Comics, Film, Writing, X-Men

Shock and Awe – X2: X-MEN UNITED (2003)

With X-Men: Dark Phoenix on the horizon, a film predicted to signal the end of the original iteration of the X-Men franchise, I’ve decided to go back and revisit this highly influential collection of comic-book movies.

We continue with Bryan Singer’s sequel, 2003’s X2…

Though far more of a muscular and accomplished film than its predecessor, X2: X-Men United would never have worked without it.

X2 is in danger of being overlooked in our era of dominant comic-book movie franchises and behemoth superhero pictures as one of the key, formative pieces of cinema in the genre, something we must work hard to avoid. Bryan Singer’s sequel is a skilled piece of work which does precisely what a follow up is designed to do – build on the foundations of the previous film, add complications and greater depth, and provide a heightened, meaningful experience. X2 does that very successfully. It is The Empire Strikes Back to X-Men’s A New Hope. It even has strong shades come the denouement of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan in how it punches you with an earned sacrifice on one hand, while promising a rebirth on the other. X2 feels like a picture that everyone involved had been constructing in their minds long before it was ever committed to celluloid.

On that basis, X2 feels on some level like the first truly meaningful X-Men movie but one that needed the prologue of the original 2000 film in order to function in the manner it does. When Singer came back to helm the sequel, he combined screenplays by David Hayter—who penned the previous movie—and Zak Penn, brewed up with rewrites from Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris, in order to fuse together a film which develops many of the established character arcs from X-Men, placed the film distinctly in a post-9/11 context, and digs deep into the ideological and existential conflict between Professor X and Magneto – namely whether mutants should believe in humanity or reject and destroy them. It does this while never forgetting the human cost of being different, exploring the difficulty of living with what genetics, evolution, gives you in a less than tolerant society.

X2 does this with a poise and panache that few comic-book movies have equalled since.

Continue reading “Shock and Awe – X2: X-MEN UNITED (2003)”
Comics, Film, Writing, X-Men

Mutated Anxiety at the Millennium: X-MEN (2000)

With X-Men: Dark Phoenix on the horizon, a film predicted to signal the end of the original iteration of the X-Men franchise, I’ve decided to go back and revisit this highly influential collection of comic-book movies.

We start with Bryan Singer’s original, 2000’s X-Men…

Though not always discussed in the annals of great comic-book cinema, or even considered the height of its own franchise, Bryan Singer’s original adaptation of X-Men is a seminal moment in superhero cinema.

Before Singer brought Stan Lee & Jack Kirby’s formative 1960’s Marvel Comics property to the screen, after over a decade of attempts by a range of filmmakers (most notably James Cameron and Kathryn Bigelow), comic-book cinema was principally dominated across the 1980’s and 1990’s by two heavyweights: Superman and Batman. The former ruled the late 1970’s into the 80’s before falling from grace with a succession of sequels whereby the budget went down as the schlock went up, while the latter moved away in the 90’s from Tim Burton’s initial Neo-Gothic vision into a high camp, overblown blockbuster confection. Beyond these behemoths, comic-book films were curiosities – The Rocketeer, The Shadow, The Phantom, The Crow, Darkman, Spawn – films which either garnered a cult audience or disappeared from the radar entirely.

X-Men changed all that. While not the first Marvel property brought to bear on the big-screen, Singer’s film was without doubt the first adaptation of their source material to go mainstream as a major box-office success – two years earlier, the Wesley Snipes-fronted Blade arguably also did well but was too violent and pulpy to reach a wide audience, and many to this day are unaware it even *is* a Marvel adaptation. X-Men changed the game. X-Men showed that comic-book movies could be more than kitsch spectacle or showy theatrics. Superheroes could be *real* people with heart and soul, their villainous antagonists complicated foes, both morally and psychologically; plus, these films could, much like the related genre of science-fiction, work as powerful allegory and social commentary. In other words, comic-book cinema could do what actual comic-books had been doing, without much in the way of critical respect, for decades.

While X-Men absolutely gives in to some of the silliness that weakened comic-book movies of decades past, it also shows what is possible in this sub-genre, and unknowingly lays down a template for the eventual rise and domination of superhero cinema.

Continue reading “Mutated Anxiety at the Millennium: X-MEN (2000)”

Comics, The X-Files

THE X-FILES: Case Files #1 – ‘Florida Man pt 1’ (Comic Review)

For 25 years, FBI agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully have been shining their flashlights into the shadows, searching for the truth. To celebrate this anniversary, IDW Publishing is launching a new series of The X-Files: Case Files! Under this banner, faithful fans will see the release of numerous micro-series, featuring stories that explore X-Files of the past and present by top talent from comics and prose!

In “Florida Man…” Scully and Mulder are sent to a small Florida town to investigate a rash of bizarre crimes only to find themselves in the clutches of an alligator-worshipping cult…

The recent history of The X-Files in comic form has been an interesting one, informed in many respects by the revival of the show on FOX over the last three years. The first part of Florida Man begins a new phase for IDW’s license of Chris Carter’s series called Case Files – an anthological approach to the adventures of Agents Mulder & Scully investigating the paranormal across America.

Joe Harris until last year had been carrying the torch for The X-Files under IDW, firstly with his originally-canonical ‘Seasons 10 and 11’, which picked up roughly from where second movie I Want to Believe left off, and later his own tie-in ongoing issue set within the continuity of the revival. His approach to The X-Files was frequently arcane, mythic and certainly in the ongoing issues set roughly during Season 10, highly political – indeed this caused his run on the series to draw criticism in certain quarters given how unashamedly anti-President Trump and the alt-right he was in his writing. While politics and The X-Files have always been key bedfellows, many wanted more of a streamlined take on Carter’s show. Case Files may well end up being what they wished for.

Delilah S. Dawson takes over for Florida Man, and as I understand it each Case Files story will be two-parts over two consecutive months and feature different guest writers and artists. Dawson immediately imbues The X-Files with a much different tone to Harris, or indeed the neo-mythological secret history of Denton J. Tipton’s tie-in JFK Disclosure last winter (Tipton, the stalwart behind IDW’s license, remains as editor), my reviews of which you can find here. Florida Man intentionally seems to take a lighter touch to the material. 

Set, again, around the time of Season 10 (if we take Season 11 to be around 2018 – the dates of these seasons are admittedly a bit uncertain), it features a recognisably middle-aged Mulder & Scully on what would be a fairly routine ‘monster of the week’ episode of the show, but Dawson doesn’t present a typical monster in this first part, and angles the piece as much on Mulder’s quirks about suffering in the Florida heat than she does unloading a great deal of supernatural paranormality.

For a first part, this is fairly standard comic-book set up. Dawson establishes a sense of place in the small town of Halpadalgi, deep in the Florida jungles, which has an unerring sense of community and population about it, at odds with the environment; the mystery of a local legend, the titular Florida Man linked to a number of disappearances, and a local sheriff who is quite recalcitrant at the FBI’s presence and seems ready to blame the mystery Scully, for once, has pushed for them to solve, on economic deprivation. 

This is where Dawson’s story adds a layer of modern commentary in a different manner to the pro-liberal rhetoric inside Harris’ run; by displaying the disparity between townsfolk in this Floridian microcosm, with a idyllic middle-class environment on the one side and an American trailer park slum on the other, Dawson manages to tap into the kind of underlying sociological ideas that many episodes of The X-Files were really about. That’s not to say this is entirely about class and culture – she layers in plenty of symbolic mysticism with the strange Egyptian painting Mulder buys, which clearly ties into what is really happening in this town, but the brew is all mixed together here.

That leads to a slight tonal uncertainty with Florida Man. At times you wonder if it’s edging towards a Darin Morgan-esque proof and then others it feels more in the vein of El Mundo Gira’s blend of economic social commentary and strange townsfolk. Dawson’s writing is strong in terms of nailing Mulder & Scully, both sounding like the characters we know and love (Mulder would totally suffer the quirks he does here, particularly middle-aged Mulder), and she constructs an intriguing mystery, but it lacks a little in terms of pace and incident. Elena Casagrande’s panels and Arianna Florean’s colours do manage to bring out the bright, hot Floridian atmosphere nicely along the way, plus there’s a great, retro variant cover by J.J. Lendl in the mix.

Case Files is an experiment for The X-Files and IDW Publishing, edging the franchise back more toward the Topps-style from the 1990’s, and while time will tell if the new approach is truly successful in the wake of a divisive (perhaps final) season of the show, Florida Man’s first part is a promising start.

★ ★ ★

WRITER: Delilah S. Dawson

ARTWORK: Elena Casagrande, Arianna Florean

PUBLISHER: IDW