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Josh Reviews Logan

March 6th, 2017
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It’s hard to believe that Hugh Jackman has been playing the character of Wolverine for almost twenty years now.  Mr. Jackman’s casting was one of the many minor miracles that made Bryan Singer’s original X-Men film from 2000 such a wonderful revelation.  It’s easy these days to bash Mr. Singer’s work on the X-Men franchise.  His latest X-Men film, X-Men Apocalypse, was a big misfire, and with Marvel Studios showing how successfully faithful adaptations of their characters can translate to the screen, it’s easy to slam the ways Mr. Singer’s X-Men films have, for the most part, eschewed many of the familiar tropes and story-lines from the comics.  But let’s not forget what a revelation that first X-Men film was, how thrilling it was to see these comic-book characters treated more like speculative fiction than superhero fantasy, with complex, fully-fleshed-out characters and real-world settings.  It blew my mind when I first saw it, and I still think that first film holds up well today.  Mr. Singer’s eye for casting was amazing, and it’s exciting to see two of those perfectly-cast actors, Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart, bring these characters’ stories to a close two decades later, here in James Mangold’s dark, violent, riveting new film Logan.

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Logan, set in 2029, shows us a world in which mutants have all but vanished from the Earth.  The X-Men are gone (their ultimate fate a tragedy gradually hinted at as the film unfolds).  Logan is no longer the Wolverine.  He’s a physical wreck, his healing factor no longer able to restore his body from all the grievous injuries it has sustained over the years, no longer able to save Logan from being slowly poisoned from within by the adamantium bonded to his bones.  Logan lives a day-to-day existence as a driver, trying to earn enough money needed for the drugs he needs for Professor X.  Xavier, in possession of the most powerful mutant mind on the planet, is slowly succumbing to dementia, and without drugs to keep him subdued, his seizures could kill everyone around him.  Logan and the former mutant-hunter Caliban care for Professor X as best as they can, hidden away in an isolated stretch of desert.  When Logan learns of the existence of a young, mute mutant girl, the Professor urges him to help her escape the men chasing after her.  The Professor sees a chance for them to once again take action to help mutants and to make the world a better place, but Logan sees only the potential for more death and terror.  Eventually, they are given no choice in the matter, and events build from there to the film’s gutsy ending.

Logan is extraordinary, an intense, … [continued]

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Josh Reviews X-Men: Apocalypse

The X-Men film franchise began with such promise but it’s been a big mess for quite a while now.  Bryan Singer’s 2000 X-Men film launched the golden age of super-hero films that we’re still living in.  No one had ever before brought a super-hero team to life on screen.  Mr. Singer was able to distill the head-spinningly complicated X-Men mythology into a movie with adult, complex themes that still contained a boat-load of super-hero fun.  The near-perfect cast brought the X-Men characters, and their universe, to glorious life.  That film was quickly followed up by the 2003 sequel, X2.  That film hasn’t aged so well, but at the time many/most saw it as a brilliant expansion of the world of the first film.  With its fan-pleasing ending (depicting the death of Jean Grey and final-shot tease of her return/resurrection of the Phoenix), I thought we were on the verge of an epic, multi-film saga that would continue for years.  Sadly, that never was.  Bryan Singer left to do Superman Returns and Fox, unwilling to wait, hired Brett Ratner to helm the disappointing X-Men: The Last Stand.  Rather than continuing with an ongoing series of X-Men films, Fox seemed unwilling or unable to see past that initial trilogy, and it quickly became clear that the studio had no idea what to do with the property.  There was talk for a while of a series of individual X-Men: Origins spin-off films, though the only one that actually got made was the dreadful X-Men Origins: Wolverine Years past, and eventually the planned X-Men Origins: Magneto film morphed into the prequel film X-Men: First Class.  I hate prequels and when announced this seemed to me like a bizarre step backwards for the franchise, but I was surprised by how great the film, directed by Matthew Vaughn, wound up being.  I would have been happy to follow this fun new cast through a new trilogy helmed by Mr. Vaughn, but once again the series changed tracks as Mr. Vaughn stepped away and Bryan Singer returned to direct X-Men: Days of Future Past.  While I would have loved to have seen a more-faithful adaptation of Chris Claremont and John Byrne’s classic story — one of the defining X-Men stories — I loved the way that film was structured to combine Bryan Singer’s original X-Men cast with Matthew Vaughn’s First Class cast.  Days of Future Past was very solid, but what made me love the film was the final five minutes, in which we see that the events of the film have re-set the timeline of the X-Men films, giving a sweet happy ending to the cast and characters who had begun in 2000’s … [continued]

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Josh Enjoys the Rogue Cut of X-Men: Days of Future Past

I quite enjoyed the theatrical version of X-Men: Days of Future Past.  (Click here for my original review.)  Let me be clear, I lament how much of the classic comic-book story, by Chris Claremont & John Byrne, was jettisoned for the film.  I would so dearly love to some day see a more direct adaptation of that classic X-Men story for the big screen.  But I loved the idea of using the hook of that story-line as a way to merge the original cast of Bryan Singer’s X-Men films from a decade and a half ago with the new, younger First Class versions.  That’s a genius idea.  I thought the film worked well on its own — not spectacular, but very solid — as a super-hero adventure flick, and I absolutely adored the final few minutes which served as a tremendous course-correction on the mis-steps the franchise took with Brett Ratner’s misguided and flawed X-Men: The Last Stand. 

When the film was released, there was a lot written on-line about how Anna Paquin’s Rogue had been cut from the film.  Apparently, to keep the film’s run-time at a manageable level, an entire subplot featuring her character was cut from the film, and in the theatrical cut Ms. Paquin only appeared as Rogue for a brief instant in the final moments of the film.  That brief appearance was satisfactory for me, but of course I was curious to see what had been cut out.

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I am delighted to report that the extended “Rogue Cut” of Days of Future Past that has recently been released to blu-ray is a wonderful enhancement of the film.  The Rogue subplot has been restored to the film, but I was surprised by how many other great little bits and moments had also been edited into the film.  Pretty much all of these moments are great, and as such I feel pretty confident that this will be my preferred version of the film to watch from now on.

Now, don’t get me wrong, this “Rogue Cut” is not a radical alteration to the theatrical version.  The changes are far more subtle than some of the more famous directors cuts that are out there, such as the extended editions of the Lord of the Rings films, or, say, the directors cuts of James Cameron’s Aliens or The Abyss.  (By the way, if you’ve never seen those directors cuts, track them down immediately!!) The most dramatic change to the film is, no surprise, the sequences involving Rogue, which are nicely well-woven into the extended version.  The main element of this restored subplot is the mid-movie mission that the aged Magneto (Ian McKellan) leads to rescue Rogue … [continued]

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“What’s the Last Thing You Remember?” Josh Reviews X-Men: Days of Future Past

Bryan Singer’s first X-Men film, released in 2000, was a revelation, proof to me that the complex, wonderful world of comic book super-heroes could indeed be brought to life on-screen in a fun, serious way.  There had been some great comic book movies before X-Men, of course.  Richard Donner’s Superman (1978) was and still remains a magnificent interpretation of the character, and I’ve always loved the flawed but still great Superman II (1980).  Tim Burton’s Batman (1989) also was a fun film that had a huge cultural impact.  But while those films were great, even as a kid they seemed to me like totally different versions of the characters I knew and loved.  These were the “movie” versions of those characters.  They were fun, but not at all like the “real” characters.  I also recognized early-on that, while all of those films had moments of grandeur and lots of visual-effects magic, they were severely constrained by the limits of physical reality.  The sprawling stories and epic nature of my favorite comic book series were far beyond the reach of any movie adaption.

Then came Bryan Singer’s X-Men, and suddenly the impossible seemed possible.  Mr. Singer and his team (including screenwriter David Hayter and many other uncredited writers who were involved with the finished screenplay) took the X-Men, possibly the most sprawling and epic of all the different comic-book series and universes, and brought them to life in a way that on the one hand preserved their complexity (the film is jam-packed with different characters, each with their own back-story and power-set and motivation) while also boiling down the decades of comic-book story-lines into simplified versions that worked on screen.  2000’s X-Men took the property seriously (more seriously than some of the various bad X-Men spin-off comic-books over the years had done), anchoring the story in Magneto’s past as a survivor of the Holocaust.  (The decision to open the film with a prologue set in Auschwitz is an incredibly gutsy move, and is I think a critical key to the film’s success, because that scene gives a weight to Magneto’s point of view.)

Almost a decade-and-a-half later, it’s easy to look back at X-Men and see everything that the film got wrong.  We’ve been blessed with some incredibly faithful comic book adaptations lately.  Looking at how well the Marvel Studios films have brought their characters to life, we can look back at X-Men and bemoan the dull, Matrix-inspired leather look to all the characters.  While the film nailed Wolverine, Professor X, and Magneto, we can complain about the characterizations that missed the mark (Storm, Cyclops).  We can comment how small-scale X-Men is, how it lacks in any real crazy … [continued]

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Josh Reviews The Wolverine

August 1st, 2013
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I think if I had never read Wolverine, the classic 1982 mini-series written by Chris Claremont and illustrated by Frank Miller & Joe Rubinstein, I would have had a lot more enjoyment from the new film The Wolverine.

I think The Wolverine is a very solid film, an excellent Wolverine solo adventure with some great character beats and some killer action sequences.  It’s a film that goes a long way towards righting the “present-day” X-Men film franchise that had so badly stumbled with X3 and X-Men Origins: Wolverine.  The problem is that this film is purported to be an adaptation of the Claremont/Miller mini-series.  Ever since Hugh Jackman first impressed movie-goers with his portrayal of Logan in Bryan Singer’s first X-Men film, fans have clamored for an adaptation of the character-defining story in which Wolverine goes to Japan, finds love, fights lots of ninjas, and is forced to confront the basic duality of his nature and determine whether he is capable of being more than an animalistic killing machine.  It’s a classic story, probably still to this day the greatest Wolverine story.

And although The Wolverine is set in Japan and features characters named Mariko, Yukio, and Shingen, the similarities to the Claremont/Miller story end there.  That really bummed me out, because while The Wolverine tells a very interesting story, I didn’t find it nearly as interesting as the comic book story.  So I wonder why the filmmakers didn’t just tell that great story from the comic, rather than making up this whole new one?

Putting aside the comparisons, the story told in The Wolverine is a good one.  Despite quite a few years having passed since 2006’s X-Men: The Last Stand, The Wolverine is an unabashed sequel to that film, picking up an unspecified number of years later, with Logan still haunted by his killing of Jean Grey.  He has tried to swear off violence, but continually finds himself drawn into situations in which he sees wrongs that need to be righted, often at the pointy-ends of his adamantium claws.  Into his life enters Yukio, a young woman sent to track him down on behalf of the aged head of clan Yashida.  Logan saved his life decades ago, at the end of World War II, and Yashida wants to repay this debt by giving Logan a way to end his immortal life.

Hugh Jackman is still staggeringly impressive as Logan.  He brings tremendous physicality to the role (Mr. Jackman has a Shatner-esque ability to constantly find himself without a shirt) and also an ability to almost effortlessly display Logan’s innate nobility and romantic side.  That’s a central aspect of the character in the comics — he’s really quite a … [continued]

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Not Quite the Best There is at What he Does — Josh Suffers Through X-Men Origins: Wolverine

Hoo boy.

One of my first articles, when I started this blog, was about great franchises that have fallen on hard times.  I was writing about my once-beloved Alien and Predator series, but we can all now safely add the X-Men films to that list.  What in the world has happened to this series??  X-Men and X2 were so spectacular — but after X3 and now the rather verbosely titled X-Men Origins: Wolverine I am sad to report that the series is batting only two for four.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine is a Fantastic Four caliber catastrophe.  Some talented actors appear on-screen, there’s some exciting action, some familiar X-Men characters pop up (one in particular really surprised me), and we finally get to hear Wolverine say on-screen, “I’m the best there is at what I do.  But what I do best isn’t very nice.”  But the scant enjoyment I felt from those moments was short-lived.   X-Men Origins: Wolverine is a rentlessly dour and joyless affair, one that consistently reveals itself to be a truly B-Grade effort.  What do I mean by that?  Allow me to elaborate:

The film is filled with plot-holes, but more than that, it doesn’t hold together at all as any sort of coherent narrative.  I respect the filmmakers’ ambition in trying to capture a number of different periods in Wolverine’s life, from his birth in the late 1800’s, through his experiences in a variety of wars (captured really well, actually, in an exciting opening credits sequence), through his time with Silver Fox, his involvement in the Weapon X program, and beyond.  But none of the bits and pieces hang together.  Instead of merging together to form an expansive back-story, each jump in time left me with countless unanswered questions: Why would Logan, a Canadian, fight in so many of America’s wars?  Right from the first scene, he is established as a gentler soul than his mean brother Victor — so why would Logan hang around with Victor for so many years?  If Stryker and the team were so upset when Wolverine left them, how and why did the whole group disband soon after?  And why would Victor, of all people, be the one to remain in Stryker’s service?  I could go on.

The film makes a total hash of the X-Men comic continuity.  There was a lot of precedent for this, of course, as the previous three X-Men films also mixed and matched characters and story-lines from different periods of the comics with great abandon.  But there’s a souless “everything and the kitchen sink” approach to this film as it ties a barrage of random Marvel Comics characters (Gambit!  Deadpool!  The Blob!) into Wolverine’s origin — and … [continued]