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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Top 10 Films and TV Shows of 2016

For 2016, superheroes continue to reign in film and TV, while other genres like sci-fi, fantasy, horror and related combos offered refreshing alternatives. Many of the best films and TV shows on this list were very profound and pushed the envelope, while others were just plain fun to watch.

Films

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10. 10 Cloverfield Lane: The spiritual sequel to Cloverfield was a tense and suspenseful thriller with a great performance by John Goodman as a doomsday prepper.

xsuicideTIE: 9. Suicide Squad/X-Men: Apocalypse: Despite their flaws both superhero (and supervillain) films were enjoyable romps with unforgettable characters (Harley Quinn, the Joker, Deadshot, Magneto, Quicksilver, and more) and eye popping action-packed moments.

8. Doctor Strange: With the big-screen debut of Marvel Comics’ Sorcerer Supreme the Marvel Cinematic Universe continues to remind us why their superhero films are currently the best of the crop compared to Fox’s X-Men Universe films (Deadpool aside, of course) and the DC Extended Universe movies.

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7. Zootopia: The best animated film of the year dazzled us with eye raising animation and a clever script that highlighted important social messages about tolerance and prejudice.

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6. Star Trek: Beyond: The film’s back-to-basics approach with Star Trek’s iconic characters paid proper homage to the TV show while having a genuine adventurous tone.

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5. The Jungle Book: Even though the CG-created animals and environment were flawless and stunning, the film to its merit emphasized story and characters, which left a bigger impression.

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4. Deadpool: As a faithful adaptation of the irrelevant and violent comic book, Deadpool proves that it’s possible to be true to comic book source material and still be an entertaining film.

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3. Arrival: A provocative, well-acted and beautifully shot film about first contact with aliens smartly emphasized the communications hurdles humanity would face. The film’s ending was a true surprise and was just one of Arrival’s highlights.

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2. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story: The first Star Wars spinoff not only neatly ties in with Episode IV but is a great and exciting film in its own right with more nuanced characters and situations than seen in a typical Star Wars film.

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1. Captain America: Civil War: The Avengers are torn apart from within as Captain America and Iron Man philosophically, then violently disagreed over allowing the government to supervise their team. Featuring strong performances and the best superhero fight scenes ever filmed, the film was an emotional ride for viewers.

TV Shows

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10. Ash Vs Evil Dead: Grossly fun and action-packed as everyone’s favorite deadite fighter Ash Williams and his gang continue delighting horror fans.

redhats invade9. Colony: Unexpectedly well done look at life under alien domination and that “big, beautiful wall” separating American cities is a chilling portent of what lies ahead.12 Monkeys Cole time travels8. 12 Monkeys: Of the many time travel themed TV shows out there, this is the best of them as many episodes explored the convoluted nature of time travel.

dareflashTIE: 7. The Flash/Daredevil: The two best superhero TV shows were on the opposite ends of the tonal spectrum. The Flash is pure Silver Age awesomeness, while Daredevil reflects a more gritty and grounded mood, especially with the introduction of the brutal vigilante, the Punisher. Both shows  featured intense and enjoyable comic book adventures thanks to well written scripts and engaging lead actors, plus supporting characters/actors.

6. The Walking Dead: The megahit series about brutal life after the undead destroy civilization has  hit a creative wall and is past its peak according to many fans. Yet, for the most part The Walking Dead is still delivering more than adequate thrills, gross out moments and entertainment, even if the show went to far in Negan’s introduction and certain character deaths.

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5. Black Mirror: A dark anthology series about the downside of technology offered many disquieting episodes about technology’s impact in our lives today and tomorrow.

El confronts monster Stranger Things4. Stranger Things: A wonderful ode to ’80s sci-fi movies featured terrific child performances, geeky Easter eggs and an intriguing mystery revolving around a missing child and an interdimensional monster.

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3. The Expanse: This well-crafted series about a brewing war among human colonies in our solar system during the next century could wind up being the next great TV space opera.

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2. Westworld: HBO’s potential successor to Game of Thrones went way beyond the original Michael Crichton movie about theme park robots running amok by presenting a thought-provoking series about existentialism and ethics.

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1. Game of Thrones: Even though the fantasy series is drawing to a close, the sprawling epic continues to captivate viewers with its visceral tale of power struggles among kingdoms. One of the highlights was the epic episode  “Battle of the Bastards” that put rival films to shame with its gut wrenching fight scenes.

 

Comic-Con 2015 Highlights

deadpool hikerAnother Comic-Con has made its impact with genre fans from all over the world. As exciting as it was for those lucky enough to attend the annual gathering at San Diego, there wasn’t any Earth-shattering news to come out of the convention. Nonetheless, many presentations and speakers were able to whet the appetites for fans at what lies ahead.

TV Shows

New trailers for The Walking Dead and Fear The Walking Dead made their debut and whetted the appetites for followers of the zombie phenomenon. While Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) has leadership headaches in season six of The Walking Dead, we all finally get to see how the walker apocalypse got its start with the prequel spinoff.

While Marvel Studios was conspicuously absent this year, we did get news about their TV shows Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Agent Carter. The most intriguing was the tease that one of the actual Avengers (and Maria Hill doesn’t count!) may appear in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. That being the Falcon (Anthony Mackie), which is terrific news since he is so popular.

As for their natural rival, DC, we found out that Jay Garrick will indeed be featured in The Flash and portrayed by Teddy Sears, plus Wally West is coming to the popular show as well as a new villain Zoom. Also, Hawkman himself will appear in the upcoming Legends of Tomorrow. Do we smell another spinoff coming?

Movies

The three big movie-related revelations at Comic-Con were about Fox’s Marvel movies, Star Wars: The Force Awakens and DC/Warner Brothers’ superhero films. The clear winner was DC who presented a teaser for the Suicide Squad, announced that there will be a Green Lantern Corps. film  and that Ben Affleck will direct and star in a Batman solo film, and showed a near-perfect trailer for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. But let’s go over the first two revelations.

Fox presented teasers for next year’s Deadpool and X-Men: Apocalypse, as well as next month’s Fantastic Four. While the new X-Men presentation was fascinating, what brought the house down was the first look at Deadpool. The teaser featured many of the same scenes from the ashcan trailer that made the rounds in the Internet to sell the idea of a Deadpool film. But added to that were the basic origin stuff of how Slade Wilson became the Merc with a Mouth. Overall, the trailer clearly shows that this will be an R-rated film to the delight of fans.

Just as delightful to watch was the Star Wars: The Force Awakens panel that was highlighted by a reunion of the Original Trilogy stars, Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher. A behind-the-scenes video was released that had new footage from the upcoming Star Wars film and one point that seems to be hammered into the video is the reliance on practical sets and effects so as to set it apart from the prequel films.

Arguably the most popular presentations where done by DC/Warner Bros. with their two comic book films due next year. The Suicide Squad trailer was fairly standard with Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) winning over drooling fans as expected. The images were buttressed by Will Smith’s take of Deadshot, who added some gravitas to what looked like a costume parade. However, Jared Leto stole the entire trailer at the end when he showed up as the Joker. He seemed just as manic and deadly as he appeared in the photos.

What set the DC presentation apart was the winning trailer for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. It showed that there will be real repercussions for the events in Man of Steel where Superman (Henry Cavill) and his foes effectively destroyed Metropolis. We find out that Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) was present in Metropolis during the climatic battle and witnessed firsthand the threat that meta-humans pose. His hatred for Superman seems natural and justified. Meanwhile, Superman has to contend with either being revered as some kind of god and feared and hated by others. All the protesters with the signs calling him an illegal alien is very topical. The final and winning touch to the trailer was the premiere of Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman. It didn’t show much but she looked beautiful and powerful. Thanks to the trailer Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice has become the must-see film of 2016.

Marvel Studios MIA

DC’s presentations sucked all the air out of the convention for the other properties, even the Fox Marvel movies. What could’ve countered this was if Marvel Studios had bothered to make a presentation at Comic-Con. Instead, they stayed home and it remains to be seen if a price will be paid for this absence.

They had their reasons for staying out of Comic-Con, Ant-Man will be out in a few days and their other films may not be ready yet. Then there’s the fact that there may be presentations at next month’s D23 Expo, which will solely be about all things Disney. batman armorOr perhaps Marvel Studios will have another special presentation like they did last fall where they announced the full slate of the Phase Three MCU films. Except this time we’ll get actual footage from Captain America: Civil War and Doctor Strange.

Be that as it may, it is still probably a strategic mistake to take the year off Comic-Con. While the MCU films are riding a wave of popularity now, this year’s convention showed that genuine competition is coming and Marvel Studios needs to stay alert. Some cracks in the armor showed with Avengers: Age of Ultron and Ant-Man’s potential for success is unknown. If they didn’t want to show any footage, they could’ve at least shown some props or artwork from the upcoming films. Instead we got to see cool props from Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice like the Batman armor. Score one for DC. 🙂

Lewis T. Grove