Top Ten Greatest Comic-Book Movie Posters

10. X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)

Best & Worst: Hugh Jackman

Best: X-Men (2000)

Jackman’s big break comes in the form of his most iconic role to date. Though his version of Wolverine is a more tamed beast than the one we know from the comics, Jackman’s got the stature and the muscle mass to pull the whole thing off (not to mention the sideburns).

He also sheds the Aussie accent admirably, and shares decent chemistry with Anna Paquin. Little did he know he’d wind up being the X-verse’s most popular character (though surely Wolvie’s comic fanbase gave him a hint), leading to a great string of X movies…

20 Most Violent Comic Book Characters

Wolverine

The Character: Damn near indestructible thanks to a self-healing mutant gene, Wolverine aka Logan is the baddest of the X-Men, with his extendable claws and seriously short temper. Bad. Ass.

Most Violent Moment: Wolvie’s got a thing for violence (something about having claws for fists), but surely sinking those razors into Sabretooth’s head is one of his most out-and-out goriest.

If It Was Filmed: It’d be the first X-Men film to receive an 18 rating.

X-Men: First Class (2011)

Origin stories are tough nuts to crack. Just ask George Lucas. Or X-Men Origins: Wolverine director Gavin Hood, whose 2009 fling with the X-verse endeavoured to fill in knuckle-clawed Wolvie’s back story, but met with more howls than hurrahs.

Could X-Men: First Class be a case of second time lucky, as Kick-Ass director Matthew Vaughn takes a root through the X-Men’s, uh, roots? Or is history doomed to repeat itself? Well, hardly. Vaughn’s X genesis is easily the classiest, most entertaining X film since X2. Impeccably cast, incisive in its splicing of history with an alt mutant narrative, and neatly balancing its spectacle with its story beats, it’s a stunning achievement – especially considering Vaughn had only a year in which to deliver.

It starts with the script. Kick-Ass screenwriter Jane Goldman all but throws out the kid-friendly First Class comic, retaining the title alone and penning a daring historical mutation that pitches the Cold War at a sci-fi tilt. The year is 1963. Bit of rough Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender) is hunting former Nazi Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon), who killed Erik’s mother when he was a child. Meanwhile, cheeky boffin Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) has just gotten his doctorate. When the paths of these two figures cross, you better hold onto your hat – especially after they encounter CIA Agent Moira McTaggert (Rose Byrne), who’s tracking the mysterious Hellfire Club, which involves Shaw and his mysterious sidekick Emma Frost (January Jones).

Foregoing the barbed, post-modern bite of Kick-Ass, Vaughn and Goldman have forged a sophisticated period superhero film that fits right in with the aesthetic of Bryan Singer’s two X outings, despite its historical setting. That’s mostly because the ‘60s influence is never exploited as a miserable, Austin Powers-style gimmick, Vaughn instead hand-picking period aesthetics to weave together something richly tangible.

That most stylish of eras permeates every detail; the set design is extravagant (the deliciously sleazy Hellfire Club) and the costumes to die for (Emma Frost’s bustilicious white fantasy get-up). There’s even playful split-screen edits, hilarious throwback dialogue (“groovy,” burrs McAvoy), not to mention a twangy, achingly cool score that recalls the best of old school Bond.

Speaking of, Bond is an obvious touchstone. Vaughn once wanted to reboot the spy franchise but never got the chance, and here he seizes the opportunity to position Magneto as a roguish smooth operator (“I basically moulded a young Magneto on a young Sean Connery,” he’s said in interviews). Easily 007’s equal in the charisma stakes, Fassbender rises to the tricky task of speaking in his native German and Russian (though at times fudging an English accent), and positions Magneto as a powerful, volatile force to be reckoned with.

His relationship with Charles/Professor X was always going to provide the, uh, meat of the story, and the boys don’t let us down. McAvoy in particular excels in this incarnation of the well-known Professor (most memorably played with stoic poise by Patrick Stewart), both endearingly emotional and surprisingly flirty – as unstuffy as he is warm and funny.

What of the young mutants promised by that ‘First Class’ subtitle? All are spirited additions, with Jennifer Lawrence’s Mystique getting the most screentime, though she’s often sadly lumbered with self-hate issues that err on the side of repetitiveness. That said, Nicolas Hoult’s Beast is enjoyably nerdy, while Caleb Landry Jones as Banshee gets all the laughs. And the FC’s obligatory training montage is also one of its standout moments – a fun, flashy segment that zings with energy.

The involvement of the younglings, though, means that the typical X-movie niggle of short-changing secondary characters is still present and correct. Falling prey to the ‘ensemble movie’ curse are villain sidekicks Riptide and Azazel, who barely utter two words between them, while Emma Frost is a fantastic evil Bond girl who’s given no backstory whatsoever. Still, it’s a miracle that Vaughn has managed to create something as coherent as this without sacrificing more of his players. Everybody gets their moment – including the one-dimensional Azazel in a fight-scene reminiscent of X2’s zippy opening.

Vaughn summed it up best himself when he called First Class “X-Men meets Bond”. With Kevin Bacon something of a revelation as a preening, mad baddie, and McAvoy and Fassbender sharing near nuclear levels of chemistry, it’s a busy, gratifying return to form for the X films that ends in a gut-punchingly effective climax. As the credits swirl in a giddy ‘60s motif to the reverberating drawl of those Bondian guitars, you’ll be begging for a sequel. Yes, this X prequel really is (groan) first class. 4/5

 

Four play

Recently, a buddy of mine wrote a (cracking) blog post about movie threequels. Which, it seems, is a topic that everybody has an opinion on. Alien 3 has its lovers. Spider-Man 3 its haters. But in light of Scre4m hitting cinemas earlier this month, my brain began to ponder the subject of fourquels. The result is this meandering post – a blatant fleecing of Stephen’s threequel blog. Or maybe a belated sequel…

Fourquels are tricky things, no question. If an emergent franchise does the impossible and creates a decent first follow-up (see Friday The 13th Part 2, Aliens), it’s almost always let down by a dreary threequel (see Friday The 13th Part 3, Alien 3). Which is where the fourquel comes in. Slowly, of course, because many fourquels take their bow a fair amount of time after their disappointing predecessors – Scre4am took 11 years to arrive after a fan-dividing trilogy-closer, Alien: Resurrection took five to recover from Fox’s Alien 3 meddling.

But are fourquels actually any good? When even the brains behind them know a third sequel is pushing things (see F13: Part 4, which attempted to put a lid on Jason Voorhees forever, then failed miserably), isn’t it time to call it quits and move quietly along?

Some are undeniable stinkers. Case in point A Nightmare On Elm Street 4: The Dream Master, which not only had the audacity to re-cast fresh Final Girl Patricia Arquette (introduced in Part 3) with a saucer-eyed soap opera reject (and then ingloriously kill her off), but insisted that we believe Freddy Krueger could be raised from the dead by a quantity of flaming dog piss. Dream Master is a fine example of fourquels that are travelling on the same beaten track as their predecessor(s), but are now squealing along on flat tyres.

And who could forget the hilariously unfortunate Jaws 4: The Revenge, which maintained that a sea-dwelling fish could not only hold grudges, but also set out in search of bloody vengeance? Fishy isn’t the word.

The fourquels that come off best (and “best” is all relative here) are the ones that seek to reboot and rejuvenate. Alien: Resurrection, armed with Buffy’s Joss Whedon on scripting duties, endeavoured to take the character of Ripley (who had little to do in Alien 3 except hate herself) in a kick-ass new direction. Yes, it failed in other areas, but by exploring new avenues in a tired concept, it at least gave the franchise a boost.

The same can be said of Halloween 4: The Revenge Of Michael Myers. With Jamie Lee Curtis long gone, Revenge effectively stirred up a Carpenter-esque mood while giving us one of the cutest ever little Final Girls (thank you, Danielle Harris). Yes, it was as subtle as a knife in the gut, but at least it respected the original. Sadly the same can’t be said of the atrocious Halloween 5 and 6, both of which are the definition of hackjob (there’s a fivequel discussion in there somewhere).

One the best horror fourquels tumbled along with 1998’s Bride Of Chucky, which revamped (quite literally, in the case of Jennifer Tilly) the killer doll franchise and dragged it kicking and screaming into the 21st century. Okay, it was ‘hip’ and ‘in’, with clever references (hello Pinhead) and better humour than horror, but it effectively gave the Child’s Play series a shot of sugar that it was desperately craving.

The minus column, of course, almost entirely eradicates the plus. Die Hard 4 (explosive mess), Indiana Jones And The Crystal Skulls (saggy mess), Resident Evil: Afterlife (pure ugh), Critters 4 (no Leo), Superman IV: The Quest For Peace (Nuclear Man), Terminator Salvation (McG)…

Does the world need fourquels? They’re often rightly held up as examples of diminishing returns, but those occasional tarnished gems at least help keep the discussion interesting. With Mad Max 4 (Fury Road) and a possible X-Men 4 both on the horizon (producer Lauren Donner’s been teasing us about the latter for years), it seems Hollywood still isn’t ready to throw in the towel when it comes to profitable franchises. The fourquel lives on…

Celluloid Life: Mutants and Microphones

So far this week I have seen two very different films – ah the spice of life. One was a dramatic comic book actioner filled to bursting with explosions, nifty superpowers and a helluvalotta stuff that Boys Will LoveTM. The other was equally explosive, but studded with glitter, pop songs and pre-pubescents. Intrigued? Read on…

If you’ve been, um, anywhere in the past few months, you’ll know that Wolverine (or, sigh, X-Men Origins: Wolverine) is about to hit screens. Most people were disappointed by Brett Ratner’s X3 (I wasn’t, mostly), so I’m guessing hopes are high both sides of the media fence for this essential reboot, which, yes, jumps back in time to reveal the genesis of our knife-knuckled friend. Early trailers were decidedly squiffy and, sadly, have turned out to be pretty representative of the film’s quality.

Hugh Jackman has sculpted himself into a mountain. He’s large and in charge (well, not really, but it sounded good), and screams at the camera a lot. Still, he’s an enigmatic lead for director Gavin Hood’s trip down memory lane. Hood’s ambition is evident from the outset, with the opening credits providing a riveting whirlwind through Wolverine’s formative years. Sadly, the exploration of Wolvie’s backstory almost entirely fails to break new ground – we’ve seen or heard discussed most of the events in previous filmic X outings. Sweeping New Zealand vistas add a great sense of scale, but some of the special effects are decidedly dodgy. That said, a helicopter face-off and a showy final smackdown ensure that retinas never go bored. But the script and pacing feel a little too patchy, too restless – like the man-mountain (mantain?) himself. Thank God, then, for Taylor Kitsch as Gambit. Adding a snarky verve in just the right places, he lifts the film from its doldrums just enough to keep it from getting lost in melodrama. Let’s hope they’ve got something better up their sleeve for Magneto. C+

On the flipside, we have Sounds Like Teen Spirit. Documentary-phobes lower your gauntlets, no matter what your usual filmic flavour of choice this has all the markings of an absolute classic. Want some buzz words? Hmm… Moving, hilarious, surprising, inspiring, moving… Yeah, it’s really moving. Following a group of 10-15-year-olds from around Europe as they get ready for the Junior Eurovision 2007 (seriously), Teen Spirit isn’t just about music and kids saying funny things (what they like?!), it’s also a powerful insight into the lives of young Europeans. Take Mariam, a 13-year-old living in a Soviet block that is falling to pieces in Gori, Georgia. She wants to compete, but her mother can’t afford to go with her and is forced to watch her daughter sing her heart out on a fuzzy, barely-watchable TV. Then there’s Cypriot Giorgos, who is 10 going on 30, bullied for wanting to sing, yet shocking in his powers of perception. On the eve of the contest, Giorgos mourns the inevitable anti-climax of the event – he wishes he could freeze time before the winner is announced so that he can experience the build up of excitement over and over. It’s particularly embarrassing that most of the kids speak dang near perfect English, while we squint stupidly at the subtitles whenever anybody yacks in anything else.

With Teen Spirit, director Jamie Johnson has crafted an anti-documentary that works at odds to expectations – kids that he trails don’t make it into the contest, surprises lurch from every corner of the screen, and in the end, the winner isn’t quite who you might expect. Stuffed with quirky characters (one Ukrainian performer is a rubber-faced cross between Cruella DeVille and a demented cheerleader), shocking honesty (14-year-old Marina talks about her parents’ divorce in heartbreaking detail) and, naturally, giggles at the high camp extravaganza. A truly rewarding experience. A-