Sunday, 15 June 2014

Not Books IV- Unintentional X-Men Edition

TV Shows-

Star Trek- The Original Series- Season Three (1968-1969)

As I finally came around to finishing my leisurely stroll through the most influential science fiction series of any medium of all time, it was time to find out if the general consensus regarding this season was true. Almost every post on the Internet regarding TOS agrees that the third and final season is unfortunately a big step down from the glories of the previous two, and I'm afraid I'm going to have to be unoriginal and conform to the standard, because it's absolutely true. Not that Star Trek in its first two seasons was really ever a true artistic classic, comparable with the advance storytelling of modern television, because it wasn't really about that for me. The reason why I enjoyed the show enough to prefer it to every other Star Trek series (including The Next Generation) was its basis in the traditional format of sci-fi. The stand-alone episodes allowed the writers, inundated as they were of a time featuring plenty of sci-fi adventure parables, to explore the then-fresh philosophical dilemmas and implications of the genre, dress it up with a bunch of people wearing terrible make-up, and then fortify it with the use of fantastic characters with established personalities.

The problem is with season three of TOS that the writers lost their inspiration, perhaps even got lazy, and the show massively suffers with inconsistency. There are a lot of episodes of the 26-episode season where the writer seems to have come up with a basic idea for a sci-fi concept requiring moralising, then failed to see the idea through to any satisfying conclusion. The fifty minute episode lengths perhaps required too much plotting, but then many of these episodes lose steam far earlier than that, and simply devolve into stupid set-pieces leading to boring endings. Reading further into the production histories of these episodes (like the nerd I am) very often enlightened me to established scripting problems often caused by clashes between the writing and production staff. It seems the wheels had well and truly come off by this point, resulting in a really laboured TV show, and episodes so stupid (yet memorably so) they seems like a parody of the much more focused, serious ideas of earlier. As a result of all this it took me a long time to finish the show, but I am looking forward to getting around to watching the movies (of which I think I've only seen two already, because I'm bad at films), and possibly the animated series.



X-Men- First Class (2011)

With the newest film in the X-Men about to hit cinemas and me about to go see it, I thought it was definitely time to go back and re-watch the last installment for the first time. Though it had been a couple of years since I watched it, I vividly remembered my detailed analytical thoughts basically consisting of 'it's quite good'. Luckily for me I didn't have to bother finding my own copy to watch because it was on TV, so I was able to re-familiarise myself with this continuity-breaking prequel starring younger versions of the old actors that I really liked. I was happy to report that my updated opinion is that it's actually definitely quite good, but not brilliant.

Seriously though, First Class is a perfectly acceptable, three-star blockbuster Hollywood super-hero film that does everything decently, but for me failed to stand out enough on its own merit. I enjoyed the performances in general, though couldn't help viewing them as inferior to Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen, enjoyed the action sequences as to be expected, and enjoyed the villains led by Kevin Bacon as Sebastian Shaw. It's all fine, and certainly the best X-Men film since X-Men II, but unfortunately fell flat when put up against Brian Singer's first two X-Men films. Those two really got me excited for the potential of comics on the big screen, those and Sam Raimi's first two Spider-Man films showed how a talented director could transpose the gigantic overall themes and moral dilemmas prevalent in the best superhero comics onto the big screen. First Class is a good standalone film, a well-made alternative X-Men movie with some great ideas and effort, but it fell short of making a big impact to me thanks to the lack of gravitas.

The Wolverine

I was never really hyped much for Wolverine's second solo film, there didn't seem to be anything interesting about it going in. Sure, Hugh Jackman is the definitive face and voice of Wolverine, but was anybody really crying out for this film, what with the infinitely more exciting Days of Future Past coming out shortly after? It does have a comics credibility factor thanks to its basis in the Chris Claremont/Frank Miller miniseries (which leads me to wonder how much Chris Claremont got paid for coming up with the plots to two multi-million dollar X-Men films in a row- probably much less than he should have), but that comic isn't really a classic story, but a spectacular collection of Frank Miller art.

Still, it was a little refreshing to know that the script for this film was designed to mostly step away from the quagmire of continuity surrounding the X-Men movie franchise and Wolverine in particular. The X-Men Origins- Wolverine film was unspeakably bad (maybe even worse than X-Men III... maybe), turning the carefully crafted big-screen Wolverine character of X-Mens I and II into just another cartoon character. Sending him to Japan to be all dark and brooding, and hopefully have a bit of genre-fun was a good idea on paper, but unfortunately it all ended up being far too plain. I'm trying to think of how to explain the plot, but I seem to have forgotten most of it for being really boring- it's full of seemingly-Japanese plot devices like ninjas, crafty businessmen and impish women of completely indeterminable age.

 Of course what I really want is a Wolverine film with a higher age restriction and buckets and buckets of blood. It's never going to happen obviously because of what the character really is, but it would be really nice.
X-Men- Days of Future Past

I was confident from the start that I was going to love this movie, as soon as Brian Singer was announced as director. His first two X-Men films sit just behind Spider-Man 2 as my favourite superhero films of them all, due to a combination of themes and styles pulling together comic films that really felt like comics books. Days of Future Past, then is all that and then more; the most comic book-like of all the comic book films, and a movie that manages to capture the positive essence of the X-Men in the characters and stories on almost a meta-level. It's particularly so in this film because of the way Singer ties together the past two generations of X-Men casts and does his best to meld the character's continuity that was so confused by the events of First Class (and it doesn't work and fit absolutely perfectly, but works far better than most ret-cons I've ever seen).

While I loved the inclusion of all the older X-actors (especially the unexpected ones at the end), it was basically the younger cast plus Wolverine that get the absolute bulk of the action, and none of them disappointed. In regards to the new actors; as everyone else has already mentioned, Quicksilver was absolutely brilliant and needs to return for the next film, but I was a little (lol) disappointed that Peter Dinkage as Boliver Trask didn't get that much to do despite technically being the lead villain. I'm getting bored of writing about X-Men and everyone on the Internet has already reviewed this film properly, so all finish up by saying that I need to re-watch this to confirm if it cracks the top echelon of comic book films, but it's looking good.

 Thor- The Dark World

My second favourite superhero film I happened to watch over the past two months was a full-on CGI fest of wonder and magic. While I didn't particularly like the original Thor for seeming just a bit too generic and unimaginative for me, I much preferred this sequel, thanks to improvement in pretty much every area. Visually Thor II is absolutely sublime, perhaps the best-looking big budget film I've seen in a while thanks to the fantastically imaginative design put into the CGI constructions of Asgard and the other eight realms. It also wasn't afraid to the throw the viewer right in to the concept sci-fi/fantasy storyline, which, while not exactly mind-blowing, was plotted tightly enough to work.

Also, despite the lashings of money all over the place, there was something about the dark elves characters and Christopher Ecclestone's Malaki in particular that somehow conjured up similarities to many minimal-budget children's fantasy television shows from the UK that I grew up with. Going in to the film I didn't know Ecclestone was in it, and for a second I thought Malaki was played by Noel Fielding of The Mighty Boosh. No point to this, just felt like I had to mention it. Quality film reviewing here.