The Past Month on TV #16

Another busy month on the box round these parts, so I’ve once again divided my comments into new stuff (i.e. what was actually on TV this month), old stuff (i.e. anything older than four weeks), plus the usual round-up of quick thoughts.

Doctor Who (Series 10 Episode 1)
Doctor Who: The PilotThe 36th run of Doctor Who kicked off with an episode titled The Pilot — no coincidence, that. This is the most newcomer-friendly episode of Who for 12 years, an episode finely calibrated to establish everything for a first-timer but also function for regular viewers too. A lot of that effectiveness can be attributed to Pearl Mackie as Bill, the new companion to Peter Capaldi’s Doctor. After a run of oh-so-special companions running back years, Bill is just an ordinary young woman; but of course she’s extraordinary in her own way: ready to learn, eager to help, full of both inquisitiveness and caring. This is surely the birth of both a fan-favourite companion in Bill and a star in Mackie.

It’s also a rejuvenation for Peter Capaldi’s Doctor. They arguably tried too many different things all at once when he joined the series a few years ago, making him old and irascible in contrast to the young and friendly Doctors that had preceded him throughout the revived series. He was gradually softening anyway, but freed of the burden of Clara he seems able to fully revel in his kooky kindliness. It’s perhaps the most Doctor-ish he’s ever been, and for Capaldi, a life-long fan of the show, that must be a real delight. It’s already a shame he’ll be leaving us this year, but at least we have 12 (or 11, if some rumours turn out to be true) more episodes to enjoy before then.

As for this episode in itself, it was more solid than incredible, though that perhaps does it a disservice. No, it’s not going to sit alongside the likes of Blink and Heaven Sent at the pinnacle of all that modern Who can achieve, but it set out the series’ stall well: it’s sci-fi, but a little quirky, a little scary, and full of heart and emotion. It was almost like a Russell T Davies-era episode, but with an unmistakable Moffat-ness about it too — he may be trying to dodge the “fairy tale” mode he adopted for most of his time on the show, reasserting the “this is based in the real world” aesthetic that RTD relaunched the series with back in 2005, but, frankly, Moffat does the former better than the latter, and there’s an edge of that heightened unreality here nonetheless.

But I think those are niggles and nitpicks. This is a strong opener that establishes a very likeable new TARDIS team to guide us through the season of adventures about to come. Fingers crossed the rest of the run can fulfil its promise.

Iron Fist (Season 1)
Iron FistThe last of the Marvel/Netflix series before the Defenders team-up, Iron Fist has certainly divided critics and viewers. It doesn’t begin well: the opening episode is possibly the worst thing yet released as part of the MCU, and I only say “possibly” because I never bothered with Agents of SHIELD after the poor reaction to season one. It’s needlessly slow, repetitive, the characters behave implausibly, and the fights are terrible, looking like a first rehearsal filmed with one take. Things do improve — there are more engaging characters, some interestingly developed arcs, and better realised fights — but it still doesn’t come together as well as it could. For one thing, it makes the running of Rand Enterprises a major element, but has a very vague-seeming understanding of how business actually works. It’s just too simplistic.

One of the series’ strongest aspects is the unpredictable loyalties of its characters. I don’t mean that they’re inconsistent, but aside from Danny (who’s the title character, so of course he’s a good guy) and Claire (who’s been in every other Marvel/Netflix show, so she’s a known quantity), the trustworthiness and allegiance of almost every character changes at some point; for some of them, at multiple points. Heck, there are even scenes when you can’t be sure whose side to be on, because both have aspects of right and wrong, good and bad. There are better shows than Iron Fist that never manage that level of shading in their characters. I imagine there’ll be a second season, because when doesn’t Netflix commission more of anything, so hopefully they can build on what worked going forward. And maybe add a business consultant to the writers’ room or something.

The Flash Duet
The Flash: DuetAmongst the eight Arrowverse episodes I watched this month was this: the much-anticipated musical crossover between The Flash and Supergirl, which star Glee alumni Grant Gustin and Melissa Benoist respectively — hence why (some) people called for a musical episode, which caused the producers to decide to do one. Somewhat ironic, then, that it seemed to go down well with critics (at least per Wikipedia) but less so with fans: its IMDb rating is just 6.0. I find myself in agreement with the latter. It wasn’t bad, as these things go, but it was overloaded with niggles, Like, why cast another former Glee actor as the villain but then not have him sing with the stars? Why is there a plot hole whereby they call said villain the Music Meister even though it was Barry and Kara who picked the musical fantasy? The guy’s powers seem to be hypnotism-based and nothing to do with music. There were only two original songs, one which was quite fun and one which was overlong and a tad cheesy. Neither came close to the delights of the Music Meister’s original appearance, which also managed five new songs (and a reprise) in an episode that was half the length. The episode’s guest cast seems to have been selected purely on the basis of “anyone from an Arrowverse show who likes to sing”. All in all it came across as half-arsed; like they felt they should do it because people demanded it, but didn’t assign enough time or energy to doing it properly.

The Crown (Season 1)
The CrownThe most expensive TV programme ever made (or not, whatever) certainly has its budget plastered all over the screen, which hopefully didn’t distract most viewers in the way it did me. It shouldn’t, really, because this is a good drama about the humanity behind the public faces. Its adherence to fact is apparently variable, which I imagine is very irritating to historians of the period, but it works for the fiction. There are great performances all round, with John Lithgow in particular disappearing into Churchill to the point that I forgot I was watching an actor more than once. There’s an interesting plot thread early on about the position of Philip (Matt Smith) relative to Elizabeth — how his role as a husband is challenged by her position as Queen, etc — which goes a bit awry as the series goes on and has other plots to focus on. It’s left quite open-ended, so hopefully it’ll be completed in the second season.

Line of Duty (Series 2)
Line of Duty series 2I devoted just 32 words to Line of Duty series one when I finally got round to watching it last October. In summary, it was pretty good but not really great, and the unadulterated adulation that follows the programme around nowadays seemed unmerited. Now I get it, though, because — in a similar fashion to how, say, Mad Max is a decent Ozploitation flick but Mad Max 2 is a reputation-earning action classic — series two is where it’s at. There was much praise for Keeley Hawes’ performance as a downtrodden copper under suspicion of organising a violent ambush of a witness protection convoy, and it’s deserved, but the real star is the writing. There are huge, attention-grabbing twists and surprises, and a mystery that keeps you revising your opinion on what happened right until the end, but perhaps most impressive are the lengthy, intensely procedural interview scenes that could come across as factual and dull but instead are completely gripping.

Twin Peaks (Season 2 Episodes 1-9)
Twin Peaks season 2I first saw the debut season of Twin Peaks many years ago during a repeat run (it was a ‘classic series’ even then, though with hindsight it can’t’ve been a decade old at the time), then watched it again when the DVD came out, but this is my first time watching season two (legal complications delayed its DVD release for what felt like forever, and by the time it finally came out I just never got round to it). The second season is infamous for representing a steep decline in quality, though that isn’t yet evident from this batch of episodes, which covers up to the revelation of who killed Laura Palmer and their capture. I’d say it lacks the pure concentrated genius of the first season, having ramped up the quirkiness quotient and, at the behest of the network, rushing the resolution of the Laura Palmer mystery, but it ain’t bad by any means. There’s certainly much to like in the off-kilter characters, the folksy mysticism, and some fantastic performances — Kyle MacLachlan is a constant delight as Agent Cooper, but Ray Wise is frequently incredible as the grieving Leland Palmer. But I guess it’s mostly downhill from here…

Also watched…
  • 24: Legacy Season 1 Episodes 5-8 — everything I said last time still applies: this is little more than 24-by-numbers. Episode 6 was a particularly irritating example, as a major subplot was hurried to its climax presumably because the writers just got bored with it. Why else rush the plot so massively, in a way that practically ignored the series’ real-time gimmick? I miss the days when the makers cared about maintaining that illusion.
  • Broadchurch Series 3 Episodes 4-8 — it handled its treatment of the issues well, but as a drama Broadchurch 3 couldn’t quite reach the engrossing heights of the first series. Still, it’s a shame there won’t be further cases for the brilliant Tennant and Colman to investigate.
  • Unforgotten Series 1 — ITV’s police drama recently aired a second series, with a third commissioned. This cold case-focused first run features powerhouse performances from a bunch of quality elder thesps (Tom Courtenay won a BAFTA for it, but for my money Gemma Jones as his wife was just as good), plus nicely understated turns from the ever-excellent Nicola Walker and Sanjeev Bhaskar as the coppers on the case.

    Things to Catch Up On
    Car Share series 2This month, I have mostly been missing series two of Peter Kay’s Car Share, which is a couple of episodes in on the telly or available in its entirety on iPlayer. I nearly didn’t bother with the first series (two years ago now!) because I’m not a huge fan of Peter Kay, but someone recommended it and it turned out to be hilarious. I’m sure I’ll make time for the new one soon.

    31 days until new Twin Peaks

    Next month… more Doctor Who, more Twin Peaks, and probably more stuff dredged up from the “must get round to” pile.

  • Guardians of the Galaxy 3D (2014)

    Rewatchathon 2017 #8
    James Gunn | 121 mins | download (HD) | 2.40:1 + 1.78:1 | USA & UK / English | 12 / PG-13

    Guardians of the Galaxy 3D

    So, I just got a 3D TV. Well, it’s a 4K TV, but we’re interested in the fact it does 3D right now. And, to cut a long story short (literally — I wrote a 1,200-word post about this before deciding it was rambling and pointless), the impetus to get one now came from the fact that all TV manufacturers are ditching 3D from this year and I always kinda wanted it. (As to why I got a 4K one, apparently it makes for better quality 3D; plus it’s future proof — “future” being the operative word because I’m not replacing my Blu-ray player, I don’t keep a regular Netflix subscription, and Amazon Prime’s UHD selection (found on an otherwise-secret menu when you access it from a 4K device!) is quite pitiful.)

    The first thing I watched was… the opening seven minutes of Doctor Who’s 50th anniversary episode, actually (which has superb 3D). But the first thing I watched in full was Guardians of the Galaxy, because I’d been meaning to rewatch it before the sequel lands at the end of the month, and because I’ve long been curious about the 3D version’s shifting aspect ratio.

    Regular readers may remember that I love a good shifting aspect ratio, and Guardians does not disappoint. As usual for these things, most of the film is at 2.40:1, opening up to 1.78:1 for selected sequences. Director James Gunn uses it in a similar way to Christopher Nolan, with a scattering of expanded shots here and there alongside some whole sequences, mainly used for action scenes and epic establishing shots. (That’s as opposed to something like The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, which has more-or-less half the film in one ratio and the second half in the other.) Even on a TV the effect is immense, the screen-filling interludes feeling genuinely larger and more impactful. This was helped no small amount by my new TV being 12″ larger, which doesn’t sound like much but actually makes a huge difference (as the actress said to the bishop). That said, pausing a moment to do the maths, it’s nearly a whole third bigger than my old TV, so no wonder the difference is noticeable. But I digress…

    Knowhere's better in 3D

    As with so many 3D blockbusters nowadays, Guardians was a post-conversion. Nonetheless, I commented in my original review that some sequences seemed to have been designed with 3D in mind — specifically the chase through Knowhere, which I described as “little more than a blur.” I feel like past-me was correct, because I had no such issues with the sequence this time out. Even though I enjoy it, I’m still one of those people who regard 3D as fundamentally little more than a gimmick (though I’ve yet to see Hugo, so I guess there’s still room for my own conversion to considering it a Serious Filmmaking Tool), but it does lend a scope, scale, and pizzazz throughout the movie that’s a lot of fun, especially during the big action sequences. Indeed, particularly when combined with the shifting aspect ratio, it makes for some very striking moments.

    I’d hesitate to say the 3D improved my opinion of the film as a whole, but I think the second viewing certainly did. My aforementioned original review was pretty darn positive, though I think I’d remembered enjoying it less than I did because the praise it received in some other quarters went into overkill. On this viewing I didn’t feel the problems with pace that bothered me before; and while I continue to think Nova City could do with more development before the climax (I still can’t even remember its proper name), I found said climax to be less overlong and more structured. Obviously the film itself hasn’t changed (well, other than that extra visual dimension), but my perspective on it clearly has (in addition to that extra visual dimension).

    Badasses of the Galaxy

    For all the benefits of bigger screen sizes, extra dimensions, and an adjusted appreciation of its pacing, Guardians’ greatest asset remains its characters and how much fun they are to be around. They are primarily what make it a mighty entertaining movie, whether in two dimensions or three.

    4 out of 5

    The UK TV premiere of Guardians of the Galaxy is on BBC One tonight at 8:30pm — in 2D, of course.

    Deadpool: No Good Deed (2017)

    2017 #32a
    David Leitch | 4 mins | streaming (HD) | 2.35:1 | USA / English

    Logan

    Screened before Logan in the US but only available to us poor disadvantaged foreigners thanks to the magic of the interweb, No Good Deed could be regarded as nothing more than a teaser trailer were it not: (a) about four times longer than your average teaser, (b) almost certainly not actually part of the film it’s teasing, (c) listed on IMDb and so forth as a short film, and (d) a self-contained story that is, all things considered, pretty amusing.

    If you were also unfortunate enough to have not had your screening of Logan graced by Deadpool’s irreverent goodness, enjoy:

    4 out of 5

    All being well, Deadpool 2 will be released on 2nd March 2018.

    Logan (2017)

    2017 #30
    James Mangold | 137 mins | cinema | 2.35:1 | USA / English & Spanish | 15 / R

    This review contains major spoilers.

    Logan

    Little Miss Sunshine meets Hell or High Water via Midnight Special, with more superpowers and (probably) fewer Oscar nominations, in the film some people are calling the best superhero movie since The Dark Knight.

    In the not-so-distant future, the man once known as Wolverine, Logan (Hugh Jackman), is living / hiding on the US-Mexico border, his once formidable powers diminished by age. He works as a limo driver to afford meds for an ailing Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), whose psychic powers have become dangerous as his brain falters with age. When a woman recognises Logan and asks for his help, the disillusioned former X-Man fobs her off. But soon dark forces and a mysterious girl (Dafne Keen), not to mention his innate moral code, will force his claw-wielding hand…

    While Marvel Studios harp on about how they mix other genres into their superhero movies, with such-and-such a film being superheroes-cum-political-thriller, or this-and-that film being superheroes-cum-heist-movie, and so on, everything they produce is really merely colouring within the lines of the superhero picture, they’re just using different crayons to do it. Logan not only uses different crayons, but it’s colouring a whole new picture, too. It’s not the first superhero movie to operate at a remove from the standard big-budget tropes of the genre, but it is perhaps the first from a major franchise to dare to step so far outside the norm. As I intimated at the start, the feel of the piece is more indie neo-Western road movie than CGI-driven superhero spectacular, though to imply it stints on expensive action thrills would be disingenuous. It still cost $97 million, after all, and so works at ways to retain the favour of a blockbuster-seeking crowd. Nonetheless, the overall impression is of a refreshing change for the subgenre, with a more distinctive feel than any of those aforementioned Marvel movies.

    Wolverine vs Robotic Hand Man

    That doesn’t mean it’s perfect, sadly. Functionally speaking, Logan barely has a villain. There are some ill-intentioned and dangerous people after X-23, so our heroes have to run away from them — that’s all the role they have to play. Heading up the hunt is Pierce (Boyd Holbrook), a henchman figure who’s de facto lead villain purely because he gets the most screen time. Unfortunately, he has more personality in his defining attribute, a CGI robotic arm, than in the rest of his characterisation combined. The theoretical Big Bad is Dr Zander Rice (Richard E. Grant), an evil scientist who we’re told developed some kind of virus that all but wiped out mutantkind, but now seems incapable of tracking down a group of preteens. He’s not on screen enough to make any kind of meaningful impression. On the bright side, on my “how badly miscast is Richard E. Grant” scale (which ranges from “very badly” to “not that bad, I suppose”) this errs towards the positive end, precisely because of that lack of screen time. Lastly there’s younger, fitter Wolverine clone X-24 (also Jackman), who’s at least intentionally devoid of personality — he’s been bred without it so he’ll be the perfect biddable killing machine. Obviously he’s ripe for some sort of thematic commentary — on ageing; on morality; on heroism; on, frankly, anything — but it never comes.

    With the villainous side of the equation so unbalanced, we’re left primarily with our heroes. Fortunately, they do take up the slack, mainly through a pair of fantastic performances from Jackman and Stewart. Wolverine is undoubtedly the defining role of Jackman’s career, a part he’s played on and off for 17 years across seven movies (as a lead, plus a couple more cameos). Here he’s the most human he’s ever been. In many ways Logan was always one of the most relatable X-Men, one of our points of entry into their world and taking the piss out of them and the situation when it was called for. He was still primarily a likeable character in a fantastical world though, whereas here he feels more like a real person, struggling with the physical detriments of ageing and (less explicitly) the metaphysical quandaries of what it was all for. As he puts his time with the character to bed, Jackman gets to deliver his most nuanced and affecting turn in the role. Neatly, it mirrors where it all began for this version of the character: protecting a young mutant girl struggling to come to terms with her dangerous powers in a world that’s out to get her.

    Professor X-piring

    Stewart is every bit as good as a man defined by his mental prowess whose mind is failing. Originally cast to play a statesman-like role in the series, here Stewart gets to have a bit more fun, to be a bit more cheeky, but also to tap into a bit more depth of emotion, as Charles struggles with whatever it was he did to land him in hiding in Mexico (I think there was some dialogue that explained it but, frankly, I missed it in the mumbly sound mix. I’ll catch that on Blu-ray, then).

    Of course, they both die. Normally that’d be shocking in a major studio blockbuster, but it’s quite clear Logan is playing by different rules, and in those rules the old good guys die. Heck, nearly everyone dies, but the only deaths that matter are Charles’ and Logan’s. What’s at least a bit interesting is how they die. For Professor X, it’s almost ignominious, — in a bed, not even his own, stabbed by X-24 for virtually no reason, then later fading away in the back of a truck. It’s not a grand heroic self-sacrifice while trying to save the world, the kind of death you’d expect for a character of his stature (and more or less the kind he got in The Last Stand, the first time they killed him off). It’s a great life come to a meaningless end. Well, Logan’s that kind of movie — it has no reverence for such things, just as life itself does not. Conversely, the death of Wolverine / Logan / James Howlett (who is he, in the end?) is a sacrifice, the selfish man of the movie’s opening giving himself up to save some kids; or, in grander terms, to save the future. Ah, but he was never really selfish, was he? It was an act. An affection brought by the hard years. He was always a good guy at heart. Always an X-Man, as the neat final shot emphasises.

    Wolverine: The Last Stand

    So there is some thematic meat to tuck into here, even with the apparent dead-end (pun not intended) of the X-24 subplot. Couple that with the many uncommon-to-the-genre plot and tonal points and you have a movie that does merit consideration as one of the finer superhero films. However, the perception some espouse of this being brave or bold moviemaking is not inherent to the film. If this were an original story starring new characters, especially if they didn’t have superpowers, it wouldn’t make it a bad film, but nor would it be perceived as being so original or revolutionary. What is uncommon or remarkable is making that kind of movie with a well-known character, and in particular one who’s familiar from leading CGI-fuelled PG-13 summer spectacles.

    Is that alone enough to confer greatness? Logan’s consistency of style and tone render it easily the best Wolvie solo movie (as much as I liked The Wolverine on the whole, its climax was horrible), but for this X-fan it’s not enough to usurp the top-draw traditional superheroics to be found in the three or four genre classics produced by the main series. Perhaps time and re-viewing will increase Logan in my estimation, however, because it is a very strong film indeed.

    4 out of 5

    X2 (2003)

    100 Films’ 100 Favourites #99

    The time has come for those who are different to stand united.

    Also Known As: X-Men 2 (promotional/DVD title), X2: X-Men United (US promotional title)

    Country: USA & Canada
    Language: English
    Runtime: 134 minutes
    BBFC: 12A
    MPAA: PG-13

    Original Release: 25th April 2003 (Lithuania)
    UK Release: 1st May 2003
    US Release: 2nd May 2003
    First Seen: cinema, May 2003

    Stars
    Hugh Jackman (Van Helsing, The Prestige)
    Patrick Stewart (Dune, Hamlet)
    Ian McKellen (Gods and Monsters, Mr. Holmes)
    Brian Cox (Braveheart, Troy)
    Alan Cumming (Emma, Josie and the Pussycats)

    Director
    Bryan Singer (Apt Pupil, X-Men: Days of Future Past)

    Screenwriters
    Michael Dougherty (Superman Returns, Trick ‘r Treat)
    Dan Harris (Superman Returns, Imaginary Heroes)
    David Hayter (X-Men, Wolves)

    Story by
    David Hayter (The Scorpion King, Watchmen)
    Zak Penn (Last Action Hero, The Incredible Hulk)
    Bryan Singer (X-Men, The Triangle)

    Based on
    The X-Men, comic book superheroes created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. In part inspired by the graphic novel God Loves, Man Kills by Chris Claremont and Brent Anderson.

    The Story
    When a mutant attempts to assassinate the president, military scientist William Stryker uses it as a pretext to step up his persecution of mutants. With the X-Men occupied hunting for the would-be assassin, the school is attacked and the remaining students flee with Wolverine — whose still-mysterious past has some connection to Stryker.

    Our Heroes
    The X-Men, a team of mutants — humans who have evolved superpowers — organised by Professor Charles Xavier. As well as returning heroes Wolverine, Cyclops, Jean Grey, Storm, and Rogue (see X-Men), the roster this time includes Bobby Drake, aka Iceman, who can generate and manipulate ice, and John Allerdyce, aka Pyro, who can control fire. Plus Kurt Wagner, aka Nightcrawler, a demonic-looking blue-skinned German teleporter.

    Our Villains
    Col. William Stryker, a military scientist who wants to eradicate mutants, and plans to use Xavier’s mutant-finding Cerebro machine to do so. Has a role in Wolverine’s mysterious past…

    Best Supporting Character
    Imprisoned at the end of the last film, Magneto is tortured by Stryker for information on Cerebro… until he escapes and teams up with the X-Men to stop the new threat.

    Memorable Quote
    “Have you ever tried… not being a mutant?” — Bobby’s mom

    Memorable Scene
    When Stryker launches a military assault on the school, Wolverine goes full berserker to defend the students, before he comes face to face with Stryker — as it turns out, not for the first time.

    Write the Theme Tune…
    I’ve always loved John Ottman’s main theme for X2, so I’ve been very pleased that Bryan Singer has made it the recurrent theme for the X-Men series since he retook the directorial reins for Day of Future Past. Its appearance there is quite short, but Apocalypse has two fantastic renditions.

    Making of
    The set for Stryker’s underground base was the largest in North America at the time — so large that cast and crew used bicycles to get to the bathroom as quickly as possible. Some areas of the set weren’t even used in the film, such as a room that was to be the setting of a Nightcrawler vs. Toad fight. (Several other sets were built and not used, including the X-Men’s famous Danger Room training centre. After also dropping its inclusion from the first X-Men, it finally turns up in The Last Stand.)

    Previously on…
    The film that started the modern era of comic book movies, X-Men.

    Next time…
    The trilogy was rounded out by X-Men: The Last Stand, though answers about Wolverine’s past were saved for spin-off movie X-Men Origins: Wolverine. More history was revealed in prequel X-Men: First Class, before time travel adventure X-Men: Days of Future Past combined both casts. The prequels continued with this summer’s ’80s-set X-Men: Apocalypse, with a ’90s-set follow-up in the works. Spin-offs include The Wolverine and next year’s third Wolverine movie, Logan, as well as Deadpool, the perpetually delayed Gambit, and X-Men: The New Mutants. TV series Legion is based on the X-Men licence but may or may not be connected to the films, and other connected (or not) TV series are in development.

    Awards
    1 Saturn Award (Science Fiction Film)
    6 Saturn nominations (Director, Writing, Music, Costumes, Make Up, Special Effects)
    Nominated for the Hugo for Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form
    2 Kids’ Choice Awards nominations (including Favorite Female Butt Kicker (Halle Berry))
    1 MTV Movie Awards Mexico nomination (Sexiest Female Villain (Rebecca Romijn) — she lost to Demi Moore in Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle)

    What the Critics Said
    X2 is also possessed of an emotional complexity that won’t surprise comics fans, but will delight connoisseurs of the summer blockbuster. […] The plot, in which hatred of a minority group threatens to spark a global war, is frighteningly topical and Singer doesn’t flinch from showing that resolution often comes at a bitter price — albeit one which paves the way for a pleasingly inevitable X3. Yet it’s not all FX-augmented naval-gazing. Though it does get very dark, X2 is unashamedly entertaining, with crowd-pleasing moments for geeks (the appearance of metal-skinned muscle man Colossus in full armoured form should benefit upholsterers everywhere) and non-geeks (a Nightcrawler-led mid-air rescue is exhilarating) alike.” — William Thomas, Empire

    Score: 86%

    What the Public Say
    “it was the perfect superhero film sequel, the one that truly set the bar for all future sequels (and many managed to match it, thankfully.) Singer understood what worked about the first film, he understood that the audience wanted ‘more of the same’ but not just the same story over again. The core elements were preserved. The team’s personalities, diversity, and relationships that formed the emotional core of the first film, and were the most faithful thing about Singer’s adaptation, were carried on, as was the emphasis on Magneto (Ian McKellen) and Charles’ (Patrick Stewart) relationship and contrasting philosophies. The driving elements of the plot, though different than the driving elements of X-Men‘s plot, didn’t feel like they ‘came out of nowhere.’ Everything felt familiar without necessarily being the same. The ‘new’ elements that were introduced really did broaden the world, but were based in elements X-Men had already established. […] Although I, unlike many fans, didn’t consider this an improvement over Singer’s first X-Men film, I also don’t think it needed to be. And despite my preference for the first film, X2 was to a certain extent really when the series hit its stride and showed that it had staying power.” — Kat, Love. Think. Speak.

    Verdict

    If there’s one trend in the modern superhero era that’s gone under-analysed (at least as far as I’m aware), it’s this: sequels that are better than their predecessor, upending the accepted order of things. It’s not a universal occurrence (Iron Man 2, anyone?), but it happens often enough that many reviews of first films now note they’re setup a sequel. And as with so many things in the current superhero epoch, it started with the X-Men.

    Personally I’ve always slightly preferred the first movie, but X2 does polish up the action sequences, engages with the series’ thematic subtexts in an effective manner, and adds significantly to the ongoing mystery of Wolverine’s past. Coupled with a shock ending that teased a big plot to come, everything looked so good for the third movie. Sadly, the whole “sequels are better” thing still doesn’t regularly extend to third movies. (Suffice to say, The Last Stand will not be next week’s #100.)

    #100 is the moment when… Ewan McGregor drops his Jedi knickers and pulls out his real lightsaber.

    X-Men (2000)

    100 Films’ 100 Favourites #98

    Trust a few.
    Fear the rest.

    Country: USA
    Language: English
    Runtime: 104 minutes
    BBFC: 12
    MPAA: PG-13

    Original Release: 13th July 2000 (Australia)
    US Release: 14th July 2000
    UK Release: 18th August 2000
    First Seen: cinema, 2000

    Stars
    Hugh Jackman (Oklahoma!, Les Misérables)
    Patrick Stewart (Star Trek: First Contact, Green Room)
    Ian McKellen (Richard III, The Lord of the Rings)
    Anna Paquin (The Piano, Margaret)
    Famke Janssen (GoldenEye, Taken 2)
    James Marsden (Gossip, The Box)
    Halle Berry (B*A*P*S*, Catwoman)

    Director
    Bryan Singer (The Usual Suspects, Superman Returns)

    Screenwriter
    David Hayter (The Scorpion King, Watchmen)

    Story by
    Tom DeSanto (producer of Apt Pupil & Transformers)
    Bryan Singer (Public Access, Superman Returns)

    Based on
    The X-Men, Marvel comic book superheroes created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby; and in particular Wolverine, a comic book superhero created by Roy Thomas, Len Wein, and John Romita, Sr.

    The Story
    In a near future where some humans have mutated to have extraordinary powers, and consequently are hated and feared by the general population, a runaway teen comes under the protection of a mysterious stranger. As a radical leader hunts them for his world-changing scheme, they encounter a school for mutants — and the superpowered team who teach there.

    Our Heroes
    The X-Men, a team of mutants — humans who have evolved superpowers — organised by Professor Charles Xavier, a wheelchair-bound telepath. There’s team leader Scott Summers, aka Cyclops, who shoots force beams from his eyes; Dr. Jean Grey, potentially an even more powerful telepath than Professor X, who can also move things with her mind; Ororo Monroe, aka Storm, who can control the weather. We’re led into their world by teen runaway Marie, aka Rogue, who can absorb people’s energy, and her reluctant protector, Logan, aka Wolverine, who has metal claws in his hands, can heal really fast, and can’t remember most of his past.

    Our Villain
    Erik Lehnsherr, aka Magneto, who can manipulate metal. A one-time friend of Xavier’s, they parted ways over his beliefs that mutants and humans couldn’t coexist, which leads him to violently oppose mutant oppression.

    Best Supporting Character
    Mystique, one of Magneto’s gang, who runs around naked — but that’s because her skin’s blue and bumpy and stuff, so it’s OK. She can shape shift into the form of anyone she’s made contact with, which is very useful for her and very tricky for our heroes.

    Memorable Quote
    Magneto: “Does it ever wake you in the middle of the night, the feeling that one day they will pass that foolish law, or one just like it, and come for you and your children?”
    Xavier: “It does indeed.”
    Magneto: “What do you do, when you wake up to that?”
    Xavier: “I feel a great swell of pity for the poor soul who comes to that school looking for trouble.”

    Memorable Scene
    As Magneto, Sabretooth and Toad exit a train station with a kidnapped Rogue, they’re greeted by a sea of policemen. With his powers, Magneto takes all their guns and turns them on their owners. Then Sabretooth grabs Magneto’s throat — he’s being mind-controlled by Xavier. Magneto fires all the weaponry in his control, but stops the bullets just short of their targets — unless Xavier lets him go…

    Truly Special Effect
    Superheroes really needed the modern era of CGI to make them possible — and, as with everything else, X-Men led the way. Probably the most memorable are Mystique’s skin-changing transformations, which involved 8,000 scales animated in different directions.

    Making of
    Stanley Kubrick is responsible for the casting of Wolverine. No, really. Well, sort of. Here’s how it goes: Kubrick’s famous perfectionism meant the filming of Eyes Wide Shut overran; that meant star Tom Cruise had to delay his next project, Mission: Impossible II; that sequel finishing later than scheduled meant Dougray Scott — who played the lead villain in M:I-2 and was originally cast as Wolverine — had to drop out of X-Men, which was already on an insanely tight schedule to make its release date. Hugh Jackman was cast on the recommendation of his friend Russell Crowe, who had been sought for the role, and only joined the production several weeks into filming. Apparently if you look closely you can see Jackman’s physique change in various scenes because he was working out extensively while filming continued.

    Previously on…
    Although this is the first X-movie, I’m sure the enduring popularity of the 1992-1997 animated series can’t’ve hurt the film’s success.

    Next time…
    In an immediate sense, X2. After that, multiple direct sequels, prequels, and spin-offs. Plus the entire current multitude of comic book movies owe their existence to this film being (a) good, and (b) a hit. Whether that’s a mark for or against X-Men is up to you.

    Awards
    6 Saturn Awards (Science Fiction Film, Actor (Hugh Jackman), Supporting Actress (Rebecca Romijn), Director, Writing, Costumes)
    4 Saturn nominations (Supporting Actor (Patrick Stewart), Younger Actor (Anna Paquin), Make-Up, Special Effects)
    Nominated for the Hugo for Best Dramatic Presentation
    1 World Stunt Award nomination (Best Speciality Stunt for “Wolverine blown out of truck”)

    What the Critics Said
    “After trying for decades, Marvel Comics finally may gain the kind of pop-cultural cachet that only comes from a major leap into movies. That movie is X-Men, a fully realized translation of comics’ adolescent power fantasies to adult-level, big-screen entertainment. It’s a film X-Men fans can embrace and action fans in general can appreciate. It has emotion and a solid story to go with its mayhem, and the comics’ central themes aren’t betrayed. Director Bryan Singer gets bang for his buck. At $75 million, X-Men was a modest and rushed shoot for an action showcase, yet its computer generated imaging effects are handsome, and it gleams with polished production design.” — Bruce Westbrook, Houston Chronicle

    Score: 81%

    What the Public Say
    “this is a superhero movie with ideas, fully aware of the potential social commentary inherent in its source material. It paints simplistically, in broad strokes, but elegantly. It feels small-scale but full-bodied, and it takes storytelling risks. I mean, the damn thing opens on a concentration camp. The main characters being mutants, discriminated against by ‘normal’ people, gives the screenplay the opportunity to use this as a catchall allegory. Any feared or shunned group of people can find familiar themes at work in the world of the film. […] reflecting on the first X-Men solidifies its status as not just a prelude of better things to come, but as quite a strong movie in its own right. After seeing the franchise move the Golden Gate Bridge, travel decades in time, and resurrect an Egyptian god, it’s refreshing to rewind to this one humble tale of ‘the not too distant future’. The 2000 film has a great lo-fi charm to it, while at the same time being lent gravitas by McKellen and Stewart’s war of wills. It holds up not just as a curiosity, but also as a well-told story of mutants and morals.” — Paul Stanis, A Voyage through Film

    Verdict

    I’ve written before (several times) of my near-lifelong fandom of the X-Men. This isn’t where it started (that’d be the classic ’90s animated series), but it certainly helped cement it. Its significance to the current movie landscape is hard to underestimate: it took the superhero subgenre, which hadn’t actually produced that many major movies and had nonetheless reached a comedic nadir with Batman & Robin, and made it respectable blockbuster fodder, which leads directly to where we are today. And the reason it sparked all that is because it’s a quality entertainment in its own right, mixing superpowered action with weighty themes and top-drawer performances from a cast who are almost all better than this, elevating the material rather than besmirching themselves with it. I mean, even without the witty lines and tightly choreographed fisticuffs, anything that has Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen verbally sparring over a game of chess is bound to bring satisfaction.

    #99 will be… X-Men united.

    Fantastic Four (2015)

    2016 #110
    Josh Trank | 96 mins | streaming (HD) | 2.35:1 | USA / English | 12 / PG-13

    Fantastic FourSometimes you just have to see what all the fuss is about, even if that fuss is overwhelmingly negative. Obviously that’s the case with the most recent attempt to bring Marvel’s popular “first family” to the big screen. The behind-the-scenes stories are already the stuff of movieland legend, so I won’t repeat them here, but what of the film itself? Or the version that ended up available for public consumption, anyway.

    Reimagining the group’s origins, the film sees young genius scientist Reed Richards (Miles Teller) recruited to a research institute where he works with Sue Storm (Kate Mara), her adoptive brother Johnny (Michael B. Jordan), and the precocious and rebellious Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell) to develop a teleport to another world, Planet Zero. When the device is proven to work, the institute’s supervisor rules astronauts will get to take the maiden voyage. Annoyed, the scientists rope in Reed’s childhood friend Ben (Jamie Bell) to help them use it first. But things go horrendously awry, leaving the gang with new abilities…

    That chunk of the story takes most of the first hour. Other than being a little slow getting to the point, considering most viewers know where it’s all going, and perhaps not building the characters’ relationships as thoroughly as it could have, I thought it was shaping up as a pretty decent film. It’s not a mind-blowing masterpiece, and it’s certainly not faithful to the original comic, but as a sci-fi movie? It’s good. Not incredible, but good. Well, aside from one truly terrible reshoot wig.

    Then the story suddenly jumps forward a whole year, and things go to pot. From that point the film’s ideas aren’t bad, but it feels like the movie was ripped apart and put back together awkwardly, with parts missing, some out of order, and other bits added to cover gaps Awkwardly assembledand serve as new pieces — like a shattered mug that’s been reassembled with lashings of superglue and using a handle from another vessel, which has inexplicably wound up a slightly different size and shape to how it used to be. Considering the studio got cold feet and insisted on massive reshoots, this is quite possibly exactly what happened.

    It climaxes with a rushed action sequence on Planet Zero, which was clearly constructed entirely during reshoots (the constant presence of Reshoot Wig gives that away, if nothing else). The speed with which it’s dispatched makes it feel anticlimactic, despite the alleged world-destroying scale, and mainly leaves you wondering how the film originally ended. When it’s done, the heroes return to Earth and triumphant music swells… as they survey a scene of total devastation. It’s clear this hasn’t been thought through. There are still more signs of a rushed production: the CGI used to realise the Thing is pretty good for most of the film, but an unbearably cheesy final scene looks like a poorly-composited unfinished draft. Allowing such a rushed, underfunded, and heavily reshot final act to be released feels amateurish on Fox’s part.

    While the studio are obviously keen to blame director Josh Trank for all the film’s problems, and possibly sink his career in the process, I can’t help but think it’s their own fault. It was they who chose to commission a “dark and serious” take on the Four, at odds with their usual depiction, but then wimp out and not follow through on the directorial vision they’d chosen. Despite what some fans would say, it’s this lack of commitment that’s the actual problem. Even in the face of the success of the lighter-toned Marvel Studios movie universe, Too cool for superhero schoolFox like to keep their superhero movies Serious and Dark — and why not? Before this, it had worked pretty well for them across seven X-Men movies, while their colourful-and-cheery earlier attempts at bringing Marvel’s first family to the big screen met with unwavering derision and diminishing box office. It was not an illogical choice to try something different tonally.

    In the end, however, this version crashed and burned even harder than those earlier films, both with fans and at the box office. Meanwhile, the latest X-Men movie was similarly ripped asunder by critics and has only performed acceptably; and concurrently, superhero comedy Deadpool took the world by storm. Perhaps this will create a sea-change in the way Fox approach their superhero properties? Only time will tell — though with Deadpool 2 set to offer more of the same and a Wolverine threequel following in its R-rated footsteps, while another X-Men movie is surely in development but not officially announced and the planned Fantastic Four sequels have been quietly cancelled, perhaps it already is.

    Fantastic Four’s real problems are twofold: deviating so heavily from the original comic book, which meant from the outset that an awful lot of fanboys were always going to hate it; and then not having the confidence to see that vision through, titting about with things in post. The latter results in a mess of a second half where the whole thing unravels. It’s not perfect before that, but it’s a decent sci-fi movie. I’d love to see Trank’s original cut — I’m not sure it would be a great film, and I’m damn sure it still wouldn’t properly resemble the Fantastic Four of Marvel’s comics, but I bet it would be a lot more consistent than this, and consequently better.

    Beam of blue light shooting into the sky? Never seen that before...What could have been a comfortable 3-star movie, maybe even 4 if it followed through well enough, is dragged down to 2 by studio meddling. Will they never learn? Nonetheless, I actually enjoyed enough of Fantastic Four that, while it won’t be going on the long-list of contenders for the best movies I’ve seen this year, I won’t be putting it on the list for the worst either.

    2 out of 5

    Doctor Strange (2016)

    2016 #169
    Scott Derrickson | 115 mins | cinema | 2.35:1 | USA / English | 12A / PG-13

    Doctor StrangeThe latest from Marvel (or Marvel Studios, as they’re now branded, presumably in a bid to differentiate themselves from the properties owned by other studios that have been only too keen to use the Marvel logo and blur the line for the casual moviegoer) opens the door on a new facet of their shared cinematic universe, though does so in a movie whose plot follows the familiar “superhero origin story” rulebook. On the bright side, Doctor Strange has several other qualities to recommend it.

    It’s the story of Dr Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), a brilliant but cocky New York neurosurgeon, whose hands are ruined in an accident, taking his career — the sole focus of his life — with them. In search of groundbreaking healing, he travels to Nepal, where he meets the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) — not a doctor, but a mystic, who introduces him to the world of magic. Which in this case is real and not just, like, some Derren Brown stuff, because that wouldn’t make a very good superhero movie. Then there’s some stuff about evil sorcerer Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen), who wants to destroy the world, blah blah blah.

    So yes, the story is familiar — but you can say that about most superhero movies, especially origin films. It’s only a problem if you think movies are entirely about their plot. What Strange offers to accompany this through-the-motions narrative is its visuals, and oh, what visuals they are. You’ve likely seen some of it in the trailers — the folding cities, which look like Inception run through a kaleidoscope. Certainly, their complicated detail and intricacy leaves Nolan’s movie in the shade. The old idea of “an effects movie” — Wowzerswhere the incredible effects are half the point — seemed dead in an era where every movie has CGI and every blockbuster has its share of once-impossible visuals. Strange demonstrates the form can be alive and well. The way the effects are created — with green screen and pixels — is the same as any other movie, but the designs and the visual imagination are exciting.

    The action scenes that are choreographed around and through these effects are suitably imaginative also, making use of the concepts and ideas of the magic, rather than just having people punch each other in front of swirly backgrounds. To say too much would be to spoil the movie, but the Inception-y stuff is not the film’s climax — it has several other tricks up its sleeve. There’s one bit where time flows backwards, which I specifically mention because at that point the music does a bit too, which is primarily notable because the rest of the score is your typical bland, generic, forgettable Marvel music. On the other hand, I’ve read others praise the music for being more memorable than Marvel’s usual temp-tracked output, so maybe I’m wrong.

    When the film isn’t tickling your adrenal glands, it at least has the courtesy to sweeten the pill of its Superhero 101 storyline. For one thing it’s very funny, though in a way that doesn’t steal from the drama. This lightness of touch has become Marvel’s forte, and Strange handles it as well as any, without going all-out like Guardians of the Galaxy or half of anything starring Tony Stark.

    Practical magicThen there’s the cast. Obviously keen to avoid being typecast after playing an arrogant British genius in both Sherlock and The Imitation Game, Benedict Cumberbatch here plays an arrogant American genius. Strange doesn’t have the charm of Cumberbatch’s Sherlock, nor of some of his Marvel stablemates, like Tony Stark or Peter Quill, but his character arc takes that arrogance and transforms it into a kind of caring aloofness that, with flashes of dry wit, makes him an appealing character — even if it may take further films for that appeal to be fully realised.

    Mads Mikkelsen is somewhat wasted as Marvel’s typically lightweight villain, though his inherent skill as an actor allows him to flesh out the few speeches he is given. You could expand that assessment out to most of the cast: they’re all above this — four of them are Oscar nominees or winners (clearly Mikkelsen has been overlooked by the Academy) — but the fact that quality flows through their veins helps elevate some of the material. You could argue their talent is wasted with this stuff, but what do you expect? It’s an action-adventure blockbuster from a company known for their consistently light tone — that’s never going to dig into proper emotive character drama. Suffice to say that such top-tier actors effortlessly add resonance to their roles, however little they had to work with on the page.

    More controversial was Tilda Swinton’s casting. You could see it as whitewashing, or you could see it as dodging a racial stereotype — there’s a visual gag to that effect, in fact. “Oscar winners get bigger parts than Oscar nominees, okay?”Besides, one of the film’s best characters is of Asian ethnicity, so it kinda balances out. That’s Benedict Wong as the sorcerers’ librarian, who’s likely to emerge as the film’s most popular character. It helps that viewers aren’t likely to expect much of him. Conversely, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Rachel McAdams are seriously underserved, perhaps hoping for more meat in the no-doubt-intended sequel(s).

    Actually, that’s an understatement, isn’t it? This is a Marvel movie, and one that’s garnered positive reviews thus far to boot — it’s going to be a box office success, and sequels will inevitably follow. Nonetheless, some reviews have been bizarrely keen to frame Strange as “Marvel’s greatest risk yet” and “a radical departure for the studio”. That’s all empty hyperbole at this point and I don’t know why they do it. Guardians of the Galaxy already proved that no change of genre is a risk for the studio — and Guardians was a much bigger change of form for Marvel than Strange is. Plus, the way Strange handles magic is no more out-there than the way it handled gods ‘n’ that in two Thor films. Indeed, if anything Strange should look like a moderately safe bet: it’s following in Thor’s footsteps with the whole magic/other worlds/dimensions thing, but married to a fairly standard superhero origin arc. It’s no riskier a proposition for Marvel than any other new property. Nonetheless, it does open up some tantalising possibilities, especially when it comes to teaming Strange with the Avengers… though they’ll have to find a way to remove some of his abilities, otherwise he’ll be far too powerful.

    To further those connections, there are two end credits scenes. I shan’t spoil their contents, of course, but in my opinion they’re the wrong way round. One is basically Magic toucha teaser for another Marvel film, the other relates to the plot of the movie we’ve just seen. The former is first (and about 10% of my screening walked out before it came on) and the latter is, obviously, second (by which time about 90% had left). Those percentages ‘matter’ because, a) how do people not know Marvel’s rep for these scenes by this point?, and b) I think the scene related to the film you’ve just watched is the one that should be more attached to it, with the ‘teaser trailer’ being a fun bonus for those dedicated to stick around to the bitter end. But maybe that’s just me.

    Much earlier in the movie, shortly after encountering the Ancient One, Strange is offered tea. He drinks it, then something amazing happens, and he asks what was in the tea. The Ancient One answers, “Just tea. With honey.” That line struck me because it rather sums up Doctor Strange as a movie. In its well-rehearsed superhero-origin-story-ness, it’s just tea; but the quality cast, the genuine laughs, the imaginatively choreographed action, and, most of all, the mind-bending visuals add a very pleasurable sweetness.

    4 out of 5

    Doctor Strange is in UK cinemas now, and is released in the US next month.

    Deadpool (2016)

    2016 #107
    Tim Miller | 108 mins | Blu-ray | 2.40:1 | USA / English | 15 / R

    In the US Deadpool was, famously, rated R — which (for those not up on their international film certificates) ostensibly means you have to be over 17 to see it. In the UK it was rated 15, which is much more appropriate, because if Deadpool had a mind it would be that of a 15-year-old boy. Of course, plenty of grown men also have the mind of a 15-year-old boy, and that’s why it’s the highest-grossing R-rated movie (worldwide) ever. And I guess I must still have the mind of someone half my age too, because I loved it.

    Spinning off from the X-Men series (more on that later), Deadpool is the story of Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds), a former mercenary who falls in love with Manic Pixie Geek Wet Dream Girl Vanessa (Morena Baccarin) before being diagnosed with aggressive cancer. He agrees to radical treatment in an attempt to cure it and be with Vanessa forever ‘n’ that. The treatment drives him pretty much insane, but also ignites his mutant genes, which give him the power of self-healing (like that other mutant whose name rhymes with Polverine…) Permanently scarred and feeling like he can’t return to Vanessa, Mr Pool sets out for revenge.

    Yeah, it’s a pretty standard superhero origin plot. But the devil is in the details, and it’s how Deadpool tells its story that matters — the narrative is just a framework on which to hang the gags. The immediate point of comparison on a superhero comedy is surely Kick-Ass, and it doesn’t take deep analysis to see that Deadpool isn’t as subversive as that movie. Where Kick-Ass comments on, at times even deconstructs, the superhero genre, Deadpool takes its rules as a given and throws a shedload of humour on top of it. Is that a problem? It depends what you’re looking for. I think Deadpool’s makers set out to make a superhero film that was genre-aware and prepared to take the piss out of that, but I don’t think they were aiming to deconstruct superhero narratives. It might make Deadpool a less ‘intelligent’ movie than Kick-Ass, but it doesn’t stop it being entertaining.

    That doesn’t mean Deadpool’s makers are short on cleverness, though. The film’s structure is particularly nifty: it gets right into the action, then mixes the back story in as it goes on. This avoids either, (a) boring stretches while we wait for the hero to turn up, or (b) shoehorning in fight sequences where they don’t belong just so that the action quotient is met upfront. Plus it allows for a few transitioning gags and flashback humour, which I’m not sure we’ve seen since Fight Club. It’s well-paced too, the story positively flying by. This may be somewhere else the familiar shape of the story works in its favour — we know where this is all going, so it doesn’t need to dwell on plot details. No one’s really here for the plot, so why not?

    The jokey opening credits say that the writers are “the real heroes here”, the joke being they wrote the credits so of course they’d call themselves the heroes. But it’s also true. I mean no disservice to the producers who persuaded the studio to greenlight it, or director Tim Miller’s handling of the material, or Reynolds embodying the character so well — they’ve all undoubtedly contributed enormously to the film’s success (and I’m sure there’s a ton of improvisation in the final cut, so even more so) — but a lot of what makes the film really work, in a way that goes beyond just “it had some funny bits and some cool action”, is that structure, that pace, those gags… which, as just discussed, can well have come from the cast and director, and editors and stuff, too. So what I’m basically saying is: everyone’s a winner! Yay!

    So what of that humour? It’s an R-rated action-comedy, you know what to expect: Swearing! Crudeness! Nudity! Throwing in four-letter words and assuming that counts as a joke! Well, Deadpool does have swearing and crudeness, but it’s not so completely mindless about it. It has violence and nudity, too, just like the good old days of R-rated action movies. But it doesn’t resort to throwing any of those in for cheap humour — they’re there because they are there and can be there, not as a get-out-of-actually-coming-up-with-gags card. Most R-rated comedies these days factor somewhere on a scale of “saying a rude word just to get a laugh”, that scale stretching from “just doing it once or twice” to “all the ‘humour’ in the film”. Such words are thrown around liberally here, but if there was an occasion where that was substituted for an actual gag then it didn’t stick in my mind. That doesn’t mean it isn’t crude, or using Rude Things for laughs, but it’s not just going, “I said the F word, at a time when I shouldn’t say the F word — isn’t that funny?!”

    There’s one particular type of humour that Deadpool is most famous for, of course. From the self-parodying, Honest Trailer-inspired opening credits, to the Ferris Bueller-referencing, Marvel pillorying post-credits scene, Deadpool less breaks the fourth wall, more obliterates it, then stomps on the rubble until it’s in little tiny pieces, then grinds those under its shoe until they are dust, then snorts that dust and digests it, then… well, y’know. The film handles this really well: it’s not a non-stop commentary, but it’s also not isolated off in little clumps, like, “this had to be here but it’s kinda awkward to have him always talking to the audience”. It’s often used for irreverence, and I like a bit of irreverence. There are clearly some rules and/or considered choices with this fourth-wall breaking, though. In his commentary on the deleted scenes, Miller says that Reynolds kept wanting to pull the boom mic down from out of frame and use it to batter one of the villains, or something along those lines, but Miller thought this would be breaking the film’s rules. That’s a pretty fine line to tread — knowing he’s in a film, but not, like, using the fact he’s in a film… I guess it’s more of a “what feels right” set of choices than a little rulebook.

    One of my favourite little fourth-wall breaks is Deadpool’s one-liner when he’s dragged off to meet Professor X, which brings me somewhat neatly to the film’s relationship to its franchise mothership. I think I’d assumed it would be kind of subtle about the fact it’s technically an X-Men movie, even though everyone knows Deadpool was in X-Men Origins and this co-stars Colossus who’s been in several X-Mens at this point. That expectation was cemented by the number of reviews/blog posts/etc that have continued to refer to Apocalypse as the 8th X-movie. But no: within ten minutes we have a scene explicitly set at Xavier’s School, and Colossus has dialogue about Deadpool refusing to join the X-Men. References and connections to the X-Men are too numerous to count from then on out. This isn’t a movie hiding away its connections as a technicality only comic book fans will know about, which is something the main X-franchise has arguably done at times (though Apocalypse marks a distinct change in that, explicitly making Cyclops and Havok brothers, and stating that Magneto is Quicksilver’s dad… but I digress).

    One of the film’s best bits comes courtesy of that X-connection: stroppy teenage goth mutant Negasonic Teenage Warhead (excellent newcomer Brianna Hildebrand), and her immensely comic-faithful costume. Ironically, it’s not at all faithful to how NTW is portrayed in the comics (and you can find dozens of think-pieces about how the film changed her character and how that’s more than OK, if you’re so inclined), but it is generally like X-Men comic costumes, certainly ones that cropped up in the early ’00s. (I swear there was a Frank Quitely New X-Men cover showing a bald female in a costume really like NTW’s yellow-and-black X-Men uniform, but I can’t find it now. Maybe I imagined it.) Comic-faithful costumes are very much the MO of Marvel movies nowadays, but because the X-Men film franchise sprung from the “how do we make superheroes acceptable in movies?” period of the genre, the X-movies have never really done that before (though they do sort of, in passing, at the end of Apocalypse — I’m beginning to think we’re one day going to look back at that as a transition movie, assuming the next one goes super comic-book-y). I mean, this doesn’t really signify anything about Deadpool, I’ve just gone off on a geeky tangent.

    Deadpool does have flaws, and other reviews have certainly pointed them out: it’s not always hilarious (well, how many comedies are?), it’s another origin story (I believe I mentioned this one), it mocks superhero tropes but ticks most of the same boxes (ooh, I did that one too!), it has a somewhat low-rent feel… which, actually, I don’t get. I mean, it cost $58 million — a sliver of the budget of most blockbusters nowadays, but only slightly less than Jurassic Park cost (20 years ago), and 33% more than Serenity cost (10 years ago). It actually looked bigger-budgeted than I was expecting. The action sequences are really good, for one thing. If it feels small compared to other blockbusters, that’s just a complaint brought about by too much money being spent on movies nowadays — go watch a Big Budget Blockbuster from the ’80s or ’90s and you might be surprised how low-key half of them are. Tsk, young(er-than-me) people.

    Speaking of which, I do feel like I should be mature enough to have grown out of loving Deadpool… buuuut tough. It’s fantastic fun. Though, it’ll be interesting to see how it holds up to re-watches. I’ve read reviews which point out it doesn’t have the substance underneath the jokes that Kick-Ass does (did I mention that already? I didn’t steal that point from someone else, nope, noooo sir), so while Matthew Vaughn’s film is completely enjoyable on multiple go-rounds, any enjoyment to be found in Deadpool will ultimately fade once the novelty has gone. I mean, that’s possible — literally, only time will tell — but there’s not necessarily anything wrong with a “first time is definitely the best” movie, if that first time is good enough. Heck, The Game made it into my 100 Favourites with exactly that experience.

    Anyway, until I do re-watch it, I really enjoyed it. How much?

    5 out of 5

    That much.

    Deadpool is released on DVD and Blu-ray in the UK today.

    It placed 8th on my list of The 20 Best Films I Saw For the First Time in 2016, which can be read in full here.

    The Suspenseful Monthly Update for May 2016

    The number of films I watched this May dipped well below the monthly average for 2016, but was that still enough to get to #100 this month?

    I know, the suspense must be killing you. Read on…


    #89 The Hateful Eight (2015)
    #90 The Raid 2 (2014), aka The Raid 2: Berandal
    #91 Calvary (2014)
    #92 Captain America: Civil War (2016)
    #93 Future Shock! The Story of 2000AD (2014)
    #94 Ted 2 (Extended Edition) (2015)
    #95 Moonrise Kingdom (2012)
    #96 Hamlet (1964), aka Гамлет
    #97 Just Friends (2005)
    #98 X-Men: Apocalypse (2016)
    #99 The Assassin (2015), aka Cìkè Niè Yǐnniáng
    #100 One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
    #101 Return of the One-Armed Swordsman (1969), aka Du bei dao wang

    .


    • This month’s WDYMYHS pick coincides with #100, so it seemed only natural to pick the most acclaimed film I’d never seen (at least according to IMDb users), One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.


    Last year I reached #100 by the earliest date I’ve ever done it, July 27th. It finally beat a personal record that had stood since 2007. At the time, I wrote that 2015 had “been rather good by my standards, so it’s [a record] I don’t foresee breaking again. I mean, if I had five consecutive best-ever months (i.e. better than I’ve ever done, x5) then I could squeeze it in by the end of May.” Hahaha, what a ridiculous notion that would be!

    That was before October 2015’s ludicrous 31-film tally, so in the end I didn’t need five “better than I’ve ever done” months, just four really good ones and one fairly average one to reach #100 on May 28th.

    “Fairly average” there is a relative term: May 2016’s total of 13 films may rank =17th out of the last 24 months, but it’s above the all-time average for every month (the nearest is October’s 12.63), so it ain’t bad really. And although it breaks the 20-films-per-month run I’d been having in 2016, it does maintain my 10-per-month streak for the 24th month — i.e. two straight years.

    Looking ahead, May may be a better indicator of what’s to come for the rest of the year — as I keep mentioning in these monthly posts, I’ve been intending to watch fewer film this year (to make room for other stuff), and I only pushed to #100 so quickly after I ‘accidentally’ had a really good couple of months at the start. My goal is to maintain that 10-per-month minimum, which now sees 2016 looking at #171+ (up from last month’s 160-ish). If the rest of the year does look like May (i.e. about 13 films a month), I’d end up around #192. If I ‘slip’ back into watching a lot of films, the average for the year so far (20.2) places me in the 240s.



    It’s 100 Favourites’ G-spot! Experience ghosts, gladiators, and gangsters, in a month that’s all about films beginning with the letter G.



    The 12th Monthly Arbitrary Awards

    Favourite Film of the Month
    I was quite down on its predecessor for all sorts of reasons, but my unquestioned favourite film this month is The Raid 2. I won’t be surprised if it turns up again on my year-end top ten, too.

    Least Favourite Film of the Month
    I’ll talk about what in hell led me to watch it when I get round to reviewing it, but, while I actually wound up not minding Just Friends (for what it is, anyway), it’s definitely the lowest-quality movie I watched this month.

    Winner of Marvel’s Civil War
    Tom Holland, aka Spider-Man.

    Loser of Marvel’s Civil War
    Zack Snyder and his plans for DC’s movie universe.

    The Audience Award for Most-Viewed New Post of the Month
    Was it massively popular new-release Captain America: Civil War? No, that came third. Was it one of the widely-acknowledged greatest movies of all time, The Godfather? No, that came second. This month’s most popular post was a 21-year-old James Bond movie, GoldenEye.


    2016 starts looking towards its place on the all-time ranking of 100 Films years: with 2008, 2009, 2011, and 2012 already passed, sights are set on beating 2013’s 110, and maybe 2010’s 122…