Chris Cowan has some strong feelings about the newest mutant movie.
With the upcoming release of the latest X-Men movie I will finally break myself of the bad habit of going to see them in theaters. I’ve been an avid fan of the X-Men comics since the early 90s, and I was enthusiastic about the first two movies, but I can no longer delude myself into thinking that I will not come out of the theater massively disappointed. Now when I say I’m an avid X-Men fan I mean it. I have thousands of X-Men books and complete runs of most of the main X-Men titles that have come out since the 70s (last time I checked it filled about 10 long boxes), and it’s partially this vast wealth of comics that prevents me from enjoying the movies. I simply cannot divorce myself from my near encyclopedic knowledge of the franchise, nor can I excuse the seeming lack of attention and care that I feel the franchise deserves.
I first came to this realization when I was re-watching Days of Future Past with an eye on the treatment of Mystique in the franchise. She is simply the first in a list of characters I feel that the movies mischaracterized. I have a whole article about Mystique, but the basics of my problem with her mischaracterization boils down to the fact that she spends the entire original trilogy as a mostly mute sidekick; when in the comics she is one of the X-Men’s deadliest and most persistent adversaries who rarely acts as a subordinate to anyone, and never without an ulterior motive for doing so. Sabretooth is portrayed as a mostly mindless beast that fills the role of muscle. Sabretooth is one of Wolverine’s oldest and deadliest foes, and he is very wasted in the first film. The film makers could have substituted in the Blob and filled the role of mindless muscle, while at the same time giving a nod to the original Brotherhood of Evil Mutants from the comics.
Speaking of the original Brotherhood, the villainous mutant Mastermind could easily have filled Mystique’s role in the infiltration of key institutions in the film since his power set deals with illusion and misdirection. Toad was the only villain in the movie that was actually made better than his comic counterpart. As far as characterizations of the X-Men are concerned, I feel the film really only focused on Wolverine and Rogue as realized characters, and left Cyclops, Jean, Storm and Iceman as only partially realized characters. Cyclops just comes across as a wooden yes man to the professor, and his history and guilt over the loss of his brother and parents is completely ignored. Jean is strictly a source of conflict between Wolverine and Cyclops as they vie for her affections. And Iceman shows little resemblance to the wisecracking prankster he is in the comics. Wolverine, Professor X and Magneto are all well played in the film, but those three characters alone aren’t quite enough to make up for the lack of development for the rest of the supposedly main cast. X-2 continues the trend of ruining (female) villains in the series. Lady Deathstrike is a great foe for Wolverine and is another villain in a leadership position in the comics that is relegated to being a sidekick in the movies (I’m sensing a theme with the treatment of powerful female characters in this franchise). While I enjoyed the Weapon X plot and its mixture with the God Loves, Man Kills story line, any generic Weapon X villain would have done for Striker’s body guard and the character saved for a bigger role in a future film. As far as the changes to Striker in the film are concerned, I don’t have an issue with them as I feel that leaving him in a more comic accurate role as a preacher would not have gone over well with the general public.
Wolverine was again played masterfully by Jackman, but the rest of the X Crew is a bit of a mixed bag when it comes to the characterization of the X-Men: Iceman gets a more fleshed out personality, but Cyclops remains rather wooden as does Jean. X-Men: The Last Stand is by far the worst film in the franchise. It takes the Dark Phoenix Saga (arguably one of the best X-Men stories of all time) and the Morloks (involved in another great story, The Mutant Massacre, and who are led by Calisto who is very underutilized in the movie) and squeezes them into the story of the mutant cure as opposed to letting any of those three stories stand on their own, though with Fox’s reluctance to use the aliens present in the X-Men mythos the mutant cure storyline would require a lot of reworking.
First Class attempts to correct the problems of the first trilogy, but it again mischaracterizes a good deal of the cast in regards to their personality in the comics. Havoc, who is supposed to be the younger brother of Cyclops, spends a good deal of time in the comics trying to live up to his brother’s legacy as a leader, Mystique is treated as a bizarre love interest/daughter figure for Xavier, Darwin and Angel are set dressing at best, and Emma Frost is treated as a subordinate of Shaw as opposed to his equal as she is in the comics (does the X-Men franchise really need to keep downplaying the role of female villains?)Beast is really the only other character on the team to come across as a fully realized character. I do appreciate that they attempted an original story since they don’t have the best track record with original material (they use missiles and Magneto, but in a much different manner than X-Men #1), but if you call the movie first class, how about you actually include more than one original member of the first class of X-Men.
My second big problem with the franchise is the lack of attention to details both large and small. Before anyone complains that I’m nitpicking, let me say that caring about details, at least to me, shows that the film makers are paying close attention to the source material. Universal pictures managed to do it with the Iron Man and Hulk films before Marvel took direct control of the franchise and Fox finally managed to do it in Deadpool (with the exception of Negasonic Teenage Warhead, but there were extenuating circumstances). The first two films in the original trilogy do a decent enough job with character details, Rogue gets her hair streak, Magneto has his concentration camp tattoo, Wolverine has his ridiculous hair, and Storm has an African accent (for most of the trilogy). X-Men: The Last Stand starts to get major details wrong or exclude them outright from the film series. Juggernaut is perhaps the worst victim of movie exclusions; his being a mutant is true in some comics, but the rest of his history, and his connection to Professor Xavier is completely ignored. The mutant underground encountered by Magneto has some of the surface trappings of the Morloks, but the power sets don’t line up with the names the film chose to use: Calisto has both her powers and the powers of Caliban, Kid Omega has Quill’s powers, and everything about the portrayal of Psylocke is wrong.
First Class also has its fair share of errors: Beast has his enlarged feet, but not his enlarged hands and enhanced agility that he possesses before his powers are augmented, Havoc doesn’t fire energy beams from his chest, Magneto built his own helmet, Sebastian Shaw can’t project the energy he absorbs, and most importantly, Darwin can survive anything. Days of Future Past continues the trend of lack of attention to detail. While I applaud the film makers’ decision to cast an actual Native American actor to portray Warpath, he’s quite diminutive looking for a character that is supposed to be both taller and more muscled than Colossus, Sunspot’s powers rely heavily on sunlight to work properly and he possesses powers beyond just shooting flames. The way he is shown in the movie much more closely resembles Sunfire. They spent the time and thought to keep Blink and Bishop as close to their comic counterparts as possible in this film and they got minor characters such as Azazel, Riptide, and Arclight right in the previous films so why couldn’t they do that for the rest of the future X-Men and the Sentinels, whose 70s versions look like retro future hair dryers with limbs, and whose future versions look like emaciated versions of the Destroyer armor from Thor? And last but not least is my biggest pet peeve: the costumes. Would it have killed them to put a little bit of color into them?
From what I’ve seen of X-Men: Apocalypse in the trailers and print ads, I feel it’s just going to have the same problems of the previous films and possibly more. The basic design of Apocalypse leaves a lot to be desired, aside from Psylocke and Jubilee the costuming looks abysmal, and I feel that there will be a watering down of interesting characters in to mostly mute set dressing with some action scenes (Psylocke, Archangel, possibly but hopefully not Storm). But my biggest fear of all is that they continue to trust the franchise to people who, in my opinion, just don’t get the source material. Bryan Singer is a talented director; in fact, The Usual Suspects is one of my favorite films of all time, but he just doesn’t get the X-Men. Sure he empathizes with their outsider status, but he dresses them in militaristic uniforms and has them operate like a paramilitary force and not like superheroes. He can put together some stunning action sequences, but a good Quicksilver scene does not a great film make.
The first X-Men films followed the Blade movies in aesthetic and tone because it’s all they had to go on, but the newer trilogy follows in the footsteps of the very successful, and much more comic accurate Marvel films, but the prototype matching X-Men uniforms just looked god awful. Marvel has proven that comic accurate costumes can work on screen, and Fox after five films is only just now trying to have more accurate costumes, and the best uniforms they manage to pull off were in Deadpool, the movie with the smallest budget of all the X-Films. Too little too late Fox. Your movies just lack attention to details big and small, but more importantly they lack heart. You can hire amazing actors such as Stewart, McKellan, McAvoy, Fassbender, and Jackman; but even the most talented actors who really embrace their roles can only do so much with scripts that just don’t grasp the source material in a meaningful way.
The X-Men are about providing hope to outsiders. It’s time to hang up the black leather and let the colorful hope shine through.