Game Corner [X-Men Day]: X-Men: The Official Game (Xbox 360)

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.

Released: 16 May 2006
Developer: Z-Axis
Also Available For: Game Boy Advance, GameCube, Nintendo DS, PC, PlayStation 2, Xbox

The Background:
Ever since Stan Lee and long-time collaborator Jack Kirby created the X-Men in 1963, Mutants have featured prominently in Marvel Comics and grew to greater mainstream prominence thanks to the influential animated series from the nineties, the success of which led to 20th Century Fox purchasing the film rights and producing a successful long-running live-action franchise. The X-Men have also have a storied history in pixels and polygons; the Mutant team first came to life on the Nintendo Entertainment System in what was essentially a vertical shooter, but the characters arguably saw the most success in their numerous arcade ventures and team-based brawlers. To coincide with the release of X-Men: The Last Stand (Ratner, 2006), publisher Activision was tasked with creating a tie-in videogame to be released across all available platforms and bridge the gap between X2: X-Men 2 (Singer, 2003) and the third entry. However, just as X-Men: The Last Stand was critically panned, X-Men: The Official Game failed to impress with its poor enemy A.I., repetitive gameplay, and for being little more than a shameless cash-in.

The Plot:
Still reeling from the death of Doctor Jean Grey, Logan/Wolverine, Bobby Drake/Iceman, and Kurt Wagner/Nightcrawler find themselves coming into conflict with the radical terrorist group known as Hydra, who have been constructing gigantic, Mutant-hunting Sentinels, and are forced to confront (and team up with) some of their worst enemies to stop the program before it can be fully completed.

X-Men: The Official Game is a third-person action game with three distinct gameplay styles split across its three playable characters, Wolverine, Iceman, and Nightcrawler, who embark on an adventure that takes place soon after the events of X-Men 2 and fills the gap between that film and X-Men: The Last Stand to explain why Nightcrawler is missing from the team in the third movie. While the levels in X-Men: The Official Game are pretty linear, the developers furnished players with a helpful mini map which indicates friendly non-playable characters (NPCs), enemies, and points you in the direction of your next objective/s. There are a few branching paths you can sometimes take, either by smashing through walls and windows as Wolverine or teleporting to higher areas as Nightcrawler, but these generally just lead to a collectible and it is actually pretty easy to get turned around as everything looks very similar. Although each character has a distinct way of playing, there are some similarities between all three: both Wolverine and Nightcrawler can jump with A and dish out attacks and combos with X and Y, Nightcrawler and Iceman can both target foes with the Left Trigger, and all three will automatically heal from minor wounds (though Wolverine and Nightcrawler and able to dramatically speed this up by holding the Left Bumper or pressing the Right Bumper, respectively, whenever it’s safe to do so, though any movement at all will cancel out this healing boost).

Slice through enemies as Wolverine, teleport about as Nightcrawler, and slide around as Iceman.

Wolverine’s gameplay is very much that of a hack-and-slash brawler; however, fans of genre-defining titles like the God of War series (Various, 2005 to present) will be left disappointed as Wolverine is quite a clunky and limited character thanks to the presentation and camera angles offered by this game. With a tap of LB, Wolverine can sheath and unsheathe his claws (which is more of an Easter Egg than anything), which he can use to slash at the multitude of minions who come charging at him in any given level. Using combinations of X, Y, and B (which pushes enemies away), Wolverine can string together some basic combos; he can also block incoming attacks by holding the Left or Right Trigger (and you can flick the analogue stick while blocking to pull off an awkward dodge roll to try and get away from sticky situations), and successfully landing attacks will build up his “Fury Meter” which, when full, powers up your attacks and healing for a short time with a press of the Right Bumper. Nightcrawler has similar capabilities in combat, but his levels are much more focused on platforming with his signature teleport and a bit of semi-stealth. Nightcrawler can also string together punches and kicks for combos, but you’re best served using his relocation attack; pressing B sees him automatically teleport behind the nearest enemy to pummel them with X or smash them with Y, which is great for taking out groups of enemies quickly. RT allows Nightcrawler to teleport to a variety of surfaces, from pipes to bridges and walkways, and is great for quickly traversing areas and getting to consoles or control panels which need rewiring with X. Of the three, Iceman is the most unique as he’s constantly moving forwards on an ice slide and his levels play much more like chasers or dogfight simulators. Holding A lets Iceman boost ahead, while RT brakes and RB allows him to flip around quickly to retarget enemies. X unleashes an ice beam, which is great for freezing up pipes or putting out fires, while B tosses out his Hailstorm attack and Y puts up a temporary frost shield. You’ll need to constantly tap LT and B when faced with multiple targets, but Iceman’s levels are much more geared towards preventing catastrophes or reaching a goal and are often accompanied by an anxiety-inducing time limit.

Whether you’re fighting a gauntlet, repairing consoles, or facing a time limit, things get very tedious.

The game’s story mode is laid out in a linear mission-based structure; at various points, the narrative branches off to follow each of the three characters and, prior to starting a mission, you can pick from three difficulty settings: “Novice”, “Hero”, and “Superhero”. These will dictate how tough the enemies are, with enemies on “Superhero” able to whittle your health to nothing in just a few hits or under sustained gunfire, but there are perks to completing the mission on higher difficulties as you earn more “Mutation Evolutions” on these settings. These power-up each character’s stats, raising such attributes as their overall health, the damage their attacks deal, and their health and energy recovery, and the only way you’ll only be able to max out your abilities is by beating every mission on “Superhero” mode. This, however, is easier said than done; the game is very stingy with its checkpoints, meaning that failure to complete some of the game’s more monotonous tasks requires you to start the mission over right from the beginning. Following glorified training missions for each character, you’ll be thrust into the game’s story mode and, very quickly, will see everything X-Men: The Official Game has to offer. Wolverine will pretty much always be tasked with clearing away all enemies, with wave upon wave teleporting in or rushing in through doors, though he sometimes has to dodge hazards such as flaming vents and cages or destroy something in order to progress. Nightcrawler almost always has to teleport about the claustrophobic environments, activating panels or rewiring stuff, and occasionally luring exploding probes to power nodes or Sentinels to open doors. Iceman is either racing towards something or fending off attacks, often against a time limit; this means you’ll be dousing fires and cooling down nuclear reactors with your ice beam or chasing down an enemy or towards a goal before time runs out. Occasionally, another X-Men appears to help out; Ororo Munroe/Storm accompanies Wolverine and Nightcrawler you can have her instantly kill all enemies with her lightning by pressing in the left stick, while Nightcrawler also has to deactivate shields so that Piotr “Peter” Rasputin/Colossus can destroy some power generators, but Iceman has no such help when desperately trying to stop Giant Sentinels from marching on the downed X-Jet. Sometimes Iceman will have to slide through “nav points” (essentially glorified rings) and avoid laser hazards and mines, sometimes Wolverine’s locked in a room and forced to fight a gauntlet of enemies, and sometimes Nightcrawler has to destroy glowing crystals to keep enemies from spawning, but it’s all very repetitive and your objectives tend to be to do something once and then repeat it three or four times until the mission abruptly ends.

Graphics and Sound:  
In all honesty, X-Men: The Official Game doesn’t look all that bad; the in-game graphics are pretty decent, with stylistic versions of the film characters well represented for the most part, though the range of animation offered by the three is somewhat lacklustre. Of them all, Nightcrawler looks the best; I love his little coat and how he spins around on poles with a flourish and sometimes gallops on all fours, and it’s a stark contrast to Iceman, who is either relatively static due to his gameplay or ragdolling all over the place when knocked from his slide. Wolverine looks good, but his gameplay is tedious and clunky and severely hampered by the lack of a lunge attack, though he does gain some extra animation frames when in Fury Mode or trying to pounce on larger enemies. The game’s music is pretty decent; it’s mostly all ripped from X-Men: The Last Stand, and many of the film’s cast return to voice their respective characters. In fact, the vocal work may be one of the best things about this game; it’s great hearing Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart not only reprise their roles but do it without the lifelessness and boredom that so often accompanies videogame tie-ins.

While the game’s later locations become more visually interesting, the cutscenes are a cheap let down.

Sadly, the same praise can’t be levelled at the game’s environments and cutscenes. Cutscenes are accomplished using a motion comic aesthetic not unlike those employed at various points in games by NetherRealm Studios; these painted pictures have a very limited range of movement, no lip synching, and the cutscenes come off as cheap and rushed and quite unsightly as a result. The in-game environments are okay, but disappointingly bland; the whole game makes a clear effort to evoke the grey, grounded, semi-sci-fi aesthetic of Singer’s films but there’s generally not really much to see since areas are so linear and empty. You’ll get to fight on the Statue of Liberty in a call-back to the first film and revisit the surprisingly unflooded Alkali Lake facility from the second film and the Weapon X laboratory, all of which are very well realised interpretations of the film locations but are so grey and drab that even cheeky references to Wade W. Wilson/Deadpool can’t save them. Thankfully, once the game gets away from recreating areas from X-Men 2, locations become a bit more visually interesting; the Sentinel factory is great, with a massive Sentinel head looming in the background, as are the colourful levels that take Wolverine to an elaborate Japanese palace and garden grounds, but the game really shines once you get into the Master Mold’s control centre, a gigantic airship full of electrified wires and ominous dread that evokes the Borg Cube. Iceman’s chase through the streets of Hong Kong is similarly a visual spectacle thanks to the neon signs, bridges, and skyscrapers, all of which helps to really elevate the game’s presentation after the first few drab missions and despite the tedious gameplay.

Enemies and Bosses:
With such varied and colourful characters as the X-Men and the Brotherhood to work with, it’s no surprise that the developers chose to mainly have you wade through an endless supply of generic and boring Hydra thugs. These guys come packing machine guns, electrified axes and lances, and claws and can mostly be taken out with some quick combos but some will block your attacks. For Wolverine, things get a little more interesting as he gets to battle the Hydra “Wind Unit” (who are basically ninjas with two katana), while Iceman is often blasting at smaller Sentinels or fire dragons conjured by John Allerdyce/Pyro. Nightcrawler will also have to deal with Sentinels but he can only take them out by teleporting to them and luring explosive drones to them before the robots can blast him off with a shockwave. Later, Nightcrawler is placed in a nightmarish illusion by Jason Stryker and forced to battle off teleporting demonic entities, and you’ll also encounter Hydra goons packing bazookas and heavy cannons in some levels. For the most part, the enemy AI is pretty dumb; they’ll easily lose track of you and won’t think to go around certain obstacles, but in wider, more open areas they can be incredibly annoying and persistent, catching you in a crossfire or swarming around you to deplete your health in seconds while you desperately try to escape to safety.

No matter who Wolverine faces, the same hit-and-run tactics will always serve you well.

Each character also has to deal with a number of bosses, with some fought multiple times in different forms. During Wolverine’s first training mission, you’ll battle against Victor Creed/Sabretooth to learn the basics of combat; Sabretooth makes a return as the final boss of the game, too, where he’s fought within the decaying remains of the Master Mold facility and significantly more powerful even against your upgraded stats. Sabretooth charges at you with a shoulder barge, can hit slow but powerful combos, grabs and lunges at you, and even has his own Fury Mode that speeds him up and makes him more aggressive. Still, the best thing to do is to avoid his attacks, hit a quick combo, and then stay out of his reach to build up your Fury Meter before unleashing it (avoiding pressing Y as this lunge isn’t effective against him) to whittle down his health bar. Halfway through the fight, Sabretooth flees to a lower level, where debris is a concern for both you and him, and you’ll also have to worry about his health slowly replenishing if you take too long, but he’s not especially difficult to put down. Yuriko Oyama/Lady Deathstrike makes a return in this game and you’ll battle her a couple of times, too; the first time you fight her, it’s within the eye of a hurricane and you have to be careful of being blasted about by the winds while also pushing her into the hazard, and the second time is within a Japanese temple and forces you to fend off waves of enemies between rounds. Still, Lady Deathstrike may be faster and nimbler than Sabretooth, but the same hit-and-run tactics work well against her and it’s much easier to get her trapped in a corner and just go at her full pelt until she goes down. Wolverine’s toughest foe is easily the Silver Samurai; this hulking armoured bastard can teleport about, has great reach with his broadsword, doesn’t get stunned by your attacks, and can send out both energy blades and electrified shockwaves and forces you to fight his minions between bouts. Once again, simply run or dodge about to avoid the brunt of his attacks and build up your Fury Meter and then just tank him as he’s a bit of a damage sponge and can easily cut you down with just a few swipes of his sword.

Nightcrawler and Iceman generally have to fulfill other objectives while fighting their bosses.

Nightcrawler only gets one boss to fight against, but it’s one of the more frustrating ones in the game; while on the rainswept Brooklyn Bridge, he and Storm must fend off clones of James Madrox/Multiple Man while teleporting about the place and defusing his many bombs against a time limit. Afterwards, Nightcrawler has to battle him alone and more directly; the “prime” Multiple Man will occasionally set an explosive charge and, if enough of them go off, the bridge will be destroyed and you’ll lose the mission but try and disarm them and you’ll be beaten to death in seconds by his ceaseless doubles. Your best bet is to stay on the move, dashing to safety and healing when you can, and hoping that he doesn’t set any of these charges (or quickly interrupt him before he can). The hardest thing about this battle, though, is actually dealing damage to Multiple Man; he seems either impervious to your attacks or only hurt after you take out his clones, which can be hard to do as they swarm around you, making for a boss battle more about luck than anything. Iceman primarily battles against Pyro; first, Pyro tries to burn down and destroy a fission plant, then he tries to overload a nuclear reactor, and then he conjures  a gigantic fire serpent to target the toxic waste canisters. If enough of these are destroyed, the mission ends so make sure you’re rapidly switching target locks and throwing out your Hailstorms to take out the fire dragons. The serpent itself is also quite a damage sponge, and can set you ablaze if you get too close, but if you power-up Iceman’s Hailstorm attack that makes things a lot easier. Definitely his hardest challenge is stopping a seemingly endless army of Giant Sentinels from destroying the X-Jet in Hong Kong; these huge armoured hulks can only be destroyed by targeting six yellow power nodes, but the ones on the front are super hard to hit not just because of aiming difficulties but also because of their high-powered lasers. Destroy one, and another drops soon after, and another, and this was the first mission where I actively had to drop the difficulty down to “Novice” to get past it and even then it was a pain in the ass!

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
Unfortunately, there are no collectible power-us available here. Wolverine and Nightcrawler can built meters (either by landing attacks or waiting for it to charge, respectively) to speed up their healing but the closest Iceman gets is destroying Sentinels to gain extra time until fifteen are taken out. As mentioned, Storm and Colossus will accompany you for some missions; Storm can unleash her lightning, but you’ll need to wait for her meter to fill up too, and you’ll also need to get back to help Colossus fend off the Hydra goons before they deal too much damage to him.

Additional Features:
There are sixteen Achievements up for grabs here, with three insulting 0G Achievements awarded after clearing each character’s training mission, three more being rewarded for completing the story mode’s three vaguely defined acts, and three more earned after fully upgrading each characters Mutations. You’ll no doubt notice a few collectibles in each level of the game; every mission hides five Sentinel Tech files and one Weapon X file, and collecting all of these for each character will award another three Achievements and also unlock a bonus costume for each character and a “Danger Room Challenge” for each. Unfortunately, while these collectibles aren’t too difficult to find even without a guide, the rewards you get are pretty pathetic; the costumes are little more than street clothes variants and just having one each is more than a disappointment, it’s a travesty. The Danger Room Challenges amount to timed obstacle courses and challenges used to test your character’s gameplay and abilities, but you earn nothing for completing them so there’s no point in them even being there. Aside from all that, your only other option is to try and beat every mission on “Superhero” to fully upgrade every character, something you won’t really be motivated to do since the gameplay is so uninspiring that even the promise of cutting down goons dressed in Wolverine’s signature wife-beater won’t be incentive enough to ever play this game again.

The Summary:
I tend to go into movie tie-in videogames with pretty low expectations; while I’ve played a fair amount that are pretty good, there’s no denying that they’re generally very rushed, lacking in content, and don’t have a lot going for them. On the plus side, they can sometimes be quite cheap and have some easy-to-snag Achievements, and that’s basically what you’re getting here with X-Men: The Official Game. There’s some decent stuff on offer here; Nightcrawler, especially, is pretty fun to play as and I enjoyed teleporting about the place and pummelling enemies with his attacks, and even Iceman was quite fun in the few missions where you weren’t forced to battle against an arbitrary time limit. Sadly, and most confusingly, it’s Wolverine’s gameplay that really drags this one down; he’s very restricted in his offense and the lack of checkpoints really makes getting through some missions, but especially his tedious gauntlets, a frustrating chore. Awful cutscenes aside, the presentation is pretty good; the game makes a decent attempt at recreating iconic locations from the first two films while infusing a more comic book aesthetic and storyline into the movie timeline, but locations are far too bland and repetitive to really be all that interesting, even in the latter parts of the game. Bosses battles are equally uninspiring; thanks to Wolverine getting the bulk of them, they’re hardly a selling point of the game’s few strengths and, overall, there are far better superhero and action videogames out there for you to put your time into. A serious lack of options, unlockables, and replayability hamper this title; while it’s not too difficult to blast through it in about four to six hours, it’s unlikely you’ll be motivated to try and get everything you miss the first time around and, despite a few entertaining aspects, it remains a cheap cash grab designed solely to leech off the popularity of Fox’s X-Men films rather than actually trying to be an entertaining videogame experience in and of itself.

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

Did you enjoy X-Men: The Official Game? Which of the three characters was your favourite? Did you enjoy the game’s effort to bridge the gap between X-Men 2 and X-Men: The Last Stand? Which of the game’s missions and bosses was your favourite and do you feel like Sentinels are a little overdone in Marvel games? Did you ever fully upgrade the characters and find all the collectibles? Were you disappointed by the lack of options and unlockable extras? What’s the worst (or best) videogame tie-in you’ve ever played? Which X-Men videogame is your favourite and how are you celebrating X-Men Day today? Whatever you think about X-Men: The Official Game, and X-Men in general, feel free to share your thoughts below or leave a comment on my social media.

Game Corner [National Superhero Day]: Marvel: Ultimate Alliance (Xbox 360)

In 1995, Marvel Comics created “National Superhero Day” and, in the process, provided comics and superhero fans the world over with a great excuse to celebrate their favourite characters and publications.

Released: 24 October 2006
Developer: Raven Software
Also Available For: Game Boy Advance, Nintendo Wii, PC, PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Portable (PSP), Xbox 360, Xbox One

The Background:
Perhaps few videogame publishers are as synonymous with Marvel Comics than Activision; the publisher has been spearheading adaptations of some of Marvel’s most popular properties since the year 2000. They weren’t all smash hits, of course, but some of their titles have been praised as among the best for characters like Peter Parker/Spider-Man and Marvel’s resident Mutant team, the X-Men. In 2004, the publisher teamed with developers Raven Software and saw big success with X-Men Legends, a team-based brawler that incorporated role-playing elements and simultaneous co-op gameplay. Following similar success with the sequel, Activision’s partnership with Raven Software expanded to incorporate much of the rest of Marvel’s line-up with this title, which was built on Vicarious Visions’ Alchemy engine. The game also greatly benefitted from utilising the Havok physics engine; in addition to including many of Marvel’s most popular characters alongside those added as downloadable content (DLC), Nintendo staples Link and Samus Aran were initially planned to be Wii-exclusive characters before being nixed. Marvel: Ultimate Alliance received generally favourable reviews; critics praised the game’s presentation and for improving and expanding upon its predecessors, and the game was successful enough to warrant an equally-successful sequel three years later and (eventually) a Nintendo Switch-exclusive third entry that received mixed reviews. Sadly, despite a remastered version being developed for PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One in 2016, Marvel: Ultimate Alliance is currently delisted from digital storefronts and quite difficult to come back for an affordable price as a result.

The Plot:
When Doctor Victor Von Doom and his Masters of Evil launch an attack against the Strategic Hazard Intervention Espionage Logistics Directorate (S.H.I.E.L.D.), Colonel Nick Fury sends out a distress call to all available superheroes for assistance. Steve Rogers/Captain America, Spider-Man, Thor Odinson, and Logan/Wolverine respond to the call and must soon join forces with a myriad of other Marvel heroes in order to put a stop to Dr. Doom after he attains incredible cosmic powers from Odin Allfather.

Marvel: Ultimate Alliance is a top-down, team-based brawer peppered with some very light puzzle solving, opportunities for exploration, and role-playing mechanics. Players can (eventually) assemble a team of four from around thirty available superheroes and journey across a number of recognisable Marvel locations battling against the nigh-on endless minions of the Masters of Evil. Up to four players can play at once, though a single player is able to battle on alone, using the Left Trigger and directional pad (D-pad) to direct their computer-controlled team mates or switching to another superhero by pressing a corresponding direction on the D-pad. Players are given two primary attack options: A for a quick attack and B for a stronger attack, which can be charged up, and alternating between these commands will allow you to string together a few simple combos that will stun, trip, or blast your foe into the air, which can be essential to breaking through some enemy’s guards. X is the “action” button, allowing you to open doors, activate consoles, turn levers, or grab enemies to pummel, throw, or relieve them of their weapons, and Y allows you to swim and jump (you can also double jump, web-sling, or fly by double pressing and holding the button, respectively). Players can block incoming attacks by holding the Left Bumper or tap it to dodge out of the way entirely and each character has their own special abilities, which are accessed by holding the Right Trigger and selecting either A, B, X, or Y. Special powers can only be used if you have another energy, which is represented by glowing blue orbs dropped by enemies or uncovered from smashing crates or opening chests, and allow you to fire energy beams, toss projectiles, entrap enemies (by freezing or webbing them up, among other options), boost you (and your team mate’s) defense, attack, and other attributes, and cause status effects to your enemies like stunning, burning, or electrocuting them. While many of the effects are largely shared amongst the roster, each character pulls them off in their own unique way; Tony Stark/Iron Man’s Repulsor blasts are different from Mark Spector/Moon Knight’s projectiles, even though both can ricochet around the environment, and each character has a variety of special powers that you can power-up and assign to the face buttons from the “Hero Management” menu.

Assemble a team of four superheroes and battle the endless forces of the Masters of Evil.

Each character also has a big, character-specific attack that can be performed when your energy gauge is completely full and you press Y while holding RT this will see them unleash a huge, screen-clearing attack specific to them and each character will perform these in succession if their energy gauge is full. You’ll also earn additional bonuses if certain characters pull off their special moves at the same time, and this also happens if your team is formed of characters who have a history together, like the X-Men or the Fantastic Four. The game’s story mode is comprised of five “Acts”, which drop your team in a variety of locations that should be familiar to Marvel Comics fans. After clearing the first mission, which has you retaking a S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier from Dr. Doom’s forces, you’ll be dropped into one of five hub areas where you can interact with Nick Fury, Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow, and other non-playable characters (NPCs) to learn more about your current or next mission, gain insight into the heroes and villains, and be given side quests to perform. In the hub area, and scattered throughout each location, are S.H.I.E.L.D. Access Points where you can save or load your game, change up and upgrade your team, or revive fallen teammates. Just as blue energy orbs can be acquired during gameplay, so too can red health orbs, but some environmental hazards or bottomless pits will see you or your teammates taken out of action. It can take about three minutes for your fallen ally to be ready for revival, but they can only be brought back into the fight from one of these save points. As you defeat enemies, you’ll earn experience points (XP) and level-up once you’ve gained enough XP, which will improve both your individual and team stats and unlock additional special moves for you to utilise. From the Hero Management screen, you can switch your character entirely, change their costume (which affords different abilities), equip gear to boost their stats, and name and improve the competence of your team to increase your odds when in a fight.

The tedious combat is broken up by some simple puzzles, QTEs, or short bites of variety.

Gameplay in Marvel: Ultimate Alliance quickly grows quite repetitive; you can charge through most missions by repeating the same combos and special moves over and over, and opportunities for exploration are quite limited as areas generally only give the illusion of being large and multi-pathed. Combat doesn’t get much deeper than tripping, stunning, or blasting enemies, or avoiding using physical or energy-based attacks, and it’s surprisingly easy to get turned around in areas even with the presence of a mini map as one dark, grey corridor looks the same as the last. Puzzles aren’t much of a head-scratcher here; you’ll generally fight your way to a console or power generator that needs to be activated or destroyed, though sometimes you’ll need to activate two switches at once with the either of a partner, and you’ll sometimes have to perform these tasks against a time limit. You’ll need to push or pull heavy objects onto pressure pads, redirect sunlight to free Balder Odinson, defend Dum Dum Dugen in a glorified escort mission, perform character-specific motions to activate statues, or complete quick-time events (QTEs) to open doors or take out larger, otherwise-invulnerable bosses. You’ll jump behind the controls of an anti-aircraft cannon, be joined by NPCs like Major Christopher Summers/Corsair, and have to rescue characters like Doctor Bruce Banner and Prince Namor McKenzie/The Sub-Mariner, though some of these are optional side quests. These optional missions appear during the main campaign and often having you searching for items for a specific character, or destroying certain targets along the way, and sometimes you’re faced with an impossible choice between two options which will fundamentally alter the multiple endings. Gameplay really gets interesting, though, when you end up in Murderworld, a twisted funfair featuring bumper cars, a giant pinball set, a hedge maze, and even an old-school Atari-style mini game that sees you awkwardly swinging from ropes and collecting Golden Tickets to rescue Doctor Jean Grey/Phoenix from Arcade’s clutches.

Graphics and Sound:
Marvel: Ultimate Alliance is largely an impressive looking title, despite how old it is now, thanks to the zoomed out, almost isometric camera perspective. This means that the in-game character models, while hardly the most detailed, pop out nicely against the various backgrounds and I liked how they all had their own unique flourishes, like Spider-Man being able to web enemies up when he grabs them and Norrin Radd/The Silver Surfer floating around on his cosmic surfboard. Unlike some similar team-based brawlers, this really helps it to feel as though each character plays a little differently since they don’t just share the same animations and have a little individuality to them; you’ll need a stronger character to move certain objects, for example, and it’s much easier to explore the environment with a character who can fly. While your customised team won’t appear in the pre-rendered cutscenes, they do all have a lot of unique dialogue during the game, and when talking to or fighting against other characters; dialogue trees exist so you can ask a number of questions to NPCs or pick different options, which either helps you answer trivia questions, kicks off a side mission, or has you picking to team up with or save a different character, and villains like “Lester”/Bullseye or Quinten Beck/Mysterio. Unfortunately, the music isn’t really on par with the voice acting; it’s all very generic superhero-y or militaristic themes, and the in-game tracks often awkwardly loop, which is very jarring; the music’s also very loud, so you might want to adjust the sound settings in the options.

While the cutscenes aren’t great, the in-game graphics are decent enough and there’s a lot of dialogue variety.

The pre-rendered cutscenes also often let the game down a bit; they haven’t aged too well, and have a very rubbery and surreal quality to them (though they are pretty epic, especially when the Masters of Evil are discussion their evil lot and when Galactus and Uatu/The Watcher enter the story) that I’d criticise more if I could actually see them but the cutscenes are very dark and the only way to brighten them is by changing your television’s settings. The game’s environments often don’t fare much better, either; while it’s fun visiting places like the Sanctum Sanctorum and Valhalla in the hub worlds, the actual mission locations quickly become confusing and boring. While there’s a lot to destroy and see in each area, and even some hidden paths to uncover, rooms, corridors, and sections all start to blend together and the levels themselves can outstay their welcome at times, which only makes the monotonous combat more glaring. That’s not to say that there aren’t some visually interesting locations, though; you’ll swim through the depths of Atlantis, travel to Hell itself, battle across the length of the Bifrost Bridge and through the frozen wastes of Niffleheim, and infiltrate the gothic, regal stone walls of Castle Doom. Easily the most impressive area you’ll visit, though, is the Skrull home world, which is currently under attack by Galactus; the World-Devourer is seen lumbering around in the background between the futuristic skyscrapers and even pursues your across the walkways in an exciting (if frustrating) sequence, though the gameplay and visual variety offered by Valhalla is equally fun as you can visit the Warrior’s Hall (where NPCs are enjoying revels) and hop across Viking ships amidst a cosmic backdrop.

Enemies and Bosses:
Since a gaggle of Marvel’s most notorious villains has joined forces in Marvel: Ultimate Alliance, you can expect to come up against a bevy of disposable goons during your adventure. It doesn’t take long for you to basically have seen everything the game has to offer in this regard, but each location does at least change up the appearance, dialogue, and some of the attacks of the enemies you face; you’ll battle Ultron’s minions, Loki Laufeyson’s trolls, and soldiers from the Shi’ar Empire and the depths of Atlantis, all of whom can be defeated using your standard combos or special powers. You can set your team mates to follow, attack, or defend formations, but I always like to choose an aggressive approach to overwhelm the hoards of enemies that can flood each area. Some of these carry weapons, either melee armaments like axes, spears, and swords which you can appropriate, or laser rifles for long-range attacks; others shield themselves and need to be attacked from behind or stunned. Some, like the imp-like demons from Mephisto’s Realm, leap onto you and drain your health, while others fly above taking pot-shots at you, and some are resistant to physical or energy attacks or need to be tripping, stunning, or blasted into the air. Some are larger, dealing and taking more damage, while others regenerate their health (or their allies), sap your health or energy, or boost the attack of other foes, so it’s best to take those guys out first.

A whole host of Marvel villains stand in your way, though most can just be beaten into submission.

The Masters of Evil have assembled quite the smorgasbord of allies; you’ll do battle with almost every single villain from Marvel Comics throughout the course of the game, sometimes more than once, as various underlings dog your progress throughout each mission. Often, you’ll battle at least two of these sub-bosses at a time; sometimes they flee after an initial encounter and need to be fought again, other times they’re powered up to be more formidable, and in other cases they’re able to heal or shield each other from your attacks by working together. However, defeating the likes of Mac Gargan/The Scorpion, Bullseye, James Buchanan “Bucky” Barnes/The Winter Soldier, Chen Lu/Radioactive Man, Valentin Shatalov/Crimson Dynamo, Aleksei Sytsevich/The Rhino, Herman Schultz/The Shocker, Doctor Curt Connors/The Lizard, Hussar and Neutron, Paibok, and even the corrupted superheroes you eventually fight really don’t require much more than you constantly attacking them with combos and special powers. Indeed, while it’s impressive that so many villains appear in the game, very few actually offer much in the way of a challenge beyond being a little tougher than the regular enemies you encounter, with even the likes of notorious villains like Ultron and Titannus proving quite disappointing encounters as, while they keep you at bay with laser blasts or destroy everything in a rampage, respectively, both can be similarly put down without any complicated strategies. Many of these villains are fought in teams, however, and they can also reappear in the simulator missions you unlock by finding discs, allowing you to battle them with different characters and in different situations, but as long as you string together your usual combos and unleash your best special attacks they go down pretty easily, even when bolstered by disposable minions.

Some of the best sub-bosses require a bit more strategy and forethought to put them down.

Other villains, however, do bring a little bit more to the table: Mysterio uses illusions to throw you off and, while Paul Pierre Duval/Grey Gargoyle can disable you by turning you to stone, Baron Carl Mordo, Kl’rt/Super Skrull, and the Mandarin disable you with elemental attacks to encase you in ice or send you flying with a blast of wind. The Mandarin also ends up being a particularly annoying boss as you need to lure his spider-like robots into teleporting to his safe spot to destroy his endless supply of Ultimos and actually bring him down for good. Mental/Mobile/Mechanized Organism Designed Only for Killing/M.O.D.O.K. challenges you to a trivia quiz to get closer to him, then brings in waves of Advanced Idea Mechanics (A.I.M.) minions to annoy you in addition to firing lasers and shockwaves at you. When battling Byrrah Thakorr-So and Krang, you also need to destroy sonic emitters to progress the mission, while Attuma and Todd Arliss/Tiger Shark can be difficult to hit as they’re swimming all over the place, making for a more aggravating encounter. Dragon Man randomly drops in as a tough obstacle to bypass since he’s capable of dishing out some formidable damage, while Blackheart employs multiple versions of himself to attack you and you’ll need to take on all three members of the Wrecking Crew at once (though they fall pretty easily if you’re wielding an axe or other weapon). Amora the Enchantress can allure you and your teammates into not attacking her, and will heal her brutish ally, Skurge the Executioner, Ulik and Kurse can only be defeated by attacking one with melee attacks and the other with energy attacks, and you’ll need to lower the shields protecting the likes of Kallark/Gladiator, B’nee and C’cil/Warstar, and Cal’syee Neramani-Summers/Deathbird (who flies around the arena tantalisingly out of reach and swooping down to grab you otherwise).

The bigger, more formidable bosses offer a bit more variety and spectacle.

Luckily, the game claws back a bit of challenge and intrigue by its large and engaging end of Act boss battles. After fending off Dr. Doom’s attack on the Helicarrier, you’ll battle Fing Fang Foom on the main deck; this gigantic alien dragon blasts fireballs at you from the air, covers the ground with shockwaves when it lands, and can only be brought down by firing anti-aircraft cannons at it and making good use of your ranged attacks. After making it past his robots and death traps, you’ll battle Arcade’s massive mech in a circus tent, which you need to fire yourself at using cannons and succeed at QTEs in order to have it damage itself in frustration. The eldritch Kracken is one of the ore frustating bosses as you can’t damage it directly and must lure it into attacking the nearby columns so you can complete a QTE sequence, but it seems completely random when it’ll actually smash into these columns, meaning the fight drags a bit. Fittingly, Mephisto awaits you in the depths of Hell; this demonic villain spews hellfire at you, protects himself from attacks with a shield, and can even screw up your controls with his powers, though you can disarm him and use his Hellsword to damage him. You’ll have to take extra care when Mephisto compels Kurt Wagner/Nightcrawler or Jean Grey to attack you, however, and will lose that character forever when they sacrifice themselves to stop Mephisto. At first, Loki isn’t really too much of a threat; sure, he’s got lightning attacks that stun you and is assisted by his Frost Giant minions, but he goes down pretty easily. However, it’s all a ruse as he then poses s Nick Fury to have you activate the indestructible Destroyer, which you must flee from while desperately searching for the ice-shielded Loki; once you find him, simply attack him until his shield breaks and the fight is ended. Galactus, however, is a threat far too big for you to tackle head-on; instead, you must desperately flee from him (destroying his drills if you have time) and then avoid his massive fists to activate three consoles and blast at him as the Silver Surfer in a QTE sequence. Finally, you must take on Dr. Doom himself; however, despite stealing Odin’s power to become a literal God, the mad doctor really isn’t too difficult to defeat even with the corrupted Fantastic Four acting as his personal guard. Simply destroy the four generators powering his shield, chase him down as he dashes and teleports across his throne room, mashing buttons when he grabs you, and pummel him as you would any other enemy or boss and, eventually, he’ll be defeated without too much problem regardless of his electrical attacks or shockwaves.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
As mentioned, you can refill your energy and health by collecting blue and red orbs, which are dropped by enemies or found by destroying crates or opening chests. While some hazards can whittle your health down pretty quickly, or kill you immediately, health is pretty easy to come back, and you can also grab weapons to dish out greater damage to enemies (in fact, this is highly recommended as weapon attacks easily cut down even the most intimidating Super Soldiers and Doombots). You will also acquire S.H.I.E.L.D. Credits from enemies and the environment, which can be spent on upgrades to your character’s powers, costume-specific abilities, and upgrading your team’s stats; you cans et these to auto-upgrade, but they increase in cost each time you boost them so you can burn through Credits pretty quickly. Defeating the game’s many sub-bosses and bosses will also yield special gear that you can assign to each character; this will boost your attack, XP, or gauges, resist or inflict elemental damage, and offer numerous other perks but you can only equip one item to each character and your inventory has limits, meaning you’ll need to sell some to make way for new pick-ups as you come across them. Finally, as mentioned, you’ll get boosts to your stats and performance for forming teams of related characters, and performing special moves with certain characters, so it can be beneficial to experiment with different combinations and search around the environments for chests for more loot.

Additional Features:
There are forty-six Achievements on offer in Marvel: Ultimate Alliance, with the majority of them popping after clearing each Act and defeating bosses. Other Achievements include tossing enemies to their deaths, performing a certain number of finishing moves, defeating a certain number of enemies, unlocking every character and costume, and finishing the game on Hard mode, among others. Since the only difficulty-based Achievement you get is finishing on Hard, you may as well play through on Easy unless you’re going for that Achievement, and you’ll also get Achievements for finishing missions with another human-controlled character and upgrade every character’s special moves. Throughout each level, you’ll find a number of collectibles scattered about; art books unlock artwork to view, action figures allow you to unlock T’Challa/Black Panther and Matt Murdock/Daredevil as playable characters (and you can play a claw mini game in Murderworld to unlock Eric Brooks/Blade as well), and you can unlock Nick Fury by finishing the game once and the Silver Surfer by earning at least a Bronze medal in the game’s bonus simulator missions. These are unlocked by finding S.H.I.E.L.D. Simulator discs and recreate key moments and battles from each character’s history in a series of tough challenges. You can also take on five sets of trivia questions in each hub world for additional XP and Achievements, replay and revisit any Act, hub, and mission once you’ve finished the game, view movies and other unlocks in the gallery, and go head-to-head with your friends batting for points in an “Arcade” mode. By defeating numerous enemies with each character, you’ll eventually unlock up to four different costumes for each one, with these offering slightly different abilities that you can upgrade. Unfortunately, you can no longer purchase the two additional DLC packs, which added eight new characters to the roster in addition to twelve extra Achievements, none of which can be accessed on home consoles any more, which is a shame as I wanted to have Eddie Brock/Venom on my team and had to settle for symbiote Spider-Man.

The Summary:
I’d played Marvel: Ultimate Alliance before on the PlayStation 3 and, while I’d enjoyed it, I remember being put off by the lack of Trophies to earn and the fact that the DLC was only available on the Xbox 360 version. When I finally bought an Xbox 360, this game was on my buy list and, coincidentally, was a bit more expensive than I’d like and the DLC was still unobtainable, unless I wanted to shell out ridiculous amounts for an imported version. When I finally got it again, I enjoyed getting back into it; the game is very action-packed and chock full of playable characters, cameos, and villains to fight, but there’s really not a great deal to the combat, graphics, or the story. It’s fine and enjoyable enough, but things get repetitive very quickly and you’ve basically seen everything the game has to offer (apart from a few bells and whistles) after the first Act. You’ll beat on the same generic goons with the same tedious combos over and over, solving simplistic puzzles and spending your Coins on upgrades, but very rarely will you actually find much t set this apart from other, similar brawlers. The character selection and variety is great, and I like how they feel distinctive despite basically all being the same, and I enjoyed how some stages were more visually interesting than others, allowing you to swim or venture onto the hull of a space craft. While the sub-bosses weren’t up to much, the bigger bosses offered a bit more challenge and entertainment, but it feels a bit like the developers maybe crammed a little too much into the game without trying to make each villain a unique encounter. Overall, it’s a decent enough team-based brawler that’s probably more fun with a couple of friends to play with; there’s some decent replay value on offer with the different endings you can get based on your decisions and the extra missions and unlocks to find, but it does feel a little lacking in presentation and overall content to really score much higher.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

Have you ever played Marvel: Ultimate Alliance? If so, what did you think to it and who made it into your team? What did you think to the combat, character selection, and the overall gameplay? Were you disappointed that the boss battles were mostly just a tedious log? Which of the characters, villains, and locations was your favourite? What endings did you get and did you ever unlock all of the costumes and characters? Did you ever play as the DLC characters? Where would you rate this game against its sequels and other similar games? How are you celebrating National Superhero Day today? Whatever your thoughts, sign up to leave a comment below or leave a comment on my social media, and be sure to stick around for more superhero and comic book content throughout the year.

Back Issues [Deadpool Day]: The Circle Chase

In February 1991, readers of The New Mutants were introduced to Wade W. Wilson, AKA the wise-cracking, fourth-wall-breaking Merc With a Mouth himself, Deadpool. Rob Liefeld and Fabian Nicieza’s sword-swinging immortal went on to become one of Marvel’s most popular anti-heroes thanks to his metatextual humour, violent nature, and massively successful live-action films. It’s perhaps no surprise that Sideshow rechristened April 1st as “Deadpool Day” to give fans of the chimichanga-chomping mercenary an excuse to celebrate all things Deadpool.

Writer: Fabian Nicieza – Artist: Joe Madureira

Story Title: “Ducks in a Row!”
Published: 15 June 1993 (cover-dated August 1993)

Story Title: “Rabbit Season, Duck Season”
Published: 20 July 1993 (cover-dated September 1993)

Story Title: “…And Quacks Like a Duck…”
Published: 17 August 1993 (cover-dated October 1993)

Story Title: “Duck Soup”
Published: 21 September 1993 (cover-dated November 1993)

The Background:
By the 1980s, the X-Men had established themselves as one of Marvel Comics’ most successful features, prompting then-chief editor Jim Shooter to commission a series of X-Men spin-off titles, resulting in Chris Claremont and Bob McLeod’s New Mutants. The Mutant youngsters eventually fell under the command of the time travelling Mutant Nathan Summers/Cable, who reformed them into X-Force, and famously came up against Fabian Nicieza and Rob Liefeld’s Deadpool in The New Mutants #98 (ibid, 1991). The self-styled “Merc With a Mouth” was heavily inspired by the likes of James Howlett/Logan/Wolverine and Peter Parker/Spider-Man with more than a few similarities to DC Comics’ Slade Wilson/Deathstroke the Terminator and was initially introduced in an antagonistic role with ties to time-travelling villain Mister Tolliver. Deadpool proved popular enough to make guest appearances in other Marvel Comics before receiving this four-issue miniseries that was a precursor to his ongoing solo title and the greater popularity he achieved once he became self-aware and began breaking the fourth wall. Naturally, this eventually evolved into appearances in Marvel/X-Men-related videogames, a cameo appearance in the beloved X-Men animated series (1992 to 1997), and his live-action debut in the much-maligned X-Men Origins: Wolverine (Hood, 2009), though it was his self-titled spin-off films that truly catapulted him to mainstream success.

The Review:
Deadpool’s first solo series begins in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia two years into an ongoing conflict that has made it a breeding ground for international black marketeers and mercenaries, including a heavily-armed group who have been given the unenviable task of searching out and eliminating Deadpool. Unfortunately for them, the Merc With a Mouth catches them completely off-guard, easily dispatching them while mocking them for being less effectual than G. I. Joe’s or Ken dolls. Despairing of the quality of mercs he’s encountered ever since Tolliver died, Deadpool is offended when his friend and contact, Jack Hammer/Weasel, pulls a gun on him. still, Deadpool is so scatter-brained that he quickly moves on from the misunderstanding to first complain that his suit’s teleportation function is “on the fritz” and the fact that he (and anyone who ever worked for Tolliver) now has a target on their back. Weasel tries to suggest that they (or, at least, Deadpool) should try and get their hands on Tolliver’s estate and weapons, but Deadpool’s more focused on getting intel on Vanessa Carlysle/Copycat, a shape-shifting Mutant and former flame of his who he’s looking to kill off, when they’re suddenly interrupted by one of the most nineties-looking characters I’ve ever seen (which is saying something considering Deadpool’s attire), Garrison Kane/Weapon X, a cybernetic mercenary who was both part of the same Weapon X program as Deadpool and a member of Cable’s Six Pack when he was working for Tolliver.

Deadpool is hounded by mercenaries and former allies who all want him dead.

Kane also wants to know where Vanessa is and attacks, easily shielding himself from Deadpool’s blade and bullets with his versatile cybernetic enhancements. Shrugging off Wade’s jokes and insults, Kane mocks him for betraying his mercenary code and allowing so any of his former enemies and allies to live, but it’s only when Weasel points out that neither of the two beefed-up idiots knows where Vanessa is and they’ve simply being fighting over nothing and as a result of their stupidity and machismo. Admitting to acting without thinking, Kane tries to leave, determined to make an offer to Vanessa before she’s killed (since she’s one of the prime targets in the whole will fiasco), and drops the bombshell that another of Wade’s former adversaries, Gregory Terraerton/Slayback, is not only still alive but is actively gunning for Deadpool, the man who left him for dead way back when. As if on cue, the cybernetic killer breaks into the headquarters of Department X (the government agency behind the Weapon X program) to steal Wade and Kane’s files in order to settle the score and, as if that wasn’t bad enough, the story also jumps over to New Delhi, India, where Wolverine knock-off Nyko Halfghanaghan guns down mercenaries looking for Tolliver’s will (his dead brother, Pico, was Tolliver’s right-hand man so they assume he must know something about it) before delivering a work order to Jacob Gavin Jr./Courier calling for Deadpool’s execution for his part in Pico’s death. Finally, there’s a third plot thread at work here as Cain Marko/The Juggernaut bursts into a genetic research facility outside of Angoulême, France in search of his friend, Thomas Cassidy/Black Tom Cassidy (a common occurrence during this time as the two had formed a strong friendship). Louis Banque, the director of the facility, manages to calm Juggernaut down enough to take him to Black Tom, who’s been enhanced through further mutations that allow him to form weapons, reshape his body into an organic wood substance, and focus and intensify his bioblasts through that same “wood gunk”. This storyline converges with Deadpool’s when issue two drops Wade into Cairo, Egypt where he executes another group of mercs to acquire a briefcase containing a disc that holds information on Tolliver’s will (if that sounds like some kind of mental scavenger hunt, it actually is as per Tolliver’s design, with the ultimate prize being “the most powerful weapon on the face of the planet!”) Anyway, just as Deadpool gets the case, Juggernaut and Black Tom show up, wreck the building he’s standing on, and then blast Deadpool in the back of the head to steal the case from him.

Deadpool is outraged when Commcast “violates” his mind while searching for Tolliver’s will.

Meanwhile, another former member of Weapon X, Bernard Hoyster/Sluggo, drops in on Vanessa’s mother in search for her and ends up garrotted around the neck by the blue-toned shape-shifter, who’s looking to avenge the death of her friend, Tina Valentino, at Sluggo’s hands. Vanessa settles for stealing Sluggo’s car and leaving him to be arrested after learning that she’s become a target in the search for the will and vows to head to Sarajevo to acquire it, and Tolliver’s fortune, for herself. However, when Courier procures the services of Garabed Bashur/Commcast and the Executive Elite, he offers not money, but Tolliver’s disc and thus a head start in the scavenger hunt. Unaware of this, Deadpool heads to Cairo International Airport using Weasel’s intel and a fight ensures between him and Juggernaut and Black Tom (in civilian guises) that sees Marko hand over the briefcase to save Tom from being sucked out of the plane, only for Wade to trick him and send both plummeting to the ground below while he returns to Sarajevo for issue three. There, he gets into it with Amie Zamborano/Makeshift and Anastasia Summit/Rive of the Executive Elite; disgusted by Deadpool’s sexist jeers, the two pin him to a wall and fry him into unconsciousness with a massive burst of electricity. This makes him easy pickings for Commcast to haul back to the Edsel and subject him to the torture of his “synaptic neural scanner”, a fancy high-tech headband that allows Commcast to scan the thoughts and memories of his victims. Though Deadpool attempts to resist, this sheds some light on his past with Vanessa, depicting them as lovers back before he was mutilated by the Weapon X program, and shows how Kane tried to emphasise the benefits of cybernetic prosthetics when Wade was diagnosed with terminal cancer. After revealing that there are actually two discs that act as a guide towards Tolliver’s will, Commcast rips off Deadpool’s mask, revealing his gruesome visage to everyone but the reader, distracting them enough for Weasel to make a dramatic entrance and break Deadpool free. Incensed at Commcast poking around in his head (which he unironically sees as a “violation” despite his mercenary ways), Deadpool goes on a rampage, destroying his facility and killing Makeshift and Rive (but it’s Weasel who delivers the fatal headshot to Commcast). Weasel then examines the two discs and learns of a monastery in Nepal, which he theorises is the location of Tolliver’s will, and of an “ambient-energy dampening” genetic monstrosity known as “Unit: Zero” that he assumes is guarding it.

After Slayback is atomised, Deadpool proves he’s more than just a killer…and makes out with Tolliver’s treasure!

Thanks to her shape-changing and mild mind control abilities, Vanessa is also able to learn of this monastery through alternative means but, when she makes the climb to the building, she’s surprised by Slayback and effectively taken hostage. Although Deadpool insists on heading in alone, Weasel makes the four-storey rope climb to offer his assistance in the arc’s final issue, and Kane also manages to make his way there so that all the loose ends can be nicely tied up. Thanks to Weasel, Deadpool discovers a locked vault packed full of weapons, gadgets, and other gizmos set aside by Tolliver, which leads to another scuffle with Kane when he comes looking to claim Tolliver’s secret, all-powerful weapon for himself. Although Deadpool is all mouth when it comes to Kane, he’s thrown into a panic when Slyback makes it a three-way dance since he didn’t just see Slayback die, he saw him reduced to little more than a bloody goop! Thanks to his cybernetic enhancements and burning desire to avenge himself, Slayback easily overwhelms Deadpool but, as he moves to deliver a fatal blow (despite this being impossible against Wade thanks to his superhuman healing factor…), Vanessa sacrifices herself to save her former love. During all of this kerfuffle, weasel realises that a seemingly innocuous mannequin is actually the Zero unit (or “Adam Unit-Zero”, to be precise) and Tolliver’s ultimate weapon, an energy-absorbing synthezoid built to eliminate all weapons of war. Consequently, it identifies Slayback as such and reduces him to cinders, atomising him in a blinding flash of light. While it settles for similarly destroying Weasel’s armaments and evaluates that Kane has a “strong inclination towards socially beneficial behaviour” [sic] despite his capability for lethal force, it classifies Deadpool as a weapon of war and moves to nullify him accordingly. However, in keeping with his reputation as the “Merc With a Mouth”, Deadpool is able to stall the machine by rationalising that he’s not just capable of killing but healing too. He then demonstrates this by having Vanessa touch his horrifically scarred body to absorb his healing factor and thus heal her mortal wounds, confusing Adam and causing it to teleport away to conduce further analysis. Although she’s grateful, and touched that he still loves her, Vanessa turns him down since she loves another and tearfully begs him to move past his cancer, his past, Tolliver, and even himself so he can find something worth fighting for again. Though heartbroken, Wade consoles himself with the knowledge (as amusingly expositing by Weasel) that he showed he can be more than just a brutal killing machine, and by swiping some of Tolliver’s gold for himself so the mission wasn’t a complete loss.

The Summary: 
In many ways, The Circle Chase suffers from a lot of the problems I often have with X-Men stories, particularly those from the team’s heyday in the nineties; stories were often crammed full of characters, lore, and interweaving plot threads that made single issues and even ongoing story arcs difficult for me to pick up and read since it was hard to keep track of everything going on. We’ve got Deadpool, Vanessa, the Juggernaut and Black Tom, Weasel, Garrison Kane, Slayback, Commcast, the Executive Elite, the complex search for Tolliver’s will and numerous references to him and his minions…it’s quite a bit to take in all at once. Thankfully, the art is pretty good; while much of the action takes place at night or in darkened interiors, all of the characters are very colourful and stand out thanks to that nineties excess of bulging muscles, ridiculously excessive guns and technology, and hyper sexualisation of female characters and bodies that was so rampant during this time.

Deadpool’s chatter mouth and questionable past are a highlight of the miniseries.

The writing is also really good, particularly in terms of dialogue and in characterisation Deadpool. Wade more than lives up to his loquacious reputation here and is constantly spouting nonsense, pop culture references, and getting distracted with tangents in the heat of battle. He taunts his opponents to the point of frustration, which is always amusing, and offers relentless amusing commentary throughout the miniseries. Deadpool’s skills are at their peak here and he’s easily able to take out the many run of the mill mercenaries he comes up against; the more prominent mercs from the Executive Elite manage to subdue him (mainly to advance the story, put some spotlight on Commcast, and subject Deadpool to his mind reading device so we can learn a little more about him) but even this is just a temporary setback and he immediately enacts a bloody revenge upon being freed by Weasel. Interestingly, the final issue delves a little into Wade’s complex mindset; while he hides behind his near-psychotic persona and smart mouth, he’s actually a very tortured individual, one suffering from hideous scars as a result of his healing factor constantly staving off the cancer that threatened his life. Wade is also rattled into an uncharacteristic panic by Slayback’s survival and appearance and a prominent plot point being Wade’s rejection of the notion that he actually enjoys killing and is a mindless sadist like Slayback. This is ultimately proven to be true in the finale, where he uses his healing factor to restore Vanessa and reject the notion that he’s nothing more than a weapon of wear, which allows him to neuter Adam-Zero’s threat which along with his heartbreak over having lost Vanessa’s love, goes a long way to injecting some humanity into this otherwise volatile and unstable mercenary. While The Circle Chase may be bulging with colourful characters, Mutants, and cybernetic antagonists, the core villains are actually surprisingly interesting. It seems as though everyone in the story has a connection to Deadpool, mostly through either Weapon X or the Six Pack (or both), and almost everyone has an axe to grind against him (even Weasel, the closest thing he has to an ally, is constantly exasperated by Wade’s instability and childish nature).

There’s quite a bit going on, but the characterisations and art work make it an entertaining read.

Having said that, the Executive Elite are basically a throwaway distraction that exist mostly to pad the story out with a bit more action, intrigue, and exposition, but Commcast almost makes an impression as a kind of dark mirror of Professor Charles Xavier by using his technology to violate Deadpool’s memories and he even has an “X-Men” team of his own in Makeshift and Rive. Garrison Kane is even more of a wild card than Deadpool himself; he’s something of a reluctant ally but doesn’t hesitate to throw down against his former teammate simply because he acts “like an idiot” when it comes to Wade due to their history together. With his glowing eye and bionic arms and armaments, he’s kind of like a poor man’s Cable, which is fitting given their history together, and ends the story on slightly better terms with Wade than they began due to their shared concern for Vanessa. Vanessa is also a significant factor in the miniseries, primarily as one of the main targets for Tolliver’s will and as Deadpool’s lost love, though she doesn’t get a huge amount of agency; she is able to string up Sluggo and find her way to the monastery without the discs but, once there, she’s held hostage by Slayback and then nonsensically throws herself in front of Deadpool despite him being able to heal from any wound. As for Slayback…I’ve never heard of this guy, but I actually really enjoyed him! His zombie-like appearance and malleable cybernetics (which give him an extensive reach and even a drill appendage) make him a fearsome foe and he’s written with this biting, British wit that adds a lot of character to him. the parallels between him and Deadpool kind of come out of nowhere in the last chapter but I liked that his appearance rattled wade so much that it put him on the back foot, and it was interesting seeing wade think (well, “talk”, really) his way out of being atomised by Adam-Zero like Slayback was. Overall, I really enjoyed this miniseries; it was a little bloated at times but bat-shit-crazy in all the ways I enjoy about a character like Deadpool. While Wade isn’t being as self-referential or meta as he is now known for, all the foundation for the characterisation is here and the miniseries went a long way to justifying his later mainstream success.

My Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.


Have you ever read The Circle Chase? If so, what did you think of the story and the Deadpool’s first solo foray? Did you enjoy the bloated cast of colourful characters and their ties to Deadpool’s past or was it all a bit too crowded for you? What did you think to Deadpool’s characterisation here, the glimpses into his past and motivations, and his snarky with? Were you a fan of Slayback, Vanessa, and the likes of Garrison Kane or is there another of Deadpool’s villains you prefer? What are some of your favourite Deadpool stories and moments and how are you celebrating Deadpool Day today? Whatever your thoughts on Deadpool, feel free to sign up and share them below or drop a comment on my social media.

Game Corner [Wolvie Wednesday]: X-Men Origins: Wolverine: Uncaged Editon (Xbox 360)

When readers were first introduced to the character of James Howlett, better known by the names “Logan” and “Wolverine”, it was in the pages of The Incredible Hulk. From his first full debut in issue 181 all the way back in November 1974 to him officially joining the X-Men in 1975, the character has become one of Marvel Comics’ most recognisable and enduring superheroes, regularly featuring in solo and team comics, cartoons, movies, videogames, and countless other merchandise.

Uncaged Edition

Released:  May 2009
Developer: Raven Software
Also Available For: Mobile, Nintendo DS, Nintendo Wii, PC, PlayStation 2 PlayStation 3 PlayStation Portable

The Background:
20th Century Fox profited greatly after acquiring the X-Men movie rights from Marvel Comics. Under their banner, the first three X-Men movies (Various, 2000 to 2006) made over $600 million and, eager to capitalise on that financial success and the popularity of their star, Hugh Jackman, they quickly began production of a spin-off film focusing solely on breakout star Wolverine. While X-Men: Origins Wolverine (Hood, 2009) proved a financial success, reviews ranged from mixed to scathing (unfairly, in my opinion) but the same couldn’t be said about the obligatory tie-in videogame. Developed by Raven Software, the game was a violent hack-and-slash adventure that expanded upon the film’s storyline using elements from the comic books and emphasised frenetic, gory violence very much like the God of War videogames (Santa Monica Studio/Various, 2005 to present). X-Men Origins: Wolverine: Uncaged Edition was highly regarded by critics and fans alike as one of the most enjoyable and entertaining videogame adaptations ever made.

The Plot:
Decades before he joined the X-Men, Logan (a Mutant with retractable bone claws, a superhuman healing factor, and heightened senses) was a part of William Stryker’s Team X and operated under the codename Wolverine. After many years working alongside his half-brother, Victor Creed, Logan walked away from his violent life only to be forced back into the fight (and to undergo a radical procedure to bond indestructible Adamantium to his skeleton) when Victor killed his lover.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine is a hack-and-slash action brawler with very light platforming and puzzle elements that sees you cast into the role of the titular Mutant, who has the voice and likeness of X-Men star Huge Jacked-Man Hugh Jackman. The story can largely be summarised as taking “inspiration” from the movie, as the narrative constantly switches back to Africa to follow Wolverine’s final mission with Team X, and to the present day of the mid-1980s in a truncated and decidedly different, if similar, version of the events from the film. The gameplay is primarily geared towards slicing and dicing enemies with Wolverine’s bone or Adamantium claws in a variety of gruesome ways: Wolverine can attack with quick, light strikes with X, heavier attacks with Y (which can also be charged by holding the button), and string together successive presses of X and Y to pull off devastating combos (which you can review at any time from the pause menu) that turn Wolverine into a whirling dervish.

Lunge at enemies, unleash your Fury Attacks, and use Feral Senses spot environmental kill spots.

Wolverine can also jump with A, cling to ledges and climb certain walls, block, reflect, or counter incoming attacks with the Left Trigger, and grab enemies with B. Once grabbed, you can mash X to pummel them or toss them at other enemies (or into instant death environmental traps), or charge Y to perform a “Quick Kill”. Wolverine can also dash ahead with the Left Bumper but I found that this was a bit clunky and awkward as there is a delay between Wolverine stopping at the end of the dash and returning to a run, so it’s far better to press the Right Bumper and LB to perform a rolling dodge instead. One of Wolverine’s most useful skills, though, is his lunge attack. By holding RB to target enemies, you can then press LB to leap towards your target and attack them with X, B, or Y to quickly pounce across gaps and from target to target, which is endlessly satisfying when overrun by enemies. As you progress through the game, you’ll also unlock four Fury Attacks that can be unleashed when your Rage Meter is full and by pressing the Right Trigger and either A, B, X, or Y. Each of these can also be upgraded further and will see Wolverine fly into a berserker rage and becoming a spinning whirlwind of claws and death as you mash buttons to extend the duration of his onslaught. Wolverine also has the benefit of his heightened senses; by pressing up on the directional pad (D-pad), you’ll see the body heat of nearby enemies, climbable ledges and surfaces, footprints when tracking targets, and an ethereal blue light that points you in the right direction in a mechanic very similar to the Detective Vision from the Batman: Arkham games (Rocksteady Studios/Various, 2009 to 2015), though much more basic.

Puzzles are pretty simple and amount to little more than button mashing or powering up consoles.

While the environments you find yourself in are quite linear, they are also made up of a lot of dark, grey corridors, so Wolverine’s Feral Senses are helpful for keeping you on track and spotting opportunities to instantly kill your opponents. I’m not sure why but the developers also allowed you to sheath and unsheathe your claws by pressing down on the D-pad; this doesn’t really seem to do anything but I guess it adds to the immersion of being Wolverine and, very rarely, you’ll be able to instantly kill enemies by sneaking up behind him and pressing either B or X. A good 90% of the game is made up of mindless hack-and-slash combat, usually restricting you to a set area and fending off waves of enemies who can seem never-ending at times. Other times, though, you’ll need to pull off some tricky jumps and awkward platforming; mostly, this isn’t a problem, but that are times when you have to jump from platforms and ledges or ropes and it can be very difficult to make even simple jumps thanks to the dodgy camera and invisible barriers nudging you to your death. Wolverine will also have to zip down wires to cross gaps, precariously walk across balance beams and girders, and occasionally pull or push large objects (usually crates or jeeps) by holding B. Other times, you’ll need to mash A to turn a wheel to open a door or find a crank or power source and carry it to a power node by picking it up with B. It’s all very simple and puzzles generally don’t become more taxing than that, standing on pressure pads, or scaling towers. Given his Mutant abilities, Wolverine is extremely durable, able to sustain prolonged gunfire and attacks and continue fighting. Your health bar will automatically regenerate if you avoid attacks for a few seconds but you can still be “captured” if your bar is completely drained and your vital organs are damaged so, while you can largely leap head-first into situations and groups of enemies, it’s best to keep an eye out from spiked traps and avoid being set on fire or pummelled by larger enemies.

Gameplay is mixed up a bit by a few different sections and mechanics, some more welcome than others.

Wolverine’s biggest danger in this regard is falling while trying to jump or navigating across bottomless pits or large chasms; if you fall, you’ll have to restart from your last checkpoint but, thankfully, checkpoints are quite numerous and generally always come right before a tricky situation. Gameplay is further mixed up by a few quick-time events (QTEs), mainly when opening doors, and slightly different camera angles and chase sequences, such as when Wolverine has to race down the spill well of the Alkali Lake facility and leap from jeep to jeep, dispatching enemies as a wall of water comes inexorably after him. Other times, helicopters will fire at you relentlessly and you’ll have to dart between platforms and cover to avoid fire or frantically run and jump across surfaces that crumble beneath your feet. In another mission, you have to lunge at enemies on speedboats down a racing river; if you fall in the water, you’ll have to restart but you eventually commandeer a machine gun turret and can fire wildly at your pursuers by holding RT. One particularly annoying mission has you dodging between metal shields as automatic turrets fire at you; you’ll need to activate a console to put the shields in place to stave off the heavy ordinance and use similar consoles to position teleporters around the sentinel facility.

Graphics and Sound:
Generally speaking, X-Men Origins: Wolverine looks pretty good; environments can be a bit bland and drab at times but you’re constantly hopping back to the jungles of Africa, which helps add a bit of visual variety to the game even if the environments remain quite linear and have very few opportunities for you to explore in a meaningful way. Character models are decent enough but the developers clearly put the most time and effort into the titular character; no other character from the movie save Victor Creed bares the voice or likeness of their actor, which is disappointing, and most of the enemies you encounter are largely generic soldiers with little to really make them stand out. As mentioned, Wolverine spends a lot of his time flashing back to Africa; here; you’ll run through the ruin-strewn jungle and encounter a number of machete-wielding natives and ancient booby traps and such. It’s a stark contrast to the boring, grey corridors of Alkali Lake (a location I could live with never having to see again) but the game claws back (no pun intended) some visual variety in the Sentinel facility and the casino where you pursue and battle Remy Lebeau/Gambit. These locations are much more interesting to look at, being a vast technological complex full of intricate machinery and Sentinel parts and a neon-drenched skyscraper that sees you climbing horizontally and vertically, respectively.

Environments can be dark, drab, and bland but some manage to stand out regardless.

It’s a shame, then, that the game doesn’t change the location of its finale, which sees you back in dull, concrete surroundings on Three Mile Island, but I did enjoy the visual of battling Wade Wilson/Weapon XI/Deadpool atop the cooling tower like in the movie. The game’s story is largely told during gameplay using the in-game graphics, often with Wolverine conversing with his superiors or allies via an earpiece (again, very similar to the Batman: Arkham games). There are some CG cutscenes here, though, which are quite blurry and muddy as you might expect from an Xbox 360 title. Similarly, the music isn’t really anything to shout about; it’s not exactly memorable or catchy and the only thing really salvaging the audio presentation is Jackman’s unparalleled work as the titular character. There was, however, quite a bit of slowdown whenever there was a lot happening onscreen and the game doesn’t do a very good job of masking its loading times; often, the game stops completely and you’re left with a “Streaming…” message while it loads the next area, which interrupted the flow of the game considerably at times. You’ll find some interesting audio logs and references to (and cameos from) some recognisable X-Men characters, though, and the final cutscene even places Wolverine in the “Days of Future Past” (Claremont, et al, 1981) timeline.

The game’s biggest appeal is in its graphic violence and gore in depicting Wolverine’s brutal nature.

Where the game excels, though, is in its unrelenting gore and violence; ironically, X-Men Origins: Wolverine is more violent and uncompromising than the film it’s based on, meaning that kids who enjoyed the film probably weren’t old enough to play the game at the time! As Wolverine takes damage, his skin and clothing is torn and shredded, revealing his Adamantium skeleton, which is both gruesome and fantastic to see. The wounds heal up over time but you’ll often be running around with a fully metallic arm or half a metal skull, which is something we really haven’t seen in the films yet. When attacking enemies, Wolverine can slice off limbs, impale them on the environment, and set them alight or electrocute them with environmental hazards and you’ll often see dismembered bodies writhing on the floor in agony and heads flying from their shoulders. One of the most brutal kills in the game comes when Wolverine rips a helicopter pilot out of his cockpit and forces him head-first into the blades! There’s no nonsensical censoring in this game; it’s bloody, violent action all the way through and this really helps to make the repetitive hack-and-slash gameplay more interesting and entertaining.

Enemies and Bosses:
As mentioned previously, the majority of the enemies you’ll encounter in the game are machine gun-toting soldiers; when in Africa, you’ll fight wild natives who wield machetes but you’ll also battle some rather generic-looking robots when breaching the Sentinel facility. It doesn’t take long for you to encounter more formidable variants of these enemies, such as the Machete Champion (who can set you ablaze), shield carrying soldiers (whose guard you must break with a charged heavy attack), soldiers packing grenade launchers (whose projectiles you must reflect back), and even invisible enemies (“Ghosts”) who carry shotguns and are be dispatched by grabbing them and tapping Y to blow their heads off. You’ll also come up against more monstrous enemies such as the lava-and-rock-covered Leviathan and the Weaponized Experiment Neurodindritic Incident Gamma Zero (W.E.N.D.I.G.O.) prototypes; these are best attacked with your Fury Attacks as they charge at you, deliver big damage with their swings, and can catch you in mid-air as you lunge if you don’t get around behind them. As you damage the Leviathan, it’ll protect itself with tougher rock and start tossing and smashing boulders at you so you’ll have to lunge at it whenever possible and you’ll soon be faced with two to four of these enemies at a time so it’s best to get a rhythm on.

You’ll be leaping at a lot of helicopters but especially to bring down the sharp-shooting Agent Zero.

You’ll also have to fight “Jungle Mutants” like Shifter, a blue energy being who teleports about the place, traps you in electrical prisms of light, and can duplicate itself (but is, thankfully, easily dispatched with environmental kills). The first time you encounter these enemies, they act as sub-bosses but quickly become regular enemies and you’ll often be faced with a variety of different opponents and forced to adapt to each on the fly. A recurring element in the game are the helicopters that are sent to bring you down; at least three times you’ll have to outrun these pursuers and then lunge at them, moving the left analogue stick to avoid being shot at and smashing your way into the cockpit with X or Y to bring them down. There’s a particularly gruelling battle that has you dodging helicopter fire as four W.E.N.D.I.G.O.s attack you at once but, thankfully, enemies can damage each other so you can position the beasts into each other’s attacks and the bullets from the helicopter. Prior to this battle, you’ll also have to contend with a pretty unique switch in perspective as David Nord/Agent Zero takes shots at you with his sniper rifle and you control Wolverine from the perspective of Nord’s sniper scope.

Creed is a far less pivotal or threatening figure in the game despite being fought twice.

The first real boss you’ll battle is Victor, Logan’s stepbrother (though this plot point, like a lot of plot points from the film, is nowhere near as relevant or emphasised as in the movie). You’ll fight Victor twice throughout the game, with the first bout taking place in and outside of a bar and the second inside of Stryker’s island base, just like in the film. Victor mirrors many of your own abilities and can lunge, swipe, and claw at you; he can also grab you to deliver combos and you’re in just as much danger of being impaled on the environment throughout the game as he and your other enemies are. Still, Victor isn’t much of a threat; although he boasts the same healing factor as Wolverine, I never actually noticed his health regenerating in either fight and it’s pretty simple to lunge at him, block and counter his attacks, and either use the environment or your Fury Attacks to whittle his health down and defeat him in both battles.

The Sentinel poses a formidable threat and must be attacked both on the ground and in mid-air!

As you might expect given that you end up in a Sentinel facility, you’ll have to battle with a Sentinel prototype as well. The first time you encounter the Sentinel, it’s in pieces and you have to solve a bit of a track puzzle to position its hand in place to attack its head but, despite your efforts, Bolivar Trask activates the prototype and you have to fight it outside the facility. The Sentinel is suitably massive and stomps around the place, leaps at you to cause shockwaves, fires laser blasts from its hand, and grabs you to blast you with its eyebeams in a homage to that iconic “Days of Future Past” cover art. To battle the Sentinel, you need to attack its feet and hands; this is best done by luring it towards the electrified panels on the floor, which will stun it for longer (though it’s difficult to tell that you’re actually dealing damage to it because of its high health bar). Once you damage it enough, it’ll take off and you’ll have to freefall down to it, dodging or ploughing through debris and guiding Wolverine to its thrusters. Eventually, you’ll do enough damage that Wolverine targets its main power source, which requires you to mash B to rip open its chest plate before it can blast you.

While the Blob is simple, Gambit leads you on an elaborate chase and is the game’s most frustrating boss.

Immediately after felling the Sentinel, you’ll fight with Fred Dukes/The Blob; unlike in the movie, this fight takes place in a supermarket full of destructible elements. The Blob is very similar to the Leviathan and W.E.N.D.I.G.O. enemies and will charge at you and repel your lunges with his drum-like belly. Once you damage him enough, though, he’ll try to squash you with a belly flop, which stuns him long enough for you to lunge or mount him and claw at him and force him into walls to bring him down. Immediately after that fight, you’ll have to battle what was, for me, the most annoying, frustrating, and long-winded boss of the entire game: Gambit. Gambit attacks with his staff and kinetically-charged playing cards, which must be countered and reflected back, respectively, to stun him. What makes this boss so annoying, though, is that you fight him a whole bunch of times and are forced to chase through up and through a skyscraper. Eventually, you battle him on giant neon letters, lunging at him when he charges and destroys them and mashing A when he tosses you over the edge. This was, honestly, the most exasperating part of the entire game as each fight with Gambit just went on and on and it seemed never-ending; of all the characters and Mutants in the game, I never would have expected Gambit to be so versatile, resilient, and challenging!

Deadpool will push your button mashing skills to breaking point!

After the finale battle with Victor, you are forced to battle Deadpool at Three Mile Island. If you haven’t seen the film, you might be a bit confused about who Deadpool is since he barely appears at all in the game’s story but he’s a pretty formidable boss in his own right. Fighting him is, essentially, the same as fighting Victor except that you’ll damn near break your wrist trying to mash A following a counter of his blades and it’s a two-stage boss fight. In the first, you fight him in an ordinary area of the island, avoiding his spinning blades and jumping attacks and whittling his health down with your Fury Attacks but, in the second, you battle him atop a cooling tower. Here, he demonstrates his ability to teleport and will blast at you with optic blasts that can destroy parts of the environment. Still, he’s pretty easy to defeat; you simply block his attacks, unleash your Fury Attacks, and lunge at him after he fires his eye beams. When you’ve dealt enough damage, the QTE becomes easier to pull off and is a great way to deal additional damage; while Deadpool’s health doesn’t regenerate during the fight, it will fill up at least once, which can make this rather long-winded and frustrating but it’s nothing compared to fighting Gambit!

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
As you battle enemies and destroy crates, you’ll earn red Rage Orbs to fill up your Rage Meter and experience points (XP) that will see you level-up in time. Levelling up increases your health meter and earns you Skill Points, which you can spend in the “Character” sub-menu. Here, you can increase your maximum health, Rage Meter, and the damage and duration and effectiveness of your Fury Attacks. Each one will cost you more Skill Points as you upgrade them, though, so it’s best to either stock up or focus on one attribute to upgrade at a time. You can also boost your health and earn additional Skill Points by finding power-ups hidden in each environment, generally just off to one side or the opposite way from where you’re being directed to go. Every time you fight and defeat enemies, you’ll also fill up a “Reflex” meter in the Character sub-menu; when each of these is mastered, you’ll find that you deal more damage to, and have a greater defence against, the game’s enemies, which adds an extra incentive to combat. Finally, you’ll also find “Mutagens” hidden throughout the game; up to three of these can eventually be equipped and each one can also by upgraded further to increase you damage, Fury Attacks, or regenerative capabilities as well as boosting the speed which you build up your Reflexes.

Additional Features:
There are fifty Achievements for you to earn throughout the game, the majority of which you’ll get just by playing through the story mode. You get Achievements for killing up to 2000 enemies, performing lunges and Quick Kills, tossing enemies from high ledges, and clearing each chapter of the main story. As you explore your environment, you’ll also find dead bodies and acquire Dog Tags for XP and which count towards Achievements and you’ll need to venture off the beaten path a little bit or attack enemies and bosses in specific ways to get some of the more obscure Achievements but you can track your progress towards them at any time from the “Statistics” menu. When you first start the game, you can select to play on “Easy” or “Normal” difficulty; you may as well pick “Easy” as the only difficulty-based Achievement comes after you clear the game and unlock “Hard” mode. Once you beat the game, though, you can replay any mission you like and pick a costume to wear beforehand but you’ll lose all of your saved progress and upgrades if you want to get the “Walking Death” Achievement so I’d recommend clearing the game and mopping up any Achievements you’ve missed tied to kills and Dog Tags and such before playing on Hard.

Unlock some cool classic costumes and beat the game to access a harder difficulty mode.

Also hidden throughout the game are a number of different Wolverine action figures; finding enough of these will unlock a special challenge from the main menu. Here, you’re pitted against three different Wolverines and, when you defeat them, you’ll unlock a new costume to wear including Wolverine’s classic brown-and-tan outfit, his yellow-and-blue spandex, and his awesome black-and-grey X-Force outfit. There are actually more action figures than you need but collecting them only awards you an XP boost rather than the likes of Wolverine’s Weapon-X outfit or movie costume, and there is a fourth challenge available but it seems that this was a Gamestop exclusive unlockable that would give you access to the X-Men’s Danger Room and it doesn’t appear to be accessible now. Sadly, that’s about it as far as bonus content goes; you can enter some codes to make the game easier but you won’t be able to get Achievements with these activated and it’s a shame that there aren’t more costumes to unlock.

The Summary:
I was very much looking forward to playing X-Men Origins: Wolverine; I’d heard time and time again that it was one of the best licensed videogames out there and actually better than the movie (which I have always considered to be pretty enjoyable and under-rated). However, I was surprised to find that all of the praise I had heard about the game didn’t relate to it doing a very good job of recreating the events of the movie. To be fair, a lot of licensed videogames falter a bit in this regard but X-Men Origins: Wolverine does a pretty lacklustre job of rushing through the film’s story, glossing over Team X and Wolverine’s relationship with the team and his brother, and simultaneously paying lip service to the film’s narrative while also awkwardly staying beholden to it in other ways. The game excels when it veers from the film’s plot, to be honest, and I can’t help but think it would have been better for it to act as a prequel and sequel to the movie rather than actually including events from the film. The sections in Africa are much more visually interesting than those in Alkali Lake (even though the developers tried to mix things up a bit by stripping you of your powers here) and I’d rather infiltrate a Sentinel production plant than visit Stryker’s bland island. This would also have given the developers the opportunity to include more characters, enemies, and elements from the comic books; they hint at this with the final cutscene but fall back on disposable grunts and characters from the movie rather than the likes of Mister Sinister or Omega Red. Thanks to its gore, violence, and frenetic gameplay, X-Men Origins: Wolverine is definitely a fun, if monotonous, experience; it’s probably the best and most accurate videogame portrayal of Wolverine ever made and is worth a play if only to see him hack up enemies and be stripped to his metal skeleton but there’s not a lot in terms of replayability and will probably be a mediocre distraction for fans of the hack-and-slash genre.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

Are you a fan of the videogame adaptation of X-Men Origins: Wolverine? Did you prefer it to the movie? How do you feel it compares to other hack-and-slash videogames? Were you a fan of the gratuitous violence and gore? What did you think to the game’s interpretation of the film’s plot; were you also a bit perturbed by the truncated narrative or did you prefer the alterations presented in the game? Which of the bosses was your favourite or most frustrating? Which of Wolverine’s costumes was your default? Which X-Men or Wolverine videogame is your favourite and why? How are you celebrating Wolverine’s debut this month? Whatever your thoughts on X-Men Origins: Wolverine, or Wolverine and the X-Men in general, drop a comment down below.

Talking Movies [Multiverse Madness]: Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness

In September 1961, DC Comics published “Flash of Two Worlds” (Fox, et al), a landmark story that brought together two generations of the Flash: the Golden Age Jay Garrick and the Silver Age Barry Allen thanks to the concept of the multiverse, an infinite number of parallel universes that allowed any and all stories and characters to co-exist and interact. Marvel Comics would also adopt this concept and, to celebrate the release of this very film, I’ve been both celebrating the Master of the Mystic Arts and exploring the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s (MCU) equivalent of the multiverse every Sunday of May.

Released: 6 May 2022
Director: Sam Raimi
Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Budget: $200 million
Benedict Cumberbatch, Elizabeth Olsen, Xochitl Gomez, Rachel McAdams, Benedict Wong, and Chiwetel Ejiofor,

The Plot:
Following a number of reality-altered events, Doctor Stephen Strange (Cumberbatch) is unexpectedly thrown into a fight not just for his life, but for the fate of the entire multiverse when a girl with the power to traverse alternate dimensions is threatened by a corrupted force seeking to take her power for her own.

The Background:
Steve Ditko and Stan Lee’s bizarre creation, Dr. Strange, has undoubtedly become one of Marvel’s most pivotal figureheads since his unimpressive debut and has had a storied history with adaptation. After an ill-fated lie-action film in the seventies, a number of animated ventures, and a long period of Development Hell, Marvel’s Master of the Mystic Arts finally made his big-screen debut as part of the MCU to both universal praise and incredible financial success. Development of a sequel began in 2016, with director Scott Derrickson eager to incorporate the villain Nightmare and really delve into Dr. Strange’s weirder aspects. MCU producer and figurehead Kevin Feige saw Dr. Strange as the linchpin on the MCU’s fourth phase, which would expand upon the multiversal aspects of their successful franchise, while Derrickson initially aimed to introduce more horror elements to the sequel. This caused some creative differences between the two parties, and led to Derrickson stepping down and Sam Raimi being brought in as the director and injecting his own blend of horror to the script after delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic. After attempting to introduce the character in previous MCU projects, Feige finally found an avenue to bring in America Chavez, and the script was rewritten to both play to Raimi’s strengths as a director and to further expand on Wanda Maximoff’s (Olsen) character growth from WandaVision (Shakman, 2021). Seeking to infuse a horror vibe to the MCU and explore the consequences of dabbling in black magic and the multiverse, the film also ended up including a number of cameo appearances from iconic actors and fan casted characters to tease towards even bigger things for the MCU. Despite the film not seeing a release in LGTBQ+-intolerant countries, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness amassed a worldwide gross of $955.8 million and was met by widely positive reviews; critics praised its harrowing tale of grief and desperation, the unique horror slant, and the visual spectacle on offer, though some found it to be a bit formulaic and bloated at times.

The Review:
Right off the bat I have to say that I’m not actually the biggest fan of comic book movies delving into the multiverse concept. It’s a strange opinion to have given I regularly celebrate the trope and have enjoyed a lot of multiversal stories in comics, but I’m having a lot of difficulty reconciling that audiences aren’t more confused by it all. I’m a lifetime comic book fan and even I struggle with it a bit and, as much as I enjoyed Spider-Man: No Way Home (Webb, 2021) and Alfred Molina’s portrayal of Doctor Otto Octavius/Doctor Octopus, I can’t help but wonder if bringing that version of that villain back cost us seeing a new actor’s take on the character. I give Marvel a lot of leeway, though; after ten-plus years of building up their cinematic universe, exploring science, the cosmos, time and space, I think they’re in a far better position to start exploring beyond the confines of their singular reality. It’s not like, say, the DC Extended Universe, which jumped into alternate versions, timelines, and multiverse shenanigans just a few years after their first movie, to the point where they’re already having to rejig their timeline to try and make sense of it all. I feel Marvel’s execution so far has been very respectful and very exciting for us die-hard fans of the comics and movies, and also suspect that this phase of bringing back popular actors in their iconic superhero roles may soon pass as we head towards whatever the culmination of Phase Four really is.

With the world still reeling from the Blip, Dr. Strange is thrust into the chaotic multiverse.

Still, if you’re going to explore the multiverse, what better character than the Master of the Mystic Arts himself? When the movie begins, Dr. Strange is still guarding the Sanctum Sanctorum in New York City but, thanks to being dusted during the Blip, is also still no longer the Sorcerer Supreme, with those duties now being fulfilled by Wong (Wong). Their relationship isn’t one of master and servant, but more one of bickering peers; there’s a recurring gag that Dr. Strange refuses to bow to Wong since he’s still a bit annoyed at having lost his lofty position but, despite this, he remains a dedicated and powerful spellcaster since Wong’s duties are more focused on training sorcerers at Kamar-Taj. Dr. Strange is, however, facing a bit of a personal crisis; his dedication to his newfound lifestyle, and having been gone for five years, means that he’s missed out on the girl. Doctor Christine Palmer (McAdams) has not only met someone else, but is getting married to him, and he’s plagued by doubts concerning his decision to surrender the Time Stone to the Mad Titan, Thanos (Josh Brolin), which saved the lives of billions but also disrupted the lives of countless others, including his former colleague, Doctor Nicodemus West (Michael Stuhlbarg), who questions Dr. Strange’s actions. Strange remains justified, however, as he acted out of the greater good, having viewed millions of potential timelines, but these doubts over his character and motivation continue to surface throughout the film when he learns from America Chavez (Gomez) that his alternative selves have been so focused on the big picture that they’ve been driven to unspeakable acts, such as attempting to take America’s power for his own and even being corrupted by the forbidden magical tome, the Darkhold. Since she’s being pursued by forces far beyond her power, and is unable to control her dimension-hopping abilities, America has little choice but to trust Dr. Strange to protect her, but both her and the alternate versions of Christine have reservations about Strange’s character after seeing the lengths his other selves have gone to to keep the vast multiverse safe.

Devastated at losing her kids, Wanda covets America’s power and wages all-out war as the Scarlet Witch.

America is quite the anomaly; in an infinite number of alternate realities, it appears as though there’s only one of her, since she hasn’t encountered a counterpart in all of her random travels throughout the multiverse and she doesn’t dream (the film posits that dreams are a window into the lives of our alternate selves, which is an intriguing concept). Desperate, afraid, and alone, America is carrying a great deal of guilt after her chaotic powers accidentally sucked her mothers to an unknown fate when she was a child. America’s ability to conjure a massive, star-shaped portal to anywhere in the multiverse is triggered by fear and panic, meaning she has little control over her abilities but they offer a wealth of possibilities to more powerful and experienced forces who could absorb her power for their own ends. Dr. Strange first meets America when she’s being pursued by an unspeakable eldritch abomination, which he and Wong recognise to be a creature of witchcraft rather than sorcery, so he seeks out console from Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch, hoping to recruit the former Avenger to help protect America. However, Wanda has been so consumed with grief after losing her magically-conjured sons, Billy (Julian Hilliard) and Tommy (Jett Klyne) from the conclusion of WandaVision that she’s turned to the Darkhold to find ways of being reunited with them in an alternate reality. The Darkhold’s dark magic, coupled with the destructive potential of the Scarlet Witch, have driven Wanda into a maniacal obsession with obtaining America’s powers and, when Dr. Strange refuses to hand the girl over peacefully and condemn her to death at the Scarlet Witch’s hands, Wanda launches a brutal all-out assault against Kamar-Taj and, after they’re stranded in the multiverse, to force Wong to take her to the forbidden land of Mount Wundagore, where the Darkhold was transcribed, to both locate them and find the power to “dream walk” into the body of her alternate self to relentlessly pursue them, slaughtering anyone and everyone who gets in her way.

The alternate Mordo brings Dr. Strange before the Illuminati, but Wanda mercilessly slaughters them all.

Since America can’t control or direct her powers, Dr. Strange immediately out his alternative self for help, only to find that he heroically died saving the universe from Thanos and that his former mentor, Baron Karl Mordo (Ejiofor), has taken his place as the Sorcerer Supreme. For those who were hoping for a resolution to Mordo’s vow to hunt down and eliminate sorcerers at the end of Doctor Strange (Derrickson, 2016), you’ll be disappointed to learn that “prime” Mordo (i.e. the one from what the MCU calls “Earth-616”) isn’t actually in this film and his counterpart is a far less antagonistic character…or so it seems. Initially, Mordo is welcoming and courteous but, all too soon, Dr. Strange and America find themselves drugged, fitted with power-dampening restraints, and placed in holding cells under the observation of the alternative Christine to determine whether 6161-Strange is as much of a threat as his counterpart. This leads to Mordo bringing Dr. Strange before the judgement of the “Illuminati”, a panel of superpowered beings who stood against Thanos and executed their version of Dr. Strange after he became corrupted by the Darkhold. Comprised of Mordo, Captain Peggy Carter/Captain Carter (Hayley Atwell), Captain Maria Rambeau/Captain Marvel (Lashana Lynch), Blackagar Boltagon/Black Bolt (Anson Mount), Professor Charles Xavier (Sir Patrick Stewart), and Doctor Reed Richards/Mister Fantastic (John Krasinski), the Illuminati underestimate Wanda’s devastating power in favour of focusing on Strange’s potential threat, which ultimately results in all of them being mercilessly slaughtered by the raging Scarlet Witch when she puppets her alternative self right into their chamber. Wanda easily negates Black Bolt’s destructive voice, turning it back on himself so he blows a hole in his head, slices Captain Carter in two with her own shield, crushes Captain Marvel to death, reduces Mr. Fantastic to spaghetti, and snaps Xavier’s neck in a harrowing sequence that’s just one of many allusions to director Sam Raimi’s past as a horror director. Thought assisted by Christine and led towards the Book of Vishanti, which promises the power to oppose Wanda’s black magic, this tome is destroyed, America is captured, and Dr. Strange is forced to turn to another corrupted version of himself, and ultimately the Darkhold, to find the means to keep Wanda from killing America, regardless of the toll such dark magic threatens to extract on his soul.

The Nitty-Gritty:
Loneliness, grief, and desperation are core themes in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness; Dr. Strange maintains that he’s perfectly happy being the Master of the Mystic Arts and with his newfound purpose in life, but it’s clear that he still has feelings for Christine and regrets losing his chance to be with her. All throughout the film, he’s disturbed (but not surprised) to learn that his alternate selves all fumbled their chance at happiness, though the ramifications of this were far more destructive for his counterparts; similar to Strange Supreme from What If…? (Andrews, 2021), Strange’s corrupted doppelgänger was turned towards dark magic after losing Christine and his focus on trying to scour the multiverse for a world where they could be happy directly led to his universe being torn asunder by an “incursion” event, the very thing the Illuminati feared both their Dr. Strange and 616-Strange would cause if he wasn’t put down ahead of time. America’s fear of her powers and of trusting others is directly tied to that traumatic incident in her childhood where she literally swept her parents away in an accidental outburst, and her reluctance to trust Dr. Strange is based entirely on his alternative self turning on her to keep her powers out of Wanda’s hands, so her character arc isn’t just about learning that the ability to control her powers has been within her all along but also about finding a place to belong in the infinite worlds of the multiverse. Finally, Wanda is so desperate to be reunited with her children that she not only allows the Darkhold to corrupt her vast powers but also attacks friend and foe alike, embracing her destiny as the destructive Scarlet Witch and fully prepared to sacrifice America’s life (and the life of her doppelgänger) to be with her children once more.

The multiverse and all its monstrous potential is vividly brought to life in this visual spectacle.

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness takes the rules of magic and the snippet of the multiverse we saw in Doctor Strange and Spider-Man: No Way Home and absolutely runs with it; in the years since his debut movie, Dr. Strange’s power and command over magic has vastly increased, meaning he’s able to do far more than just conjure protective shields or glowing whips. Now, he can summon magical buzz saws, demonic hands, animated musical notes and use them as projectiles, and perform all manner of miraculous and visually entertaining feats. Naturally, this makes him an incredibly over-powered character, but the film goes to great lengths to put him in jeopardy by placing even greater, often more monstrous, threats in his path; when Gargantos attacks America, it takes both Dr. Strange and Wong to put it down, which is a feat in and of itself, but even they and their magical cohorts of Kamar-Taj are no match for the full fury of the Scarlet Witch, who leaves an untold number of charred corpses and ashen remains in her wake as she pursues America. When America transports herself and Dr. Strange through the multiverse, the film really starts to come alive; they are blasted through an animated universe, the Quantum realm, the Dark Dimension, a universe where they’re turned into paint, and one where they’re literally pulled apart into tiny pieces. Eventually dumped in the M. C. Escher-esque void between universes and a desolate universe where a devastating incursion has caused reality and physics to fold in on itself, Dr. Strange’s brief and violent tour of the multiverse sees him travelling to strange worlds where society and history are slightly different, characters are noticeably changed, and even possessing the lifeless body of one of his counterparts in order to oppose Wanda. I can certainly see why Wanda’s turn to the dark side probably rattled a few people; I definitely didn’t expect that to happen (or, at least, I thought maybe the reveal that she was behind it all would happen mid-way through or near the end) and I was doubled surprised by just how many references were made to WandaVision since the MCU has notoriously ignored its TV projects in the past. WandaVision was a startling examination of the destructive power of grief, and I think the idea that someone can just get past the sort of trauma Wanda has been through without lasting repercussions is a bit unlikely, and the film definitely paints her as someone in a great deal of pain and corrupted by the Darkhold’s influence. While seeing her match Dr. Strange blow for blow was a great way to showcase her power, having her tear through the Illuminati was an even greater example of her potential threat to the multiverse.

Dr. Strange is forced to use dark magic to combat the threat Wanda poses to the multiverse.

While it’s clear that many of the Illuminati’s actors weren’t all on set at the same time, it was fun seeing Patrick Stewart back in his iconic role (and accompanied by the nineties cartoon theme, no less) one last time, and to see long-time fan casting John Krasinski portray Mr. Fantastic, but it was Anson Mount returning as Black Bolt which really surprised me as I never thought we’d see the Inhumans referenced or included after their disastrous show. Again, you could argue that these characters were “wasted” but I saw them as fun little bits of fan service for long-time fans; I said up top that I get annoyed at other actors not having a crack in these roles, though, so I am still holding out hope that we see a new actor portray Xavier if and when the X-Men are properly introduced to the MCU. Dr. Strange doesn’t come to this decision lightly; all throughout the film, his goal has been to claim the Book of Vishanti to acquire the power to stop the Scarlet Witch but, when it’s destroyed, he’s left with no choice but to turn to the Darkhold possessed by his corrupt alternate self. Transformed into a three-eyed, monstrous version of himself, this alternate Strange has become as consumed by the Darkhold as Wanda and, after his defeat, the lingering question of how the book will affect 616-Strange hangs in the air for the finale. Thankfully, the alternate Christine is on hand to act as his moral compass, encouraging him to utilise the power of the dark spirits seeking to punish him for desecrating his other self’s body, which is enough for him to save Wong from Wanda’s rock monsters and free America before her power (and life) can be consumed. Finally harnessing her incredible powers, America first lashes out at Wanda and then, when she realises she’s no match for the Scarlet Witch, grants the corrupted Avenger her wish and transports her to her boys, who are naturally terrified of this malevolent version of their loving mother. Devastated at seeing them cower in fear of her, Wanda abandons her crusade and, to atone for her heinous actions, willingly brings Mount Wundagore down around her, presumably killing herself in the process (but we never see a body, so I wouldn’t be surprised if she doesn’t pop up again in some way, shape, or form). in the aftermath, Wong beings repairing Kamar-Taj and training his students (with America among their number, the implications of which could make her one of the MCU’s most powerful characters ever) and Dr. Strange finds a peace with himself after finally admitting to the alternate Christine that he loves her. However, his jovial mood is immediately shattered when he’s crippled by whispering voices and the emergence of a third eye on his forehead like his corrupted counterpart as a result of the Darkhold’s influence, but even this is instantly swept under the rug when, in a mid-credits sequence, a mysterious woman (apparently Clea (Charlize Theron)) demand she help her repair an incursion in the Dark Dimension…

The Summary:
After seeing Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, I have to commend Marvel for their marketing strategy; while the trailers hinted at Wanda’s turn to the dark side, nothing was made explicit and even the official blurb was little more than a vague statement about the film, so I was very surprised to see her transform into this malevolent, vindictive witch of incredible power. Wanda’s pain and grief are very real and believable, and I was also surprised that the film didn’t shy away from assuming the audience was familiar with WandaVision as a part of her character arc, and seeing her become this malicious force of darkness definitely raises the stakes for the MCU and means that anything can happen to these characters, no matter how heroic they may be. Dr. Strange also had an intriguing arc in the film; torn between his regrets and his duties, he fully commits to protecting America at all costs, no matter the sacrifice and the lingering question over whether he will also succumb to the darkness helps add a fascinating edge to the character as his concerns must be on a far wider scale at all times, necessitating tough choices and questionable actions. The exploration of the multiverse was great; I definitely think the film has established a short-hand for the concept and that future iterations of it will simply be taken for granted going forward, and I did enjoy seeing some new and old faces appear in cameo roles as the Illuminati, which again hints towards some exciting things in the MCU’s future. The film does suffer a little from some pacing and repetitive issues, however; obviously it can’t be all action all the time, but it does slow down to explain its concepts one time too many, and I found the framing of Dr. Strange’s meeting with the Illuminti jarring as it just highlighted that many of the actors weren’t actually there. Leaving Mordo’s vendetta unresolved was also a bit of a disappointment for me, as was the mid- and post-credits sequences, but I’m interested to see these plot threads resolved in a future film and had a blast with the film’s bizarre visuals and bat-shit-crazy moments. Bolstered by some great horror-themed shots and full of fan service and surreal imagery, the film, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness was an entertaining thrill-ride and absolutely galvanised Dr. Strange as one of the cornerstones of the MCU and, I hope, has opened the door for new versions of some of Marvel’s most popular characters to join this ever-expanding cinematic universe.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

What did you think to Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness? Are you a fan of the muliverse concept or do you find it a bit too complex? What did you think to Dr. Strange’s character arc and the potential of him turning bad? Were you a fan of America Chavez or do you think she’s a bit too overpowered? What did you think to Wanda’s turn to the dark side and were you disappointed that Mordo was pushed to the side? Which member of the Illuminati surprised you the most and what did you think to their inclusion? Were you a fan of the film’s horror elements? Whatever your thoughts on Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, sign up to leave your thoughts below or leave a comment on my social media, and thanks for sticking around for Multiverse Madness!

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.


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

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.