X-Men 97
© Walt Disney Corporation, Marvel Animation.

This wave of nostalgic reboots is becoming so overwhelmingly exhausting. I almost avoided watching X-Men '97 out of principle. I can barely remember the last TV show or movie that I watched, or last video game that I played, that wasn't based on a '90's or '80's IP. At least Shogun and Three-Body Problem are based on novels, instead of movies and TV shows that I watched in elementary school.

I'm glad I did watch X-Men '97 though. It's pretty damn good. It's also depressing though. It's a reminder of how little has changed in 30 years, and how, in some ways, things have gotten worse. There was a hopeful optimism in the '90's. But now, properties like X-Men and Star Trek are reminding us of how fragile our progress is. How quickly and easily it can all be undone.

The X-Men are just as powerful and poignant as they were in the '80's and '90's, and the metaphors still work depressingly well. I had hoped we'd be past this by now. Maybe we never will be.

Despite being a little more bleak in tone, X-Men '97 is both a pitch-perfect continuation of the X-Men: Animated Series for children, and also a new experience for a more mature audience. This show is move violent, more graphic, and people die! But it's not excessive or obscene. It's not Game Of Thrones, and I would have no problem letting any comic book-reading child watch it.

It's also bonkers! The stories here go to crazy places, and do crazy things -- crazy even for comic books. But just as with the original show, these stories (as crazy as they are) are faithfully adapted from the comic book source material -- some of the craziest comic book source material.

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X-Men: Apocalypse

There's a bit in X-Men: Apocalypse in which Cyclops, Jean Grey, Nightcrawler, and Jubilee are walking out of a theater after seeing Return of the Jedi. Cyclops and Jubilee are arguing about whether Empire was better than Star Wars, and Jean remarks that "we can all agree that the third one is always the worst". This, of course is a jab at X-Men 3: the Last Stand, which I'm sure we can all agree is still the worst of the X-Men movies. It's also the first one that Bryan Singer didn't direct. But what might - or might not - be lost on Singer and his writers is the little bit of irony that Apocalypse is also the third movie in a series: the prequel series that started with X-Men: First Class.

X-2 and Days of Future Past remain the standout excellent films in this particular franchise. I don't think that Apocalypse ever degrades quite to the train wreck that was The Last Stand - not even close. But it does fall victim to some of the same traps that The Last Stand fell into: namely that it perhaps tried to fit too many stories into one, and doesn't tell any one of them particularly well. Much like The Last Stand, this one even starts to fall on its face when it goes into "Dark Pheonix" territory. Thankfully, they avoided turning that into a major plot thread though...

Perhaps the clumsiest storyline here was the Four Horsemen themselves. As per the comics, Apocalypse must recruit four powerful mutants, amplify their powers, and then use them as his own personal bodyguards. Other than Magneto, these characters' introductions and development all had to be rushed through. It seems a bit ironic that in these movies, it always seems to be the characters that we're most familiar with who get the most set-up and exposition; while the new characters receive little-or-no explanation or development. I never really bought into these horsemen though, or why they would be willing to help this obvious villain. I get that he tricked some of them with promises that he would "save humanity from itself", and he earned some loyalty with others by healing them and making them stronger, and that he used Magneto's grief and anger to his advantage, but the moment his plans started shifting away from "destroying corrupt systems and governments" towards outright "destroy the world", I just couldn't believe that none of the others batted an eye! Was there some kind of mind control going on as well? But he doesn't have mind control powers; that's why he wants Professor X.

X-Men: Apocalypse - four horsemen
Aside from Magneto, The Four Horsemen felt undeveloped and lacking in motivation.

Maybe if the movie could have established that Apocalypse had somehow brainwashed them, then I'd be more willing to accept it...

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Uncanny X-Men #141: Days of Future Past
Cover of Uncanny X-Men #141:
Days of Future Past
.

So, what's the deal with the "Days of Future Past" X-Men story, anyway? Sure, it's a great storyline, but other comics also have similarly great storylines. Yet, I can't think of any other comic story that is treated with as much reverence as this particular one. No other comic book story that I can think of has been directly adapted as often as this one. Not "The Night Gwen Stacy Died", not "The Death of Superman". These comic stories have been reference in numerous media, particularly Gwen Stacy's death, but rarely are they adapted. But I've yet to see an incarnation of X-Men that does not include a version of the "Days of Future Past" storyline. It's been featured in multiple animated series, video games, and novelizations.

Of course, all of the various retellings of this story take their own creative liberties, and the new movie from 20th Century Fox is no exception.

This film is designed to be a sequel to both the First Class and Last Stand movies in the X-Men franchise. I was kind of surprised that the studio took this particular approach, since there were some nagging inconsistencies and continuity issues with the two timelines. But I guess Hollywood never cares as much about continuity as the nerdy fanboys do... Fortunately, these continuity issues don't come up or interfere with this film.

In fact, I thoroughly enjoyed this film. The creative liberties were generally positive, and the combination of the two timelines actually works surprisingly well. I wasn't terribly thrilled with the depressed, brooding depiction of the younger Xavier, but I don't know enough about the character's comic book history to know whether this is anachronistic, and it definitely wasn't to the movie's detriment.

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X-Men: First Class

Comic book fans have had a lot to be excited about these last ten years or so. After decades of mediocre-at-best comic book movies, and the one exceptional Tim Burton Batman movie, the onslaught of surprisingly good comic book movies in the early 2000’s has been a pleasant surprise. Excellent films such as Spider-Man 2, X-2: X-Men United, The Dark Knight, Iron Man, Watchmen, and the underrated Edward Norton Incredible Hulk have been undercut by a relative minority of abysmal films such as X-Men 3, Spider-Man 3, and the crappy Eric Bana Hulk movie. But the turbulent up-and-down nature of comic book films makes it very hard to know what to expect when you buy that $10 movie ticket. Are you going to get Batman Begins? Or Superman 4? Iron Man 2? Or X-Men Origins: Wolverine?

Going into this summer, we have a handful of comic movies to look forward to with anticipation and anxiety. Thor, X-Men: First Class, The Green Lantern, and Captain America all debut this summer. So far, Marvel has done an outstanding job with the movies made by its relatively new in-house studio. Thor already turned out to be a good-but-not-great movie (in my opinion), and so I expect a lot with X-Men and Captain America.

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