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.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle Box Office Prediction

British spies join forces with their American counterparts in Kingsman: The Golden Circle, the sequel to the 2015 action/comedy hit Kingsman: The Secret Service. Matthew Vaughn is back directing with returning stars Colin Firth, Taron Egerton, and Mark Strong. We also have some new but very familiar faces that include Channing Tatum, Jeff Bridges, Julianne Moore, Halle Berry, and even Elton John!

Two and a half years ago, the original hit its mark with both critics and moviegoers. Opening to $36 million, The Secret Service went on to gross $128M overall domestically. With the relatively small gap between the sequel and its predecessor, I don’t see sequelitis kicking in here.

Circle could find itself in a real battle for the #1 spot with The Lego Ninjago Movie. Both pictures are expected to post debuts in the low to mid 40s. There’s also the third weekend of It to consider, as it still should be raking in plenty of cash.

I’ll project that the second go-round for the Kingsman (and now the Statesman) debuts about $7 million above the first.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle opening weekend prediction: $43.6 million

For my The Lego Ninjajo Movie prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2017/09/13/the-lego-ninjago-movie-box-office-prediction/

For my Friend Request prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2017/09/17/friend-request-box-office-prediction/

Kingsman: The Secret Service Movie Review

Kingsman: The Secret Service is an homage to old school spy flicks if those particular movies from the 60s could have featured lots of gory and video game style violence. This genre of film from Bond to Bourne has turned more serious as of late and Kingsman aims to be the antidote. There are a number of clever moments and there is excitement present, but I could never completely shake the feeling that Matthew Vaughn’s latest often feels about half as cool as it thinks it is. The director takes his Kick-Ass attitude to these proceedings and the result never quite reaches the level of fun of that aforementioned effort.

The Kingsman are a group of British super spies whose London store front tailor shop hides the underground lair of gadgetry and much more. Michael Caine is their leader and Colin Firth one of their veteran agents. The picture begins in the late 90s as one Kingsman saves Firth’s life while losing his own. The deceased’s young son Eggsy (Taron Egerton) is visited by Firth and given a code to call the Kingsman if he should ever be in trouble. Flash forward to seventeen years later and Eggsy is a rebellious and aimless youth who does end up making that call and he’s soon recruited to try out for the organization that his dad died for.

He joins a number of other youth in their lengthy auditions for membership to the Kingsman and these scenes are a bit similar to some in Vaughn’s previous movie, X-Men: First Class. The bad guy in the mix is Richmond Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson), a billionaire who aims to wipe out most of the Earth’s population except for a privileged few royals and celebrities (Iggy Azalea is humorously mentioned as one of the survivors). It is the character of Valentine’s and Jackson’s lisping and off kilter portrayal of him that tells you most of what you need to know about the movie. Vaughn and his cowriters wish to harken back to the days of the ridiculous 007 villains. It’s a delicate thing for the screenwriters to get this right while all the over the top Tarantino-esque bloody violence is happening and it doesn’t always succeed. Some of the time, I almost expected Dr. Evil to stand alongside Valentine. Other times the story seems to forget it wants to be a satire at all.

That said, the performers give it their all and it’s particularly amusing to see Oscar winner Firth in a true badass mode. He has one scene located in a Kentucky church that stands as the most memorable. Newcomer Egerton may have a bright future and Jackson definitely seems to be enjoying himself. This is an undeniably stylish exercise and the action centerpieces are directed with the trademark energy we’ve come to expect from Vaughn. On a side note, the climactic battle may have you furiously Shazaming the funky track playing in the background. It’s Give It Up by KC and the Sunshine Band. You’re welcome.

The talent involved with Kingsman is considerable. I just wish I got the same kinetic thrill I received from Vaughn’s Kick-Ass and X-Men: First Class. It tries hard, but this concoction of self aware spoof with cartoonish violence and occasionally tired social and political satire plays more like a curiosity than the success stories of the filmmaker’s previous offerings.

**1/2 (out of four)

Kingsman: The Secret Service Box Office Prediction

It certainly doesn’t have the name recognition of your Avengers or X-Men, but Kingsman: The Secret Service still may use its superhero related formula to bring in successful box office results. Based on a 2012 comic book, the 20th Century Fox production utilizes some familiar names and faces in its genre. Matthew Vaughn, director of X-Men: First Class, serves behind the camera with Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and Alfred the Butler (Michael Caine) in supporting roles. Oscar winner Colin Firth headlines.

The spy action comedy has been receiving mostly strong critical notices and it stands at 80% currently on Rotten Tomatoes. Kingsman could serve as smart counter programming for the male audience as much of the female audience will be watching Christian Grey and whips and blindfolds. Trailers and TV spots have been prevalent and well produced.

I’ll estimate that Kingsman manages a sturdy debut of around $30 million. That’s less than half what I’m predicting Fifty Shades makes, but it’s still quite good for this picture.

Kingsman: The Secret Service opening weekend prediction: $30.6 million

For my Fifty Shades of Grey prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2015/02/07/fifty-shades-of-grey-box-office-prediction/