Film Review: X2: X-Men United (2003)

Also known as: X2 (original title), X-Men II (working title), X² (alternative spelling)
Release Date: April 24th, 2003 (UK premiere)
Directed by: Bryan Singer
Written by: Michael Dougherty, Dan Harris, David Hayter, Zak Penn, Bryan Singer
Based on: X-Men by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby
Music by: John Ottman
Cast: Patrick Stewart, Hugh Jackman, Ian McKellen, Halle Berry, Famke Janssen, James Marsden, Bruce Davison, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, Anna Paquin, Shawn Ashmore, Alan Cumming, Brian Cox, Aaron Stanford, Kelly Hu, Daniel Cudmore

Marvel Enterprises, Donners’ Company, Twentieth Century Fox, 134 Minutes

Review:

“You know, outside the circus, most people were afraid of me. But I didn’t hate them. I pitied them. Do you know why? Because most people will never know anything beyond what they see with their own two eyes.” – Nightcrawler

When this came out, I was pretty much blown away by it. Seeing it seventeen years later, not so much.

X2 is a film riddled with problems but it’s still good for what it is and for its era. It’s slightly better than its predecessor but after having just watched the Sam Raimi Spider-Man trilogy, it pales in comparison to the first two films in that series. In fact, I like the wonky Spider-Man 3 a hair bit more than this.

That being said, this does still have one of the greatest sequences in comic book movie history and that’s the part where the military squad attacks the X-Mansion, abducting the children and sending Wolverine and a few of the younger mutants fleeing into the night. I especially liked the inclusion of Colossus in this scene but that also made me wonder why he didn’t come back into the picture because he would’ve been helpful during the final battle. But I guess someone’s got to protect the kids hiding out who knows where.

Anyway, this is a film that is too driven by plot convenience and poor execution of those conveniences.

For instance, Storm can unleash dozens of tornadoes on military fighter jets but no one is worried about the innocent people living on the ground? And she does this while flying a high tech jet. Where was this immense wind power when the jet was going to be hit by raging water?

Which brings me to another poor plot convenience moment that saw Jean Grey have to push back a raging river while trying to lift the parked jet in an effort to save her friends. She’s powerful as fuck, why couldn’t she have just lifted the jet? An hour earlier, she stopped a missile with her mind. And getting back to Storm, where’s that wind power in this scene? Did you not pick up your power-ups in the final level?

I know I’m being pretty nitpicky here but these moments could’ve been shot better, explained better and just not been as stupid and devoid of logic. It seems like really lazy writing and if you needed to kill off Jean for the story, there are better ways to do it and they still could’ve had her sacrifice herself for those she loves. It just felt cheap and baffling.

This also must’ve been made in the era where they didn’t sign actors to multi-film deals because they spent so much time developing Nightcrawler but then he’s nowhere to be seen in the third film. His arc from the original X-Men trilogy is left incomplete. That just adds to the overall sloppiness of this film franchise. And it sucks because Alan Cumming was great as Nightcrawler and he was one of the high points in this trilogy.

The overall story in the film is pretty good though. I thought that the big finale was too long and could’ve been whittled down somewhat but it moves at a good, brisk pace.

Also, the set design, cinematography and overall look of the picture was a big step up from the previous one.

Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellan and Hugh Jackman kill it in just about every scene but Jackman really is the scene stealer, which is impressive when you think about where he was at in his film career in 2003 versus Stewart and McKellan.

In the end, this is still a decent way to waste a few hours but it’s not the great, epic film I saw it as when I was young and didn’t have such refined taste. Also, its since been overshadowed by the Raimi Spider-Man pictures, Nolan’s Batman movies and the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: the other films in the original X-Men trilogy.

Film Review: X-Men (2000)

Also known as: X-Men: The Movie (working title), X-Men 1.5 (longer cut)
Release Date: July 12th, 2000 (Ellis Island premiere)
Directed by: Bryan Singer
Written by: David Hayter, Tom DeSanto, Bryan Singer
Based on: X-Men by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby
Music by: Michael Kamen
Cast: Patrick Stewart, Hugh Jackman, Ian McKellen, Halle Berry, Famke Janssen, James Marsden, Bruce Davison, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, Ray Park, Tyler Mane, Anna Paquin, Shawn Ashmore

Marvel Enterprises, Donners’ Company, Twentieth Century Fox, 104 Minutes

Review:

“[to Senator Kelly] You know, people like you are the reason I was afraid to go to school as a child.” – Mystique

This was the movie that really got modern superhero films off the ground. It became the launching pad for several sequels, spin offs and what eventually became the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

It’s been a really long time since I’ve sat down and watched this one though. Compared to what is the norm today, twenty years later, this one feels really small and you can immediately tell that it had a smaller budget than what similar films today have.

That’s because this movie was a big risk in 1999 when it was filmed. Comic book movies other than the two Tim Burton Batman films and the first two Christopher Reeve starring Superman pictures just didn’t have a great track record and most of them were made deliberately cheesy and campy. The sequels to the films I just mentioned also fell victim to this creative misstep.

X-Men, however, took itself seriously and it succeeded because of that.

Granted, it’s a pretty flawed film with a lot of creative choices I wasn’t a fan of. These choices would actually go on to hinder the rest of the X-Men movies that Fox made but I think it was probably hard to see anything beyond just this movie when it was being made.

The acting is pretty solid for the most part but the heavy lifting in this chapter is primarily done by Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen and Anna Paquin. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t bad dialogue and bad acting, there is, but the high points greatly outshine the low ones.

Still, this is a weak adaptation. It chose a strange mix of characters to start with and by choosing these characters, the series sort of fucked itself going forward. It also altered the origins of most of the characters pretty drastically and it set some things in stone that would later lead to the film series’ continuity getting really screwed up. Some of these problems became even more clear after revisiting this.

The general plot is also wonky and weird and I’m not a big fan of it. The whole MacGuffin machine that Magneto wants to use to turn people into mutants was goofy as hell and it sabotaged the initial realism that this picture seemed to have. Well, it was as realistic as a film about superhero mutants could be before we got a hokey old timey comic book superweapon introduced.

From memory, but I’ll find out in a week or so, the sequel was much better. It delved deeper into the lore and tried to get past some of the missteps here.

In the end, this isn’t bad, by any means, it just isn’t as great as I felt that it was in 2000. Sure, it has issues but it also opened the floodgates for the superhero genre to enter the cinematic medium in a more serious way.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: the other films in the original X-Men trilogy.

Film Review: Ben (1972)

Release Date: June 21st, 1972 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Phil Karlson
Written by: Gilbert Ralston
Based on: characters by Stephen Gilbert
Music by: Walter Scharf
Cast: Lee Montgomery, Joseph Campanella, Arthur O’Connell, Rosemary Murphy, Meredith Baxter, Bruce Davison (archive footage)

Bing Crosby Productions, Rysher Entertainment, Cinerama Releasing Corporation, 94 Minutes

Review:

“[singing while showing his Ben marionette to the real rat, Ben] Start the day, oh come along now, Ben. Come on out, before I count to ten. If you stay, you will miss all the fun and there’s room for everyone.” – Danny Garrison

Well, this is a very different movie than its predecessor. But I think a lot of that is due to the main character being a young, sick boy who has a passion for making marionettes and singing his own show tunes.

It’s a weird film in that the tone is completely inconsistent throughout, as on one hand, it feels like a dramatic kids movie about a sad boy that likes being creative and theatrical, while on the other hand, it’s about rats that eat people. These two things can work together but in this film, they don’t.

Also, coming off of how dark the first film ended, this comes off as even stranger and not really sure of what it’s supposed to be building off of.

That being said, I still kind of enjoyed it. Not to the point that I’d probably ever watch it again but it’s such a unique and disjointed picture that it’s hard not to be somewhat lured into it.

Also, the kid is really charming and you do feel for him and his situation, even if there are moments where he show signs of being a totally evil little shit.

This also feels more like a TV movie than an actual theatrical motion picture. It felt like a two-hour pilot to a TV series sequel of the first film. Weirdly, it plays like its trying to appeal to kids.

Anyway, a boy finds Ben, the leader of the rat army from Willard, befriends him and sees him as his only friend because the only other kid in the movie is a bully. The kid lies to his sister and mother about what’s actually going on and he even covers up for the rats when they try to eat the bully kid.

There’s not much to really sink your teeth into with this one and honestly, it’s probably most famous for the theme song Michael Jackson provided and simply because it’s the sequel to a cult classic film. 

Rating: 5.25/10
Pairs well with: it’s predecessor Willard, as well as the 2003 Willard remake with Crispin Glover.

Film Review: Willard (1971)

Also known as: Ratman’s Notebooks (working title)
Release Date: February 26th, 1971 (Scranton, Pennsylvania)
Directed by: Daniel Mann
Written by: Gilbert Ralston
Based on: Ratman’s Notebooks by Stephen Gilbert
Music by: Alex North
Cast: Bruce Davison, Elsa Lanchester, Ernest Borgnine, Sondra Locke

Bing Crosby Productions, Rysher Entertainment, Cinerama Releasing Corporation, 95 Minutes

Review:

“Tear him up!” – Willard Stiles

Back in 2003, a remake of Willard came out. I had never known about the original film but the remake intrigued me so much that I had always wanted to see its predecessor.

I was glad to discover that from a story standpoint, the two films are almost identical, minus a few tweaks that made the remake darker and slightly more unhinged.

While this isn’t a comedy film, it almost has an innocent charm about it with a few comedic moments thrown in, specifically in how this incarnation of Willard Stiles deals with certain people in his life.

Bruce Davison plays the title character and while he’s not as amazing as Crispin Glover was in the 2003 version, he’s much more likable and you sympathize with him on a deeper level.

Davison is also surrounded by an interesting cast with Elsa Lanchester, the original Bride of Frankenstein, as his overbearing mother and the great Ernest Borgnine as his shithead, borderline evil boss. We also get a very young Sondra Locke as a love interest for Willard.

For those unfamiliar with these movies, the story follows a sort of weak mama’s boy that is bossed around by everyone in his life, all of whom tell him to be more of a man and to be more assertive. He ends up resenting just about everyone and all the while, he befriends some rats that he learns to train to essentially do his bidding. One thing leads to another, the plot and the tension escalates and this turns into a real horror movie.

Ultimately, it’s a cool flick and probably deserving of its cult status but from memory, I actually liked how much darker the remake was. Granted, it’s also the first version of the story that I saw and I could be affected by that. But it’s hard to top what Crispin Glover brought to the table in that picture, notwithstanding how much I also enjoyed Davison, here.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: it’s sequel Ben, as well as the 2003 Willard remake with Crispin Glover.