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.

Comic Review: Fantastic Four – Masterworks, Vol. 5

Published: August 7th, 2014
Written by: Stan Lee
Art by: Jack Kirby

Marvel Comics, 248 Pages

Review:

This right here is the volume I’ve been waiting to get to! This is the collection of the Stan Lee/Jack Kirby run on Fantastic Four where everything changes and the Marvel universe expands exponentially!

This edition of the Masterworks series covers issues 41 through 50, as well as the third annual.

Within this collection, we get a great Frightful Four story, the marriage between Mr. Fantastic and the Invisible Girl, the full debut of the Inhumans, as well as the first appearances of Silver Surfer and Galactus! There are also cameos from just about every hero and villain from the Marvel universe of the 1960s! This chapter in the saga literally has everyone and everything!

What’s even better than that, is that Stan Lee is absolutely on his A-game with these stories and scripts and Jack Kirby’s art was on-point.

If you can only ever read one Fantastic Four collection, graphic novel or trade paperback, it should be this one.

This is quintessential Fantastic Four at its finest. It’s the epitome of what was so damn great about ’60s Marvel and the work of Lee and Kirby.

Just buy it, read it, read it a dozen more times and cherish it forever.

Rating: 10+/10
Pairs well with: the other Marvel Masterworks collections.

Comic Review: Daredevil: Love & War

Published: 1986
Written by: Frank Miller
Art by: Bill Sienkiewicz

Marvel Comics, 65 Pages

Review:

This was a one-shot graphic novel that came out a few years after Frank Miller had completed his Daredevil run. However, it was a return to form, narratively speaking, while also coming off as even darker due to the haunting and beautiful visuals created by one-of-a-kind artist Bill Sienkiewicz.

The plot is fairly short and sweet but it’s important to the overall character development of The Kingpin, as well as his relationship with Daredevil.

The story sees The Kingpin try his damnedest to save his beloved wife Vanessa. He does some pretty heinous shit while trying to get her the treatment she needs. However, this all horribly backfires in a way that will effect him forever.

Additionally, there is a side story about the doctor’s wife and her situation, as she is being watched over by a violent madman that believes her to be an angel.

This has a very layered story and it taps into neo-noir and psychological horror vibes.

While this does feature Daredevil, he almost feels secondary to the majority of the story. He just sort of moves in and out of it and the real players moving the chess pieces on the board are the doctor and The Kingpin.

Ultimately, and without spoiling too much, this is really compelling stuff with exceptional art and some of Frank Miller’s best writing.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: Frank Miller’s run on Daredevil.

Comic Review: Spider-Man: Maximum Carnage

Published: July 11th, 2007
Written by: Tom DeFalco, J.M. DeMatteis, Terry Kavanagh, David Michelinie
Art by: Mark Bagley, Sal Buscema, Ron Lim, Tom Lyle, Alex Saviuk

Marvel Comics, 335 Pages

Review:

This big crossover event started right around the time that I was mentally checking out on comics, as I had moved, gotten older and was more concerned about high school girls and trying to woo them with my heart-melting charm.

I’ve read some of the issues within the larger arc but I never sat down and read the whole thing in its fourteen issue entirety. That being said, this was kind of tough to get through.

Maximum Carnage truly embodies that old adage about there being too many chefs in the kitchen. With this, that saying doesn’t just apply to having too many writers but it also applies to this being overloaded with characters that no one cares about.

Carnage returns and with that he forms his own supervillain group. It’s kind of like the Sinister Six but it’s made up of new and D-list level villains like Shriek, Doppelganger, Carrion and Demogoblin. Apart from Carnage, all these villains suck and frankly, after reading this, they had such an adverse effect on the coolness of Carnage that I don’t really have the same opinion of him. This made him lose his luster. Granted, Marvel also fucks him over, after this, by introducing a bunch of symbiote Carnage babies.

Spider-Man is pretty much in over his head but he re-teams with Venom in an effort to stop Carnage and they also get help from Black Cat, Cloak & Dagger and a slew of other heroes that pop in and out. Morbius even shows up just to remind you that in the ’90s he was batshit crazy. We also get an appearance from Nightwatch, who was a ’90s Marvel character that blatantly ripped off Spawn just to piss off Todd McFarlane for becoming a self-made millionaire after leaving the company. They showed him!

Anyway, this is a clunky story without a real clear point to it other than Carnage is bad and he does terrible shit. This didn’t need to be fourteen issues long but Marvel was trying to bank on Carnage’s popularity. I’m sure it made money for them, at the time, but the story didn’t do much to help the Spider-Man mythos in any sort of long-term way. In fact, when people bring up Maximum Carnage nowadays, it is in reference to the old 16-bit video game and not the comic book story it was tied to.

This story featured good writers and good artists but it felt sloppily put together and like all the creative parties just kind of rushed it out or phoned it in. Some of the art, surprisingly, is actually hard on the eyes but I think that’s more to do with the colors than the illustrations. Also, I read this digitally and sometimes that can really fuck up the color of older comics.

I had some high hopes for this because I really felt like I missed out on it years ago. However, comics shouldn’t feel like doing chores. I didn’t really want to finish this but I did in order to review it, as it is considered an iconic story by many.

Rating: 4.5/10
Pairs well with: other mid-’90s Spider-Man comics and Marvel crossover events.

Video Game Review: Wolverine (NES)

I never played this game when it was released, as it came out after I moved on to 16-bit consoles. But it plays a lot like the NES Spider-Man game.

It’s a simple, side-scrolling platformer full of action and some of Marvel Comics’ most iconic X-Men related characters.

The game is fairly weak though, due to only having a handful of rather short levels. Additionally, the levels are pretty basic and not well designed.

Wolverine could’ve been better with more complex design and not just longer levels but more levels.

Also, you only get to fight two iconic villains. In this game you face Magneto and then the final boss, Sabretooth. Honestly, that feels like it’s backwards, regardless of Sabretooth being Wolverine’s biggest rival. Magneto is a much stronger threat with a real trump card when it comes to dealing with Wolverine and that’s his magnetic powers versus Wolverine’s metal skeleton.

Anyway, this was still enjoyable enough not to hate. I’d call it basic bitch shit and uninspiring but for a game based on a licensed property, it’s still better than most and infinitely better than the NES X-Men game that came out a few years earlier.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: other side scrolling comic book games of the 8-bit era.

Comic Review: Giant-Size X-Men, Issue #1

Published: 1975
Written by: Linda Fite
Art by: Werner Roth, Gil Kane (cover)

Marvel Comics, 37 Pages

Review:

This is where the X-Men team that I grew up with came to be. Yet, I had never read this until now, despite being a massive X-Men fan once I embraced them in the late ’80s.

Now this came out more than three years before I was born and I felt like I knew the story well enough but actually reading it was a worthwhile experience, as the story had a bit more character development than I could’ve anticipated. Especially in regards to Wolverine, Sunfire and Storm. It also allowed me to get more familiar with Warpath’s older brother, Thunderbird, whose superhero career was very short-lived.

This story also involves the island of Krakoa, which is a major aspect of the current X-Men related comics.

All in all, this was solid. I felt like the team was thrown together rather abruptly and it was a dangerous mission without them really training for it but it worked out and we got to see this new crew gel in spite of them all being pretty selfish and petty in the beginning.

What’s really great about this, is that it tells a beefy, deep story with just 37 pages. It really shows the difference in pacing in the comic book medium from the time when this was made up to the ’90s (or so) when comic stories felt like they flew by too quickly.

Additionally, the character designs and the art in this were superb.

I didn’t anticipate this being great, I always just thought of it as a a simple introduction. And while it’s not great, it is still better than I thought it’d be and it just made me appreciate this era of Marvel even more.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: other ’70s X-Men comics.

Film Review: Spider-Man 3 (2007)

Also known as: 3 (trailer title)
Release Date: April 3rd, 2007 (Uruguay)
Directed by: Sam Raimi
Written by: Sam Raimi, Ivan Raimi, Alvin Sargent
Based on: Spider-Man by Stan Lee, Steve Ditko
Music by: Christopher Young
Cast: Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, Rosemary Harris, Thomas Haden Church, Topher Grace, Bryce Dallas Howard, J.K. Simmons, Bill Nunn, Elizabeth Banks, Ted Raimi, Bruce Campbell, Dylan Baker, Elya Baskin, James Cromwell, Willem Dafoe (cameo), Cliff Robertson (cameo), Joe Manganiello (cameo)

Marvel Entertainment, Laura Ziskin Productions, Columbia Pictures, 139 Minutes, 137 Minutes (Editor’s Cut)

Review:

“Whatever comes our way, whatever battle we have raging inside us, we always have a choice. My friend Harry taught me that. He chose to be the best of himself. It’s the choices that make us who we are, and we can always choose to do what’s right.” – Peter Parker

While this wasn’t as bad as I remembered, there are still some things that are very off about this picture.

Starting with a positive, I do like the visual tone of this film the best out of the trilogy. It abandoned that overly copper, sunset look the other ones had and most of the film takes place at night or in normal daylight.

However, the improvements in the visual look are overshadowed by the film’s very shoddy CGI effects. It’s kind of baffling but this is the worst looking film of the three when it comes to digital effects. I’m not sure if the studio cut some corners or were rushed but most action heavy CGI sequences looked like a video game. It was distracting and pulled you out of the magic.

I think it’s possible that they overextended themselves in trying to include both Venom and The Sandman, as it’s damn near impossible to create those characters, in all their glory, without the use of CGI. In fact, their battles in the film needed to be larger than life spectacles.

Now the problem isn’t the use of either villain but it’s the use of both of them at the same time. Plus, Harry Osborn also becomes the new Green Goblin.

This picture suffers across the board because trying to wedge in three villains just didn’t work from a narrative standpoint and it forced the effects artists to focus their efforts into multiple effects heavy characters.

Now the film did a superb job with The Sandman’s story and if this movie just focused on him, it could’ve actually been incredible. The Sandman gets thrown to the side at multiple points throughout the movie though, as they then have to rush through Venom’s origin in the most half-assed way possible. Then they have to deal with Harry and his Goblin thing, Peter and Mary Jane’s relationship issues, introducing Gwen Stacy and even having Peter turn into an emo douche because I guess that’s what the Venom symbiote does in the movie universe.

The narrative is disjointed as hell but where it’s good, it’s great. But every time you really get into a portion of the story, it shifts gears or throws something stupid at you. The misfires and shifts are pretty maddening, especially when there are things in the film that work and come across as spectacular. It’s like you can see the real love for these characters rise up like cream to the top but then the filmmakers stir the coffee again. By the third act, they just keep throwing hot coffee in your face.

In a nutshell, this is a clusterfuck but it’s a clusterfuck that has greatness in it. I still like the movie despite its massive flaws and for fans of Harry Osborn, his journey comes to a beautiful end. With it, the film hits you right in the feels, as you feel the pain that Peter and Mary Jane share over the loss of their dear friend and how wrecked their own relationship has become.

The film does leave you with some hope but the ending is still kind of a downer. Granted, they planned a followup (or three) to this film but those movies never happened.

In the end, this movie was a weird end to the film series. I know it wasn’t intended to be the send off for these characters but it left the film series in a strange, uncertain place. I would’ve liked to have seen this cast get to make at least one more picture but that ship has sailed.

Maybe a comic book sequel could work but with the comic industry being in the shitter, waiting to be flushed, that’s probably wishful thinking. Plus, they’ve already rebooted the film series twice since this came out.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: the other two films in this mostly great series.

Comic Review: The Adventures of Red Sonja, Vol. 1

Published: September 6th, 2007
Written by: Roy Thomas, various
Art by: Dick Giordano, Frank Thorne, various
Based on: Red Sonya by Robert E. Howard, Red Sonja by Roy Thomas and Barry Windsor-Smith

Marvel Comics, Dynamite Entertainment, 137 Pages

Review:

This collects Red Sonja’s first solo stories, which appeared in Marvel Feature before she’d go on to have her own self-titled comic book.

Overall, this is great. I’ve never read these stories and it was nice filling in the blanks between her first appearance in the pages of Conan the Barbarian and the first Red Sonja title. Plus, this also brings her and Conan back together and throws in Bêlit, who has become one of my favorite Conan companions.

Conan and Bêlit don’t come in until the last two chapters of this collection and unfortunately, that story ends on a cliffhanger without the finale in this volume. But it’s still cool seeing them together, as well as seeing Bêlit’s first impression of Sonja.

This is quintessential ’70s Marvel sword and sorcery without Conan as the focal point and it’s just a really cool, energetic read with incredible art and great stories by Roy Thomas, as well as others. It also includes some adaptations of Robert E. Howard’s original literary work.

For fans of ’70s Marvel, sword and sorcery, general fantasy, great writing, great art or all of the above, this should definitely be a pleasing experience.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: other Marvel era Red Sonja comics, as well as other crossovers with Conan.

Comic Review: Iron Man: Demon In A Bottle

Published: March 3rd, 2010
Written by: Bob Layton, David Michelinie
Art by: Carmine Infantino, Bob Layton, John Romita Jr.

Marvel Comics, 167 Pages

Review:

This collection of Demon In A Bottle was a pretty cool read. However, people have referenced the story for years and truthfully, it’s not a big arc like many insinuate or imagine. In fact, this covers multiple arcs but each has a common thread and that’s Tony Stark’s fall into alcoholism.

Ultimately, this ends with him overcoming his demons and trying to fix the damage he’s caused, rebuilding himself into who Iron Man needs to be.

It’s also important to mention that this debuted the long-time Iron Man villain, Justin Hammer. Hammer was created as a character similar to Tony Stark but one who stayed on a dark path. He was also deliberately made to look like Peter Cushing and in this story, John Romita Jr. and Bob Layton did a stellar job of conveying that.

The story also features the Avengers, Namor and a slew of C-list villains that Hammer employs in an effort to overwhelm Iron Man. Overall, this is just as action-packed and exciting as it is dramatic and full of real human trauma and emotion.

While it’s not my favorite classic Iron Man story (or stories), it is a very important piece of the character’s history and served to build up his character in a pretty dynamic way. It does what most modern mainstream comics don’t do and that’s showing weakness in a hero.

In fact, this is about a hero’s journey and personal evolution, which is something that was lost in the storytelling art of superhero comics. Hell, it’s been lost in most mainstream media, as we constantly get characters that are made to be perfect and “special” without faults or real struggle.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other Iron Man stories of the ’80s, most notably the Armor Wars saga.