As both a movie and comics nerd (it’s not mean if I say it), there are few things I look forward to less than superhero sequels. That seems illogical, I know, but not only has a precedent been set, but the decline in quality of a superhero film series is practically preordained.
Sure, a new franchise might catch lightning in a bottle (still waiting for a Black Lightning movie, by the way), but said franchise inevitably falls victim to its own success.
Studios need each successive film in a series to be more successful than its predecessor. For the suits (double-breasted, not spandex), that means they have to take control of the creative direction of the series – which is a disaster precisely 100 percent of the time. So the pasty, talented nerds who paid proper respect to the source material (which everyone has loved for decades) and created a film both comics fans and the general public responded to, are bullied into incorporating changes designed to make things bigger, louder and less faithful to the characters. More villains, bigger set pieces, a preponderance of spectacle over characterization, and we’ve got a disaster on our hands.
You know, like the third X-Men movie.
After original “X-Men” and “X-Men 2” director Bryan Singer (legal troubles aside, the man knows his comics) left and was replaced by resolutely mediocre Brett Ratner, the studio got exactly what it wanted in “X-Men: The Last Stand” – a bloated, lunkheaded, effects-heavy carnival ride that stomped all over characters and continuity like a drunk Godzilla. The movie stank, as did spinoff “X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” and the once-promising series looked doomed to lucrative mediocrity.
Then the X-Men threw a curve ball (or a “fastball special”), reinvigorating themselves with the surprisingly good “X-Men: First Class,” which avoided all the accruing nonsense by going back in time to show how the colorful band of mutant superheroes got together in the first place. Energetic, imaginative and catnip for comics fans, the film was good, but seemed an isolated little X-Men cul-de-sac. Except now, the new X-Men movie (opening Friday) seems poised to take that cinematic do-over and run with it.
Bryan Singer is back, and he’s brought one of the most beloved X-Men stories of all time with him.
Chris Claremont’s legendary 1981 story arc, “Days of Future Past,” posits a nightmare future where humanity’s prejudice against mutants (the comic’s always been a bigotry parable at heart) has unleashed the killer robot Sentinels to rid the world of people who can shoot lasers out of their eyes and such. Only that technology, in the tradition of all science fiction ever, has run amok, killing off not only most mutants, but also enslaving all the regular humans as well. Smooth move, humanity.
So a remaining X-Man (Hugh Jackman’s immortal Wolverine in the movie) gets sent back in time to recruit every X-Man ever to prevent that future from ever coming to pass.
That means that not only do we get to see all the best characters from both the past and present X-Men movies (so Patrick Stewart and James McAvoy are both on hand as Professor X, and Ian McKellan and Michael Fassbender both show up as Magneto), but we get to see all the X-Men we love (and Halle Berry’s Storm, unfortunately), while being introduced to a bunch of new comics characters we haven’t seen in the films before. (Look for Bishop, Blink, Warpath, Quicksilver and others.)
So the chief nerd and architect of the franchise is back, helming a film based on one of the best-loved comics stories ever, whose time travel conceit allows Singer to disregard everything Brett Ratner and the studios screwed up along the way. It’s like someone invented a time machine to fix everything that went horribly wrong in the past or something.
Thursday-Sunday: “Tim’s Vermeer.” Directed by Teller (of Penn & Teller), this fascinating, prankish documentary follows Texas inventor Tim Jennison as he travels the world in search of answers to the artistic mystery: How did 17th-century master painter Vermeer paint in a photorealistic style more than a century before cameras were invented?
After Mainers were so generous in donating to Kyle Rankin’s upcoming zombie flick, “Night of the Living Deb” (filming in Portland this summer), why not dig deep again to help out Maine filmmaker JL Major. Check out the Kickstarter campaign for her zombie extravaganza, “Infectious: Prelude,” at kickstarter.com/projects/19image/infectious-prelude. Maine can never have enough zombies, people!