchise but, beyond acting as Logan’s conscience and trying make him realise the hopelessness and gravity of their situation, he doesn’t really have much else to do except get used and abused by Pierce, add to Logan’s grief, be ignored, and sacrifice himself in an unsuccessful attempt to kill Pierce (though he does take some of the other Reavers out with him). Pierce, though, is a charismatic, arrogant antagonist; he’s full of the kind of egotism that only youth can bring and attempts to coerce Logan into co-operating before leading a raid on his Mexican hideout. Though persistent, he’s clearly in over his head but determined to see his mission through; still, at least he’s not another guy-in-a-suit villain. In the end, he meets his need not at Logan’s hands but at the hands of a new batch of young Mutants, his commitment to the mission turning out to be his downfall, though he does last a little longer than his employer, Doctor Zander Rice (Grant).

Rice is, honestly, a waste of Grant’s talents and simply there to be the film’s “mastermind”.

Personally, I feel the inclusion of Rice is a little unnecessary; it’s a bit of a waste of Grant’s talents and stature as an actor and I almost feel like it would have worked better if he had showed up for the finale in a quick cameo rather than being peppered throughout the film simply to deliver exposition. Rice is basically a substitute for Colonel William Stryker (Brian Cox); a scientist who is experimenting on, and fascinated by, Mutants. The difference, though, is that Price unwittingly caused the extinction/suppression of Mutants through his research and is now working to genetically engineer a new generation of Mutants by splicing the genes of the older generation, such as the X-Men and, of course, Logan. Price is a slimy, manipulative individual; pragmatic and logical but also entirely convinced that his way is just and yet, at the same time, marvels at X-24’s (Jackman) efficiency and savagery. His villain is the kind of hypocritical kind who believes he was only trying to help humanity and, having accidentally effectively wiped Mutants out, is now trying to rebuild Mutants according to his design.

Laura is the breakout character, being both an innocent child and a whirling ball of savage fury.

Of course, Laura is the standout character; initially little more than a scared, unassuming little girl, she is a whirlwind of feral fury and naïve innocence. The two combined are a dangerous combination, making her unpredictable and violent at the best of times, though easily appeased by childish wants and desires (cereal with too much milk, X-Men comics, kiddy rides, snacks, funky sunglasses, fiddling with everything she sees and the like). When her life is in danger, or those around her are threatened, she reacts with a primal, savage fury, attacking and killing on instinct, and is every bit the animal that Logan has fought against all these years. As the film progresses, Laura opens up more, speaking first in angry Spanish and then in angry English; her and Logan begrudgingly bond, forming a dysfunctional family dynamic alongside Xavier, and her safety becomes his final mission and reason for living over the course of the film. Having buried his oldest friend and mentor, Logan is vulnerable and grieving and, in that moment, comes to see Laura as a true person, his daughter, rather than simply a liability or mission.

The Nitty-Gritty:
Of course, what separates Logan from its predecessors is its excessive violence, gore, and profanity (which Jackman secured by selflessly taking a pay cut); Logan is covered in scars and bruises, his claws sever limbs and skewer his prey without mercy and in extremely brutal fashion. Irritable and grouchy, Logan is quick to a fiery temper and has no time for decorum or mercy this time around and this is reflected in the way he mercilessly dismembers those who get in his way, as though losing the X-Men finally removed the last vestiges of his humanity and he’s been left with its tattered remnants.

Despite his rage, Logan is crippled by chronic pain and a lifetime of injuries and fatigue.

This is clearly the most vulnerable and distraught we’ve ever seen Logan; perhaps the closest parallel was when he was living like a hermit at the beginning of The Wolverine. Here, though, he’s lost absolutely everything and is suffering inside and out; we saw him struggling with a dodgy healing factor in The Wolverine but it’s far worse here as not only does he struggle to heal, or heal properly, but all his old wounds are resurfacing and he is slowly dying from, and being crippled by, Adamantium poisoning. He suffers from a persistent cough, is clearly in constant pain, and is now forced to wear glasses to read, watch phone screens, and to see properly. Despite this, Logan continues to fight with a savage fury when pushed; he fights through the pain, uses it even, which results in a number of visceral, brutal action scenes but also allows the film to explore Logan’s humanity in a way we haven’t seen before. Ultimately he succeeds in this but in a thematic way since Laura uses the bullet to blow X-24’s head off.

Xavier meets a gruesome end after a rare, and tragic, moment of clarity.

Xavier is a broken-down shell of his former self; frail and weak and far from his usual eloquent sense. Prone to bouts of profanity and cruel spite, Xavier is a shadow of the man he used to be and is entirely dependant upon, and resentful of, Logan and Caliban. Of course, Xavier’s condition makes it difficult to separate fact from fiction; his outbursts and vindictiveness could be due to his dementia since he perks up once Laura comes into their lives. Xavier is transformed by the conformation of a new breed of Mutants, determined to protect Laura and get her to the rest of her kind, and becomes more of a kindly old grandfather. This make sit all the more tragic when, in a moment of clarity and sanity, he is brutally murdered by X-24 and dies believing that Logan, his last remaining student and friend, killed him.

In death, Logan finally finds the peace he has long desired and ensures that his legacy will live on.

Logan is deeply affected by Xavier’s death; he is horrified at the thought that his mentor and father-figure died thinking he had turned on him and uses that anger as motivation in his fight against Pierce, Rice, and X-24 but he is hopelessly outmatched by his younger, stronger clone. All the determination, rage, and will in the world don’t really help Logan in a one-on-one fight and he is forced to use whatever means he can, including both taking Rice’s serum and sacrificing his own life, to end X-24’s threat. In the end, Logan is able to deliver Laura to her fellow new Mutants and dies to protect her; in the process, he finds the peace he has long desired in that his legacy gets to live on and he finally gave his life for something worthwhile, a chance for a new generation of Mutants to live free in the world. It’s a poignant scene, one that is a fitting farewell for Jackman and his iconic role, though a part of me would have preferred to see Liev Schreiber return as Victor Creed rather than a clone of Logan.

X-24 emobides Logan’s darker, animalistic side of Logan and exists as his dark mirror.

However, X-24 has obvious thematic reasons to exist; superficially, he represents everything Logan has fought to not be over the years, being little more than a savage animal forced to blindly and unquestioningly follow orders. Additionally, he is the younger, stronger version of Logan (with none of the age, scars, blemishes, or pain that Logan carries) meaning that, in fighting X-24, Logan is literally and figuratively fighting against himself, his past, and the most savage parts of his nature. Again, though, I do feel like Creed could have fulfilled this in exactly the same way (X-24 even resembles Creed in many ways) but I guess it’s more explicit this way and keeps the filmmakers from referencing one of the more unfavourably-received X-Men films. Still, I’m glad, and actually kind of surprised, that the filmmakers decided to not keep X-24 around in an attempt to leave the door open for Jackman’s return and the film definitely seems to be setting Laura up to be the next Wolverine.

As great as the film is, there are some questionable moments to nitpick.

There are some things that bother me about the film, however; first and foremost is, obviously, its sketchy continuity. Apparently, this film takes place in the “Good Future” seen at the end of X-Men: Days of Future Past (Singer, 2014), which is fine but a little depressing that, no matter which timeline you follow, the X-Men are doomed to suffer and die. Second, there’s the massive lull the film takes with Logan, Xavier, and Laura stop to help a family on the highway and end up getting close to them; it works, again in a thematic sense, to remind Logan of what it means to be happy and have a family but it does kind of slow the film down and it’s a pretty cheap way to up the body count, add to Logan’s grief and rage, and to sell X-24 as a relentless killer. Add to that Gabriella’s incredibly well edited phone video, which stretches plausibility not only through its professional construction but also through her ability to record all of that footage without being spotted. Finally, there’s the vague explanation of what happened to the X-Men and the other Mutants; I can appreciate the subtle ways the film hints at its story and what has happened but, considering how wildly different the world is since we last saw the X-Men and Wolverine, a little more consistency and exposition would have gone a long way, instead, we’re left with a lot of questions and unresolved plot points; it definitely feels like they were setting up for a spin-off involving and, arguably, I feel like The New Mutants (Boone, 2020) should have explored her and the other new breed of Mutants to help expand upon this premise and the success of the film but it is what it is and for an emotional last chapter for Jackman and Logan it excels in every regard.

The Summary:
While the X-Men films have always been big, action-packed features full of special effects and increasingly elaborate action scenes, Wolverine’s solo efforts have always strived to have a slightly different flavour; even X-Men Origins: Wolverine dabbled in being a war movie and trying to tell a more intimate, focused story amidst its bombastic action. However, this becomes undeniably explicit in Logan, which is, essential, as much road trip film and a Western as it is in an intense character study; heavily influenced by Sergio Leone’s “Spaghetti Westerns” (1964 to 1966) and classic Westerns like Shane (Stevens, 1953), Logan is the exploration of a tortured, jaded loner just trying to exist in a world that has long past him by but who is forced back into prominence by the hands of fate.

Logan is a very different comic book movie, full of violence and poignant character moments.

Logan is a very different kind of comic book/superhero movie; it’s not full of bombastic action or overly-choreographed set pieces and is, instead, a much more subdued exploration of the longevity, suffering, and mortality of the man we know as Wolverine. However, when the action and fights do happen, they’re fast, brutal, and viciously intense and, perhaps, the best way to describe Logan: intense. It’s a far cry from the loud, frenetic action of other X-Men films, especially X-Men Origins: Wolverine, and is all the better for it, finally unleashing the animalistic nature of Wolverine and showing just how dangerous and violent he can be while also being, essentially, a character study, or deconstruction, of Logan and allowing him both the chance to be the ferocious character he has battled against all this time and give him the send-off he deserves.

My Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Fantastic

What did you think of Logan? How do you feel it compares to the other X-Men and Wolverine movies? What are your thoughts on the presentation of a broken down, dying Logan and the introduction of X-23? Were there any parts of the film that disappointed you? Would you have liked to see Liev Schreiber return? Do you think Hugh Jackman will ever be tempted to return to the character in some way, shape, or form or do you feel it’s best to pass the role on to someone else; if so, who, and do you want Laura to assume Wolverine’s mantle? Whatever your thoughts, please leave a comment below.

Talking Movies: The Wolverine

Talking Movies

Released: July 2013
Director: James Mangold
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Budget: $100 to 132 million
Stars: Hugh Jackman, Tao Okamoto, Rila Fukushima, Hiroyuki Sanada, Haruhiko Yamanouchi, Svetlana Khodchenkova, Will Yun Lee, and Famke Janssen

The Plot:
Haunted by memories of Jean Grey (Jansssen), Logan/Wolverine (Jackman) is called back to Japan by the dying wish of an old friend, Ichirō Yashida (Yamanouchi), who offers to end Logan’s immortality. However, when Yashida dies, his granddaughter, Mariko (Okamoto) is targeted by assassins, and Logan’s healing factor is compromised, Logan is begrudgingly forced to protect her and uncover a conspiracy with Yashida’s vast corporation.

The Background:
20th Century Fox had vastly profited from their X-Men movies, the first three of which earned them over $600 million. Though X-Men Origins: Wolverine (Hood, 2009) was met with mixed reviews, the film grossed over $300 million against a $150 million budget and Hugh Jackman’s popularity as the character all-but ensured that some kind of sequel would be put into production. After deciding to draw upon elements from Chris Claremont and Frank Miller’s work on the character’s time in Japan, famed director Darren Aronofsky was brought on to direct; Aronofsky was responsible not only for the film’s blunt and unimaginative title but also restructuring the film as a standalone spin-off rather than a straight-up sequel to X-Men Origins.

The Wolverine was inspired by classic stories of Logan’s time in Japan.

By 2011, however, Aronofsky had exited the project due to vast amount of overseas shooting the film would require and James Mangold was brought in as a replacement. Produced on a smaller budget than X-Men Origins, The Wolverine had a somewhat shaky box office; it’s currently the seventh-highest grossing film in the franchise, earning less in worldwide revenue than the much-maligned X-Men: The Last Stand (Ratner, 2006) but still more than the much-lauded X-Men 2 (Singer, 2003). Critically, however, the film fared far better than its predecessor, with the general consensus being that it was a far more accurate portrayal of the character. Personally, I have to admit that I missed the more recognisable X-characters of the previous film and the chance to shed more light on Wolverine’s complex and storied history but I did appreciate the film’s more brutal nature and grittier, more focused direction.

The Review:
In keeping with the theme of the previous X-Men movies, The Wolverine opens with a particularly gruelling and thrilling scene that sets the tone for the film to follow. In this case, we find Logan being held in an armour-plated well as a prison of war in Nagaski mere moments before the fateful atomic bomb is about to drop. Understandably panicked by the incoming wall of fiery death, young Japanese soldier Ichirō Yashida (Ken Wamamura) is too afraid to commit ritual seppuku but, having seen how Yashida risked his life to free prisons and give them a chance to escape, and fully aware of what’s to come, Logan manages to escape from his prison and shield Yashida from harm at the bottom of the well.

Memories of Jean haunt Logan’s dreams.

Surprisingly, rather than continue this narrative and fill in a large missing chunk from Wolverine’s early life, the film then jumps ahead to a few years after the events of X-Men: The Last Stand. Although Wolverine has not only recovered his missing memories, this is both a blessing and a curse as not only is he now (conveniently for this film’s plot) haunted by memories of Nagasaki, he’s also haunted by dreams of Jean Grey (Janssen). In them, he and Jean are happy and content in the afterlife; however, this perfect illusion is continually shattered by the brutal remind of how he skewered the love of his life and his desire to be with her in death. It seems that, despite appearing content and well-adjusted at the end of The Last Stand, Logan was unable to cope with what he did to another man’s wife that he decided, after minimal interactions with, that he loved and walked away not only from the X-Men but also the name of the Wolverine, vowing never to kill or endanger others again.

Yashida offers Logan a path to mortality and a natural life…and death.

However, Logan is soon approached by Yukio (Fukushima), a Mutant with limited pre-cognitive powers who tracks him down to not only offer him Yashida’s blade but also accompany Logan to Tokyo so that Yashida can pass along his thanks before he succumbs to the caner that is eating away at his body. Initially resistant, Logan is eventually convinced to tag along for one day and is horrified to find that Yashida is offering to somehow remove his superhuman healing factor so that others can benefit from it and he can finally live out a normal, mortal life.

Thanks to Viper, Logan spends most of the movie with his healing factor on the fritz.

While in Japan, Logan has a tense introduction to Yashida’s son, Shingen (Sanada) and granddaughter, Mariko (Okamoto), but is nevertheless adamant about heading back home as soon as possible. However, while tormented by his nightmares, Logan is attacked by Yashida’s doctor, Viper (Khodchenkova), and wakes to find Yashida has died in the night. Receiving a frosty reception at the funeral, Logan is immediately alerted to things not being quite right and is thrust into action once more when Yakuza thugs open fire and attempt to kidnap Mariko. In the fracas, Logan receives a few gunshots (included a blast from a shotgun and point-blank range) and is confused, and shocked, to find that his healing factor is mysteriously dulled. This does little to keep him down, though, and he is able to largely shrug off gunfire long enough to get Mariko to relative safety. As a result, a large portion of The Wolverine focuses on Logan’s damaged healing factor causing him both here and there and questions regarding his perceived immortality as he both tries to reconcile his past actions and get to the bottom of a conspiracy within Yashida’s vast organisation.

Logan’s complex, volatile character is finally explored in some depth.

As you might expect, Hugh Jackman is the unmistakable star of the show once more; now a far more tortured, broken man than we’ve seen before, this is a Logan who is visibly tired of the death and heartbreak that seems to follow him at every turn. Initially content to hide away from the world, he is forced back to Japan out of little more than the last vestiges of honour within him but is quick to do the right thing and defend Mariko when it appears her fiancé and father want her dead. Rather than being the cool, charismatic loner we’ve seen before, however, this Logan is a cynical, grouchy ex-soldier who just wants to be left alone and is desperately trying to suppress his violent urges. Honestly, it’s the version of Logan we should have gotten in X-Men Origins: Wolverine; world-weary and wanting death but not quite ready for it, he slowly comes to realise this his animalistic nature can be used for good and eventually comes to reclaim his title of the Wolverine.

Japan, and Japanese culture and traditions, plays a big role in the film’s plot and visual identity.

Compared to every other X-Men movie that came before it, The Wolverine is a much grittier, more focused affair; the story centres entirely on Logan and his inner emotional turmoil and his reluctance to get involved in the convoluted drama and conspiracy that has infected Yashida’s company. The Japanese setting works wonderfully to visually separate it from the other films as well and much of the film is focused on Japanese traditions and mysticism; Logan is like a vagrant stranger in his world, constantly referred to as a rōnin (a “samurai without a master”) or a gaijin (a derogatory Japanese word for an outsider or foreigner), who doesn’t fit and is not welcome. The simple, open countryside’s and urban landscapes of Tokyo give the film a visual identity that is truly unique; this isn’t another bombastic X-Men movie taking place in a large, familiar urban space or a grey-coloured military lab and it really adds to the film’s appeal at aesthetic.

An abundance of Japanese language adds to the film’s authenticity.

It also helps that a large portion of the film includes subtitles; Japanese characters routinely speak to each other, and Logan, in their native tongue, adding a coat of legitimacy to its setting. All too often, foreign characters simply speak in English all the time and having them speak in Japanese helps to add to the other-worldliness of the setting and empathise with Logan, who doesn’t understand a word of Japanese. Logan’s newfound vulnerability is also clearly meant to help us empathise with him as it means he struggles to recover from injuries and is in near-constant pain, a step slower than usual, and actually has to struggle to succeed rather than simply charging head-first into battle.

Mariko and Yukio both help to bring Logan back into the fight in different ways.

Of course, he’s not alone in his fight but rather than sharing screen time with other colourful, fan favourite Mutants, Logan spends most of his time associating with Yukio and growing closer to Mariko. The moment she is introduced, Yukio is portrayed as a bad-ass character in here own right; her pre-cognitive abilities work in conjunction with her athleticism and skill with a blade to make her a formidable opponent and ally. Mariko, on the other hand, is much more of a damsel in distress; initially, Logan sees her as little more than a pampered, self-entitled princess but she’s soon revealed to be oppressed by the desires of her father, fiancé, and her devotion to maintaining the honour of her family. She’s a damaged, conflicted character but is also able to put up a bit of a fight when needed so she isn’t just some screaming, helpless trophy to be fought over.

The Nitty-Gritty:
Up until now, we’ve seen glimpses of Logan’s vicious nature but The Wolverine goes above and beyond in portraying just how brutal and savage Wolverine can be. Initially reluctant to fight, much less kill, when Logan unsheathes his claws to fight, it’s with a fast, ruthless ferocity; every blow is designed to either kill or maim and you truly get the sense of an animal being unleashed in full force.

Shingen’s more subdued Silver Samurai armour would have been more than enough…

For the majority of the film, Logan is chopping apart nameless, faceless Yakuza goons; he faces a new test in the form of Viper, a seductive, snake-like Mutant who is able to use her toxins to dull his senses and her medical expertise to suppress his healing factor. While the two don’t really come to blows (the honour of dispatching her is left to Yukio), Logan is able to match swords with Shingen, who has garbed himself in the ceremonial armour of the Silver Samurai. It’s in this fight that Logan regains his sense of identity and honour but it’s merely the beginning of the end for the film.

Logan is forced to operate on himself to restore his full abilities.

The decision to dull Logan’s healing factor didn’t sit right with me at the time as I was more interested in seeing a nigh-invincible Wolverine cutting down foes and being emotionally vulnerable rather than physically but it actually does work quite well in the film. That is until the revelation that it’s not some toxic or Mutant suppressant keeping his powers dulled but a weird little spider robot thing attached to his heart. Quite how that works is beyond me but it makes for a tense scene where Logan, having already been told by Yukio that he would die holding his heart in his hand, is forced to cut himself open and remove the device. It’s been suggested that Yukio’s vision actually foreshadowed Logan’s eventual, dramatic death in Logan (Mangold, 2017) but I don’t actually agree with that; Yukio specifically says that he saw Logan lying on the operating table with his lifeless heart in his hand but Logan is clearly impaled on a tree in a forest holding the very-much-alive hand of his “daughter” in Logan so I think this is a bit of a stretch, to say the least.

The actual Silver Samurai seems to conflict with the film’s more grounded, gritty tone.

After spending most of its runtime being almost the exact opposite of X-Men Origins (gritty and introspective, brutal and reflective rather than loud and bombastic), The Wolverine ends with a massive, knock-down brawl between Logan and a huge mech suit of armour. This true Silver Samurai is not only made from the same indestructible Adamantium that coast Logan’s bones but also wields two gigantic blades that are able to cut off Logan’s claws! Revealed to be Yashida, who faked his death and orchestrated everything just to forcibly extract Logan’s healing ability from the marrow of his bone claws, this finale is notably at odds with the tone of the rest of the film but is, nevertheless, quite the exciting end to the film. You really get the sense at Logan is in actual danger thanks to the Silver Samurai’s ability to actually hurt him, which is good for raising the stakes for the finale, but I wasn’t a fan of how Wolverine leaves the film with his entire Adamantium skeleton intact exact for his claws. The bone claws are a fun addition to his character and backstory but are pretty lame by themselves and I would have liked to see him just dip them into some Adamantium to recoat them or something.

Xavier and Magneto turn up alive and fully powered, hinted at a greater threat to come…

Simultaneously, though, I wasn’t a fan of how the next film simply gave him back the Adamantium claws without any explanation. Speaking of which, The Wolverine’s mid-credits sequence sees the inexplicable return of the fully repowered Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto (Ian McKellen) and Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), who seek to recruit Wolverine to face an impending threat. A tantalising scene that raises a lot of interesting questions, this scene, and all the character development and story potential of The Wolverine’s finale, would be either swept away or forgotten completely in subsequent films. What happened to Yukio, for example, who ends the film as Logan’s self-appointed bodyguard? What happened in the two years between the final scene and the mid-credits scene? Why did Fox cut a scene in which Logan receives his traditional costume? Well…okay, I can kind of understand that last one but, thanks to the mess Fox made of the X-Men timeline and their complete disregarding of continuity, The Wolverine ends up being this really good, really engaging partially standalone story that exists in a weird bubble where it’s not really canon, but kind of is, but nothing that happens in it factors into Logan’s next appearances in any way.

The Summary:
Ever since Wolverine’s introduction in the first X-Men movie, I was waiting for a movie, and a depiction of the character, like The Wolverine. Far darker, grittier, and more brutal than his previous depictions, this is the first X-Men film to truly delve into the meat of the character’s complexities. As much as I enjoy, and apologise for, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, there’s no denying that The Wolverine, despite its bland title and tonally contradictory finale, surpasses its predecessor in every way. The oriental setting really adds to the film, as does Jackman’s bulkier (and yet more streamlined) look. Showing Logan as being constantly torn by his actions, haunted by his memories, and struggling with the dichotomy of being a weary immortal soldier who is tired of life but not quite ready die is a fascinating dive into the character’s nuances and psyche. Punctuated by fight scenes that cast a wider light on just how vicious the character can be and let down only by the fact that subsequent sequels failed to really expand upon where The Wolverine leaves the character, The Wolverine is easily one of the best X-Men movies, perhaps surpassed only by the even bleaker and grittier Logan.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

What did you think about The Wolverine? Do you find that it’s a far better portrayal of the character compared to X-Men Origins: Wolverine or do you, perhaps, feel that it’s a bit over-rated? How did you feel about Wolverine’s healing factor being suppressed and the inclusion of the Silver Samurai? Which Wolverine story arc from the comics was your favourite? How would you like to see Wolverine re-introduced to the Marvel Cinematic Universe? Whatever your thoughts about Wolverine and the X-Men, feel free to leave a comment below.

Talking Movies: X-Men Origins: Wolverine

Talking Movies

Released: April 2009
Director: Gavin Hood
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Budget: $150 million
Stars: Hugh Jackman, Liev Schreiber, Danny Huston, Lynn Collins, Taylor Kitsch, Daniel Henney, Will.i.am, and Ryan Reynolds

The Plot:
Many years before he was the X-Man known as Wolverine, the man called Logan was simply James Howlett (Jackman), a Mutant with retractable bone claws, a superhuman healing factor, and heightened senses. When he and his half-brother, Victor Creed (Schreiber) are drafted to join Major William Stryker’s (Huston) Team X, Logan walks away from his violent life only to find his former teammates targeted by his murderous sibling, forcing him to volunteer for a radical procedure to make him indestructible and end Victor’s threat.

The Background:
20th Century Fox had vastly profited from their acquisition of the X-Men movie rights from Marvel Comics. Under their banner, the first three X-Men movies (Various, 2000 to 2006) had made over $600 million and, soon after X-Men: The Last Stand (Ratner, 2006) brought the trilogy to an end, development began on a series of spin-offs focusing on solo X-Men. Chief among these was, of course, the character of Wolverine; the role had catapulted the relatively-unknown Australian actor Hugh Jackman to superstardom and was the natural choice for a spin-off given how popular the character and his rich recently-uncovered backstory was.

X-Men Origins sought to explore Wolverine’s complex backstory.

Collaborating on the script in order to craft a more interpersonal story, Jackman and director Gavin Hood aimed to explore the duelling nature of Wolverine’s animalistic character. Popular X-Men characters like Wade Wilson/Deadpool (Reynolds) and Demy LeBeau/Gambit (Kitsch) were incorporated into the script, which sought to explore the complex relationship between Logan, Victor, and Stryker based on both their characterisations in the comics and the world Bryan Singer had establish in his first two X-Men movies. Sadly, much like X-Men: The Last Stand, X-Men: Origins Wolverine received mixed to average reviews upon release; despite earning more than double its budget at the box office, X-Men Origins is largely regarded unfavourably by the majority of fans and critics alike. Personally, I always enjoyed the film, which was far more in the vein of X-Men 2 (Singer, 2003) than the third film; I liked that it introduced new and interesting Mutants and feel that it gets a bad reputation despite being an unashamedly enjoyable popcorn action film.

The Review:
When X-Men Origins: Wolverine was released, the details of Wolverine’s early years had already been published in Marvel Comics some eight years prior; still, the revelation that James Howlett (Troye Sivan) had began life as a sickly boy in the 1800s was still relatively fresh for many readers who were more used to seeing Logan hooked into machinery and brainwashed into being a merciless killer as Weapon X.

The opening montage is one of the film’s best moments and greatest missed opportunities.

Unfortunately, as interesting as it would be to delve into Howlett’s early years and the details of his friendship with the young Victor Creed (Michael-James Olsen), X-Men Origins has no time for that as, within the first five minutes or so, young James has seen his father murdered, unsheathed his bone claws for the first time, killed his father’s murderer only to discover that his victim was actually his real father, and gone on the run with his similarly-powered half-brother. Sadly, this manic pacing is a theme for X-Men Origins; it’s all quick cuts and revelation after revelation in 1845 and then, as the film’s opening credits roll, we see James and Victor (now Jackman and Schreiber, respectively) taking part in every major war over the next hundred years or so. The montage, easily one of the more impressive parts of the film and which arguably should have made up the bulk of the movie’s runtime, does a great job of showing how James grows increasingly jaded with their mercenary lifestyle and how Victor grows equally bloodthirsty over time.

Logan eventually becomes disillusioned with Team X’s increasingly violent methods.

Eventually, the two are put before a firing squad after Victor kills his commanding officer. Obviously, this doesn’t actually kill the two so they are immediately recruited by Stryker, who drafts them into Team X, a group of highly skilled Mutants under his command. James and Victor go on what is implied to be many missions but, thanks to the film’s breakneck pace actually seems more like one mission, alongside such notable Mutants as Wade Wilson, Fred Dux (Kevin Durand), John Wraith (will.i.am), Agent Zero (Henney), and Chris Bradley (Dominic Monaghan). Unfortunately, Victor’s bloodlust can no longer be controlled and, when Stryker orders the team to slaughter innocent sin order to get his hands on a mysterious mineral, James walks away from the team.

Logan loves to dramatically scream “No!” at the sky in this film…

Taking the name Logan (why this name is never explained), James spends the next six years making a modest living as a lumberjack in Canada alongside his lover, Kayla Silverfox (Collins). However, after Stryker shows up to warn Logan that their old team mates are being slaughtered, Kayla is killed by Victor and, overcome with grief and rage, Logan willingly volunteers to have Adamantium surgically grated to his skeleton to give him the tools to enact his revenge against his half-brother.

Jackman is unquestionably the star of this film, shining at every turn.

Once again, the star of the show here is Hugh Jackman; now at his most toned and muscular and fully at ease with the role of Wolverine, Jackman’s charisma and animal magnetism help X-Men Origins to stay engaging even in its most head-scratching moments. Jackman does a fantastic job of conveying the myriad of emotions Logan goes through, from his more tender, vulnerable moments to his raw, animalistic brutality. Unfortunately, much is made throughout the film (and in the first three X-Men movies) of Wolverine’s animal side; Stryker (Brian Cox) hinted that, in his past, Wolverine wasn’t a very nice person and X-Men Origins also hints that he did some terrible things during the many wars he fought in…but we never see this. Sure, he’s a tortured character because of his traumatic memories of war and is a formidable beast when enraged but, for the most part, he’s the same honourable, good-natured person we’ve seen in the original trilogy. It would have been far more engaging and interesting to really delve into Wolverine’s time as a cold-blooded killer who slowly grows to become disillusioned with that life compared to Victor, who relishes in killing and giving in to his animal nature.

Schreiber is clearly relishing this role and is more than a match for Jackman.

Speaking of Victor, Schreiber was an inspired choice to bring the character to life. Like many comics, X-Men Origins hints very strongly that Victor and Sabretooth (Tyler Mane) are the same character but never fully lands on one side of the fence or the other; certainly, Schreiber’s loquacious nature and cold, calculated charisma separate him from mane’s more bestial portrayal but, in any case, Victor is a fantastic parallel to Logan. Sadistic and heartless, he kills for the fun of it and simply wishes to prove that he’s better than his half-brother, which he does at every turn. It’s surprising, then, when it is revealed that Victor wouldn’t be able to survive the Adamantium bonding process; perhaps this was a lie on Stryker’s part, though, as Victor is consistently shown to be Logan’s better at every turn save for that line and one brief scuffle between them before the finale.

As good as an actor as Huston is, Stryker’s motives and logic are all over the place in X-Men Origins.

After making an impact in X-Men 2 and considering the importance his character has on Wolverine’s early years, it’s only nature that Stryker plays a big role in this film as the puppet master. Yet, while Huston is a great actor and brings a certain scenery-chewing relish to the role, he’s physically nothing like Brian Cox so it’s a bit weird to me that they chose to cast him. Add to that the fact that Stryker’s plan is needlessly convoluted and bone-headed (he tricks Logan into joining Team X, allows him to leave, has one of his agents (spoiler: it’s Kayla) shack up with him, then fakes her death, pretends like Victor isn’t under his control when we know he clearly is, is somehow able to convince Logan to become indestructible and then, when Logan escapes the Weapon X facility, Stryker’s first order (to a guy whose only power is “expert marksmanship”) is to kill their now invincible creation!) and you have a villain who is charismatic enough to fulfil his role as the master manipulator but flawed in his onscreen execution.

As much as I like this scene, it’s basically just an excuse to shoe-horn in Gambit.

Such flaws are evident throughout X-Men Origins, I’m afraid to say; the film’s wonky pacing and questionable plot see characters either being tricked or used with ridiculous ease (you’d think Wolverine, of all people, would be able to tell that Kayla’s death was faked, surely) or simply stumble upon the information they need or into the location where the information they need is. The scene where Logan interrogates Dux (now transformed in the Blob) is a great example; it’s a fun scene, one of my favourites, but Dux isn’t able to tell Logan everything he knows so, of course, he sends him to New Orleans to track down another Mutant, Gambit, who knows Stryker’s exact location.

Gambit’s role is brief but surprisingly enjoyable and important to the plot.

Honestly, Gambit has a far bigger and more prominent role in the film than I originally believed; slightly bigger than a cameo but not quite a co-star, he exists to guide Wolverine to what ends up being a pretty obvious location for his final showdown but, while Kitsch is pretty enjoyable in the role, it’s hard to look past his elaborate superhuman acrobatics. I guess you can make the argument that his Mutant ability to super-charge kinetic energy allows him to perform superhuman leaps and bounds but that doesn’t really help explain how Zero goes flying all over the place all the time.

X-Men Origins has some big, loud, and fun action sequences.

Yet…I find myself enjoying these action and fight sequences. They’re loud and over the top but what’s wrong with that? The scene where Wolverine tries to out-race Zero’s helicopter on a motorcycle is pretty awesome, as is his dramatic takedown of said helicopter (which sees him clinging onto it as it crash lands) and the obvious trailer shot of Logan dramatically walking away from the explosion, as cliché as it is, hits all the right spots for me as an action movie fan. Wolverine’s fight scenes are equally enjoyable; similar to Logan’s fight scenes from X-Men 2, Logan fights with a vicious, brutal intensity where the animal side of him everyone likes to talk about so much really comes to the forefront.

The Nitty-Gritty:
As much as I enjoy X-Men Origins, however, it’s tough to look past the film’s narrative flaws. As a prequel to X-Men (Singer, 2000), though, the film does line up fairly well (far better than the quadrilogy of “prequels” that were to follow), it’s just a shame that the filmmakers were in such a rush to cram everything into this one movie. This could easily have been restructured to show Logan’s early childhood and time during the war and then his time with Team X, leading to a falling out and with Victor over their methods. The second film could have then shown Wolverine transformed into Weapon X as we saw in the otherwise-disappointing X-Men: Apocalypse (Singer, 2016), with that film and that procedure being responsible for his memory loss, than then the third and final movie could have just been The Wolverine (Mangold, 2013) or even Logan (ibid, 2017). Instead, we rush through all of Wolverine’s greatest hits at a breakneck pace all to get to a point that somewhat awkwardly leads into the start of the first X-Men.

Logan’s ultimate fate is a bit rushed and messy but still somewhat affecting in its bleak execution.

Despite that, however, I still find the scene where Stryker blasts Wolverine in the head with a few Adamantium bullets quite heartbreaking. It’s a messy way to go about his memory loss considering having his healing factor be responsible is a far more cerebral and interesting explanation but it’s still tragic to see him awaken surrounded by death and destruction with no idea who he is or where he is. The implication of this ending, and the final act of the film, is that Logan spent the next fifteen-or-so years relying solely on his instincts, which is kind of ironic considering there was probably some evidence left behind on Three Mile Island to explain his origins. Sadly, however, the X-Men films never filled in the gap between this one and X-Men (at least, not fully, as the films go out of their way to ignore or retcon this entire film) so we never really know what he got up to or what happened to Victor (unless he really did devolve into a mindless, semi-mute brute).

Reynolds was perfectly cast but dealt a bad hand in this film; luckily, it wouldn’t be his last time in the role.

Of course, you can’t talk about X-Men Origins without addressing the elephant in the room: Deadpool. Reynolds was perfectly cast as Wade Wilson back in the day and it’s clear from the post-credit sequence that Fox were planning a spin-off for the character all along but, yes, it is disappointing to see the character chopped up and butchered into a weird amalgamation of recognisable Mutant powers as Weapon XI (Scott Adkins) rather than the fast-talking, unkillable “Merc With a Mouth” we all know and love. It’s weird watching this film back now as they could just as easily have had a more traditional Deadpool be Logan and Victor’s final opponent; lose the Adamantium blades and the optic blasts and just have him be a super-healing, super-skilled soldier who is loyal to Stryker. Or, better yet, simply imply that wade was killed and have Victor, now a feral animal, be the film’s final “boss” and then do a post-credits scene that shows Wade alive and well and working as a mercenary. Luckily for Reynolds, and for us all, Deadpool would eventually get his spin-off and it was absolutely brilliant but, thanks to the convoluted mess that the X-Men franchise has become, those films sit in a weird bubble of continuity where everything and nothing is canon at the same time.

X-Men Origins uses its cameos to fill some gaps in the franchise’s once-stable timeline.

Speaking of canon, this film obviously concludes with what was, to me (at the time, anyway), a pretty shocking cameo by Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), who arrives on Three Mile Island to rescue Stryker’s Mutant prisoners. Sure, the de-aging affects aren’t as good as in X-Men: The Last Stand but this was a very welcome cameo for me and helped to fill a gap in what was, at the time, a straight forward timeline. While I also applaud the way the film attempts to place a little bit more spotlight on Scott Summers/Cyclops (Tim Pocock) and even goes out of its way to show that he never sees or hears Wolverine so as not to create a continuity error, once again the character is somewhat shafted by his ham-fisted inclusion; I liked that Stryker sent Victor specifically to hunt Cyclops down, as though his powers were fundamental to Weapon XI, but the fact that Cyclops is already wearing ruby-tinted sunglasses to keep his powers in check is a little odd as I always assumed this was a solution provided by Xavier. Still, it’s fun to him and a few other recognisable Mutants in little cameos and that the film allows for other popular or B-list X-characters to be included without Wolverine sucking all of the spotlight away from the traditional X-Men thanks to Jackman’s screen presence, charisma, and popularity.

The Summary:
I don’t know what it is about X-Men Origins: Wolverine but…I still really like it. yes, the plot is nonsensical and all over the place, rushing through some story beats that could be a movie all by themselves and lingering on others that are far less interesting and yes it does do a disservice to Deadpool and raise a lot of questions that subsequent X-Men movies and spin-offs largely ignore. But it’s just so much fun! Maybe it’s because I grew up with loud, bombastic action movies but I find this film immensely enjoyable in a lot of ways. It’s fun when it needs to be, bad-ass when necessary, and even touching at times. It’s over the top and mindless action, yes, but what’s wrong with that? Honestly, it irks me that the franchise went out of its way to ignore or retcon this film as it cost us Schreiber returning to the series and caused continuity to be thrown out of the window. Maybe Wolverine deserved better than a big, dumb action movie but sometimes big, dumb fun is just big, dumb, and fun and that’s okay.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

What did you think about X-Men Origins: Wolverine? Do you think it deserves the reputation it gets or do you, like me, find it to be an enjoyable entry in the franchise? How did you feel about the way the film treated Deadpool and the relationship between Logan and Victor? How would you like to see Wolverine re-introduced to the Marvel Cinematic Universe? How are you celebrating the month of Wolverine’s debut? Whatever your thoughts about Wolverine and the X-Men, feel free to leave a comment below.

Back Issues: The Incredible Hulk #181

Story Title: And Now…The Wolverine!
Published: November 1974
Writer: Len Wein
Artist: Herb Trimpe

The Background:
In 1974, Roy Thomas, then editor-in-chief at Marvel Comics, called upon writer Len Wein to introduce readers to the first Canadian superhero; a short, feisty character named “Wolverine” who would be as scrappy and fearsome as his namesake. Though it was the legendary John Romita Sr who sketched up the original design for Wolverine and thought up his now-iconic retractable claws, it was artist Herb Trimbe who finalised the character’s design. In what would become a staple for the character for many years, Wolverine’s past and true identity was initially kept a mystery; however, despite claims for years that Wolverine was to be a mutated wolverine cub, Wein insisted that this was never the plan and that Wolverine was always intended to be a Mutant. Of course, nowadays, James Howlett (better known as “Logan” or by the codename Wolverine”) has been established as one of Marvel’s most popular characters but back in 1974, Wolverine was simply meant to be another in a long line of one-off characters to spice up an existing title. The character actually made his first, brief appearance at the conclusion of The Incredible Hulk #180 in a one panel cameo after being ordered by the Canadian military to put a stop to a raging battle that is taking place in the forests of Quebec, Canada between Doctor Bruce Banner/The Hulk and Paul Cartier/The Wendigo.

The Review:
“And Now…The Wolverine!” hits the ground running right from the first panel and doesn’t waste any time with copious flashbacks to the previous issue; we get a lovely one sentence recap of the Hulk’s origin at the top of the first page (which was the style at the time), a few dialogue boxes to give us context as to the place and what’s happening, and then jump right into the action…and rightfully so considering that the battle between the Hulk and the Wendigo was so fierce and destructive in the last issue that the Canadian military had to call in the mysterious “Weapon X” (which, of course, turned out to be “The World’s First and Greatest Canadian Super-Hero!”, Wolverine).

Wolverine attacks both the Hulk and the Wendigo without fear or hesitation.

A small, muscular figure in a skin tight yellow outfit, Wolverine makes an instant first impression not just for his striking appearance (not very many superheroes wore yellow back then and his cat-like mask and gleaming metal claws make him instantly unique) but also for leaping head-first into battle with two of Marvel’s most physically daunting creations. Despite being dwarfed by his opponents, Wolverine strikes without fear or intimidation, using his incredible speed and agility to compensate for the two’s superior strength. As mentioned above, Wolverine’s exact origin is largely a mystery but he does boast that his retractable claws are made of “diamond-hard Adamantium”.

Wolverine takes advantage of the Hulk’s misconception and the two defeat the Wendigo.

So dangerous are Wolverine’s claws and so vicious is his attack that he wounds the Wendigo and begins to not just hold is own but actually dominate their battle. Hulk, confused by Wolverine’s appearance and temperament, decides that if Wolverine (or “Little Man” as he calls him) is attacking the Wendigo, whom the Hulk sees as an enemy, then he (Wolverine) must be his (Hulk’s) friend so he jumps in to join the fight against the Wendigo, galvanised at the idea of fighting side-by-side with an ally. Wolverine takes advantage of the distraction and unnecessary assistance and, between the two of them, they are able to fell the Wendigo.

The Hulk is enraged when the Wolverine seemingly turns against him.

Wolverine delivers what appears to be a killing blow to the beast (which is quickly revealed to have only subdued the creature since the Wendigo is functionally immortal) but the Hulk’s momentary victory and elation turns to his trademark fury when Wolverine immediately lashes at him now that the Wendigo has been defeated. Enraged at the betrayal, the Hulk attacks mindlessly, earning Wolverine’s respect and frustration since the Green Goliath refuses to fall and only gets stronger and more enraged as the battle continues.

Marie plans to free her brother from the Wendigo’s curse by passing it on to the Hulk!

While the fight is going on, Georges Baptiste and Marie Carter (who was the one who originally lured the Hulk to Quebec) take advantage of the situation to bring the Wendigo’s unconscious form to safety. It turns out that the Wendigo curse has overtaken Marie’s brother, Paul, and that she intends to use “the black arts” to transfer it from him and into the Hulk, much to Georges’ horror. To facilitate this, she evokes the “Spell of Subjugation” to render both Wolverine and the Hulk unconscious. However, Georges’ objections to Marie’s intentions are exacerbated when the two watch in stunned awe as the Hulk, now calmed, reverts back into the unconscious form of Bruce Banner. Georges leaves in protest at the idea of cursing an already cursed man to a fate even worse than that he already suffers with but Marie is determined to see her plan through out of the desperate need to see her brother returned to normal.

The Hulk delivers a decisive blow to the Wolverine, ending their fight as the clear victor.

After binding Wolverine with chains, she attempts to drag Banner’s unconscious form to the Wendigo and, in the process, triggers his transformation back into the Hulk. Hulk, equally furious at having been betrayed by Marie (or “Animal-Girl”), is stayed from turning his rage on her only by the sight of Wolverine’s prone and helpless body. Wolverine, however, suddenly and dramatically breaks free from his bindings and their battle begins anew. Marie uses the distraction to slip away but utters a heart-wrenching scream when she comes face-to-face with the Wendigo; this diverts the attention of the two combatants for a split second, which is more than enough for the Hulk to deliver a sudden, powerful blow to Wolverine’s head that finally puts him down for good.

The Hulk ends up comforting Marie in her grief and despair at Georges’ sacrifice.

Marie’s horror at the Wendigo’s appearance turns to elation and then dismay when she realises that Georges has taken the curse upon himself, thus returning her brother to normal, out of his love for her. With the last of his humanity slipping away, Georges, now the Wendigo, retreats into the forest, leaving Marie a wreck of emotion. The Hulk, despite his rage and simple nature, comes across her and, in a moment of compassion, comforts her, the two of them briefly bound together in their tumultuous emotion.

The Summary:
“And Now…The Wolverine!” is a heavily action-packed story; the entire issue is just a long fight between the Hulk, the Wendigo, and the Wolverine and it’s pretty great, to be honest. I’ve read a few Hulk stories from the seventies and it seems like most of them revolved around the idea of the Green Goliath fleeing from human persecution, befriending or being manipulated by someone, and then lashing out in a rage at that person betraying him and a lot of that is packed into this story since the Hulk believes both “Little Man” and “Animal-Girl” have betrayed his trust.

The mysterious Wolverine is more than capable of taking on his monstrous foes.

It’s a simple formula made all the more unique with the debut of the Wolverine; we learn next to nothing about this character but he makes an immediate impact because of his actions rather than his words. It’s easy to say now, with the benefit of hindsight and Wolverine’s immense popularity, but Wolverine really does may a dynamic first impression; he jumps right into a battle with the Hulk, probably the most indomitable of Marvel’s heroes, and the nigh-immortal Wendigo without hesitation and is more than capable of holding his own against the two, instantly making him a force to be reckoned with. Of course, Wolverine isn’t quite the character we know him as today; he never says “Bub” and his speech is a bit more eloquent than it would later be written, for one thing, but we do learn that he is a Mutant and that he was specially trained and crafted by the Canadian government and military to be their most savage warrior. Furthermore, while it’s not revealed that his skeleton is also coated in Adamantium and there is no mention of his heightened sense or healing factor, Wolverine is keen enough to partially sense the Hulk’s final blow to save himself from being killed. This was a common theme back in Wolverine’s earliest appearances; dialogue, thought balloons, and narration boxes often emphasised that Wolverine was in danger of serious injury or even death, which can be a little jarring since we’ve seen him completely regenerate from being reduced to a skeleton. Oh, also, if you’ve always wanted to know what Wolverine is “the best at”, the answer is right here in this story as he says: “Moving is the best thing I do!”

The Hulk is much more child-like and quick to anger when he feels he’s been betrayed!

I’ve mentioned a couple of times hits year how the Hulk was originally a far more articulate and intelligent creature rather than a mindless beast; by the seventies, it seems, the Hulk’s intelligence and vocabulary had degraded somewhat. Hulk is far more irritable at this time, with the temperament of a child; he wishes only to be left alone and is disgusted by “Puny humans” but also revels in combat, loudly proclaiming “Hulk is the strongest one there is!” at every opportunity. At the same time, though, he only fights when he is provoked or enraged and is desperately seeking a friend, usually a monster such as he, to connect with. As I alluded to, this basically never happens and every potential friend he encounters either turns against him, turns out to be a villain, or dies, leaving him in a constant state between rage and anguish. Unfortunately, there’s literally nothing for his human alter ego to do in this issue but, since the fight is the centrepiece of the story, I can’t imagine what Banner would have really been able to bring to the narrative and I like that the writers had Hulk ultimately defeat Wolverine in combat rather than the fight abruptly ending because he turned back into Banner.

The side plot exists to give us a break in the action but the main appeal is the fighting!

As for the Wendigo…well, I’ve never been a massive fan of that character. He’s a bit basic and doesn’t have much going for him besides the tragic nature of the curse; generally, he’s more animalistic and feral than even the Hulk, which is an obvious juxtaposition for the Hulk’s unadulterated rage (and, in this case, Wolverine’s primal savagery) and again it’s another of those ways of showing how truly cursed the Hulk is as at least the Wendigo curse can be passed on to another. If there’s anything that lets this issue down, though, it’s the side plot of Marie and Georges; it’s not as annoying as some side plots in other stories I’ve read but I doubt anyone is reading this issue to see Marie and Peter reunited! We’re here for Hulk vs. Wolverine and that is always going to be the more entertaining aspect of the story.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

What are your thoughts on “And Now…The Wolverine!” and Wolverine’s impressive debut? Did you read the previous issue and, if so, were you intrigued to find out who this “Weapon X” was? What did you think to Wolverine’s depiction and characterisation here? Were you impressed that he held up so well against the Hulk and the Wendigo or was he just another one in a number of one-off characters? Do you like the Wendigo and the curse associated with the character? Which era/incarnation of the Hulk is your favourite? How are you celebrating Wolverine’s debut this month? Whatever you think about his issue, or Wolverine in general, leave a comment below and be sure to check in next Sunday for more Wolverine content!