Monday, May 26, 2014

Ranking the X-Men Movies

Today, my son and I saw X-Men: Days of Future Past, based on a much-loved X-Men story arc from the 80s.  It starts in the not-so-distant future, when robots called Sentinels have hunted down nearly all mutants on Earth, and the few remaining X-Men decide to send someone back to the past to change the timeline and prevent the Sentinels from being invented.  The bulk of the action takes place in 1973, the year the future X-Men have decided is the critical time that needs to be changed.  It's quite a spectacular film, and one of the better X-Men movies, but I'll get to that after a brief digression.

In the comics, the character sent back to the past was Kitty Pryde, who in the 1970s was a teen-aged girl.  Because of her youth, she functioned in the comics as a device to allow the readers to follow the often convoluted storylines and keep track of the huge cast of recurring villains and secondary characters, by asking questions of the other, older characters.  The answers filled in the blanks for her and readers alike.

But in the X-Men movies, Wolverine is the main character.  Among the dominant teen-aged male readership of the X-Men at the height of their 1990s popularity, Wolverine was the favorite because of his tough guy persona and his retractable claws.   The movie producers decided to make him the focal character for audiences, but had to tone him down, so now the emphasis is on how the once-violent man has learned to keep his bestial nature in check through force of will.  Played by Hugh Jackman, he is much more sympathetic than in the comics.

Thus, the very questionable choice of changing the a fundamental part of the story, and sending Wolverine back in time instead of Kitty.  Yet, I have to say it works.  The movie makes up for it by having Kitty play the main role in facilitating the mind transfer that sends the future Wolverine's psyche to his 1970s body.  Various other minor changes also help with translating a very "comic-y" storyline to the big screen, and the result is a movie that feels true to the original story but should entertain anybody who likes action movies, no real comics knowledge required.  Although it might help to have seen one of the earlier films.

Here are the X-Men movies rated, from best to worst:
Green=excellent  Blue=pretty good Black=Okay  Red=avoid

X-Men 2: X-Men United
X-Men: Days of Future Past
The Wolverine
X-Men: First Class
X-Men 3: Last Stand

X-Men Origins: Wolverine (Haven't seen)

Yes, none of these rated as excellent, but the top three are perfectly entertaining, and the next two aren't terrible.  I may do future superhero movies ratings in the future, and the green may come into play then.

Friday, May 9, 2014

What I'm Reading: Roundup

Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy So I got this out to see if my son would like it, decided at not-quite-9-years-old he's not ready yet, but once I started couldn't stop reading it myself.  I haven't picked the book up since high school, but it's pretty much as I remembered.  Ridiculous, absurdist humor as we follow Arthur Dent around the galaxy.  Arthur is the last human left alive (or so he believes!) after the destruction of the Earth to make way for an intergalactic highway.  The book is episodic in the extreme, with lots of lengthy asides (sometimes chapter-length) about the various alien races.  As always, the answer to life, the universe, and everything is 42, and the most important thing you can bring with you when hitchhiking around the galaxy is a towel.

Hyperbole and a Half A graphic novel, or rather, a graphic series of autobiographical short stories, by Allie Brosh.  This is probably the funniest thing I've read this year, quite a feat considering I reviewed Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy about 15 seconds ago.  The tone is a little bit hard to nail down, but let's call it whimsically edgy.  Chapters cover topics mainly relating to the author's dogs, depression, and childhood.  Depression has never been funnier.  Some sample chapter titles are "Dogs Don't Understand Basic Concepts Like Moving," "The Helper Dog is an Asshole," and "The Hot Sauce Debacle."

The last one is about the time when she was a kid and ate some really hot salsa.  Never having previously exhibited a skill of any type, her parents reward her with more attention than the feat really deserved, and made a big deal about it at their workplaces.  This backfires when her dad arranges a contest between her and one of his coworkers who really likes hot things.

Another good chapter attempts to clear up some misconceptions that her dogs hold, such as "I should eat bees."  "Oh, no, why happening?" the dog thinks, as it eats yet another bee and is stung, yet again, on its mouth.  The chapter also attempts to suss out why the innocuous vacuum cleaner is so frightening for her dogs, while the lawnmower is a source of fascination that must be investigated, despite the fact they make the exact same sound.  If these sorts of things sound potentially funny to you, you'll definitely like this.  If not, you should probably find something else to read.

Ursa Minor I picked this up at my local comic shop when the author and artist were there signing some of their work.  Tom Hutchison was the writer and Ian Snyder the penciler.  It takes place a decade or so in the future, when vampires, werewolves, faeries, and so forth have come out of hiding and revealed themselves to be real.  As the story starts, vampires have infiltrated the highest levels of the US government and are using their political power to take over the country.  Only a small group consisting of a witch, a were-bear, a stone golem, and a few others, recognize the danger, and decide they have to take the vampires out.

Amusing enough to read, but I have the let-down feeling about this the way I do when I start watching a B-movie and see that Roger Corman directed it.  The problem with Corman is that he was too competent for a film he directed to be entertainingly bad, but neither did he have the budget, time investment, or possibly skill to make a truly good film.  Similarly, Ursa Minor is well-done enough for what it is, but a book about vampires at war with were-bears is probably never going to be fine literature, and it doesn't quite have enough of the sleazy, hothouse atmosphere that's going to make something like this really work.  The standard here is Conan the Barbarian (movie, comics, or original pulp stories, they all fit the bill) or the Heavy Metal movie.  If it's not as over-the-top as any of those, it needs to go back in the pressure cooker.