Shock and Awe: X2 – X-Men United (2003)

With X-Men: Dark Phoenix on the horizon, a film predicted to signal the end of the original iteration of the X-Men franchise, I’ve decided to go back and revisit this highly influential collection of comic-book movies.

We continue with Bryan Singer’s sequel, 2003’s X2…

Though far more of a muscular and accomplished film than its predecessor, X2: X-Men United would never have worked without it.

X2 is in danger of being overlooked in our era of dominant comic-book movie franchises and behemoth superhero pictures as one of the key, formative pieces of cinema in the genre, something we must work hard to avoid. Bryan Singer’s sequel is a skilled piece of work which does precisely what a follow up is designed to do – build on the foundations of the previous film, add complications and greater depth, and provide a heightened, meaningful experience. X2 does that very successfully. It is The Empire Strikes Back to X-Men’s A New Hope. It even has strong shades come the denouement of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan in how it punches you with an earned sacrifice on one hand, while promising a rebirth on the other. X2 feels like a picture that everyone involved had been constructing in their minds long before it was ever committed to celluloid.

On that basis, X2 feels on some level like the first truly meaningful X-Men movie but one that needed the prologue of the original 2000 film in order to function in the manner it does. When Singer came back to helm the sequel, he combined screenplays by David Hayter—who penned the previous movie—and Zak Penn, brewed up with rewrites from Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris, in order to fuse together a film which develops many of the established character arcs from X-Men, placed the film distinctly in a post-9/11 context, and digs deep into the ideological and existential conflict between Professor X and Magneto – namely whether mutants should believe in humanity or reject and destroy them. It does this while never forgetting the human cost of being different, exploring the difficulty of living with what genetics, evolution, gives you in a less than tolerant society.

X2 does this with a poise and panache that few comic-book movies have equalled since.

Read more…

Rocketman (2019)

Rocketman doesn’t like to use the word ‘biopic’.

Dexter Fletcher prefers the term “true fantasy” for his flamboyant take on the life story of Sir Elton John, arguably one of the most iconic British rock stars of the last fifty years. That certainly fits many of the creative choices inherent in Fletcher’s film and Lee Hall’s screenplay, not to mention the casting of Taron Egerton as John’s cinematic avatar – the culmination of numerous actors in the frame over the two decades in which John has tried to get a film about his life produced, including Justin Timberlake and Tom Hardy. Now if that is not fantasy, it’s hard to imagine what is! Elton John may be many things but a movie heart-throb he is most certainly not. Rocketman, from that perspective, is pure wish-fulfilment.

Yet this is not a hagiography, despite John and his long-term partner David Furnish producing (the latter more heavily). Hall’s script does not pretend that Elton rise to legendary fame was all champagne and rainbows. The drugs are there, the booze, the sex, the angry outbursts and egotistic trappings. Rocketman points a big, intentional, neon sign at the indulgent largesse of Elton’s life that more than once almost killed him at the height of his fame, and is unafraid to show the man at the most down point of his life. The reason Rocketman fails to quite ascend to the heights of great drama, great biopic or even great musical, is because it stops *just* short of showing Elton at his worst. This Elton is still the hero of his own story, looking for love in all the wrong places.

It leaves you wondering just how much bite Rocketman *might* have had if Elton had been less involved.

Read more…

Game of Thrones – ‘The Iron Throne’ (8×06)

It would be remiss of me, as an enormous Game of Thrones fan, to let the final season go by without sharing some thoughts week on week.

I’m conscious, however, that full and in-depth critical analysis won’t truly be possible until the finale has aired, at which point I’ll be going back and starting to tackle Season 2 and working back toward the end. I have already deep dived Season 1, as you may remember, and they will probably get a polish once the entire show is completed.

My plan then, in the spirit of George R. R. Martin’s books, is to write up thoughts on each character journey and use them as a prism to explore each episode. With a show like this, built heavily on theory, escalation and payoff, this feels like one of the best ‘in the moment’ methods of reviewing the show – indeed I did just that for Season 6 in my days writing for Flickering Myth.

Okay, take your seats and let’s end this… though BEWARE SPOILERS!

Read more…

New Podcast Guest Appearance: Trek FM’s Standard Orbit – ‘TOS Season 0.5’

Hosted by Zach Moore, Ken Tripp and Hayley Stoddart, Standard Orbit is part of the Trek FM podcast network and dedicated to covering all aspects of the original 1960’s series, Star Trek.

With the recent arrival of the second season of Star Trek: Discovery, which heavily featured elements of The Original Series including key characters, Zach and I discuss my assertion that Discovery S2 is essentially ‘TOS Season 0.5’, picking through the characters, narratives and unpicking where they do and don’t work.

Anyone with an interest in Discovery, or Star Trek broadly, you’ll find plenty to enjoy here.

Read more…

The Night of the Generals (1967)

Occasionally I am fortunate to be offered review material from various film, TV, book or comic PR companies, and will be taking a look at releases that interest me, whether based on writers, director or content.

This one is from Eureka Entertainment, 1967’s The Night of the Generals…

You might be surprised to learn that Lawrence of Arabia was not the only film in the 1960’s to co-star Peter O’Toole and Omar Sharif, but it would be no surprise if The Night of the Generals doesn’t ring any immediate bells.

A critical and financial dud on release, despite the ascendant stars of the aforementioned leading men, The Night of the Generals suffers in no small part for barely replicating the alchemy in David Lean’s masterpiece of having O’Toole & Sharif share screen time. The producer of both films, legendary Hollywood maestro Sam Spiegel, drafted both men in as part of a contractual deal following Lawrence of Arabia, paid them both a pittance (less indeed than lower billed Donald Pleasence), and largely kept them apart – O’Toole the creepy, dead eyed Nazi General and Sharif the dogged Nazi Major looking to catch a serial killer of women he has concluded was the work of a high-ranking General in the SS. Despite being inextricably linked by the narrative, O’Toole & Sharif share only a few brief scenes and it is one the many missteps taken in an overlong, oddly structured and ultimately misconceived novel adaptation.

Here’s the key point as to why: The Night of the Generals is both a political thriller and a cat and mouse horror all rolled into one, revolving around the search for a murderer the identity of whom is blindingly obvious from the very beginning of the film.

Read more…

Star Trek: The Q Conflict (#1)

Tie-in fiction loves a good crossover event and Star Trek, in particular, is full of them.

Outside of recent Trek crossovers with Planet of the Apes, Transformers and Green Lantern, IDW Publishing most recently have tied into Star Trek: Discovery‘s narrative trends with a heavy focus on the Mirror Universe (particularly the untold on TV story of The Next Generation side of the Mirror coin) and now The Original Series with the newly launched Year Five, but The Q Conflict is a different animal. It is the kind of story that could only take place in tie-in continuity for a variety of reasons, and more specifically the comic as opposed to the novel. It feels mostly in step with Doctor Who events such as The Two Doctors, The Three Doctors or The Day of the Doctor; tying together in this case the legendary Starfleet Captains and crews across the four most popular Star Trek series from the last 50 years.

The Q Conflict is, consequently, a huge gimmick which hinges on the excitement of seeing Kirk, Picard, Sisko and Janeway, and key members of their crews, working together. How long that gimmick may last is open to question.

Read more…

Mutated Anxiety at the Millennium: X-Men (2000)

With X-Men: Dark Phoenix on the horizon, a film predicted to signal the end of the original iteration of the X-Men franchise, I’ve decided to go back and revisit this highly influential collection of comic-book movies.

We start with Bryan Singer’s original, 2000’s X-Men…

Though not always discussed in the annals of great comic-book cinema, or even considered the height of its own franchise, Bryan Singer’s original adaptation of X-Men is a seminal moment in superhero cinema.

Before Singer brought Stan Lee & Jack Kirby’s formative 1960’s Marvel Comics property to the screen, after over a decade of attempts by a range of filmmakers (most notably James Cameron and Kathryn Bigelow), comic-book cinema was principally dominated across the 1980’s and 1990’s by two heavyweights: Superman and Batman. The former ruled the late 1970’s into the 80’s before falling from grace with a succession of sequels whereby the budget went down as the schlock went up, while the latter moved away in the 90’s from Tim Burton’s initial Neo-Gothic vision into a high camp, overblown blockbuster confection. Beyond these behemoths, comic-book films were curiosities – The Rocketeer, The Shadow, The Phantom, The Crow, Darkman, Spawn – films which either garnered a cult audience or disappeared from the radar entirely.

X-Men changed all that. While not the first Marvel property brought to bear on the big-screen, Singer’s film was without doubt the first adaptation of their source material to go mainstream as a major box-office success – two years earlier, the Wesley Snipes-fronted Blade arguably also did well but was too violent and pulpy to reach a wide audience, and many to this day are unaware it even *is* a Marvel adaptation. X-Men changed the game. X-Men showed that comic-book movies could be more than kitsch spectacle or showy theatrics. Superheroes could be *real* people with heart and soul, their villainous antagonists complicated foes, both morally and psychologically; plus, these films could, much like the related genre of science-fiction, work as powerful allegory and social commentary. In other words, comic-book cinema could do what actual comic-books had been doing, without much in the way of critical respect, for decades.

While X-Men absolutely gives in to some of the silliness that weakened comic-book movies of decades past, it also shows what is possible in this sub-genre, and unknowingly lays down a template for the eventual rise and domination of superhero cinema.

Read more…