[Text] X-Men, by David Hayter [review]

X-Men is a film I’ve wanted to see for a long time. I’ve been exposed to the X-Men series in film before, and some were good (like X-Men: First Class) and some were terrible (like X-Men Origins: Wolverine), but the original X-Men is the heart of the series, because that’s where it lays out everything it wants to be. I’ve heard it described as seeming more like a television pilot, and that’s not an inaccurate point to make – it is, however, the reason I find myself on the whole enjoying X-Men: it’s a very character-driven piece, that gives itself time to build a world and tell a story. The story itself is mind-numbingly simplistic, and could be condensed to forty-five minutes if need be.

But the extra hour exists as an opportunity to explore the various X-Men and their relationships. It’s like Watchmen, except it doesn’t assume the audience have read the comic books. After a success of failures in the comic book adaptation pseudo-genre, it took an independent director like Bryan Singer to approach it with the mentality of essentially making it a primer for the inexperienced audience. X-Men doesn’t so much tell a story about the X-Men as it does introduce them, their world and what the concept of X-Men is about.

And yet, in spite of all of those things, there’s more happening in X-Men than a lot of people are giving credit for. We begin with Erik “Magneto” Lehnsherr, an antagonist I’d argue isn’t really an antagonist at all. Lehnsherr’s story begins in a Nazi concentration camp, where he first unleashes the ability to manipulate magnetic fields (“magnetokenisis”) out of fear and anger. In a situation of hopelessness, all Lehnsherr could do was react violently.

And after that opening scene, an entire character’s been established perfectly. Looking at more modern Marvel films, and the antagonists are easily the weakest element. But the whole point of X-Men relies on Lehnsherr being a complex character, because that’s where the ideological discussions of Human nature take place. This is shown in the character development offered by Hayter’s screenplay, which takes Lehnsherr on a journey of becoming a militant social leader, encouraging destruction where necessary in order to lead to an eventual state of piece.

But rather than offering the audience the opportunity to consider Lehnsherr’s actions justified, the character’s presented to us in such a way that means, in their own head, they are justified, without debate. Could you really expect a Holocaust survivor to trust Human nature that easily? Lehnsherr gets such complexity with such ease that it sets a standard of how deep comic book characters can be in a way that puts the overrated Loki Laufeyson to shame. And Lehnsherr’s success as a character helps establish his opponent, Charles Xavier.

Apart from Ian McKellan and Patrick Stewart being amongst the top actors in the world (Stewart is the greatest of the bald ones by far), their characters share only two scenes together, at the beginning and the end, but their history works so well. X-Men: First Class explained how they came together and then went apart, but a well-written scene and some good acting does all of that. The fact that X-Men: First Class shows Xavier understanding what Lehnsherr’s helmet does when here that’s not the case is totally irrelevant, because this came first. So from the beginning its obvious what’s going on in terms of what mutants are, how they’re received by the public and how two powerful mutants are responding to it.

It’s an ingeniously constructed scene that works because of who’s involved: McKellan often speaks of how difficult it was for to be open with his sexuality within the acting industry, and Singer himself wasn’t familiar with the X-Men but found a similar truth within it. They can relate to it without having grown up with it, and that leads to the audience understanding as well, so that they can relate to in their own way. Initially, X-Men was about the civil right movement, inspired by Martin King versus Malcolm X, and peaceful protest versus violent uprising. It’s the same with Millicent Fawcett and Emeline Pankhurst.

That this has happened so commonly throughout history is not just a real truth, but something used in the telling of the story – we’re told that X-Men takes place in the near future, though sixteen years later, I don’t know if that still applies. Apparently the specific year is 2005, although whether this is stated in a future film or just something deducted by committed fans is something I don’t care to think about. Regardless, it was the future of X-Men‘s time, and that made its point all the more believable: that this keeps happening to some group in some form. First it was an issue of race/ethnicity, then of gender/sex, then sexuality/sexual orientation.

And here, it’s Humans versus mutants, although I’m pretty sure mutants are Humans by definition anyway. Regardless, it remains relevant, even today. I look at a film like Ant-Man or Avengers: Age of Ultron, and they’re not really about anything other than connecting together in a cycle that seems to be powered by its own existence. X-Men is about something, and it’s still about that thing.

And I just wish more comic book films had the balls to reflect reality in such a meaningful way.

[Text] X-Men Origins: Wolverine, by David Benioff and Skip Woods [review]

Ryan Reynolds is returning to the comic book genre next week, which has prompted me to look back at some of his previous efforts. We begin with X-Men Origins: Wolverine, by David Benioff and Skip Woods. After the success of the X-Men trilogy, 20th Century Fox decided to continue the franchise by producing a film which starred a specific mutant, but was still recognisably part of the franchise. Which means that, in the end, nobody is quite able to tell if X-Men Origins: Wolverine is actually X-Men Origins feat. Wolverine or Wolverine in “X-Men Origins”.

I’d argue that X-Men Origins: Wolverine is both of those things, which is why the narrative is such a mess. No mistake – in a spin-off focused on James “Wolverine” Howlett, we also see Victor “Sabretooth” Creed (from X-Men, by David HayterTom DeSanto and Bryan Singer), John Wraith, Kayla Silverfox, Fred “Blob” Dukes, Chris “Bolt” Bradley, David “Agent Zero” North, Wade “Deadpool” Wilson (Reynolds), Scott “Cyclops” Summers (from X-MenX2 by Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris and X-Men: The Last Stand by Simon Kinberg and Zak Penn), Emma Silverfox and Charles “Professor X” Xavier (from X-MenX2 and X-Men: The Last Stand). So that’s ten other mutants who appear in Howlett’s origin story. Hence calling it X-Men Origins: Wolverine, rather than Wolverine Origins or just Wolverine.

How can such a situation exist? Well, the truth about X-Men as a concept is that the characters only work when they’re together. That was the whole point of X-Men when they were created – to be a team, rather than just individual heroes. So as soon as one’s given the spotlight, and the others relegated to a supporting cast, they become another generic character.

The mutant abilities are only used as plot devices, it’s the relationships that matter. So the first mistake of X-Men Origins: Wolverine is in its approach, because it forgot the heart of the franchise that had even made it possible. The Critics Consensus shown on Rotten Tomatoes’ X-Men: The Last Stand page declares

X-Men: The Last Stand provides plenty of mutant action for fans of the franchise, even if it does so at the expense of its predecessors’ deeper character moments.

What happened to X-Men: The Last Stand? Well, X-Men and X2 were directed by Singer, who departed X-Men: The Last Stand to direct Superman Returns, and Rotten Tomatoes’ Critics Consensus says:

Bryan Singer’s reverent and visually decadent adaptation gives the Man of Steel welcome emotional complexity. The result: a satisfying stick-to-your-ribs adaptation.

Singer’s not just been praised as an emotive X-Men director, but as an emotive direct overall. To say that the reception to his two X-Men films at that point had only increased their reception, it’s not irrelevant that the following two X-Men films had decreased their reception. Singer’s absence from X-Men was noticeable, and it gave us X-Men Origins: Wolverine. But what exactly is wrong with it?

Well… it’s the extreme of what’s wrong with all prequels: X-Men established perfectly well that Howlett can’t remember his early life. And that’s all we needed to know for X-Men to be a well-told story. But X-Men Origins: Wolverine decides to reveal what happened anyway, despite the story being written around the inevitable crux of Howlett inevitably forgetting it all. Therefore, I’m inclined to ask – why does it matter?

The reason we started where we did with Howlett in X-Men is because it’s what we needed to know for the story to work. Any information before that, therefore, is something that was irrelevant to the story, so will be impossible to justify including. X-Men Origins: Wolverine feels like a footnote in a character history, the unimportant details of a biography that was excised and placed into its own film just because the information was there. It’s like one, long deleted scene that was deleted for a reason.

(Video) Advice for New Screenwriters

Script Mailer interviewed numerous screenwriters, who gave their advice to new screenwriters. Those interviewed were:

  • Reality Show‘s Adam Rifkin
  • Hound Dog‘s Ron Shelton
  • Akeelah and the Bee‘s Doug Atchison
  • Frankenweenie‘s John August
  • Enemies Closer‘s Peter Hyams
  • Callr‘s Joe Forte
  • Masters of Horror – Chocolate‘s Mick Garris
  • Wolves David Hayter
  • Ready Player One‘s Zak Penn
  • The Soul Man – Home Boyce‘s Kriss Turner
  • Sanjay and Craig‘s Joe Stillman
  • Secret in their Eyes‘ Billy Ray
  • Beyond the Reach‘s Stephen Susco
  • Castle – Hollander Woods Andrew W. Marlowe
  • Oliver Kitteride – Security‘s Jane Anderson
  • Surrogate‘s John Brancato
  • Once Chance‘s Justin Zackham
  • Ghost‘s Bruce Joel Rubin


Watchmen — motion picture review

Written by David Hayter and Alex Tse.

(Fanboys beware! I didn’t like it. At all.)

Zack Snyder. What an awful director he is. Here’s the problem with Zack Snyder: he doesn’t understand the value of anything he’s doing. Watchmen establishes itself as being a political narrative. It’s about government and conspiracies. Watchmen is set in a world in-which Richard Nixon was re-elected for a third term. Other subjects touched-upon is the Vietnam and Cold Wars. From the outset, it establishes its tone as being a thriller – The Comedian is dead, and is one of all costumed heroes being targeted to remove the only people capable of stopping the completion of the project that created Dr. Manhattan.

Dr. Manhattan is a truly fascinating character. He used to be Human, but through an obligatory lab accident was transformed into a sentient being through-which the Universe thinks about itself, and has become capable of literally anything. As effectively a god, he abandons any attachments to anything, and observes the Universe, despite being unaffected by it and having no reason to care. Essentially, he’s an apathist, though parallels have also been drawn about his status as a personification of nuclear war and what it could lead to. What he actually is never goes anywhere. Which is a problem because Watchmen is established at the beginning as being a thriller, yet a character as important as Dr. Manhattan is only used to be interesting, and only becomes relevant once. The sight of him as a giant approaching Viet Cong is definitely something, but it’s like every scene – there for the sake of looking cool. Why make a character the embodiment of a government conspiracy’s apocalyptic side-effects if none of it’s going to be explored? All Dr. Manhattan’s there to do is to say “Nuclear power is bad”. Fine, good. But why?

And that same problem is inherent with the other characters. Take Rorschach. He’s potentially one of the most interesting comic book characters there is, yet all Watchmen gives him to actually do is not much. His masks a great accomplishment, always moving and representing the character’s thoughts, and his voice is cool. His sociopathy is strangely appealing, and he walks about like he knows he’s in a pretentious noir thriller. He’s definitely interesting, but that’s all there is to him. The interestingness isn’t developed, everything stays exactly as it is and the only real development is in the last few scenes.

It’s as if Snyder thought “wouldn’t it be cool if… ?”. That is to say “if” certain characters wore these kind of costumes, or that shot looks like x or y. Snyder cares about visuals, but doesn’t know how to use them. So instead, he throws them into an editing suite, keeps most of what he’s shot in the final cut, and for some reason, Warner Bros. were okay with that. It’s interesting to watch, yes. On a technical level, it’s well-made. There’s no denying that it looks good. But strip-back the colour filters and the framerate crank, and it’s a collage of things Snyder thinks are stylish. And there’s nothing wrong with being stylish, but he doesn’t realise the importance of literally anything else.

Pitch this synopsis, and you’ll probably get people interested: a group of retired vigilantes get back together to find out who’s picking them off, and uncover a government conspiracy. See, that’s interesting. And Snyder knows it’s interesting. And “interesting” is a word I’ve used too much in this review. And that’s because there isn’t really anything else to it. “Ooh, that’s interesting” could sum-up everything Watchmen is. But when it’s over, you struggle to find any other way of describing it.