Saturday, May 28, 2016

on Singer's X-Men franchise and the law of diminishing returns when the whole world/universe/multiverse is at stake

There's a decently high chance I'll be catching X-Men: Age of Apocalypse this weekend ... and Love & Friendship.  I'm not entirely sure whether either of these will actually be good but I'm significantly more optimistic about the film in which Kate Beckinsale's working with Whit Stillman again AND tackling a Jane Austen adaptation.  It's not exactly that the version of Emma she was in was great.  I found it frustrating because they gutted so much of Austen's story that even though Beckinsale and Mark Strong were glorious as Emma Woodhouse and Mr. Knightley (this was before Mark Strong would go on to be the go to character actor for villain roles) too much of the novel was lost. 

So the prospect of Beckinsale coming back to Jane Austen material could be great.  She can't keep doing Underworld movies forever.

And the emotional/relational stakes are going to be more plausible in Love & Friendship than they could possibly be in Singer's new film.  A few years ago one of my nieces was asking me if there'd be another Avengers movie and I said there would be.  She remarked that that would be pretty cool ... but ... it sure seemed like the Avengers were always only just saving the whole world.  Wasn't there some variety?  Couldn't they do something LESS than save the world.  Being the Batman fan that I am I couldn't resist replying with, "Well, that's what Batman is for.  The most he usually does is save Gotham city."  "That's true. That's reasonable." she replied.  , though I'm paraphrasing a bit.

As superhero film upon superhero film continues to hit theaters the X-Men franchise has shown us that nothing less than the fate of humanity can be at stake, and maybe the whole planet while we're at it.  Given enough time and the various unfortunately less-than-idle threats to have Thanos do something beyond getting his own Coke from the fridge, we'll see threats to the whole multiverse.  Not that we can expect to see Andrew Garfield, Tobey Maguire AND Tom Holland all play Spiderman in some kind of Infinity War... .

But when the stakes are always so cosmic and we know nobody is going to stay dead (thank you, "death of Superman") it's hard to get too excited.  it's also hard to entirely look askance on superhero films because I've been reading how fans of Trump and Sanders and Clinton write about their favorites ... and I am increasingly convinced that the power fantasies of adults are not even remotely different in principle from the power fantasies of children. 

I already admit to liking Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy and one of the things I like about it is what some Batman fans hate about it, which is that at the end of the films Bruce Wayne reaches a point where he physically can't keep being Batman any more; realizes he has done all he can to save the city he loves; and decides to quit and settle down to a life with Selina Kyle.  Bruce Wayne abandons the Bat.  That's not the kind of "end" that people want for Batman in some circles.  They want a Bruce Wayne who "can't" stop being Batman. They want a Bruce Wayne who is "the mask" and that Batman is who Bruce Wayne really is.  Nolan didn't conceive of Bruce Wayne as that kind of person.  Brue Wayne created the persona of Batman and could remember that's what it was and that it was a persona he could leave behind.  Of course for Bruce Wayne it was about saving Gotham or fighting crime and that distinction isn't subtle for Batman fans who think of Bruce Wayne's primary mission as continuously waging an impossible and unwinnable "war against crime". 

Nolan conceived of a Bruce Wayne whose aims were literally more positive, "What can I do to save my city and make it a better place?"  There's room to have different opinions here but I liked that Nolan's conception of Bruce Wayne was formulated in ultimately positive rather than negative terms--Bruce was motivated by a desire to honor the memory of his father and mother; by a desire to save Gotham if it needed saving; by a positive question about what thesocial responsibilities of a billionaire who grew into old money could be for a city in decline; and thought through what it might mean when it turned out that his mentor in fighting crime turned out to be a master criminal.

Singer has been alternating between mutants wanting to kill humans and humans wanting to kill mutants for a decade and a half now.  You can ramp up the stakes but the core conflict of alternating aggressions doesn't change.  You could skip the entirety of the franchise and get all of the best parts of this in X2.  Okay, maybe not "all", as in you wouldn't get the charmingly goofy Quicksilver.  But even though Lawrence may technically be regarded as the better actress Romijn more convincingly inhabited the role of Mystique for me.  Storm?  ... I dunno.  Storm's a classic character who doesn't seem to have ever been brought fully to life on any screen in a live-action context.  It might be as Bruce Campbell said about Batman, it'd only took Hollywood at least five movies to finally get the character right.  Storm might be in that category ... .

I'll probably see the new Singer film soon ... but I'm not anticipating it being as fun as Singer made the X-men franchise a decade ago. 

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