A Look Back at X-Men Adventures #1

Back in 1991, Marvel Comics successfully launched X-Men #1 (Volume 2) which arguably marked what was back then a new era of the X-Men. That comic book was written by Chris Claremont and the art was done by Jim Lee with ink work by Scott Williams.

Lee was granted a lot of creative freedom and that could be seen in the way he redesigned and modernized the looks of the X-Men, especially with Cyclops (with that suspender), Rogue (that yellow-green tight suit plus brown jacket), Jean Grey (technically a swimsuit with those padding on the legs), etc.

Those re-designs were eventually adapted by the producers behind the memorable X-Men animated series of the decade which lasted five seasons.

Of course, Marvel Comics itself wanted to make more money as the said animated series launched. Alongside it, they launched a new comic book series that adapted stories from the animated series (which itself were adaptated stories from the past comic books, mainly Uncanny X-Men). This resulted the X-Men Adventures comic book series and here, I review the launch issue.

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X-Men Adventures #1’s cover.

Released in 1992, X-Men Adventures #1 adapted the memorable launch episode of the animated series. The story begins with the Watcher doing some expository dialogue as Sabretooth causes some destruction in a city. As it turned out, it was a TV news feed of him as the narrative shifts into a home in suburbs wherein a married couple talk about Jubilee. The husband Martin thought about registering Jubilee with the government which turns off wife Martha. Jubilee overheard them and predictably agonizes over her situation (note: she melted the VCR and mutants like her have been viewed negatively).

Then a Sentinel arrives in the neighborhood searching for her. Strangely enough, the Sentinel simply crushes the bedroom of Jubilee only to find out she was not there and registered an “identification error.”

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Jubilee in trouble at the mall.

Jubilee then spends time in the shopping mall only to discover the Sentinel crashing in to find her. Within that place, X-Men members Storm, Gambit and Rogue decide to take action against the Sentinel. This is where the story really takes off.

Creatively, this comic book retells the events of the launch episode of the animated series. Writer Ralph Macchio did a serviceable job translating the episode into a decent flowing comic book.  Like the animated episode, the aspect of mutants living in fear (expressed through Jubilee) was nicely captured.

What really stands out here is the artwork by Andrew Wildman. Not only did he do a good job drawing so many characters and giving them nice facial expressions, he pulled off a good effort to insert spectacle into the comic book. The Sentinel’s crashing into the shopping mall, Rogue’s punch on the Sentinel’s head, and Wolverine’s strike against a wall using his claws all have that strong impact.

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Andrew Wildman’s approach to action had a lot of impact.
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Team interaction of the X-Men.

I also like Wildman’s way of capturing the spirit and look of the X-Men, especially during the Danger Room sequence showing Beast, Morph and Gambit doing exercises. Even the scenes that feature no action but lots of talk had an interesting look and Wildman did not even rely on the method of making the characters beautiful.  No single boring moment with the art here.

Overall, X-Men Adventures #1 is a fun read. As of now, this old comic book from 1992 is not really valuable but that just might change if ever the Walt Disney Company (which now has the other media rights to X-Men due to their acquisition of 20th Century Fox) decides to have Marvel Entertainment revive or even continue the X-Men animated series.

Whether there will be a significant development or not, X-Men Adventures #1 is recommended.


Thank you for reading. If you find this article engaging, please click the like button below and also please consider sharing this article to others. Also my fantasy book The World of Havenor is still available in paperback and e-book format. If you are looking for a copywriter to create content for your special project or business, check out my services and my portfolio. Feel free to contact me as well. Also please feel free to visit my Facebook page Author Carlo Carrasco and follow me at HavenorFantasy@twitter.com

 

 

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Is a Darna movie still needed?

This past summer, the production of the pending Darna movie project suffered a major setback when Liza Soberano dropped out due to a serious injury of her finger. I wrote about that months ago and the fact that Soberano cried during the ABS-CBN interview (she admitted she let the fans down) only showed how heavy and painful the loss of the Philippine pop culture icon was to her deep inside. Not only that, the original director Erik Matti is no longer involved and has since been replaced by Jerrold Tarog.

As of this writing, the filmmakers are still quietly searching for a suitable replacement for Soberano.

As the search goes on in this age of social media and Hollywood-produced superhero movies that dominated the Philippine box office, the hot question remains – is a Darna movie still needed?

To understand things better, let’s go back to the beginning.

The past

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Darna with the Philippine flag on display at the Ravelo Komiks Universe booth during the recent Toycon.

Created by the late Mars Ravelo, Darna debuted in 1950 in illustrated print media and went on to appear in comic books, comic strips, magazine special features, television and movies to name some. Through the decades, Darna went on to become a Philippine pop culture icon and there were those who even compared her with Wonder Woman.

In Philippine cinema, Vilma Santos (who is now a public servant) made her mark with the public when she played Darna more than once. Other actresses who played the superhero in other movies were Sharon Cuneta, Anjanette Abayari and Regine Velasquez to name a few.

The 21st century

In the 21st century, Darna was unsurprisingly modernized in a TV series starring Angel Locsin and produced by GMA Network. The series became a hit nationwide and helped keep Ravelo’s icon relevant to Filipinos while also boosting Locsin’s popularity. A few years later, GMA lost Locsin to its rival network ABS-CBN and “replaced” her with then newcomer Marian Rivera who went on to become a star. While still holding the rights to Darna, GMA launched in 2009 a new series with Rivera as the superhero. Like the 2005 series before it, it became a hit as well.

While it was a success, the deal between GMA and the surviving members of Mars Ravelo came to an end. Unsurprisingly, in 2015, the Ravelos signed up with rival network ABS-CBN with upcoming Darna projects in mind. What made this new deal different was that it was in the form of a motion picture project through its movie-making arm Star Cinema.

Making a live-action Darna movie turned out to be tricky and time-consuming. In 2017, the project generated a lot of buzz and excitement when the young and pretty Liza Soberano was hired to play Ravelo’s creation. She was easily referred to as the “Millennial Darna”.

Of course, in this age of social media and smartphones, Filipinos expressed their reactions online. While there were those who welcomed Soberano as Darna, there were some who had problems with the actress’ American accent and heritage (note: Soberano was born in the United States) and some even claimed that she was “not Filipina enough” to play Darna who in the realm of fantasy is Narda, who is often portrayed as a simple Filipina.

And then there were some people who preferred Angel Locsin over Soberano. Take note that almost a decade before Soberano signed up to play Darna, Locsin was hired by ABS-CBN and starred in many big projects with the network achieving lots of success in both television and movies. As such, it was no surprise that there were still many craving for Locsin to play Darna under the banner of ABS-CBN.

Before losing the role, Liza Soberano worked really hard to play Darna. Videos and images of her physically training for the role were released online and it has been reported that she researched the icon behind the scenes. Soberano, by the way, studied at SISFU (Southville International School Affiliated with Foreign Universities) in BF International, Las Pinas City.

Do people really want to see a Darna movie at all?

While Star Cinema is slowly making the Darna movie, it is only fair to ask if people really want to see the movie at all. Do Filipinos, who collectively paid a good amount of money to enjoy Hollywood-made superhero movies in local cinemas since the year 2000, really need to watch Darna on the big screen?

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Pick a Darna.

Now I am not a filmmaker nor have I gotten involved in the nation’s film industry but as a long-time geek, observer and former journalist, I should say that the odds are against Star Cinema.

Traditionally here in the Philippines, local film productions that became hits were the romantic comedy and horror types of movies. There were a few historical epic films that became hits along the way. A few fantasy movies were released and made some good money. Given the fact that these kinds of films became hits with Filipino moviegoers and given the fact that the Filipino action film genre has faded away since the early 2000s (note: Filipino action movies have been rarely produced since then), it comes to show that Filipino moviegoers are not that interested in locally made action scenes.

Action scenes combined with computer-generated images (CGI) are among the most attractive features of Hollywood superhero movies to Filipinos. There is nothing like watching Spider-Man’s classic fights with Doctor Octopus in Spider-Man 2 (2004), Wonder Woman leading the fight against the Germans in the No Man’s Land scene in Wonder Woman (2017), Batman fighting a gang of thugs in the warehouse in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016), and the massive battle between the superheroes and the evil ones in plains of Wakanda in Avengers: Infinity War (2018) all happen on the big screen!

Definitely those forms of spectacle look great, feel intense and were enjoyable to watch again and again. Moviegoers here in the Philippines paid good money to experience those sequences. For sure, all those on-screen action sequences were carefully crafted, choreographed and painstakingly laced with CGI at a high cost.

That being said, what can the Darna movie offer local moviegoers in terms of spectacle? Can the filmmakers come up with something stylish (if not original) with the action with Darna that can convince moviegoers to come back for more? How much money can the filmmakers afford to invest in such spectacle? For sure, there will be moviegoers who can’t help but make comparisons with Darna’s on-screen spectacle with those of movies from Marvel and DC.

There is also the challenge for the Darna filmmakers to tell a compelling story and have the moviegoers connect with the characters. Sure there is Darna (Narda is her civilian identity) but who else could they add as key cast members? The least the filmmakers could do is involve supporting characters who would end up annoying moviegoers. If the Darna movie would have humor, the producers should make sure that the comedy players should avoid annoying the viewers as they try to make comic relief.

Challenging also is the implementation of the villain to give Darna problems and compel her to act heroically. There is the long-time enemy Valentina but how can the filmmakers make her relevant and not look corny to the locally viewers who have gotten so used to villains in Hollywood superhero movies. Creating a brand new, all-original villain for Darna on the big screen could be a last resort if ever none of the Mars Ravelo-created villains would fit in. A weak cinematic villain is a big no-no.

And then there is the challenge of dramatizing and modernizing the origin of Darna on the big screen. This can make or break the movie because emphasizing the origin requires a good amount of build-up and however the story is written (with the expected big battle near the end) the movie should have balance. It is key to entertain the viewers, to connect them with the characters and make the plot relevant to them. If there is way too much build-up (read: Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice), moviegoers will end up getting burned out and the spectacle won’t save the movie. If the film has too much social commentary, it could turn off moviegoers.

Another issue is maintaining the relevance of Darna with the Filipinos as time passes. Each year that passes, a superhero movie of Marvel or DC Comics gets released in cinemas nationwide and adding more to the relevance of the superheroes in those movies is the presence of comic books and trade paperbacks of superheroes in retailers. I’m a comic reader and no matter how hard I try, I could not even find a Darna comic book at the retailers (including the comic book specialty stores) and not even reprints of old comics are available. As for the past TV series and movies of Darna, they can be viewed on YouTube but those productions are not too appealing to me.

Merchandise of Darna and the other Mars Ravelo heroes Lastikman and Captain Barbell are not that common commercially. The Ravelos however, in partnership with ABS-CBN, sell such merchandise (under the title Ravelo Komiks Universe) online.

During my time at the recent Toycon, there was a Ravelo Komiks Universe at the main exhibition floor which showcased statues and some merchandise of Darna, Captain Barbel and Lastikman. There were even hired models portraying the Ravelo superheroes in full costume.

One last issue to discuss here is movie competition. Hollywood superhero movies pretty much made tremendous commercial, and even social, impact here in the Philippines since the year 2000 when X-Men proved that superhero films can be taken seriously and be enjoyed for what they are. There is no denying that Marvel and DC Comics movies are major moneymakers among Filipinos. Wonder Woman grossed over P520 million nationwide in 2017. The disappointing X-Men: Apocalypse made over P400 million in 2016. Iron Man 3’s gross in 2013 was over P625 million. Lastly, Avengers: Endgame made over P1.6 billion this year!

Superhero movie competition is already tough and for sure moviegoers will compare Darna to those foreign superhero flicks on every detail. As if that was not hard enough, there is also movie competition with non-superhero flicks like Jurassic World (over P500 million) and the Star Wars movies to name a few. Some comedies and romantic comedies occasionally sell a lot. There are also those computer-generated animation films as well not to mention some Filipino movies that sometimes turn into major blockbusters.

Conclusion

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I wonder if this classic Darna design will actually be used in the delayed movie. Whoever gets hired as the star should be ready to wear this swimsuit-type costume.

With these issues discussed, making a Darna movie is hard to do and selling it, if ever it gets made at all, is an even bigger challenge for Star Cinema. As a movie market, the Philippines and its moviegoers have an undeniable appetite for foreign movies and if it is spectacle they crave for, they search for it from Hollywood from the superhero movies, the sci-fi movies, the hard action films, fantasy movies, etc. Adding further to the challenge of making the Darna movie succeed is the advanced publishing of schedules of releases of future movies like Wonder Woman 1984 which will be released worldwide on the first week of June 2020.

If ever the film will be made, could Star Cinema’s Darna turn out as the complete package of really special superhero fun, engaging storytelling, memorable characters and great spectacle in the near future? Will it be released during the Metro Manila Film Festival or during the January-November period? How can Star Cinema make Darna relevant to young moviegoers, geeks and the many Filipinos who love watching Hollywood superhero movies?

The answers should unravel in the near future. There is, however, the possibility that the Darna movie would end up getting cancelled. Personally, I would not be surprised if that happens.

Don’t get me wrong. While I am not a fan of Darna, I still am interested to see a modern day film adaptation of Mars Ravelo’s superhero and hope it will happen with an engaging story, characters worth connecting with and carry lots of entertainment value. While I enjoy watching Hollywood superhero movies, I still will give the Darna movie a chance if it ever gets made as a solid film.

How about you, readers? Do you want to see a Darna film on the big screen?


Thank you for reading. If you find this article engaging, please click the like button below and also please consider sharing this article to others. Also my fantasy book The World of Havenor is still available in paperback and e-book format. If you are looking for a copywriter to create content for your special project or business, check out my services and my portfolio. Feel free to contact me as well. Also please feel free to visit my Facebook page Author Carlo Carrasco and follow me at HavenorFantasy@twitter.com

 

X-Men at Toycon 2019

During my time at the Toycon 2019 at SMX Convention Center in Pasay City this past Saturday, I checked out the X-Men stuff. I am a long-time X-Men fan and that particular franchise is my favorite among all of Marvel’s superheroes.

As before, I looked for some back issues of X-Men at one of the few comic book sellers at the convention.

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Lots of old X-Men comic books displayed for sale.
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A copy of X-Men #1 (1991) drawn by Jim Lee featuring Magneto. I did not bother to buy this one.

After carefully searching what was available and calculating with my limited budget, I bought a few copies of Uncanny X-Men drawn in the early 1990s by Whilce Portacio. I intend to have these comic books signed by him in the near future.

As I went around the floor of the main exhibition hall of the convention center, I saw several X-Men statues and action figures. The one that caught my attention was the Dark Phoenix figure.

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Too bad the filmmakers could not find a way to replicate this classic Dark Phoenix form for the big screen. 

And then I went up to the 2nd level of the convention where there was one function hall that had several displays of toys and action figures for people to look at. Of course, the X-Men were there and here are some pictures I took for your viewing pleasure.

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I like this set up showing two opposing sides. I just wished Magneto had been placed closer fronting Charles Xavier.
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The 1990s X-Men look.
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Dazzler, X-Factor, Cable and some X-Men.
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Another 1990s X-Men set.
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I like the set up here with the X-Men and a fallen Sentinel.

For more X-Men insight, check out my Logan retro movie review, my X-Men #1 (1991) retro comic book review, my X-Men: Dark Phoenix movie review, my retro movie reviews of X-Men (2000), X2: X-Men United and X-Men: The Last Stand.

Check out my first Toycon 2019 article here.


Thank you for reading. If you find this article engaging, please click the like button below and also please consider sharing this article to others. Also my fantasy book The World of Havenor is still available in paperback and e-book format. If you are looking for a copywriter to create content for your special project or business, check out my services and my portfolio. Feel free to contact me as well. Also please feel free to visit my Facebook page Author Carlo Carrasco and follow me at HavenorFantasy@twitter.com

A Look Back At X-Men: The Last Stand

X-Men: The Last Stand is better than X-Men: Dark Phoenix? What a joke driven by hatred and uncontrolled emotions of negativity towards the latter.

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Ian McKellen as Magneto.

Released in 2006, X-Men: The Last Stand was the third movie of Marvel’s mutants which made $459,359,555 worldwide establishing new box office records at the time including the Memorial Day weekend opening and a single-day record for Friday openings. It was also the highest grossing X-Men movie until X-Men: Days of Future Past exceeded it in 2014.

While the first two flicks were directed by Bryan Singer (who literally abandoned this movie in favor of the big letdown Superman: Returns), this one was done by Brett Ratner who is best known for Rush Hour films. For the superhero concept of the film, Ratner clearly depended on the script by Simon Kinberg (who directed X-Men: Dark Phoenix) and Zak Pen (X2: X-Men United).

The story begins some time in the past with Charles Xavier and Magneto visiting the house of a little girl named Jean Grey whose power of telepathy and telekinesis make her dangerous. Her own father thinks she has an illness. In another scene, a young boy desperately tries shaving off something on his back which turned out to be a mutation. To put it short, the prologue establishes the two concepts this movie tried to emphasize – the Dark Phoenix (from the classic comic book storyline by Chris Claremont and John Byrne) and the Mutant Cure (in reference to one particular episode of the 1990s X-Men animated series).

The result? A rather unfocused narrative that bogged the movie throughout. In the present day, Charles Xavier and the X-Men are no longer hiding from the federal government (which in turn has Hank McCoy/Beast as part of the US President’s cabinet). A cure that can neutralize the mutant gene has been revealed and eventually Jean Grey suddenly returns back to life in front of Scott Summers/Cyclops. Then trouble in the story (and for this film in particular) sets in.

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Dark Phoenix and Professor X.

On storytelling, the lack of focus on a central concept really dragged this movie down even though the filmmakers made attempts to link them together. This is a very unfaithful adaptation of the Dark Phoenix Saga – instead of showing the Phoenix Force as a cosmic entity the filmmakers used the dual-personality concept in Jean Grey. There are no alien civilizations (read: no Lilandra) involved nor anything related to outer space (a key element in the comic book storyline). With regards to the cure concept, Rogue in this film makes a move to be cured loosely following what was shown in the animated series.

Having these two concepts connect to each other showed Magneto getting motivated to rally the mutants to oppose the humans. Jean Grey meanwhile gets controlled by the Phoenix personality and gets very destructive with power which makes her an asset to Magneto and his brotherhood of evil mutants.

As the filmmakers struggled to tell the story, the social relevance and symbolism emphasized in the first two films got weakened. The core concept of mutants getting isolated and discriminated by humanity simply because they are so different became much less relevant here.

As if that was not bad enough, the characterization also changed for the worse. Magneto here became one-dimensional as a villain and the way he reacted to Charles Xavier’s destruction in front of him and Jean Grey reflected bad screen writing. Any true X-Men fan would know that even though he and Xavier were adversaries with a past friendship, Magneto should have been outraged over his old rival’s destruction and strike at Jean Grey (even if it is suicidal for him to fight a more powerful entity, the Phoenix).

For his part, Charles Xavier turned out to be a manipulator of Jean Grey’s mind making him look as evil and manipulative as Magneto. Jean Grey, despite actress Famke Jansen getting more screen time than before, ended up as a visual tool and was clearly NOT the central figure of the story rather she ended up being a tool of power by Magneto. By today’s standards, Jansen’s portrayal of Jean Grey/Dark Phoenix pales in comparison with Sophie Turner’s performance in X-Men: Dark Phoenix.

More on characterization, the triangle between Iceman, Rogue and Kitty Pryde was executed with no real depth and only served to show Anna Paquin’s character search for the means to be normal (because Rogue absorbs the power and life of people she touches) which ended up being not so meaningful for viewing. Young adult Angel’s (one of the original X-Men in the comics) minutes-long presence in the movie only served to showcase special effects. Storm’s prospect of succeeding Xavier as leader of the X-Men and the school was sloppily done. Oh yes, the showing of multiple mutants (in supporting roles, non-speaking roles or as mere background characters) that weakened the narrative of the first two films was even worse here. As a result, there’s quite a lot of fan service in this movie.

Going back to storytelling, I should say that the early demise of Cyclops (played by James Marsden for too little screen time due to his work with Bryan Singer on Superman Returns) and Charles Xavier were attempts by the filmmakers to raise the stakes and even shock viewers. The problem is that the third act of the film became more of an action and CGI bonanza ultimately failing to justify the loss of Cyclops and Xavier. The story ended with not much impact on me as a viewer and the late scenes showing Magneto recovering a little of his power (plus the post-credit scene about Xavier’s survival) were unsatisfactory. By comparison, X-Men: Dark Phoenix concluded with satisfaction.

Performances? The actors did what they could with the weak screenplay. Patrick Stewart played Charles Xavier managing his school but gets burdened heavily as Jean Grey returns with the Phoenix in her (which makes Xavier feeling guilty over his past manipulation of Jean’s mind). Ian McKellen played a one-dimensional Magneto (forget about the reasonable fighter for mutants you saw in the first two films) and really had little room to flesh him out. Clearly this version of Magneto, even though he has a lot of screen time here, is rubbish when compared to the cinematic Magneto in X-Men: Dark Phoenix.

Hugh Jackman as Wolverine is clearly the hero of this movie and was given a lot to do showing a deeply concerned Wolverine as well as showing him with lots of action on-screen. His emotional reaction towards Jean Grey near the end of the movie was believable. Halle Berry meanwhile failed yet again to capture the leader in Storm from the comic books.

Another thing to mention regarding the weak script is the lame attempt at humor in the film. Just look at the exchanges of words between Wolverine and Beast which only made me frown instead of laughing.

Exchange 1

Dr. Hank McCoy: Wolverine. I hear you are quite an animal.

Logan: Look who’s talkin’.

Exchange 2

Logan: Well, for all we know, the government helped cook this up.

Dr. Hank McCoy: I can assure you, the government had nothing to do with this.

Logan: I’ve heard that before.

Dr. Hank McCoy: My boy, I have been fighting for mutant rights since before you had claws.

Logan: [to the Professor] Did he just call me boy?

If there is anything positive at all with this movie, it is the spectacle (action, stunts and special effects). If you want to watch an X-Men movie without thinking too much and just enjoy the spectacle, The Last Stand is heavily loaded! The scope of destruction (including the major showcase of Magneto’s power with the Golden Gate Bridge) is also great and helped this weak movie look epic (even more epic than the better film X-Men: Dark Phoenix). There is also a big battle of multiple members of Magneto’s brotherhood attacking the soldiers at the Alcatraz facility. Action is where director Brett Ratner is good at and it temporarily helped this film feel fun to watch. The visual design and special effects are of good quality as well.

 

One last positive thing to mention here is the casting of Kelsey Grammer as Hank McCoy/Beast and his performance was, indeed, superb. I really saw the scientist, the intellect and the fighter of Beast from the comics translated nicely in cinematic form.

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A striking shot as a result of Magneto’s power.

By today’s standards of superhero movies, X-Men: The Last Stand unsurprisingly went from big-budget disappointment to what is now an overall bad movie that just happens to have some fun action sequences. As far as adapting the Dark Phoenix Saga from the comics, this film is definitely inferior to X-Men: Dark Phoenix. X-Men: The Stand does look good when compared to the terrible X-Men Origins: Wolverine.

If you are a true fan of the X-Men or if you are moviegoer who wants the best superhero cinematic experience, I won’t recommend watching X-Men: The Last Stand.

But then if you are a moviegoer who cannot do anything except hate and uncontrollably bash the new movie X-Men: Dark Phoenix, then maybe The Last Stand will be your bout of fun.


Thank you for reading. If you find this article engaging, please click the like button below and also please consider sharing this article to others. Also my fantasy book The World of Havenor is still available in paperback and e-book format. If you are looking for a copywriter to create content for your special project or business, check out my services and my portfolio. Feel free to contact me as well. Also please feel free to visit my Facebook page Author Carlo Carrasco and follow me at HavenorFantasy@twitter.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Carlo Carrasco’s Movie Review: X-Men: Dark Phoenix

I’ll get straight to the point here. X-Men: Dark Phoenix (or Dark Phoenix in North America) is a better superhero film than I expected (and at the same time I never expected a faithful adaptation of the classic comic book storyline the Dark Phoenix Saga by Chris Claremont and John Byrne) and Simon Kinberg‘s feature film directorial debut turned out to be a surprisingly solid effort. I really enjoyed this.

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X-Men: Dark Phoenix is the 2nd attempt by 20th Century Fox to adapt the Dark Phoenix saga for the big screen and I can say it is a brave effort. While it never attempted to fully and faithfully adapt all the elements of the classic storyline (note: that would require hundreds of millions of dollars more budget, more production time and at least two whole films to produce), the new movie is absolutely a better adaptation than X-Men: The Last Stand (which is an even worse movie by today’s standards).

As far as the current X-Men Cinematic Universe (starting with 2011’s X-Men: First Class), Dark Phoenix is very character-driven even though it has a huge cast. There was tremendous pressure behind the scenes on the part of Sophie Turner to portray Jean Grey struggling with her added powers and the good news is that she delivered very nicely! This new movie is clearly focused on Jean Grey whose emotions, struggles and acts of power are magnificently pulled off by Turner each time the screenplay requires her to act.

Turner is clearly more comfortable with playing as Jean Grey and it seems she paid close attention to the Dark Phoenix comics. Unlike Famke Jansen’s Jean Grey/Dark Phoenix in X-Men: The Last Stand, Turner cinematic act is more believable, more emotional and even more terrifying. There were moments to feel sorry for Jean Grey as her life turns upside-down plus there were times that she would be better off going far away into the deep void of the galaxy so that nobody else would get harmed by her. If you pay very close attention to Turner’s act, you will feel varied emotions along the way.

Turner is not the only standout. Nicholas Hoult, James McAvoy and Tye Sheridan each played their respective roles (Beast, Charles Xavier and Cyclops) with more heart, more drama and more intensity. Through Hoult and McAvoy, you will relate more with them as the film makes gentle connections back to X-Men: First Class (why the time was formed, who was supposed to remain or go away, etc.). The conflict between Beast and Xavier that happened later (combined with the revelations from the past) dramatically blurs away the boundary that separates good and evil. As for Tye Sheridan, I see a lot more of the literary Cyclops in him this time and thanks to the script, he exceeds James Marsden’s Cyclops by a hundred a miles. Sheridan and Turner also have better on-screen chemistry as Cyclops and Jean Grey.

James McAvoy’s Xavier deserves everyone’s attention. He not only looks and feels like his comic book counterpart, he also clearly displayed how much the character has matured. McAvoy also successfully captured the on-screen aura of authority Patrick Stewart had in the first X-Men movies.

Michael Fassbender’s Magneto appears rather late into the film but that does not make him any less significant. As before, Fassbender is intense with playing his character and, more importantly, he contributed nicely into the story. Jennifer Lawrence portrayal of Mystique is the shortest one yet but before leaving the film, she delivered some nice lines (with some reconnecting to X-Men: First Class) and acted nicely. Fans of Nightcrawler and Storm will be happy to know that their roles become more significant in the late stage of the film. Lastly, Jessica Chastain‘s addition as Vuk was a nice addition. While others put her down as one-dimensional, which is true, it does not detract from the film at all. Even with lacking variety of character, Vuk still makes a strong villainess and she really acts alien. Vuk would stop at nothing to achieve her goals.

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This is one of many great looking visual effects of the Cerebro scenes.

When it comes to storytelling, this movie did not try to make an in-depth adaptation of all the elements of the Dark Phoenix Saga of comics. Instead, the filmmakers adapted a few elements of the literary classic (and even a few selected elements from X-Men: The Last Stand), focused on the present day X-Men (story is set in 1992), looked back occasionally at X-Men: First Class and made the most with what they have.

The result is a cinematic story about the X-Men now publicly recognized as legitimate mutants (and youths) with Charles Xavier having fully established a direct link with the President of the United States. After the rescue mission in space involving the solar flare, a race of shape-shifting aliens arrive on Earth with a secret agenda of their own. As mentioned earlier, Simon Kinberg surprised me with his directing. The storytelling, even with the slowest moments played, never felt dragging to me at all. The pace, in my experience, was between medium to fast. As this movie was written by Kinberg, Dark Phoenix is clearly his vision for the X-Men Cinematic Universe and he stamped his mark on it despite the fact that reshoots and story revising had to be done. If you are looking for humor, you really won’t find much as the story’s tone is intensely dramatic.

You want fun? X-Men: Dark Phoenix delivered solidly! This movie has more than enough spectacular content (action scenes, stunts, visual effects, etc.) that any moviegoer can enjoy! Very clearly the filmmakers consciously worked hard to deliver entertaining stuff to bounce back from the heavy drama. There was a lot of physical damage caused by Phoenix in her conflict with her teammates which is a solid start of her causing trouble to others. Cyclops, Storm, Nightcrawler, Xavier, Beast and Magneto used their respective abilities VERY EXTENSIVELY combined with high-octane stunt coordination which results several minutes of on-screen fun leading into the finale! The spectacle of X-Men: Dark Phoenix, which was extensively done with a blistering pace, easily exceeds what was showcased in First Class, Apocalypse and even that of Days of Future Past!

As for those blink-and-you-will-miss-it visual moments, there were times that images shown on the big screen reminded me of Jim Lee’s X-Men. I won’t point out where they are or when they will come out but anyone who extensively read the X-Men comic books drawn by Jim Lee (who co-founded Image Comics and now works as DC Comics’ co-Publisher) will spot the technical fan service.

Last but not least is the music provided by the great Hans Zimmer and this film marks his return to the superhero movie genre. While the music he and his team provided here is nowhere as energetic nor as intense as that of Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, the music is still steps above that of X-Men: Apocalypse, X-Men: The Last Stand and even the popular X2: X-Men United. The highlight of Zimmer’s music is the tune played during the moments when Jean Grey’s tremendous power as Dark Phoenix was realized in that day-time encounter with the X-Men. That particular music really emphasized the danger she poses to others.

There were some issues about the movie that might be problematic or annoying to moviegoers, particularly superhero movie fans. For one thing, Simon Kinberg re-used certain elements from X-Men: The Last Stand for this new movie and that includes Jean Grey having a childhood problem and Charles Xavier getting involved to solve it only to be blamed for it many years later. There were even a few lines from the 2006 movie repeated.

Also questionable was the lack of an explanation regarding Jean Grey’s Phoenix Power in this film and the one we saw in X-Men: Apocalypse. If what she unleashed in the final battle with Apocalypse was not the Phoenix force, then that’s a major blunder by the creators in relation to this movie. Perhaps an extended cut of X-Men: Dark Phoenix will solve that.

Lastly there was the use of shaky camera photography during some moments with the action sequences. While they were temporary, they prevented the film’s strong spectacle from achieving perfection.

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Overall, X-Men: Dark Phoenix is a thrilling, heavily dramatic and very solid superhero movie worthy of being the conclusion of the X-Men Cinematic Universe that 20th Century Fox first launched in 2000. From this point on, there is no guarantee we will see McAvoy and the gang return as the cinematic X-Men now that 20th Century Fox is fully controlled by the Walt Disney Company through Marvel Studios. X-Men: Dark Phoenix is not perfect but it strongly resonates with me as I am a long-time X-Men comic book reader. While others out there would bash this movie for not having the common elements of Marvel Cinematic Universe films, X-Men: DP has its own flavor and the filmmakers utilized what they had established in the X-Men Cinematic Universe since 2011. The reported reshoots may have prevented Kinberg and team from fully realizing their original vision of the Dark Phoenix story but still they succeeded in making a better Dark Phoenix adaptation captured on film.

If Marvel Studios would launch the X-Men through the Marvel Cinematic Universe and attempt a new and more ambitious Dark Phoenix adaptation of their own, it will take much longer and will cost them more time and money to do so. That’s something we may not see in the next decade. All the more reason to enjoy X-Men: Dark Phoenix now.

X-Men: Dark Phoenix is highly recommended.


Thank you for reading. If you find this article engaging, please click the like button below and also please consider sharing this article to others. Also my fantasy book The World of Havenor is still available in paperback and e-book format. If you are looking for a copywriter to create content for your special project or business, check out my services and my portfolio. Feel free to contact me as well. Also please feel free to visit my Facebook page Author Carlo Carrasco and follow me at HavenorFantasy@twitter.com

For more X-Men insight, check out my retro comic book review of X-Men #1 of 1991, my retro movie review of 2000’s X-Men, my retro review of X2: X-Men United and my review of Logan.

 

 

A Look Back At X2: X-Men United

While I barely enjoyed the original X-Men movie back in 2000, I still had hope that its sequel would be better, more engaging and more entertaining. That hope of mine was realized on April 30, 2003 when I saw X2: X-Men United (or X-Men 2 in some countries around the world) in a cinema here in the Philippines.

Commercially X2 grossed $407,711,549 worldwide and that is 37.58% more than what its predecessor made. It also gathered several positive reviews from movie critics back then and its overall success proved that there was indeed more room for artistic and commercial growth for further superhero movies. I remember leaving the cinema happy and satisfied, looking forward to more X-Men films.

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Kelly Hu’s screen time as Lady Deathstrike was short but she really stood out in her fight with Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine.

 So how did it all come to such an outcome in 2003? In my honest opinion, director Bryan Singer and his creative team learned from their shortcomings in the previous movie, create an engaging story without necessarily faithfully adapting elements of the graphic novel X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills (a rather unholy story) and ramp up the enjoyment factor.

The story opens with Nightcrawler cleverly breaking through the security in the White House in an attempt to attack the President of the United States. That opening clearly showed how clever and creative the filmmakers got to not only deliver the thrills but also emphasize visually the gap between humans and mutants. To put it short, that opening sequence is still awesome to watch.

Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) returns to the mansion and tells Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) he found nothing in Canada. Wolverine wanted to know more about his unknown past but Xavier refuses to help him even though he set the deadly loner on a path.

In Washington D.C., military scientist William Stryker meets with the President (along with a fake Senator Robert Kelly who is actually Mystique in disguise) and gets authority to launch a secret operation on the mutants. Along the way, Mystique learns about the location of not only the plastic prison containing Magneto but also that of a secret base. The secret attack on Xavier’s mansion and the escape of Magneto then sets of the crucial events for the rest of the movie.

X2 can be described as a film laced with lots of improvements over its predecessor technically and creatively. I see more of the literary Wolverine in Hugh Jackman this time around while Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen showed even more traits of the literary versions of Charles Xavier and Magneto respectively. Anna Paquin showed more confidence in playing Rogue while Halle Berry and Famke Jansen showed similar results with their characters. Allan Cumming and Brian Cox are solid additions as Nightcrawler and Stryker (who is not a military scientist in the present day of the graphic novel) and they mixed well with the returning cast members.

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Mystique and the soldiers.

Like its predecessor, symbolism was used to emphasize the gap between humans and mutants on the big screen. The scene wherein Bobby Drake/Iceman showed to his parents his uncanny ability to freeze emphasizes his reluctance to show the truth about himself…something that could potentially break the family. William Stryker, meanwhile, keeps mutants company for as long as he has control over them and combined with the fact that he bore a hatred for mutants (note: something unfortunate happened to his family), he can be compared to a slave owner from centuries ago.

When it comes to spectacle, X2 is definitely more thrilling and more action-packed. The filmmakers knew how to balance the screenplay’s exposition and dramatization with action when it is needed on the right time. The standout action sequence is undoubtedly the fight between Wolverine and Lady Deathstrike (played by Kelly Hu).

The script is stronger this time. With key members of the X-Men separated during the first half of the film, character development sets in nicely. The link between Wolverine and Jean Grey got emphasized somewhat while Cyclops is away. Also Magneto delivered the film’s most memorable line: You should have killed me when you had the chance!!! That line is a nice throwback to the past friendship between Xavier and Magneto.

Like the 2000 movie, liberties from comics were implemented for “cinematic presentation.” Anyone who read Wolverine’s origin with Weapon X can tell that William Stryker was never part of it. As for adapting the 1982 graphic novel, this film is clearly unfaithful and the filmmakers decided to take the easy route on selecting certain elements to make a screenplay that can be deemed bankable by the movie studio.

Unsurprisingly there are flaws here and there. Freezing people’s movements done by Xavier is unbelievable. As a telepath he can read people’s minds, manipulate their perception, make himself invisible to others by warping their perception and even reprogram minds but freezing people is not one of those abilities. Also considering Xavier’s persistent use of his telepathy, he failed to detect before entering the plastic prison (to meet Magneto) that a trap was set up for them.

As for Jean Grey’s heroic sacrifice near the end of the film, that one took me out of the movie. She left the jet without anyone noticing, stands in front then uses her power to prevent the rushing water from touching them while slowly lifting the jet (which for some reason could not operate properly) to let X-Men survive. It sure is dramatic and it is one of Famke Jansen’s most notable moments in cinema (apart from her erotic acts in GoldenEye) but it goes against what X-Men fans know. Any X-Men fan can tell that Iceman could have used his power to freeze the water and Storm could have manipulated the weather to help out. Heck, Cyclops could have gone out and launch a massive optic blast at the water.

Another obvious flaw is the large cast of characters which prevented the film from further implementing anymore character development. The love triangle aspect continued from the previous movie barely moved forward as James Marsden’s Cyclops (a leader in the comics) was literally set aside. Kitty Pryde/Shadowcat in this movie was only used to emphasize a seconds-long chase and show off the filmmakers’ visual effects.

By today’s standards, X2: X-Men United is no longer the great superhero film it was in twenty-o-three. It is, overall, a good movie and clearly it is a major improvement over its predecessor. The many improvements on the overall quality, engagement and fun factor of X2 made 2000’s X-Men look more like a dress rehearsal.


Thank you for reading. If you find this article engaging, please click the like button below and also please consider sharing this article to others. Also my fantasy book The World of Havenor is still available in paperback and e-book format. If you are looking for a copywriter to create content for your special project or business, check out my services and my portfolio. Feel free to contact me as well. Also please feel free to visit my Facebook page Author Carlo Carrasco and follow me at HavenorFantasy@twitter.com

For more X-Men insight, check out my latest article about X-Men: Dark Phoenix and my review of Logan.

A Look Back At X-Men #1 (1991)

When I was in high school, Marvel Comics launched the comic book X-Men #1 (Volume 2, 1991) which sold an estimated eight million copies worldwide. The times back then were very exciting as the comic book had great art by Jim Lee (inked by Scott Williams and colored by Joe Rosas) combined with the writing of Chris Claremont.

For this retro review, I have the gatefold cover edition of X-Men #1 which has the complete set of covers and a cover price of $3.95. The comic book used high-quality paper (or glossy paper) for its content. To put things in perspective, X-Men #1 was released with multiple editions. The comic books carrying cover prices of $1.50 had individual covers and lower quality paper.

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The front cover.
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The back cover.

So what was X-Men #1 all about? Was it deserving of the tremendous sales success it achieved for Marvel? Did the combined talents of Claremont and Lee create something super special?

To begin with, X-Men #1 marked the beginning of a new chapter of the X-Men. In the events that happened prior to this comic book, the X-Men founder Charles Xavier had been away for many years and along the way the team went through several changes with its members. At one point, the classic villain Magneto even became the head of the X-Men. The pioneering X-Men members of Jean Grey, Cyclops, Iceman and Beast meanwhile found their temporary place outside by forming X-Factor. Eventually the Muir Island saga which incidentally reunited Xavier with his mutants.

So in this comic book, the X-Men got reformed and Xavier returned to his mansion for the first time in many years. The stakes are much higher this time because Xavier needs to adjust to the dynamics of the X-Men whose membership has grown so much two teams (Gold and Blue) had to be used. As if that was not challenging enough, the world, as Xavier noticed, is more hostile towards mutants than ever before.

In out space, two groups of people engaged in a spaceships chase which triggered Magneto (now living in a new headquarters orbiting Earth) to take action. He tells them he is no longer interested in their cause and simply wanted to be left alone.

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Magneto’s presence and energy signature alerts authorities on Earth.
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Charles Xavier shares to Jean Grey his observations as he tries to adjust with his return to his mansion. He was away for so many years and so was Jean Grey and her pioneering teammates.

Because he made his presence felt (his energy signature was detected and so was his floating headquarters), authorities on Earth had no choice but to launch the first stage of the Magneto Protocols.

In Washington DC, Col. Nick Fury meets with the President of the United States who expressed his concern about the incident in outer space which involved American shuttles that got destroyed.

US President: It’s my understanding, in fact, that the terrorists who hijacked our vehicle look to him (Magneto) as their inspiration. Suppose he makes their cause his own?

Nick Fury: If the Soviets act like hotheads, Mister President, they could make things worse.

US President: You have an alternative?

Meanwhile at the Xavier mansion, the X-Men participate in an training session with Cyclops (blue team leader) and Storm (gold team leader) watching and coordinating from the control room. Charles Xavier, who is still adjusting upon returning, closely watches the large team.

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Sarcasm by Cyclops annoyed Xavier who preferred him to keep focus on the exercise.

Of course, with the team so large, conflicting personalities and problems with bonding with each other was inevitable. Clearly the newly revamped X-Men had a long way to go before achieving true solidarity.

And then Nick Fury contacted the X-Men with the Magneto situation…

For a comic book released in 1991, this one was quite a grand product. Sure it did not have a gimmick cover of foil nor hologram nor chromium but having a gatefold cover with art of the X-Men and Magneto drawn by the great Jim Lee was itself a big luxury at the time.

Very clearly, Jim Lee and Scott Williams did their best ensuring great art for the comic book. The X-Men all look very fit (as if they all regularly spent time in the gym), their redesigned costumes were meant to look cool (although the many pouches and “suspender” of Cyclops’ costume look really silly), Magneto looks ageless and the Acolytes were designed to be the new nemesis of the X-Men.

And then there was the action…..

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Action between the X-Men and Magneto.

Jim Lee has a great vision for high-octane action designed to show impact while at the same time give readers something great to look at. In my view, Lee was influenced by action movies and he developed ways to not only make comic book action flow nicely but also deliver impact.

This comic book has a lot of action and Jim Lee cleverly visualized the capabilities of the X-Men with striking visuals. The way Wolverine looked striking at an enemy was pretty intense. Cyclops’ use of his Optic Blast to separate Magneto from Wolverine showed a lot of power. Psylocke’s physical strike against Magneto reminds me hard action scenes from Hollywood flicks.

With regards to the writing, Chris Claremont managed to redefine the X-Men for the new age while at the same time did his best to balance the story, establish the threat and build up the tension for the inevitable conflict with Magneto. In this particular comic book, it is the blue team taking on the classic villain.

Apart from the main story, X-Men #1 also came with extra stuff like behind-the-scenes sketches by Jim Lee, a preview of things to come (notably the post-Claremont concepts), a 2-page image of the X-Men enjoying the pool side of the mansion, and a villains gallery! All these extras were drawn by Jim Lee!

Overall, X-Men #1 is still a compelling comic book to read even by today’s standards. The comic book speculator boom has long been over but if you are looking for the modernizing of the X-Men for the 1990s, this one really is a milestone. Clearly, X-Men #1 was made to start the new age of the mutants with the 1990s in mind while at the same time it took the bold move of gathering Xavier and the pioneering X-Men members and putting them back into Xavier’s mansion forming a much larger team than ever. This move of mixing classic X-Men members with newer ones resulted a nice variety of personalities.

When it comes to getting this for your collection focused on Marvel’s mutants, X-Men #1 is highly recommended. Remember, you should look at this comic book as a piece of X-Men history and don’t focus on making a profit with it. Just enjoy it for what it is.

By the way, X-Men: Dark Phoenix is opening very soon in cinemas. You bought a ticket already?


Thank you for reading. If you find this article engaging, please click the like button below and also please consider sharing this article to others. Also my fantasy book The World of Havenor is still available in paperback and e-book format. If you are looking for a copywriter to create content for your special project or business, check out my services and my portfolio. Feel free to contact me as well. Also please feel free to visit my Facebook page Author Carlo Carrasco and follow me at HavenorFantasy@twitter.com