Wednesday, April 7, 2021

X-Men, X-Fan

Mmm...coffee.

Sunday night, the family watched the first (year 2000) X-Men film. I'd been wanting to do this for the last week or so, figuring it was time to introduce the kids to the whole concept of the Marvel "mutant." They, of course, had been resistant, preferring to watch Agent Carter or re-screenings of the various Avengers films, but Sunday I finally got my way. Of course, they ended up digging it...mutants are fun, after all.

For me, I was reminded of all the reasons I dislike this particular film franchise. I haven't blogged about it much (at least, not that I remember...and I'm too lazy to go searching through my back posts at the moment), so guess what? Here it comes:

First, my relationship to the films: I've seen the original two movies multiple times. I didn't LIKE the first one, but I enjoyed it (for reasons I'll describe below), and there were parts of it that definitely begged for revisiting from Yours Truly. The second film I found to be better done and more enjoyable (probably due to cutting of clunky exposition necessary in a first film), and is probably my favorite of the franchise. The third film I found pretty bad/dumb: I've only seen it once. The fourth (X-Men Origins: Wolverine) used a story arc retcon that I hated in the comics, but was still "okay" right up till the end when it turned pretty detestable...at that point I vowed never to see another X-Man movie in the theaters.

However, I broke this promise when I went to see the next film X-Men First Class with my wife (who is a fan of the X-Men since she was a kid).  I found the premise to be interesting but the show wasn't great...mostly bland and un-memorable. This one killed the X-Men for my wife and I've never been to another theater showing of the film. We watched The Wolverine (the next installment) on cable TV, and it was so terrible I swore off the franchise all together. 

I skipped Days of Future Past. I watched Deadpool (free on cable) because so many people told me I had to see it, that it was so good at lampooning the genre, that it was so funny and irreverent and better than the last few movies. I thought it sucked. The last 20th Century Fox mutant film I watched was a small part of Apocalypse, on TV, while drunk, when the family was out of town and I was hanging with my brother and he wanted to watch it. I dozed off during the movie, finding it both badly done and boring.

For me, the franchise got very old, very fast. It was so much a "one-trick pony" that it was simply disappointing on a fundamental level...far more so than the MCU. Just as the mutant-themed comics turned me off over time by shifting focus to their most popular character (Wolverine) the films badly stumbled by A) over-milking the mutant prejudice theme, and B) over-focusing on Wolverine and all his issues...when for me, the joy, the beauty of the X-Men comics was never found in these things. 

See, I was an X-Men fan back in the day...and from a young age. While my elementary school days was a more eclectic collection of comics, in middle school (extremely formative years for Yours Truly) and early high school it was all mutants, all day. X-Men, X-Force, Excalibur, New Mutants...these were the comics my friends and I collected. These were the comics we had to pick up, that we pooled our money to buy, that we swapped and shared. We played a LOT of Marvel Superheroes RPG in those days, and much of our gaming was informed by the stuff we were reading in X-Men comics...despite the fact that there wasn't a single mutant character in our campaign (that I can recall).

[our campaign world didn't contain any Marvel properties at all...it was our own version of "Earth"...and the game being what it is (we were using the Ultimate Powers Book, of course) there were too many interesting character choices to have simple "genetic mutants" infesting our game]

I quit reading X-Men sometime around the early '90s, before I graduated from high school (class of '92) and maybe even before that (I moved on to Silver Surfer about a year before going on a semi-permanent hiatus from comic books). I remember being bemused...and then disgusted...about the Wolverine solo series. Wolverine was a cool character...one of my favorites even...but enough to hold his own series? Doing what? Stabbing folks? He was a bit character with a fairly specialized skill set (as were all the characters in those days)...I had issues where all he did was shovel hay with a cowboy hat and drink beer with Kurt; he never even ranked "team leader" for most of the run! Anyway, it was about that time I stopped buying single issue comics, so it appears I wasn't the "target demographic" the publisher was aiming for.

I realize now, that my experience with X-Men more-or-less coincided with the Chris Claremont run (1975-1991) on the series. 16 years on one title provides a lot of coherence of vision, not to mention a whole lot of story lines, most of which have been completely ignored by the film franchise...despite being the things that made the series "beloved" to fans that grew up with those comics....

I know, I know. "Cry me a river, JB. Wah-wah-whine." Once again I'm bitching and moaning about 'nostalgia' and ignoring the fact that things change. Uh-huh, yep, sure: things do change; I get that. When I started this blog, I didn't even have kids...now my oldest is 10 years old and playing D&D. I am well aware that I am prone to being mired in nostalgia, lost in the past. I've seen Cobra Kai (great series, by the way)...the irony inherent in its protagonists is not lost on me. But listen folks: what are these film studios trading in, if not the nostalgia of an aging fan base? Why not create new and original story lines, or new and original characters? Changing characterizations of existing characters (Cyclops and Storm especially) or changing storylines to fit characters that weren't in the original storyline (Magneto's "Brotherhood of Evil Mutants" predates the involvement of most of the X-Men that appear in the first film) doesn't seem to be the way to go when pandering to a fan base.

Though perhaps the filmmakers felt people would be grateful enough just to see their comics on the big screen? Not a terrible hypothesis...it originally worked for this fan (until it stopped working).

*sigh*

Monday night, the family watched X2: X-Men United and, as I wrote, I enjoyed it more than the original. It wasn't that it was more like the comics of my youth; instead, it was a matter of already understanding the filmmaker's vision and so, rather than being put off by disappointed expectations, I could simply relax and enjoy what the product was: Hugh Jackman hogging the spotlight and stabbing people. Teen romances that never were in the comics. Magneto and Mystique featuring prominently. Cyclops and Storm relegated to weaksauce bit parts (with less meaningful screen time than the cameos of minor characters). The bad juju about the evils of bigotry. Etc.

Ah, well...my children liked both movies (they preferred the second of the two) and there are far worse "changes" in the world. The Seattle Sounders' uniform this season, for example: purple and orange?! What in the everloving name of F is that all about?! Holy blankshow, Batman! 

[and, for the record, I would welcome changes in some areas. The season's only just started and the Mariners are already under .500 for, like, the 25th straight year. Crapola]

*ahem* Anyhoo. I suppose that's about all I have to say on the subject (for the moment) except that, as I chip away at my latest attempt at superhero RPG design, these movies are indeed on my mind and in my memory...especially as I look for something that illustrates the genre as presented in cinema. That's really the key thing (for me) to remember: it's not about how "disappointing" a film may be as an homage to the comic book, it's how well it works as a serial story in and of itself. Because in the end (assuming this game ever gets written), it's really not about emulating the intellectual property of Marvel (or anyone else), but about helping the GM/participants create their own "super world," just as my friends and I did in the past. And as we used X-Men comics as an inspiration, I would fully expect younger folks to use the movies in the same fashion.

Times change.

As one last aside, I have to say I think it's especially interesting that Disney has managed to recover the X-Men rights, and am extremely curious to see how/if they will incorporate mutants back into the MCU. If it were up to me, I would reboot the whole thing, without regard to the original franchise films. Treat all that stuff in the same way as Claremont treated X-Men prior to his takeover in the 70s (i.e. fairly unnecessary). We've seen plenty of example reboots in film (the many Batman franchises, Spider-Man, the Hulk, etc.) so why should be any compulsion to tread the same sorry-ass missteps made by 20th Century Fox?

But of course they will. The X-Men movies made a ton of money and the film industry as a business has shown itself to be both unimaginative and ever-chasing of past success (*double sigh*). 

All right, that's about enough for a Wednesday. 

Any team that FEATURES Wolverine
(the ultimate non-team player)
ain't no "team." Sorry filmmakers.

OH, WAIT: I almost forgot that today marks the 20th wedding anniversary of my wife and I. I am a very blessed and fortunate man to have such a special person share her life with me. Without her love, it is quite possible I'd be even more curmudgeonly and ranty than I am. Thank goodness she's strong enough to hang in there!

Okay, that really is enough.
: )

6 comments:

  1. I was a huge X-men fan from the early 80s (the Brood saga was my first foray in to the X-men) until the very late 80s (I lost interest in the whole Genosha saga). I back-bought everything to X-men #130 or so.

    Clairmont was a great writer, but I felt he started to loose it in the late 80s...plots dragged on, lose ends were not wrapped up, and things got very convoluted.

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    1. The brood were great, Corsair and the Spacejammers, Shi’Ar Empire, dire wraiths, cyborgs and Morlocks and Marauders and Ilyana in Limbo and sentinels and Trask and time travel and Deathstrike and Storm and Forge and power neutralizers and Rogue sucking Carol Danvers dry and Thunderbird dying and Freedom Force and the Hellfire Club and Nimrod and Angel losing his wings and...well, you know, there’s a lot of stuff.

      I didn’t catch all the Genosha stuff (that was right about when I stopped) but I didn’t mind it. Some of the stuff with Cypher getting killed was fairly poignant. But that was New Mutants more than the X-Men, I feel.

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  2. Although I generally agree with you that the Xmen movies are pretty tepid, and that the Chris Claremont era of the X-men was the best thing that ever happened to superhero comics, I have to disagree with you about the Sounders jerseys. The purple design is in honor of Jimi Hendrix; what's not to love? And they're only the alternate jerseys; they'll still be wearing the ol' green and blue most of the time.

    Also, if you haven't watched Jon Bois's Dorktown History of the Mariners, might I suggest that you put that on the next time someone in your house suggests watching another X-men movie?

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    1. While I am happy to claim Jimi as one of “Seattle’s own,” the fact is his music career didn’t start till after he left town and I’m not sure he ever came back prior to his body being flown here (to be buried in Renton). He wasn’t even alive when the original (NASL) Sounders were founded in 1973. This, for me, is far more of a “Zulilly thing” than a “Sounders thing.”

      [would the Seahawks issue a purple and orange alt jersey? Doubtful]

      I personally get a kick out watching the M’s historical pratfalls, frustrating as it is to be a perennial loser (at least we’re the best at being the worst!). As the Twitter feed for @MarinersRants seems to have gone dead (July 2020) I will be sure to check out the film for more “misery laughs.” Thanks!
      : )

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  3. I feel pretty similar about the X-Men films. The first was fun to watch, but I can't say I really LIKE it, you know? Something about it is just a little bit off. The second was great (haven't given them a rewatch in a long time, though so this is just going on memory). The third was poorly executed, although it had some decent moments.

    Other than that, First Class was sorta like the first X-Men movie, and I really enjoyed Days of Future Past. Apocalypse and Dark Phoenix were not very good but still kinda fun to watch, but also something just not quite right. Origins: Wolverine was pretty terrible, The Wolverine was fun but forgettable. Logan was pretty good. I enjoyed both Deadpool movies, but that's mostly because they were so true to the irreverent tone of the comics, not for amazing story lines. Deadpool 2 is better than Deadpool 1, IMO.

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    1. I think I preferred Rainn Wilson's "Super" to Deadpool. In fact, I'm sure I did (it was worth a rewatch to me, unlike DP). Even Mystery Men I found to be funnier and more "irreverent." To coin a phrase from MM (with regard to Deadpool):

      "Junk it!"
      ; )

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