Hugh Jackman's portrayed Logan, otherwise known as Wolverine, in nine films dating back seventeen years. Over that period, the X-Men films featuring Jackman have been all over the map, spanning from the execrable to the entertaining. However, he's never been at the center of a film like Logan, his final bravura outing in the role. While the X-Men films keep getting bigger, with larger casts and greater destruction, the stand-alone Wolverine films keep getting smaller as the casts constrict and there's a turn toward the internal. That focus bears substantial fruit in Logan, by far the best X-Men film in the extended franchise, and one of the best superhero films in the present era that Wolverine and the X-Men arguably kicked off.
The follow-up to the Wolverine solo series did not have to try too hard to surpass Wolverine: Origins. Burdened with ineffective CGI and crowded with characters that were bungled or unnecessary or both, Origins remains the worst film in the entire X-Men franchise despite some serious competition. In James Mangold's The Wolverine, the series washes its hands of its predecessor and moves Hugh Jackman's feral, adamantium-infused super-healer from North America, with its large and distracting cast of intertwining characters, to Japan and its low mutant population. This first step avoids one of the many traps that Origins fell into, namely a temptation to stuff too many characters, with their respective mutant powers, into a rickety narrative. The setting also affords Jackman's Logan the chance to work in a culture that has long mirrored and inspired Western films. Cowboys and ronin have a lot in common, and lone heroes sauntering into unjust situations fit just as well in Japan as they do in the American frontier. In adapting comics that correctly saw Logan as a claw-fisted Man With No Name, and in having the good sense to not have Logan screaming 'NO!' to the heavens, Mangold helps Jackman expunge the memory of Origins.
Cinematic extended universes have been all the rage in Hollywood for several years, and Legendary Entertainment attempts to add a second chapter to their Monster-verse in Kong: Skull Island. Taking place decades before 2014's Godzilla remake, Jordan Vogt-Roberts sets his giant monster film at the end of the Vietnam War, paying homage to the movie staples about that conflict (Apocalypse Now plus some Rambo) while also poking fun at the muscle-bound action flicks of the 80's. More fun and dynamic than the cinematically-impressive but dramatically-bland Godzilla, Kong: Skull Island is a step in the right direction for Legendary.
Far more than the toyetic corporate mess that was expected, 2014's The LEGO Movie surprised with its high rate of humor and emotion in its storyline. Did the iconic Danish company sell a lot of LEGO sets derived from the movie? Of course they did, but based on the original and inventive work of Phil Lord and Chris Miller, The LEGO Movie managed to be about story first and commerce second, or at least fool the viewer into believing that. Of the many strong components of The LEGO Movie, few were as memorable as Will Arnett's voicing of Batman. Playing the superhero as a self-satisfied bro dining out on his past trauma, Arnett, Lord, and Miller punctured the overly-serious tone of the Christopher Nolan Dark Knight trilogy while still clearly admiring the character as a bad-ass cool guy. With the LEGO Batman Movie, Lord and Miller switch over to producing, but those who stepped into writing and directing share the same sense of the character, ably balancing his pathos with his inherent silliness.
One thing I’ve come to respect about the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is their willingness to gamble by straying away from the standard superhero genre. Whether it be creating a ragtag underdog team like “Guardians of the Galaxy” or going full-on heist movie with “Ant-Man,” The MCU has never feared a little genre bending. So, what does it opt to do once it finally gets its hands on the coveted “Spider-Man” franchise again? Of course, make a teen comedy out of it! “Spider-Man: Homecoming” successfully manages to be a teen comedy with superhero trappings thanks to a strong cast of characters and the proper grounding of a universe often lacking exactly that.
In a disappointing development, the controversy surrounding the all-female reboot of Ghostbusters is far more interesting than the film itself. The trolls of the Internet commentariat came out for this one, savaging the marketing campaign and getting personal with the stars on Twitter. None of this level of anger was evinced by the remakes of Total Recall or Robocop, two other beloved properties of Gen X childhoods repackaged by cannibalistic studios, leaving the gender-flipping of the cast as the obvious reason for the rage. Much to the disappointment of those for whom Pepe is only known as an off-brand tequila, Paul Feig, a director with Bridesmaids and Spy in his win column, spits out a dud here. 2016 was a great year for frustrated misogynists and their feelings of marginalization for several reasons, and one of them was that they got to tell everyone 'I told ya so' about Ghostbusters, a film whose problems are too deep for any foursome of actors, male or female, to solve.
In Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, there’s a conceited race of gold-skinned humanoids called the Sovereign. Led by Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki), they take every opportunity to remind their audience that they are genetically perfect, spawned from millenia of biochemical knowledge to be the purest and most efficient beings in the galaxy. Against the sloppy and crude heroes of the title, the Sovereign provide a snobs-vs-slobs dynamic that perfectly sets this Marvel property as the antidote to the empty philosophy and self-seriousness that DC is presently trafficking in. False pomp and circumstance is lampooned throughout, both with the Sovereign and with the overheated exclamations of a would-be warlord by the name of Taserface (Chris Sullivan). In the sequel to the Guardians of the Galaxy’s brash introduction, Marvel Studios and director James Gunn continues to demonstrate that a hefty dose of levity is more endearing than all the historical baggage from the most iconic comic book characters. What viewer would prefer a scowling armor-clad billionaire or a dour sky god to the adorable cluelessness of a sentient plant or the guileless honesty of a tattooed madman?
The always-delightful Kung Fu Panda series doesn't surprise in its third entry but it remains as watchable as ever. Like the titular bear nestled in a bamboo forest, Kung Fu Panda 3 sits comfortably between its two earlier films in the franchise, not as affecting as the first sequel but more confident than the original. With Jennifer Yuh Nelson back at the helm, along with co-director Alessandro Carloni, the filmmaking has continued to improve, this time incorporating a mystical element that takes nothing away from the balletic martial arts. However, mainstay screenwriters Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger seem to have gotten too comfortable, pushing out a script that feels identical to so many other animated films with less accomplished pedigrees. Dreamworks Animation is supposed to polish up this kind of shorthand, and they've let it slip into what is otherwise an engaging story.
Mel Gibson's return to respectability brings him back to warfare, the genre of his greatest success. Like Braveheart, Hacksaw Ridge centers around a protagonist who wants to be a peaceful man but circumstances thrust him into violent battle. Unlike William Wallace, who cleaved his way through his enemies, Desmond Doss of Hacksaw Ridge doesn't fire a weapon during his service in the Pacific, a theater filmed as ghastly as any American WWII film ever made. On the one hand, making a film about a pacifist is a mature and surprising move from Gibson, who so likes to make prestige gorehound films. On the other hand, Hacksaw Ridge is uneven in parts and ridiculous in others. It's baffling that Gibson would want to make such harrowing scenes of warfare and then dress them up with the debris of action-filmmaking. Speed-ramping does not belong in a serious war film.
There's been so many superhero origin stories that any viewer whose paid cursory attention to the last decade of big-budget moviemaking can see the requisite plot markers coming. If the storytelling is a lost cause, unable to surprise, then what remains is the spectacle and, especially, the characters. Guardians of the Galaxy, Ant Man, and Deadpool each spun rote tales of MacGuffins, heists, and revenge, but a comedic tone and characters with specific quirks and worldviews made it easy for the viewer to discount, or at minimum distract from, the predictability in the story. Doctor Strange, the latest Marvel character to get his own origin story, certainly gets the spectacle part down with its journey through the mind-shredding multiverse, but its characters don't differentiate themselves enough from the dozen or so other similar tales.
Random projects from the MMC Universe.