We Love… Superheroes: Wolverine

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  Illustration: Adeline Pericart

Bam! Pow! Thwack! From masked avengers to caped crusaders, what would we do without spandex-wearing superheroes fighting crime and righting wrongs? While we mere mortals go about our daily business and sleep soundly in our beds at night, an army of superheroes are working tirelessly around the globe – but mostly in America – fighting to bring peace, justice and outside-underpants to the world.

And so, in honour of their efforts, our own band of Film Ireland superheroes assemble to dish out their own critical form of justice and wreak havok on those villians who long for a world without heroes.

Eat dust evil! Superheroes are here to stay.

We Love…

Superheroes:

 

Wolverine

‘… He bristles with the prickliness and unsociability of a reform-school inmate…’

Tony McKiver

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In the great handing out of superpowers, a set of metal claws and the ability to heal seem like odd-socks, bottom-of-the-drawer leavings next to the absurd overabundance of powers bestowed on that early worm superhero Superman and the flashier attributes of other mutant members of Marvel’s X-Men series. Despite these relative disadvantages, Wolverine (A.K.A. Logan) somehow manages to stand tall amid the comic-book superheroes who have made their way into the movies.

The current cycle of comic-book-superhero films could be credited to, or blamed on, the success of Bryan Singer’s X-Men in 2000, which removed some of the taint and anxiety surrounding the idea of translating the cheesiness of comic-book storytelling for a cinema audience. At a time when audiences were still recuperating from the day-glo assault of Joel Schumacher’s moronic Batman and Robin, X-Men offered reassurance that you didn’t have to be on Ritalin to enjoy a comic-book movie. Much of the film’s success was down to the central role of Wolverine, the ideal surrogate to lead audiences into this bizarre world of mutants fighting to coexist with or dominate mankind. In a career-making turn by Hugh Jackman, the character of Wolverine earthed the unreality of the superpowered mutants, undercutting the speechy seriousness of the cod-Malcolm-X-and-Martin-Luther-King conflict between Professor X and Magneto.

Operating much like Han Solo in Star Wars (or Marvel’s other breakout cinematic success, Iron Man/Robert Downey Jr.), Logan is initially the sardonic voice of scepticism as we enter the larger-than-life—and annoyingly po-faced—world of comic-book superheroes. If Professor Xavier’s School for Mutants was the Ivy league for a liberal elite of goody-two-shoes A-students like Cyclops and Storm, Wolverine was a fish-out-of-water, Red State, metal-shop, average Joe fearful of where all this mushy togetherness and humanitarianism might lead. For cinema audiences unfamiliar with the Marvel comics, there was a lot of reassurance in seeing that the coolest character on screen shared your doubts about spandex, telepathy and every other fantastical part of the plot.

It wasn’t all irony and one-liners. There are facets to the character. Whereas the other X-Men are mostly as flat as the illustrated panels in comic books, Wolverine carries shades of light and dark, and some of that unknowingness that marks flesh and blood people. He has a painful past that troubles him in his sleep. He bristles with the prickliness and unsociability of a reform-school inmate. Jackman’s brooding, traumatised, yet still quippy hero is an obvious turning point marking the way back from Schumacher’s camp Batman on Ice to the gloom of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy. At times, he is also reassuringly a bit of a lunkhead. He confuses “generally” and “genuinely,” and is outsmarted repeatedly by shapeshifting evil mutant Mystique, until he literally sniffs out her deceit and sinks his claws into her belly.

As is often the case in such comic-to-cinema crossovers, some details from the source material have gotten lost in translation. To the irritation of purists, Wolverine on screen isn’t the dinky five foot three inches of the comic books—Jackman is a whole foot taller—and his Canadian identity goes unmentioned as if it’s likely to drive away hordes of patriotic American cinemagoers and affect the film’s bottom line. Iconographically, we are left with his distinctive adamantium claws which shoot out at his knuckles to form foot-long blades; a haircut that is part wolfman, part Pompadour; and the most formidable set of sideburns in popular culture since Amos Brearly departed Emmerdale.

Thankfully, it’s not all about the measuring tape, Maple leaves, hair and nails. Aside from Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man, no other superhero has the charisma to match Wolverine. Jackman has done a wonderful job in the role, widening the character’s popularity from a comicbook fans to the general cinema-going public: It is only well-earned audience affection that allowed him to survive the execrable X-Men Origins: Wolverine, as idiotic a film as has ever had the misfortune to be screened publicly. Returning to the character for a tiny cameo in 2011’s X-Men First Class, he made a strong impression once again, with his one-line refusal to join young Professor X and Magneto’s nascent X-Men earning the film’s biggest laugh.

Aside from Jackman, a great deal of the credit for the successful realisation of this character onscreen must go to Bryan Singer, director of the first two X-Men movies, who forges our emotional connection to the story through the character of Wolverine. Using this device, Singer succeeds in wringing real feeling out of unreal situations. In the past few years, Singer’s reputation has suffered a little, mostly due to the perceived failure of Superman Returns, a love-letter to Richard Donner’s 1978 original. Like X-Men, Superman Returns struck a similarly tricky balance between the real and the fantastical. For some critics, the disappointment with that film centred on the lack of action and this later congealed within the fanboy community into the demand that any subsequent Superman film would need to have our hero “punch somebody,” leading directly to this summer’s woeful Man of Steel. Perhaps Zack Snyder’s blunt-force-trauma Superman movie will renew people’s appreciation for the subtleties of Bryan Singer’s talents in handling comic-book superheroes, especially Wolverine.

Though greatly burned by the unmitigated shrieking horror of X-Men Origins: Wolverine, some of us who remember the triumph of the first two X-Men films awaited this summer’s The Wolverine with cautious optimism. Even more exciting is the return of Bryan Singer to the director’s chair for next year’s X-Men: Days of Future Past. Wolverine’s mutant gift of healing has allowed the character’s appeal to survive over a decade in the harsh world of cinema, withstanding withering conditions, including the ineptitude of directors Brett Ratner and Gavin Hood and an impatient and greedy studio keen to cash in on a popular character, with scant regard for quality control. Somehow the character’s claws remain sharp. Snikt!

 

 

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Sounding Off: A Response to ‘Superhero Movies – no longer films for our times’

 

Paul Counter responds to Paul Lynch‘s insistence that  superhero movies are no longer films for our times featured in Film Ireland‘s ‘Sounding Off‘ section – the place for debate and discussion on the topics that you find most compelling.

Last month’s Film Ireland carried a cover showcasing the Death of a Superhero, and a back page proclaiming it. After years of horrible box-office domination the superheroes were finally about to succumb to their kryptonite – in these complex times, cinema audiences would demand more from their heroes and superheroes would simply be outgrown.

The aspiring scriptwriter in me is yelling just to nod and look intelligent. It really is. I’d love to work with some of the people on this forum in the future. Why am I sticking my head above the parapet and defending these awful films?

The comic book fan won’t lie down though. The main reason he can’t sit still is not to convince you superhero films are high art, or even better than half good. There have been many superhero films so bad they should be wiped from existence. It’s because super hero films really aren’t about to die. They are obviously making a fortune. And it’s because having spent many years with the guilty secret of admiring men in tights who can summon thunder, I’d like to understand why now so many other people pay for a cinema ticket to do so. And it’s because if we’re serious about making films in Ireland with a real commercial appeal, as James Hickey says, then we should try to honestly assess why these films make huge, huge money each summer rather than exaggerating rumours of their demise.

The thrust of Paul Lynch’s argument is, I think, that superhero films have been in existence for 70 years, and their format of good versus evil must evolve to reflect more complex times today or else it will lose its audience. Whether we might wish it so or not, as a statement of fact this is utterly wrong.

The modern CGi-enabled superhero blockbuster has been with us for around a decade and as a spectacle is a completely different beast to what went before. Five of the highest ten grossing superhero films have been released in the last four years. More and more are being greenlit for development by studios desperate for the sure-fire return they bring (listing the number of sequels and reboots slated for release would exhaust you, reader). Rather than needing to evolve, this vast success is stunting growth, leading to a formulaic and limited approach to recycling the same kind of story.

With their easily translatable character arc, obvious external change, internal dilemmas and protagonists, the superhero origin story could have come straight from one of Syd Field’s workshops. With their huge brand recognition (since those ’40s films there have been millions of comic books and hundreds of cartoons) and universal values these films are of course that dreaded thing, the perfect summer blockbuster. Indeed superheroes and Hollywood have become such a match made in heaven that Disney recently bought Marvel, one of the two major comic book companies.

Suggesting that that simple story structure and a clear moral delineation are exclusive to superhero tales or have had their day is equally wrong. This is true of most films throughout history and will remain so until we become so cynical that good and evil are concepts a generation doesn’t even encounter in childhood.

So are superhero films kids films dressed as adult films? Of course. Challenging the films to grow up is paradoxical when the route of their success is that they allow the audience to do exactly the opposite. Today’s audience grew up with these characters as kids. At the root of their appeal are individuals who choose to wear spandex, can do impossible things, live in mansions and drive flying cars. This is essentially a childish fantasy, much like becoming a Teletubby or appearing on Wanderly Wagon. Unlike a guest slot on the Wagon, however, harnessing the living power of the sun and driving a flying car still appeals to me immensely. It stops becoming so appealing however if I have to park my flying car outside the White House to advise Obama on a responsible foreign policy, or spend a six months helping a recovering drug addict through a painful rehab. Other films do this very well, that simply is not the function of the superhero film.

Perhaps the time will come when the genre must subvert that expectation, as Paul observes the Western chose to do with the morally confused ‘70s upon it. It should be remembered though that the most successful film of the seventies was Star Wars. Westerns had simply been overtaken by better special effects and spaceships.

The most interesting aspect of all this is the one he has back to front. The complex times we live in don’t damage black and white escapism: they encourage it. With property out of reach to first-time buyers this generation stays at home longer. Grown men play on playstations. We get married later, and get drunk more. We exist in a state of extended kidulthood, an absence of responsibility that just wasn’t there in the ‘70s, so the audience has changed.

But could superhero films grow up? There is the material to support this such as The Authority and The Ultimates (which reimagines the Avengers as alcoholics/schizophrenics /wife beaters), but this isn’t the version getting made (Watchmen excepted). The problem is, I suspect, because the audience like to be quite clear what they are getting when they purchase a cinema ticket – probably one of the few experiences where we deliberately purchase the goods without inspecting them – and for a superhero film they expect mindless escapism.

Can we get better superhero films? My definition of a better superhero film would be different to my definition of a better piece of cinema, so it depends. They are films that arrive at the cinema with a history already behind them. Where a film captures the essence of the source material from page to screen, entertains an audience and generates enough revenue for a sequel to be made it has probably done its job. It’s not meant to be anything more.

Are comic films going to be left behind then in an evolutionary cinema race in which they are unable to adapt? No. They currently have no need to adapt, and the material is there if, and when, they do.

The more likely reason for their extinction is the finite number of characters that automatically command a large audience. With Spider-Man already on his fourth film this summer, three Nolan Batfilms and five X-Men films already completed, people will tire of seeing the same characters and studios will be unwilling to invest in lesser known properties.

Until that happens, for those that have no history with comic books, and no desire to reconnect with that inner child, I suggest the best course of action is simply to avoid watching them. I doubt they damage credible cinema, or take any audience share from more meritorious films, indeed with cinemas teetering on the edge of economic viability these cash cows probably effectively subsidise much of the more creative endeavour out there.

Paul Counter

If you would like to respond to this article or feel strongly about something and would like to kick off your own topic, please email steven@filmbase.ie

 

 

 

 

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We Love… Summer: 'X-Men'

We Love... Summer

Illustration: Adeline Pericart

Blisters on your shoulders, sand in your underwear, coughing up seawater and being packed into a caravan with the entire extended family – the sweet, sweet memories of summer’s past. Thank God we have film to look back on with pleasure. And so the Film Ireland sun lovers lay down their towels, unwrap a Cornetto and recall their favourite summer films in the latest installment of We Love… Summer. Roxane J. Ray sunbathes watching X-Men.


X-Men

(2000)


Roxane J. Ray

When one thinks of summer movies, one arguably tends to think of action movies, or comedies. Summer is about entertainment and light-hearted stories, not a time for psychological drama. But summer is also a time of self-discovery and empowerment, which is why I suggest X-Men as a summer movie choice.

This is not just because the X-Men prequel that has just been released, which naturally perhaps associates this franchise with summer. The theme of X Men is about normal people who develop extraordinary powers; people who journey away from their home to find a place where they belong.

The first X-Men film is where this theme is most prominently illustrated. It centres around Rogue, a mutant who is unable to touch anyone without assimilating their powers, memories, and potentially even killing them. She daydreams about taking a road trip, just before she finally does, after an unfortunate incident involving touching a boy who then ended up in a coma.

Granted, it’s winter when she takes a road trip with another fellow traveller, Wolverine, but the idea of travel away from one’s comfort zone and the escape from daily life is something that we can all associate with summer.

Rogue gets more than she bargained for; not just a trip away from home but a new home, and a chance to attain what she always wanted for herself: a normal life. Summer is not just about discovering new sides to ourselves but also rediscovering what we thought we had lost, such as our dreams.

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3ZrQC5QEmJE

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