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Or 10 reasons why Fox shouldn’t be allowed to make comic-book movies any more

X-Men 1

It should come as no surprise to you that the Hollywood movie industry is all about money. I’ll let that settle in for a moment and give you time to pick up your jaws off the floor and catch your breath. Money makes the world go round and right now comic book movies are seemingly in season. However, comic book movies are approached and handled in different ways by different studios. When comic book movies were starting to build momentum, Marvel sold their licenses to some of the big studios in town and then those studios went and made their own movies. This particular article is levelled at Fox studios and their apparent disinterest at being faithful to the stories that they’ve bought.

Fox have ownership of the X-Men and Fantastic Four franchises, two of Marvel’s biggest series with the widest scope. X-Men is arguably just as wide spanning as The Avengers universe, so it’s a real shame that it belongs to a studio that seem to be indifferent towards it. Since Marvel were bought by Disney, they’ve upped their game considerably, choosing to build a cohesive comic book movie universe that, despite other studios believing such a thing was too risky a gamble, ended up paying off extremely well and becoming one of the most lucrative new ventures in the industry.

Now, understandably, the other studios, with their small fragments of Marvel, want to get a piece of that multi-billion dollar pie. So they have endeavoured to rapidly expand upon their slices and try and build cohesive universes from their fragments. The problem with that is that both Fox and Sony, with their respective Marvel properties, did not build their franchises with longevity in mind. Not at all.

Sony went some way to fixing this by completely rebooting their Spiderman franchise after the much maligned Spiderman 3. The new series commenced with The Amazing Spiderman last year, which left fans with mixed feelings. However, for those that have been following The Amazing Spiderman 2‘s production, it’s clear that Sony are ramping up the heat on their Spiderman-focused mini universe considerably by bringing a lot of characters into the fray; even setting the stage for a Sinister Six appearance in a third film and a Venom spin-off feature. Needless to say, Sony are trying to make up for lost time and really break open the core of the Spiderman universe and present it on-screen. In this writer’s opinion it’s a damn shame that they’re choosing to draw most of their inspiration from the “grittier”  and angst-riddled Ultimate comic book arcs rather than the classic stories from which this new film series derives its namesake – but that’s another article for another day.

So, how are Fox choosing to adapt to this new challenge? Well, first of all they made X-Men: First Class in 2011, which was actually a great film from a standalone perspective. However, when considered as part of a long-running narrative it was a massive “I don’t fucking know” film, due to the fact that it couldn’t seem to decide whether it was a prequel or a reboot (embracing elements of both). Narratively, it’s nonsensical, despite the general high quality of the actual film, due in no small part to the excellent work behind the camera from director Matthew Vaughn.

X-Men 1 Film Image

That’s all well and good, but now Fox have five X-Men films: one good, two great, and two abhorrent abominations; affronts to the medium of film and comics. For those of you that have endured all of the different films in this franchise, it shouldn’t be too hard to figure out which is which.Needless to say, the original movies failed to create a cohesive story across three films, let alone forming a massive universe that will give plenty of opportunities to expand on all of the characters. So, how is Fox planning on fixing this?

Later this year we will see the release of The Wolverine, Fox’s second stab (ha!) at the Wolverine origin story; this time actually heading to Japan and at least incorporating some of his actual origin…except it’s set AFTER the third X-Men film. What? How?

Believe it or not, Fox aren’t banking on The Wolverine to save their overarching narrative, and apparently hasn’t even factored into their conversations on how to form the new cohesive universe with recently hired creative director Mark Millar (sigh.). No, instead that task falls to returning director with his X-Men: Days Of Future Past film, due for release in summer 2014.

For those of you who don’t know, Days Of Future Past is one of the most iconic X-Men story arcs ever, involving an assassination of a prominent US Senator (who Magneto actually kills in the first X-Men film, fact fans) that devolves into the government turning to Bolivar Trask, a man who has a very personal vendetta and hatred of mutants. He creates a robot legion called Sentinels – towering in height and very powerful – that are designed with the sole objective of hunting, capturing and killing mutants. What ensues is a mass extermination that involves a mutant called Bishop travelling back in time to try and eliminate the Sentinel threat. Think Terminator, but with the backdrop of X-Men. It’s a fantastic and powerful story, with almost unlimited cinematic potential. Singer was the one to set up the X-Men franchise and delivered us one of the best comic book movies of all time in X-Men 2, so why am I not thrilled at this?

X-Men Origins Wolverine

For one thing, Days Of Future Past is currently in production and Singer has been taking to his personal Twitter account to continuously tease new information and keep fans enthusiastic. Unfortunately, it’s had the adverse effect for many hardcore fans who think that he may be overcompensating. Days Of Future Past is set to not only include the entire cast from the original trilogy of films, but it will also include their younger counterparts from the First Class era AND a whole host of new characters. There are even rumours that we’ll see Apocalypse - one of the most ruthless and powerful enemies in the entire Marvel universe - make an appearance. No matter what way you slice it, it’s far too much for one film and Singer has said on numerous occasions that Days Of Future Past is a sequel to both First Class AND the third X-Men film – a time travel film that is aimed at wiping out inconsistencies between all the films AND setting up a universe in which the X- Men can coexist with the Fantastic Four (reboot comes out in 2015). Take a deep breath. I don’t care who you are, that is not an easy task. What’s more, Fox are using Days Of Future Past as a way to try and attack Marvel in a very childish and petty way (more on that in another article coming soon).

One would hope that the goal would be to tell a classic story from the comics in a great fashion, but so far all they seem interested in is cramming as many characters as possible into the one film so that they can claim it’s all one big happy universe, when really, realistically, what Fox should be doing is starting completely fresh.

X-Men Sentinels!

It’s unfortunate to say because some parts of the franchise are absolutely perfect. Sir Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart, for example, are undeniably flawless as Magneto and Professor X, and their younger counterparts in Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy are equally outstanding. It would be almost impossible to recast them, but in a film franchise like the one that currently exists, I’m very sad to say that they are being squandered. Here is a list of the ten worst mistakes (divided into five of the most mishandled characters and five of the most botched elements) in the X-Men movie franchise thus far and why they should just start again, or even better, give the licence back to Marvel.

1. Sabretooth

Sabretooth (real name: Victor Creed) is one of the X-Men’s most enduring and interesting villains. A fellow test subject of the Weapon X program that created Wolverine – due to their remarkable healing powers – and much like Wolverine he’s almost impossible to kill; and even when he is decapitated in the comics with a magic sword he goes to hell and defeats Satan, before being resurrected. For lack of a better phrase, Victor Creed does not fuck around.

In the first X-Men film, we meet Sabretooth relatively early on as a henchman of Magneto. He arrives out of nowhere and gives Wolverine a beating, before subsequently being blasted off screen by the arrival of Cyclops and Storm. While the film, for the most part, nails the comic book look of Sabretooth, it doesn’t even come close to preserving the character.

For one thing, Wolverine and Sabretooth are inextricably linked. They’re two sides of the same coin (in the comics they’re actually half brothers) and whereas Wolverine struggles to suppress his more animalistic nature, Sabretooth embraces it tenfold. He’s a vicious, snarling, feral creature that has no qualms with killing for purpose or pleasure. Sabretooth isn’t really the type of character who would willingly work under anyone as their lapdog – even a mutant as powerful and commanding as Magneto.

Sadly, Creed is reduced to the role of a puppy dog who completely obeys his master, something the original character would never even consider doing. What’s more, Sabretooth’s actual powers – i.e. his healing factor – aren’t even present here. Instead we see a reaction of genuine surprise when Wolverine fully recovers from his wounds, which is just resoundingly stupid. This is all capped off when Creed is unceremoniously killed in a pathetic fashion. During a fight atop the Statue Of Liberty, which makes up the climax of the film, Wolverine stabs our villain and then throws him off the famous landmark, causing him to plummet to the ground and crash through a boat – killing him instantly. One of the most personal vendettas of all in X-Men, involving two indestructible feral mutants, is ended in such an anti-climatic way that it beggars belief.

Sabretooth is a yin-yang character; the crux of his character and its popularity is the living dichotomy he shares with Wolverine. There is literally no point in including the character if you aren’t going to explore his relationship with Wolverine, yet in the film they don’t know each other from Adam; they might as well have just put any old person in a suit and made them hairy, rather than claim to use one of X-Men’s most iconic villains.

Wolverine & Sabretooth

Saying all of that though, when we fast forward nine years in real life to 2009′s X-Men Origins: Wolverine, we are faced with a VERY different version of Sabretooth. Before I go any further, let’s just get this out of the way: Wolverine was a terrible, terrible movie; an absolute abhorrent abomination – so bad, in fact, that Hugh Jackman and the production want to pretend that film was never even made.

However, the one thing that we can commend this heavily flawed origin story on is its portrayal of Sabretooth, who, despite looking nothing like the character from the comics, is actually played competently by Liev Schreiber, who manages to capture what makes the character so special. He’s malicious; he’s evil; he’s menacing. His bloodthirsty nature just oozes out of every pore and Schreiber commands the screen whenever he is present, which is great – it’s just a shame that for a prequel it doesn’t align with what we’ve seen thus far at all.

For one thing, it establishes the strong link between the characters (as well as their familial relation) very early on. Then we watch them run away together and fight in all of the famous wars of the last one hundred years. That’s great and all, but again the Fox films have failed to understand the very nature of their powers. The general rule for the Fox films seems to be that visual overrides actual substance and purpose on the most fundamental level, and this is apparent when Fox decide to interpret that “advanced healing” and subsequently slow ageing means that they rapidly age to their mid thirties and then just stopping dead still – not growing  a day older in over a hundred years. You can’t say that their powers just developed late because we see Wolverine as a very young boy brandishing bone claws in the opening scene of the film (sigh).

So, we have Schrieber with bum fluff and a trenchcoat playing an accurate character with the correct powers, but not looking entirely convincing and not echoing the design of the character. Can we only have one or the other? What’s more, if this is the prequel, why when these characters meet years later does Sabretooth not recognize his own half brother that he has an endless blood feud with? Why does he look completely different? Why did he lose his powers? This is a massive and frankly inexcusable consistency error because it concerns one of the most personal and interesting villain conflicts the X- Men universe has to offer. Unacceptable.

2. Storm

Another major character mistake. Storm is the second in command of the X-Men attack force and has the ability to control the weather and manipulate it in a number of devastating ways. She is incredibly strong willed and in touch with nature on a very spiritual and existential level. She is the matriarchal figure for the X-Men team.

While she was born in America, her roots are very much in Africa, where she was a Queen consort to Wakanda – a position previously vacated by King T’Challa, better known to many as the Black Panther. Unfortunately, the film version of the character, played by Halle Berry, acted like she’d never been outside of Queens. There were a lot of attempts to make Storm seem motherly and spiritual in the film series, but unfortunately they were unconvincing, due in pat to the poor scripting and the weak performance of Berry.

Berry is by no means a weak actress overall, but she has proved that she just can’t play comic book characters (Catwoman, anyone?). Storm has a much stronger voice and nature, and she would never utter worthless lines like her infamous quote to Toad in the climatic battle of the first X-Men movie.

You see, Storm is an all encompassing metaphor for “Mother Nature”; not only with her spiritual and African-soaked roots (she descends from a long line of tribal sorcerers), but also in the role she plays within the dynamics of the group. Quite often she is the wise voice of reason and rarely allows emotions to compromise her resolve. She’s an incredibly strong female character and sadly in the films she’s portrayed more as an annoying older sister caricature, rather than a definitive matriarch of the X-Men’s world.