X-Men: Herald Of The Modern Age Of Superhero Films

It was twenty years ago on this day that X-Men premiered in theaters. While many at that time knew of the film’s potential impact, its success was still surprising given how the superhero film has grown in stature.

Before the first X-Men film came out on July 14, 2000, there were many prominent and successful superhero films that made their mark in pop culture like Superman: The Movie, Batman and The Mask. However, the splash they made was not as intense as the one X-Men made. Yes, after those films made millions at the box office, superheroes were the craze with merchandising and copycat films and TV shows, yet X-Men heralded a new and lasting age of superhero films that continues to this day (well, coronavirus notwithstanding and causing most theaters to shut down and film studios to delay film releases). It was not that X-Men was a better film than say Superman: The Movie, it probably was that it was the first genuine hit based on a Marvel superhero IP. Before anyone brings up Blade, that film was marketed more as an action/horror film and most had not heard of Blade. The X-Men were different, they were prominent in geek culture and many fans were aching for a big-budget adaptation of the superhero mutants. They wanted to see how Wolverine would be realized in live action, how filmmakers could translate the complexity of the X-Men comic books. 

Director Bryan Singer did a fine job distilling and presenting a somewhat simplified version of the X-Men. This is not a criticism but rather a compliment in that he and the filmmakers (which included future Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige) were able to strip down what worked in the comic books, which were the best characters to bring forth, and knew what would resonate with audiences and fans. 

In their wisdom, they were nearly spot on with their casting. Starting with Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, which was ironic considering Jackman replaced the original actor cast in the role, Dougray Scott, after Scott was injured during filming of Mission: Impossible II. Some scoffed at Jackman’s casting because he was tall, good looking and lacked a filmography that screamed comic book action star. But from the moment that Rogue (Anna Paquin) met Wolverine in a Canadian bar following a cage fight, we all knew after witnessing Wolverine’s feral nature that the casting gods were generous. 

Another equally important casting choice was Patrick Stewart as Professor Charles Xavier, the leader and heart of the X-Men. Often, people mock fan casting for being ridiculous and unrealisitc. But time and time again Stewart was the fan favorite for a hypothetical X-Men film. Thankfully this proved to be perfect as Stewart brought gravitas and humanity to the role. We believed he was a kind and just mentor, who championed humanity. Needless to say. Ian McKellan as the villainous Magneto was a pleasant surprise given so many doubted his casting due to his age. However, McKellan displayed the same gravitas as Patrick Stewart and was able to believably match Hugh Jackman’s vicious Wolverine with his own cunning and hatred towards humanity.

For years, filmmakers were challenged by the idea of bringing the mutant team to life. Two reasons were because of budget and the complexity of the team. Their storylines were more mature than standard comic book stories as they tackled racism and related strife. It would not do to treat an X-Men film as a campy romp, nor could it be a mindless action fest. The villains were more nuanced with causes that audiences could sympathize with, namely the evil mutants’ actions resulted from humankind’s fear and bigotry. X-Men displayed this naunce splendidly, thanks to solid performances and Singer’s direction.

The film is not perfect, namely in the execution of the action pieces, which feel a bit pedestrian and low key compared to what filmmakers have been able to pull off in recent years. Some of those fights were cringe worthy! But no one should hold that against X-Men and the accomplishment of everyone involved with the film.

X-Men was not the biggest hit of that year, but it did well enough to excite fans and film executives who saw the box office potential of superhero films. Helping to cement the modern age of superhero films in the early years were Spider-Man, X2: X-Men United and Batman Begins. There were fits and starts in that decade but by 2008, the runaway success of Iron Man and The Dark Knight signaled that superhero films were here to stay and be a major influence in films. 

This was all due to X-Men; keep that in mind during the next viewing of this film.

A Look Back At Back To The Future: The Ride

The current rides and attractions at theme parks based on popular IP are quite popular, but there are many extinct rides that are sorely missed. One of the most beloved is Back to the Future: The Ride which was at Universal Studios Orlando, Universal Studios Hollywood and Universal Studios Japan.

Back to the Future: The Ride opened first at Universal Studios Orlando in May 1991 and later at the Hollywood location in June 1993 and finally at the Japan park in March 2001. For anyone who does not know the attraction was a POV simulator ride that used dome-shaped IMAX screens. It served as a mini-sequel of sorts to Back to the Future, Part III, although whether or not it should be considered canon is up for debate.

The premise was that Emmett “Doc” Brown (played by Christopher Lloyd, reprising his role from the films) founded the Institute of Future Technology, and opened the scientific institution for tours of his facility and inventions. Doc Brown’s prized invention is a fleet of modified DeLorean cars which can fit eight passengers, plus the driver, and travel through time. The actual building where the Institute of Future Technology is located houses the 70-foot OMNIMAX dome screen and 24 ride vehicles.

At some point, Biff Tannen (reprised by Thomas F. Wilson) from 1955 stows away in one of the DeLoreans and arrives in the present. At the institute, Biff steals one of the DeLoreans and takes off into the timestream while trapping Doc in his office at the institute. Unable to escape, Doc implores you, as one of the tourists, to take a modified DeLorean that he will remote control, and catch up to Biff. Riders see this entire short film on overhead monitors as they wait in the queue.

From there, riders enter a small room that featured many props from the Back to the Future films such as newspaper clips, photos and the pink hoverboard. Doc Brown comes on a screen and provides instructions; when they find Biff’s car the riders are to accelerate their car to 88 miles per hour and bump their own car into Biff’s. Doing so creates a temporal vortex which brings both vehicles back to the present.

The modified DeLorean was a stunning replica of the car featured in the films only larger. Even the front panels looked just as it appeared in film with the flux capacitor and a dashboard display that showed current time, destination time and previous time.

After the gull-wing doors closed the vehicles “lifted” off since they had the hover technology and accelerated to 88 miles per hour. The first destination was Hill Valley in 2015, which was the same fantastic future showcased in Back to the Future, Part II with a chaotic traffic of hover cars and floating signs. Biff can be spotted in his DeLorean as he taunts the riders (he also pops up in small monitors in the riders’ car, as well as Doc). Biff escapes in time after a chase and the riders wind up in the ice age barely keeping up with Biff. The final destination is the Cretaceous period where both cars run into an angry tyrannosaurus rex. After literally escaping from the dinosaur’s maw, the riders rescue Biff, whose car is damaged and trapped in a lava flow, by bumping his car and sending both vehicles back to the future.

Back at the institute, Biff is captured by Doc’s workers and all is well. This sequence was actually cut short as it originally ended with Biff being showered with manure as was his fate in the films. However, Doc Brown warns riders from the PA speakers to quickly exit the ride or else they would run into other versions of themselves and risked disrupting the time continuum! Unlike most rides today, this one did not exit directly into a gift shop, although one was located nearby the main building, which sold nifty souvenirs. These included replicas of the DeLorean (see picture) of various sizes, license plates with OUTATIME, and T-shirts.

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Back To The Future: How It Can Return

It has been 35 years since Back to the Future premiered in theaters and 30 years since the final film Back to the Future: Part III last graced fans as Doc Brown’s flying, time-traveling locomotive blasted its way through the screens. In the time since fans of the classic time travel film trilogy have always asked, will there be more? A Back to the Future, Part IV? Sadly, time and time again (no pun intended), the answer from the films’ creators has always been no.

The director of the trilogy, Robert Zemeckis, and writer/producer Bob Gale are quite adamant about not continuing the further adventures of Marty McFly and Emmett “Doc” Brown. As far as they are concerned, the trilogy was perfect, ended on a great note (which it did) and there was not a need to revisit the time traveling duo. The feeling was, what else could Marty and Emmett do?

With a time traveling DeLorean, there are plenty of stories left! Alas, the DeLorean was destroyed at the end of Back to the Future, Part III, but wait! Doc Brown, thought to have been stranded in Hill Valley in 1885, was able to build a time machine out of a locomotive. Back to the Future: The Animated Series, which aired for two seasons after the trilogy concluded gave fans a glimpse of more time traveling hijinks with Marty and Doc. The DeLorean was rebuilt and used, as well as the time locomotive, to travel to different time periods, where they often wound up encountering some kind of Biff Tannen ancestor. So, we had that nugget. Plus, Christopher Lloyed reprised his role of Doc Brown in the show’s live-action segments, and Thomas F. Wilson and Mary Steenburgen returned to play Biff Tannen (or his ancestor) and Clara Brown. respectively.

More than anyone else, Lloyd has kept the torch burning for Back to the Future with his reprisals in the following years. Not only did he play Doc Brown in the animated series, but he was a prominent character in the simulator attraction Back to the Future: The Ride at the Universal Studios theme parks. Wilson even returned as Biff Tannen in the attraction as the villain you had to chase in your own modified DeLorean. It seriously is a crime that Universal Studios closed the attraction and has not tried to build a new ride since that film has stood the test of time and is still popular.

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Michael Keaton Returns As Batman?

Well this is a big surprise: Michael Keaton is in talks with DC and Warner Bros. Studios to reprise his role as Bruce Wayne aka Batman in the upcoming DC Extended Universe (DCEU) film The Flash. Even more surprising is that this version of Batman will be the same version seen decades ago in the original Tim Burton films, Batman and Batman Returns.

Of course, the big question among fans is how is this possible? There is already a Batman (portrayed by Ben Affleck) in the DCEU that does not mesh with the continuity of the Burton films. The best and most likely answer has to be the appearance of the Keaton Batman must be due to the Flashpoint event shown in the DC comics and The Flash TV show where Barry Allen aka the Flash runs fast enough to time travel and changes history, In this story, Barry Allen prevents his mother’s murder and his reality changes. This event led to last decade’s reboot of the DC Universe, the New 52.

This event could be used to allow the Flash to travel through different realities or the multiverse as shown in the Arrowverse crossover event “Crisis on Infinite Earths”, which aired earlier this year and where the TV version of the Flash met the DCEU incarnation played by Ezra Miller. There are already rumors the film will show that encounter from the viewpoint of the Miller version of the Flash. In fact, the Burton Batman universe was briefly seen in the crossover event during a montage in the first episode. Perhaps the Flash will be visiting other multiverses in a much higher scale *meaning a larger production budget that can afford cameos by A-list actors) than seen in the TV event. It is unknown what will be the extent of Keaton’s appearance but it’s unlikely he will have a huge role but will hopefully be more than a glorified cameo. This also gives validity to the fan theory that The Flash will be used to rewrite the DCEU and replace certain actors and retcon what has happened in previous DCEU films, just as Flashpoint rebooted the DC Universe in the comic books.  However, there are also rumors that the Keaton Batman will appear in other DCEU films in a similar connecting fashion as Agent Coulson or Nick Fury did for the MCU films. Exactly how this will pan out if this Batman will be the original Keaton Batman remains to be seen.

On the other hand, this may not come to pass and either the Keaton Batman will play a small role in an altered reality that mentors the Flash or Michael Keaton may change his mind or someone else will be tapped to fill in the role. Is Christian Bale willing to talk to Warner Bros. about this? Even seeing George Clooney as Bruce Wayne for a cameo would be awesome! It would be terrific if other big name actors who played DC heroes in the past could appear in The Flash. This would be perfect for Ryan Reynolds to come back as Green Lantern and leave a better impression with the role or if the film could somehow incorporate elements from the Christopher Reeve Superman films. 

The important thing to remember is that this is supposed to be a film about the Flash, not the DC multiverse. As long as director Andy Muschietti keeps the focus on Barry Allen and his story (and if the film actually gets made) then the film will be a phonemenal presentation of the Scarlet Speedster as he meets the other wondrous characters in the DC multiverse.

 

Crisis With The Arrowverse TV Shows

Lately, headlines announced some issue or another befallen one Arrowverse TV show after the other, and this gives the impression that  the Arrowverse TV shows are in trouble. It seems collectively, the superhero shows hit their peak earlier this year with the crossover event “Crisis on Infinite Earths”, and things largely went downhill from there.

This is just a broad generalization, some of the Arrowverse TV shows are doing fine, namely Black Lightning and Stargirl, but there is a sense that these superhero shows have run out of steam and feel dated.

The Hood

Arrow, the show the live-action DC superhero TV universe is named after, concluded its eight-season run earlier this year, just as it had found renewed energy. The reason the show ended was because the main actor who played Green Arrow, Stephen Amell, wanted to leave to resume a more normal life. For anyone, who doesn’t know, these shows are filmed in Canada, which requires the cast and crew to be away from their families. Arrow was justly celebrated when it ended, but there were questions of how the the Arrowverse would continue without its flagship show. Other shows like The Flash have eclipsed Arrow in terms of popularity and ratings, but the Arrowverse still seems empty without Green Arrow stalking around in the dark alleys telling bad guys “You have failed this city!”

Older, remaining Arrowverse shows such as The Flash, Legends of Tomorrow and Supergirl are running low on creativity. For the most part, the episodes and scripts are bland and uninspiring. The Flash ended its season with its main character no longer having his natural powers and his wife trapped in another dimension. But it was so dull and shrug inducing. The Flash has had problems in recent years with coming up with engaging villains and story arcs. For too long, the show relied on evil speedsters, but the new batch of villains are just blah. Then there is the undeniable fact that the actors seem bored and going through some drama, which will be covered shortly. It is just a shame, given the excitement most fans felt for the show and its lead character after the thrilling encounter between the TV version of the Flash with his DCEU counterpart during “Crisis on Infinite Earths”. The crossover event was supposed to provide a new spark of creative energy but very little has happened aside from some Flash villains being reimagined and not very well; although Lex Luthor’s revamping in Supergirl was interesting.  At the very least the meeting between the two Flashes rekindled interest in the upcoming movie version of the Flash.

Legends of Tomorrow is a mere shadow of its initial premise: C-list superheroes who time travel to get some respect. That is still there somewhere but it has been buried lately in these nonsensical magic-related plots and most of the original cast is gone. Some of the replacements are not very compelling, though to its credit Legends of Tomorrow does a decent job of being goofy and funny. Some episodes are very humorous and the show wisely figured out long ago not to take itself too seriously and embraced its comedic tone. However, other shows like Doom Patrol overshadowed Legends of Tomorrow by being quirkier and more insightful superhero shows.

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