Logan & The Future Of The X-Men

Logan is the swan song for Hugh Jackman in his seventeen-year film portrayal of the iconic Wolverine superhero. The film is resonating with filmgoers and critics and especially fans of the X-Men films and comics. For 20th Century Fox’s X-Men Cinematic Universe (XCU), Logan’s success combined with last year’s Deadpool points to a bold and fresh direction for the cinematic universe.

X Men Films Roster

Ever since its debut in 2000 with X-Men, the X-Men film franchise has seen its share of ups and downs. Creative and commercial highs like X-Men: Days of Future Past or X-Men: First Class were quickly followed or preceded with disappointments such as X-Men: The Last Stand or X-Men Origins: Wolverine. On the whole the XCU films are exciting and colorful but it seemed as if these superhero films had hit a creative wall as seen with X-Men: Apocalypse. By itself the film was fine, but it had a nagging feeling of déjà vu. We’ve seen these theatrics before; a big, bad mutant comes along and threatens the world while the superheroic mutants complain about how they’re ill treated by humanity, yet go out of their way to save it because, well, they’re the X-Men!

Along Came A Merc

As we all know that template changed with Deadpool. Funny, gross, self mocking and full of vigor and pizzazz, the film proved that something new can be created from the standard X-Men superhero formula with the Merc with the Mouth. Deadpool was a gamble for 20th Century Fox who resisted the idea of greenlighting the film in the first place. Executives worried about funding a superhero film that was vulgar, violent and comedic. After all, an R-rated superhero film is considered blasphemy to studio execs and marketing departments. They feared that the under-18 crowd wouldn’t be able to see, rather spend money to see the film. But to not allow that in a Deadpool film would betray the character.

Of course, Deadpool surprised the industry and delighted giddy fans who wanted an accurate film portrayal of this beloved character that stayed true to his violent, fourth-wall-breaking roots.

Deadpool’s success helped give Fox execs the confidence to allow Logan’s creators to take a creative gamble. This resulted in the film being an adult, hard-hitting, violent film that truly reflected the dark comic book story that inspired it, “Old Man Logan”.

Requiem For Logan

However, Logan’s creative success is not just due to its grim and violent tone. Rather this mature film is more than that, it is about facing mortality and Logan feels so poignant because of the nature of the title character. Logan aka Wolverine, played so skillfully by Hugh Jackman, is a broken, old man who realizes that the world has moved past him. Having long given up the good fight, Logan simply wants to be left alone and face his last days in peace with his mentor Charles Xavier.

Logan at his hideout

Like Logan, Xavier is grappling with the challenges of old age and both men know they are reaching their twilight. Having seen these two characters on film for nearly two decades, it is rather heartbreaking to see the indignities they face as we are reminded of our own mortality. Meanwhile, we have to admit that after seeing Jackman playing this iconic hero for 17 years, it is hard to see him go, but we must, which is why the film’s ending hits so hard.

Logan, Xavier and Laura

At the same time, Logan is looks at the issue of how an adult deals with a degenerating parent. It is a part of life that most will face and by taking care of an ailing Xavier, a man who is not his father makes Logan more heroic than he realizes. Further adding to his growth is the realization of how he has bonded with Laura, aka X-23, the young mutant he and Xavier are protecting. By the film’s end, he has come to not just feel responsible for her but to accept her as his child, which is a bittersweet conclusion to his emotional growth that Xavier urged him to explore earlier in the film.

Logan at hotelDiscovering these themes in a superhero film is actually surprising and gives Logan much more gravitas than the standard superhero film. In many ways, it seems more like a western thanks to its themes of the harsh consequences of violence and beautiful outdoor cinematography. That is why many are proclaiming it to be a film that has outgrown its genre and is now compared to The Dark Knight or Captain America: The Winter Soldier. It is needless to add that this modern classic is already considered by many to be the greatest X-Men film to date.

So now that Logan has reinforced the idea that an XCU film can be unexpectedly original, where does Fox go from there? Continue reading

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Despite Controversy & Flaws Iron Fist Hits Its Mark

The latest Netflix/Marvel TV show set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is Iron Fist. The main character and his story are based on the Marvel Comics hero created by Roy Thomas and Gil Kane. As the final piece of the superhero puzzle that will make up this year’s Netflix mini-series, The Defenders, Iron Fist has been mired in controversy. Most of it having to do with charges of that the title character is just another white savior type since he emulates a stereotypical Asian monastic lifestyle. Other complaints about Iron Fist are that it is slow moving and uninvolving.

These criticisms levied at Iron Fist are unfortunate because it’s generally an enjoyable, well-produced entry of the MCU. It does have its share of problems and is not as engaging as Daredevil or Jessica Jones. On the other hand, after last year’s disappointingly dull and overacted Luke Cage, Iron Fist is a course correction for the Netflix/Marvel shows.

danny rand at kun lun

The TV show centers on Danny Rand (Finn Jones), a homeless heir to a multinational corporation who reappears in the company’s Manhattan headquarters after he was believed to have died fifteen years ago. In his backstory, he and his parents were in a plane crash in the Himalayas that killed his folks, but he survived and was rescued by monks. They take Danny to K’un-Lun, a mystical, extradimensional city that appears every fifteen years on Earth. Once there, Danny is raised by the monks, learns martial arts and eventually becomes the latest in the line of a mystical warrior called the Iron Fist, the Living Weapon. His duty was to protect K’un-Lun from an evil mystical group called the Hand but is shocked after his return that the Hand are on his native world.

It takes some time for him to convince the world that he actually is Danny Rand. What doesn’t help is that when we first see him he’s barefoot, unkempt and disheveled. He spends much of his energy trying to reconnect with two childhood friends, the siblings Joy and Ward Meachum (Tom Pelphrey and Jessica Stroup), who run Danny’s company and are a couple of corporate douchebags, especially Ward. They see him as either a fraud or worse a genuine threat to their hold on the company that was founded by their fathers. The twist is that Meachum’s father, Harold (David Wenham), who supposedly died years ago, is alive and in hiding. An amoral and abusive type himself, the father takes an interest in Danny Rand’s re-emergence. This is because he sees Rand as an opportunity to take on his enemy the Hand (featured in Daredevil), who have a hold on him. With this in mind, Harold forces Ward to allow Danny into the company. Once in place as a majority shareholder, Danny begins righting the wrongs done by the company.

Rand wing and night nurse

As this corporate plotline unfolds, Danny meets a downtrodden karate instructor Colleen Wing (Jessica Henwick), who operates a dojo, and the two connect. She becomes his partner as he tries to get behind the reason of the Hand’s purpose on Earth and how they are connected to his company.

Iron Fist may not be immediately engaging at first. The first couple of episodes are actually frustrating with drawn out flashbacks of the plane crash and Danny trying to convince people of his identity. While he is sympathetic, Rand comes off as being too naïve and trusting. This leads to a dull stretch where he is imprisoned in a psychiatric ward and the narrative injects a pointless notion that he may be insane. While this works so well in Legion, here the subplot is plodding. But in the end, after he exhibits his first manifestation of his superhuman martial arts the show picks up momentum.

iron fist attack

Speaking of martial arts, a major drawback to Iron Fist is that for a TV show about martial arts many of the fight scenes lack power and energy. They look too choreographed and listless. This is seen in the first few minutes of the first episode “Snow Gives Way” when Danny has a by-the-numbers fight with some guards as he tries to contact the Meachums. This is a dangerous flaw for a show of this type. We are supposed to be shown that he is a superhuman martial artist, but the show has a hard time showing this to viewers. There are some good fight sequences though, many of which involve Wing, who is one of the best characters on the show, but they pale when compared to Daredevil or even Arrow.

But take heart in knowing that whenever Danny’s hands start glowing, you will be treated to some climatic displays of raw power. One drawback to keeping this show in the gritty and grounded MCU shows from Netflix is that it prevents the more mystical aspects of Rand’s backstory from being shown. It might’ve lightened the show’s mood and better matched Danny’s persona.

Of all the heroes in these shows, he seems to be the most optimistic and exudes an inner calm. This presents a challenge in that it makes it difficult to showcase any of the inner turmoil and demons which plague the stars of Daredevil, Jessica Jones and Luke Cage. In reality, this different kind of personality is a welcome change of pace from all the brooding and conflicted heroes, though it makes him a bit one dimensional. Danny just wants to do good for others during his return to our world. He just has to go through these hurdles to achieve this goal.

Once the show gets going after the early episodes, it picks up the pace and becomes more action-oriented as we want to see what happens next to these characters. The villains are not the greatest but there are attempts to give them some layering, which keeps things interesting. In Joy’s case, groundwork is laid for making her more amendable to Danny’s cause. While we try to figure out what is Harold’s ultimate agenda and though Ward comes off as one dimensional at first, there is more to him than being a corporate tool.

When compared to Daredevil (season one) or Jessica Jones, Iron Fist does not reach their levels of quality. Yet, it has its merits and is a welcome addition to the MCU. Frankly, much of the criticism is unfortunate because Iron Fist is being faithful to the source material, in the comic books he is a white man who grew up practicing martial arts in an Asian-inspired dimension. Although on the surface it may seem like it, he does not embody the white savior cliché in the comics or this show despite what some critics may want to believe.  Others may simply be tiring of the MCU and are looking for a reason to take it down a notch. Whatever the case may be, try to keep an open mind and sample this show. Iron Fist takes a while to engage you, but once it does it’s worth binge watching.

José Soto

Kong Rules Skull Island

Kong: Skull Island is new feature film starring the famous giant gorilla, King Kong. It is set up to be part of a new shared cinematic universe that focuses on giant monsters and by itself Kong: Skull Island is quite an exciting thrill ride.

The film opens in the early 1970s as Bill Randa (John Goodman) launches an expedition to an uncharted island surrounded by perpetual storm systems. He is coy about the expedition’s purpose, claiming it’s a geological study, but we find out later his real reason for undertaking the voyage. Joining him is an all-star cast including Tom Hiddleston as James Conrad, a former soldier turned expert tracker, Brie Larson as Mason Weaver, a crusading photojournalist, and Samuel L. Jackson as Col. Preston Packard, the military head of the expedition. Once they and several others make it to the island they incur the wrath of Kong, a gigantic gorilla that strands them on the dangerous island. As the expedition survivors make their way to a pick up point on the island, they meet a marooned, World War II-era pilot, Hank Marlow (John C. Reilly) and learn first hand of the true danger of Skull Island: gigantic beasts that are a bigger threat than Kong himself.

Kong: Skull Island is an exciting and brisk-moving ode to those great old monster movies from the bygone era where hapless people are stranded on an island and have to contend with giant monsters. It does what it sets out to do: show us lots of scenes of giant monsters attacking and eating people and there are many invigorating action pieces with Kong that are the film’s highlights. The standout scenes include Kong’s attack on the Vietnam War-era helicopters carrying the film’s stars, and anytime Kong shows why he’s the king of Skull Island. That is any scene where King Kong fights with giant monsters. The creatures are wonderfully unique creations and quite imposing like the two-limbed skull crawlers that are Kong’s main monstrous enemies.

His other chief antagonist is Col. Packard who quickly becomes obsessed with killing Kong after his people are wiped out by Kong. This Ahab-like obsession is the driving force for this character and the people around him while an opposing viewpoint develops from Conrad and some others who just want to get off the island.

Admittedly, Kong: Skull Island isn’t a terribly deep or thought-provoking film and the characters are written on the flimsy side, but the film delivers on what it is supposed to be a fun giant monster film. Even then, some characters do stand out and that is largely due to the star power of the actors playing these roles. The standouts include Reilly, who provides quirky comedy relief though he does have a sad backstory, Hiddleston turns out to be a hard-fisted action hero, while Larson, Goodman and Jackson do their best with their limited roles. The only other gripe about Kong: Skull Island is that it doesn’t feature any dinosaurs. Aside from a triceratops skull, there isn’t a t-rex or other prehistoric monster to be seen. But in the end, the creatures conjured up by the effects them makes up for this. By the way, the creature effects were well done as were the production values and the film’s groovy early ’70s soundtrack is a plus. Any giant monster film that features Creedence get bonus points!

Of course, the real star of this film is King Kong himself. The film wisely let the big ape hog the spotlight and there are plenty of scenes featuring him to keep the film moving along briskly. Even the moments when Kong isn’t fighting humans or other monsters are awesome and there is a well thought out sense of scale to his enormous size.

kong vs skull crawler

 

Kong: Skull Island is an entertaining giant monster film that might’ve been a better fit for a summer viewing. Some critics are being unfair to this film with their complaints. But don’t let that stop anyone from going out, turning off their brain and worries, and enjoying themselves with this giant monster romp. Bottom line, this film delivers many great Kong action scenes of him stomping and smashing monsters and puny humans, and that is enough to keep any giant monster film fan entertained. And stick around for the post-credits scene that promises an eagerly anticipated meeting of Kong with the other great giant monster.

Waldermann Rivera

Top 10 Star Wars: The Clone Wars Episodes & Arcs

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Star Wars: The Clone Wars was an epic TV series that vastly expanded the Star Wars canon and was a boon for Star Wars fans after the conclusion of the prequel trilogy in 2005. The animated show originally aired on the Cartoon Network from 2008 through 2013 and since then has been available to stream on Netflix. However, Netflix will stop streaming it very soon (March 7, 2017) and the only way to see this terrific series is through downloads or DVDs/Blu-rays. It has lots of devoted followers because it had so many different adventures and stories that spanned the galaxy and showed the reach of the huge conflict that engulfed the galaxy. Star Wars: The Clone Wars also took its heroes to so many different places, not just physically, but in terms of their lives and development as characters. Here are 10 of the best story arcs and episodes of the show.
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10. “Hostage Crisis” Season 1, Episode 22: The first season finale of Star Wars: The Clone Wars introduced the notorious bounty hunter Cad Bane and it was a memorable debut. He was someone who specialized in hunting Jedi, thus, he has armor at the sides of his neck to prevent Force chokes. The cruel executions of hostages in his invasion of the Senate building was both shocking for an animated series and also let the audience know that he was no pushover. His later appearances in the show further cemented his place in Star Wars: The Clone Wars as a great adversary for its heroes.
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9. “Obi-Wan Undercover” arc Season 4, Episodes 15-18 (“Deception”, “Friends and Enemies”, “The Box”, and “Crisis on Naboo”): A very interesting storyline that has Jedi Knight Obi-Wan Kenobi going undercover as a prisoner in a Republic detention facility, in order to gain information about a plot to kidnap Chancellor Palpatine. This arc has him attempting to survive life on the inside, then going on the run with bounty hunter Cad Bane with a vengeful, fellow Jedi Anakin Skywalker in pursuit, who believes Obi-Wan was killed by the person Obi-Wan is impersonating! This story is quite different from the usual Star Wars plot and shows the strength of the show in that it really expanded the idea of what Star Wars could be.
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8. “Padawans Hunted” arc Season 3, Episodes 21-22 (“Padawon Lost”, and “Wookiee Hunt”): Another familiar character in a new setting is fan favorite Chewbacca, who appears on the show when Jedi Padawan Ahsoka Tano is captured by Trandoshans and sent to a world to be hunted. She allies with other Jedi padawans to escape and meets Chewie, who was also captured by the Trandoshians. Together, they are able to turn the tables on their captives and escape. Having Chewbacca on the show is a nice link to the original trilogy and demonstrates Chewie’s heroism and resourcefulness, as well as a nice back story to an iconic Star Wars character.
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7. “Darth Maul Returns” Season 4, Episodes 21-22 (“Brothers” and “Revenge”) and Season 5, Episode 1 (“Revival”): Darth Maul’s return to Star Wars was a nice surprise for fans of the great Sith villain. The introduction of his brother Savage Opress was also an interesting revelation. Their back story as natives of the world of Dathomir and Opress finding his long lost brother in a state of insanity on a distant Outer Rim junk world with mechanical legs are definite highlights of the show. Maul (obsessed with getting revenge) and his confrontation with Obi-Wan Kenobi was thrilling and a treat for fans of the much maligned Phantom Menace.
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6. “Mortis” Season 3, Episodes 15-17 (“Overlords”, “Altar of Mortis”, and “Ghosts of Mortis”): Anakin Skywalker actually sees his future as Darth Vader in this set of episodes. He, along with Obi-Wan Kenobi and Ahsoka Tano are stranded on the mysterious world of Mortis that has only three beings on it, Father, Daughter and Son. They seem to embody the Force itself and the Son sees Anakin as the Chosen One and gives him a vision of his future as a Sith Lord. This causes Anakin intense grief and pushes him to ally with the Son against the other two. The Father eventually erases Anakin’s memory of his future, thus sparing him further pain, but at the cost of letting Anakin continue on his eventual path to evil. Again, this shows how Star Wars: The Clone Wars puts familiar characters in fascinating situations that were previously unknown to audiences.
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5. “Clone Conspiracy” season 6 episodes 1-4 (“The Unknown”, “Conspiracy”, “Fugitive”, and “Orders”): This group of episodes starts the final season of Star Wars: The Clone Wars on a very ominous note. Clone troopers Tup and Fives are embroiled in a conspiracy which takes them from the clone home world of Kamino to the heart of the Republic on Coruscant, as they try to uncover the reason behind Tup’s sudden violent attack on a Jedi Master. This results in them discovering the secret of Order 66 and Chancellor Palpatine’s plot to destroy the Jedi. Unfortunately, they are thwarted at every step as they try to unmask all of this treachery as Palpatine’s all-pervasive power in the Republic is shown, which will have very tragic consequences for the galaxy.
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4. “Landing At Point Rain” Season 2, Episode 5: This episode most embodies the name of the show. A clone war. This action-packed story shows the Jedi and their clone troopers assaulting Geonosis and a massive droid factory. The special effects are great and demonstrate the high quality of the work done for this series. The fighting is both intense and brutal, and demonstrates the horrific cost of Darth Sidious’ plans to embroil the galaxy in this seemingly never-ending conflict.
Star Wars malevolence
3. “The Malevolence Trilogy” Season 1, Episodes 2-4 (“Rising Malevolence”, “Shadow of Malevolence”, and “Destroy Malevolence”): This story arc kicks off the show with a bang and has Jedi Knights Anakin Skywalker, his apprentice Ahsoka Tano and Master Plo Koon attempting to destroy a new Separatist warship called Malevolence. These episodes feature great space battles and visual effects and really showcase the huge struggle between the Galactic Republic and Separatist Alliance. They also introduce the iconic Y-Wing bombers to Star Wars canon and demonstrate their usefulness to the Republic and of course, later on to the Rebellion.
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2. “Ahsoka’s Trial” Season 5, Episodes 17-20 (“Sabotage”, “The Jedi Who Knew Too Much”, “To Catch A Jedi”, and “The Wrong Jedi”): Ahsoka Tano’s last appearance in Star Wars: The Clone Wars was both memorable and tragic. She is framed for a bombing at the Jedi Temple and forced to go on the run, chased not only by Republic forces, but also by her mentor Anakin Skywalker. The betrayal she feels at being abandoned by the Jedi Council and her subsequent decision to leave after she is exonerated is one of the most striking events in the whole series. Ahsoka’s last scene shows her sadly walking off into the sunset as her devastated mentor can only watch. This no doubt had a huge influence on Anakin and his feelings toward the Jedi as a whole.
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1. “Yoda’s Journey” Season 6 episodes 11-13 (“Voices”, “Destiny”, and “Sacrifice”): The last arc of Star Wars: The Clone Wars and the best one. Master Yoda hears the voice of Master Qui-Gon Jinn and journeys to the Sith home world to find the origin of the Force, all the while his Jedi Council members fear for his sanity. This last series of episodes goes right to the heart of Star Wars mythology and shows how Master Yoda was able to persevere in the dark times of the Empire; by using the lessons he learned from his departed friend and from the Force itself. His last words in the final episode of learning lessons that will help not only during the Clone War, but for all time, demonstrate the lasting power of his wisdom.
C.S. Link