X-Men at 20: A Look Back

Twenty years ago today, Bryan Singer’s X-Men arrived in theaters and it’s not hyperbole to call it one of the most influential pictures of the 21st century. The 20th Century Fox release found the comic book genre at a rather low point at the end of that said century. While Blade was a nice size hit in 1998, the years prior found at a lot to be desired with the quality of the genre. 1995 brought us Judge Dredd and 1997 saw the release of Batman and Robin, which found the Caped Crusader with Bat nipples and bad reviews.

X-Men, though it’s hard to remember now, was released at a time where the idea of superhero tales was an uncertain box office prospect. This is two years before Spider-Man broke all kinds of financial records. This is five years prior to Christopher Nolan reinvigorating the Bat franchise with his Dark Knight trilogy. And this was eight years before Robert Downey Jr. was cast as Tony Stark/Iron Man, officially kicking off the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

In the summer of 2000, X-Men was by no means a guaranteed hit. It did, however, have credibility with the behind the scenes talent and cast. Bryan Singer was known for his heralded The Usual Suspects. Acclaimed actors Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen (fresh off an Oscar nod for Gods and Monsters), Anna Paquin, and Halle Berry were among the onscreen players. And it was another casting decision that provided its most enduring legacy. Russell Crowe, who headlined that summer’s Oscar winner Gladiator, originally turned down the part of Wolverine. Dougray Scott was then cast in the role, but had to drop out when his role as the villain in Mission: Impossible II (also out that summer) prevented him from filming. So it was the unknown Hugh Jackman who donned the claws. He would go on to make it his signature role as he played Logan/Wolverine in numerous sequels and spin-offs (including three stand-alone projects of wildly divergent qualities).

Let’s back up. Before the 2000 release, X-Men was in development for over a decade and a half. At one point, James Cameron was slated to produce with his then wife Kathryn Bigelow attached to direct. Later on, Robert Rodriguez turned the project down. A gander at the pic’s Wikipedia page is an entertaining read (Mariah Carey was in the mix for Storm at one juncture and Angela Bassett was first choice). X-Men was rushed to make its summer release date 20 years ago today after it was originally intended for Christmas 2000.

That rushed feeling does show on up on screen a little, but the overall end result speaks for itself. What occurred two decades ago is a major mark in the comic book movie renaissance that continues to this day. The franchise has certainly had its ups and downs. X2: X-Men United was the first sequel in 2003 and it is generally considered a high point. Three years later, Brett Ratner took over directorial reigns with The Last Stand and (while a huge hit) the quality took a dip. Matthew Vaughn would reestablish critical kudos in rebooting the series in 2011 with First Class (bringing Michael Fassbender, James McAvoy, and Jennifer Lawrence to the screen playing younger counterparts to key characters). Jackman’s first spin-off X-Men Origins: Wolverine faced deserved backlash while 2017’s Logan was lauded and landed an Adapted Screenplay Oscar nomination. And a cheeky and R rated offshoot called Deadpool with Ryan Reynolds would dazzle audiences and critics alike. Last summer’s Dark Phoenix didn’t do any dazzling and was another low ebb in the series. Spin-off The New Mutants has seen release date changes that began in 2018 and it’s pretty much a running joke as to whether it will ever come out.

That long road began in 2000 and has shaped the cinematic universe since. And if you had to mark a spot for the comic book landscape today as it stands now on the screen, it started that day.

Oscar Watch: It Chapter Two

Two years ago, Andy Muschietti’s adaptation of the Stephen King novel It broke box office records in the horror genre and became an instant audience favorite. Yet it didn’t end up registering with awards voters in any fashion… not even for Pennywise’s creepy makeup job.

This weekend, the eagerly awaited sequel arrives and the review embargo has floated away. Chapter Two holds a decent 79% Rotten Tomatoes score, but that’s beneath the 86% achieved by its predecessor. A consistent theme in much of the critical reaction is that many parts work, but that it’s also overlong and doesn’t quite measure up to chapter one.

If It couldn’t garner Oscar attention, don’t expect this to. I will make make one further prediction. Another common factor in the reviews is praise for Bill Hader’s performance and he’s said to be a scene stealer. Don’t be surprised to see some chatter and wishful thinking for a Supporting Actor nod that will never come to pass. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

It Chapter Two Box Office Prediction

It Chapter Two will no doubt float to the top of the charts next weekend when it’s unleashed in cinemas. The Stephen King adapted horror epic continues the story of the Losers Club battling demonic clown Pennywise and hopes to rake in similar earnings to its 2017 predecessor. Andy Muschietti returns in the director’s seat with Bill Skarsgard back as Pennywise. Jaeden Martell, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, Chosen Jacobs, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Jack Dylan Grazer, and Wyatt Oleff reprise their roles as the youthful Losers Club. Part 2 also flashes forward in time and finds James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain, Bill Hader (said to be a scene stealer), Isaiah Mustafa, Jay Ryan, James Ransone, and Andy Bean portraying their adult versions. This is the only wide release of the weekend as other studios steered clear.

It was a genuine box office phenomenon when it came out during the same post Labor Day frame two years ago. Bursting out of the gate with $123.4 million, it ended its domestic gross at just over $327 million. That made It the largest September opening of all time and highest debuting and overall earning horror feature ever.

Chapter Two stands a real chance at breaking those records. Unlike some sequels in 2019 that followed long after previous entries, chapter one is still fresh in the minds of audiences. There’s a desire to see how it wraps up. That said, I’ll say this falls under what that creepy clown and company accomplished in 2017.

It Chapter Two opening weekend prediction: $109.7 million

Dark Phoenix Box Office Prediction

Closing out the latest chapter of the X-Men Universe that began in 2011, Dark Phoenix rises or falls in theaters next weekend. The fourth official entry in the current franchise iteration is a direct sequel to 2016’s XMen: Apocalypse. This one is focused more on the Jean Grey character played by Sophie Turner, but it brings back Jennifer Lawrence as Mystique, James McAvoy as Charles Xavier, and Michael Fassbender as Magneto. The familiar cast additionally includes Nicholas Hoult, Tye Sheridan, Alexandra Shipp, Kodi Smit-McPhee, and Evan Peters with Jessica Chastain joining the fray for the first time. Simon Kinberg, responsible for penning three previous X pics, makes his directorial debut.

Phoenix comes at a time where the franchise is going through a major transition. With Disney’s recent acquisition of Fox, it is believed the X-Men characters will be cast anew and melded with the vaunted Marvel Cinematic Universe at some juncture. The series is coming off Apocalypse, which didn’t impress critics and had a $155 million overall domestic gross that ranked well under predecessor Days of Future Past. The next X title (spin-off The New Mutants) is out next spring and has been delayed on numerous occasions.

Anticipation seems muted here. Phoenix has the very real possibility of having the lowest premiere ever in the franchise’s history. That distinction for a non spin-off currently belongs to the 2000 original, which started with $54 million (not adjusted for inflation). Just below that is 2013’s The Wolverine at $53 million.

The opportunity for Disney to reinvigorate the series is coming, but I’ll project this latest entry will mark an overall low in earnings.

Dark Phoenix opening weekend prediction: $45.3 million

For my The Secret Life of Pets 2 prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/05/29/the-secret-life-of-pets-2-box-office-prediction/

Glass Movie Review

If nothing else, M. Night Shyamalan is audacious and I have always admired that. He likes to swing away at the cinematic fences and in Glass, he melds two of his pictures into a new universe. It’s ultimately not a very satisfying one, but the guy tries hard.

At the end of 2017’s Split, which returned the filmmaker to box office prominence, it was revealed that what we watched existed in the same realm of 2000’s Unbreakable. It did so by bringing in David Dunn (Bruce Willis). As you may recall, Dunn was the lone survivor of a train derailment who came to realize he was impervious to pain. Comic book store owner Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson), suffering from a disease that cause his bones to break easily, surmised that David was a superhero. And Elijah was the arch nemesis as the 2000 flick revealed he was the evil mastermind behind the train going off the track.

In Split, we were introduced to James McAvoy’s Kevin and almost two dozen other characters that lived inside his head while he tormented teen girls that he kidnapped. From an annoying nine-year old boy to a OCD monster to a proper British dame, his personalities culminated with The Beast, who also possessed super human strength. The surprise ending suggested David will battle The Beast and low and behold – Split made more than enough money for that to occur.

This brings us to Glass. The first act allows this trio of characters to end up in the same mental institution with a psychiatrist (Sarah Paulson) attempting to dissuade them of their perceived powers. Dunn is sensitive to the possibility. The many voices of Kevin has his moments of doubt. Elijah, aka Mr. Glass, is so doped up that we’re not sure he knows what’s going on. However, fans of Unbreakable know the dude is a mastermind.

Glass brings back other characters from its double source material. Charlayne Woodard returns as Elijah’s supportive to a troubling degree mother. Spencer Treat Clark is back as David’s now grown son (Robin Wright skipped out as his wife). And Anya-Taylor Joy reprises her Split role as Kevin’s surviving kidnap victim. Her story arch here is easily the most inexplicable one in a movie filled with often strange choices.

My feelings with Unbreakable and Split are a bit against the grain from many others. I actually dug the former 19 years ago while many found out it to be a disappointing follow-up to The Sixth Sense. As for the latter, I enjoyed McAvoy’s bonkers performance greatly but found it as a whole to be a mixed bag. The melding of the two worlds also fits that description. It’s got everything we expect from Shyamalan, including a twist ending or two. This time around, they land with less impact than earlier efforts.

McAvoy is still impressive, but we’ve seen this show before. Unbreakable set itself up perfectly for a world building sequel. Quite frankly, Glass made me realize I wish it hadn’t taken Split for us to get it. More of the Dunn/Elijah dynamic could have been rewarding without these other personalities in the way. Shyamalan’s personality shines through as always as he tries to overwhelm us with style and suspense. Like Split, the result is some memorable sequences amid numerous questionable ones and not the more cohesive whole that I found Unbreakable to be.

**1/2 (out of four)

Glass Box Office Prediction

When it debuts over the MLK four-day holiday weekend, M. Night Shyamalan’s Glass will easily break into the number one spot. Questions about its potential ceiling are very real. The superhero thriller mixes the casts of two of the filmmaker’s best known works – 2000’s Unbreakable and 2017’s Split. That means James McAvoy, Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson, Spencer Treat Clark and Anya-Taylor Joy are along for the ride as well as Sarah Paulson joining this cinematic universe. No other movie opens wide against it.

Just over 18 years ago, Unbreakable was Night’s eagerly anticipated follow-up to his breakthrough smash hit The Sixth Sense. Audiences had a mixed reaction at the time, but it managed a five-day Thanksgiving haul of $46 million before a final domestic gross of $95 million. Its reputation has grown in many circles in time. Two years ago, Split served as a major comeback vehicle for the director with a $40 million start as it legged out to $138 million.

I believe the positive response for Split will earn this impressive results. It only helps that it’s still fresh in the minds of audiences, including the ending that set up this picture. Word-of-mouth will determine the rest.

Glass will not shatter this holiday weekend’s record, which is held by American Sniper at $107 million. Earning the #2 honors over MLK should be a breeze as that’s currently held by Ride Along at $48 million.

Prognostications have this nabbing anywhere between $50-75 million from Friday to Monday. I have a hunch the higher end of that range is the route to go.

*On the eve of its premiere, I’m downgrading from $72.1 million to $58.1 million

Glass opening weekend prediction: $58.1 million (Friday to Monday estimate)

Sherlock Gnomes Box Office Prediction

Seven years after its predecessor posted solid box office numbers, animated sequel Sherlock Gnomes debuts in theaters next weekend. Produced by Paramount Animation and MGM, the 3D computer drawn comedy is the follow-up to 2011’s Gnomeo and Juliet. Returning voices include James McAvoy (Gnomeo), Emily Blunt (Juliet), Michael Caine, and Maggie Smith. Known faces bringing fresh voices to the follow-up include Chiwetel Ejiofor, Mary J. Blige, and Johnny Depp. Elton John contributes some music.

In February 2011, Gnomeo debuted to $25 million and ended up with $99.9 million overall. Fun fact: that makes it the highest grossing domestic earner of all time to not join the century club. One problem with Gnomes matching the first: a lot of the kiddos who went to see Gnomeo are now preteens or teenagers. Unlike Pixar sequels, there may not be enough goodwill for this to warrant them returning or bringing in a fresh batch of youngsters.

That said, competition for family audiences is rather light. I’ll predict Sherlock ends up in the low to mid teens for its start.

Sherlock Gnomes opening weekend prediction: $13.7 million

For my Pacific Rim Uprising prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/03/13/pacific-rim-uprising-box-office-prediction/

For my Paul, Apostle of Christ prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/03/14/paul-apostle-of-christ-box-office-prediction/

For my Midnight Sun prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/03/16/midnight-sun-box-office-prediction/

For my Unsane prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/03/16/unsane-box-office-prediction/

Atomic Blonde Movie Review

Atomic Blonde is set in 1989 and that feels appropriate because it’s a gleefully rated R entry in an action genre that cranked out a lot more of those 30 years ago. It’s unapologetically violent, sexy, and stylish with a pulsating late 80s soundtrack booming all throughout (almost all throughout). It’s additionally uneven at times and confusing, but I didn’t care much because the good outweighs the bad and the bad people look good doing their thing.

David Leitch co-directed John Wick and we see those kind of kinetic fight scenes represented here as well. Charlize Theron is Lorraine, an MI6 agent dispatched to Berlin just days before the collapse of the Wall. While the Cold War is drawing to a close, she’s given the mission of retrieving a McGuffin (a wristwatch in this case) that hides the identities of secret agents.  She’s also teamed up with Percival (James McAvoy), an outlandish fellow agent who may or may not be on her side. Lorraine also gets friendly (very friendly) with Sofia Boutella’s French agent and the scenes between them aren’t something normally found in summer shoot-em-up material.

The story is told in flashback (not exactly an original touch) as Lorraine recounts her sordid Berlin experience to a CIA man (John Goodman) and other government big wigs. The villains change seemingly minute to minute. It’s a screenplay that never tires of double, triple, and quadruple crosses. Trying to piece it altogether at its conclusion may not be worth your time.

That said, certain sequences and the general cool vibe make it worth your while. It also doesn’t hurt to hear George Michael, A Flock of Seagulls and others singing along during the battle ballets. They’re a trip, but the most effective fight scene is a gloriously choreographed number with no music. It might be the finest action set piece using that distinction since Heat.

Theron has proven herself in several genres, but she sure seems comfortable in this one. McAvoy is having a blast as well. Atomic Blonde is shameless in a way that R rated action pics should be when they’re done well enough. And that alone sets it apart in the summer season.

*** (out of four)

Atomic Blonde Box Office Prediction

Blogger’s Note (07/23): I am revising my estimate down from my original projection to a high teens debut.

Charlize Theron is in her second high-profile action flick of 2017 as Atomic Blonde hits theaters next weekend. The Oscar winner plays an MI6 agent teamed up with James McAvoy. The spy thriller costars John Goodman, Sofia Boutella, and Toby Jones and is directed by John Wick‘s David Leitch.

Blonde premiered this spring at the South by Southwest Festival to solid word-of-mouth and reviews have been mostly pleasing as it stands at 78% on Rotten Tomatoes. Theron appeared in this spring’s The Fate of the Furious and McAvoy is fresh off his blockbuster starring role in Split. 

Shot for a meager $30 million, the pic should have no trouble being a profitable venture for its studio. It could reach close to its budget in the first weekend, though I’ll estimate it falls a bit under that in the mid 20s. That may mean a debut in third place behind The Emoji Movie and the second weekend of Dunkirk, depending on how that opens on Friday.

Atomic Blonde opening weekend prediction: $18.6 million

For my The Emoji Movie prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2017/07/19/the-emoji-movie-box-office-prediction/

X-Men: Apocalypse Movie Review

XMen: Apocalypse isn’t the only disappointing entry in the franchise, but it’s the only one directed by Bryan Singer that I’d classify as such. He directed the first two X entries in 2000 and 2002 and got the series off to a satisfying start. Singer would return in 2014 with Days of Future Past to mostly pleasing results. Apocalypse may have you feeling blue about where this series is at. The villain is shrug worthy, some of the actors seem to not be giving it their all, and some of the CG effects are questionable at best. It also makes the error of providing dull backstory material for characters we didn’t really need to know backstory for.

When Singer left the franchise for the first time in 2002, Brett Ratner took over with The Last Stand in 2006 and was crucified for his efforts. In fact, when Singer returned in 2014, much of Future Past erased Last Stand. Maybe Apocalypse is a bit of revenge for Ratner, because it’s worse than his X-perience. Quite a bit worse actually. Stand doesn’t quite deserve its bad reputation and Apocalypse does.

The whole proceedings get off to a shaky start with a prologue set in Egypt where the first believed mutant Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac, in heavy and ugly makeup) is entombed by his enemies. Flash to centuries later and it’s 1983. When Apocalypse breaks out of his long slumber, he is hell bent on exacting revenge on the human race and showing off his many mutant abilities. He doesn’t comment on the awful 80s fashion, but it probably doesn’t make him any more fond of the people he seeks to destroy.

Fighting Apocalypse are many familiar X-Men, including Professor X (James McAvoy, still with hair for awhile) and Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence). Meanwhile, Magneto (Michael Fassbender) is laying low in Poland working in factory with lots of metal (oh the temptations!). He has a wife and daughter and a tragic family scene between them is actually rather well handled. While this trio of movie stars playing the most liked X characters get their screen time, Simon Kinberg’s screenplay also spends an unnecessary amount of ink on backstories for Cyclops, Nightcrawler, and Storm (younger versions of them all). These are unsought subplots that feel like filler and not much else. We also get a young Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) storyline that should be more interesting than it is.

All in all, there’s simply nothing very exciting about Apocalypse. Lawrence seems downright bored and her performance reflects that. Oscar Isaac is a tremendously talented performer who’s utterly wasted in a one-note villain role. The 60s vibe worked in X-Men: First Class and the 70s era feel of Future Past was pretty cool. Here, the 80s references add little.

There’s a sequence early on when Jean and friends leave Return of the Jedi disappointed and says everyone knows that the third one in a series is always the worst. Was screenwriter Simon Kinberg trying to warn us? Apocalypse isn’t terrible, but it’s the low point of this series so far.

** (out of four)