It's official: the summer movie season has begun. Naturally, we have our fanboys, girls and superheroes to thank. Marvel Entertainment has dominated the first weekend of May for several years now and May 1, 2009 was no different. After opening to $35 million on Friday, Wolverine kicked off the blockbuster season with an $85 million debut. There are several things to be said of this. 1) The amount falls short of the early $87 million estimate. 2) The movie can no longer claim to have beaten the debut of X2: X-Men United. 3) While the number is big – big enough to say the season started with a bang – it is extremely disappointing, especially given the amount of pre-release hype and awareness that went into publicizing it.
By George Rose
May 6, 2009
I don't claim to know everything about all the super hero origins, but the X-Men universe is one I'm pretty familiar with. I also understand that many comics are part of a universe and that there can be multiple ways to tell the story (and origin) of characters we think we already know and love. Knowing that, my thoughts on the film are two-fold. As a summer popcorn flick, it was very entertaining. Lots of explosions, some cool mutant powers, Hollywood elite dressed up in skin tight costumes and a plot cohesive enough that 12-year-olds shouldn't be confused or outraged. However, as a fan of the variety of source material, this film was laughable. Literally. Granted, your state of mind entering the theater and the audience you experience it with can greatly affect how you interpret its quality. Had I been able to see the Thursday midnight screening, I would have been surrounded by die-hard fans and loud cheering. Instead, because of a commitment I could not avoid which I needed rest for on Friday morning (darn you, college graduation!), I was forced to wait until I moved back home to see Wolverine at the last possible showing on Sunday night. The theater was empty so I wasn't expecting to give it the blind "five stars!" I would usually issue a superhero movie on opening night. Instead of cheering and admiring the dressed up attendees, I was left alone in the theater with my laughter. It was hard not to since the movie has NOTHING to do with the Wolverine I thought I knew. That, and watching a shot of Wolverine walk away from an explosion with nothing but his face and fire on the screen was just too much to for me to hold back with nobody sitting close enough to scare me into silence.
Is the film a Wolverine spin-off or an X-Men prequel? I'm not sure and neither is 20th Century Fox. It kicks off as the origin of Wolverine and a good one at that. The intro was great, setting the movie up to show the true struggles inside the character. Is he a man or animal? Is Sabretooth his brother or enemy? What's it like dealing with these questions while trying to fall in love? Rather than answer these questions, Hugh Jackman (who, despite the film, is still amazing as Wolverine) bumps into a bevy of other mutants that don't really help the film or have anything to do with it. Gambit, my favorite X-Men character, was denied a part in the X-Men trilogy because of silly comparisons to Cyclops. Why, then, was Cyclops allowed to be in Wolverine? More importantly, why was he in the movie just as much as Gambit, who didn't belong in it either? Sadly, it was not the debut that Gambit deserved. X-Men Origins: Gambit, anyone?
After seeing this movie, I'd say no. He was poorly cast and void of Southern charm, and clearly Fox and Marvel aren't here to make art, just money. Luckily they did, thanks in part to the crazy storm of that surrounded the movie leading up to its release. At this point, it's safe to say the "bootleg leak" was planned by Fox, since the culprit couldn't be found. News also surfaced that producers were worried a swine flu outbreak in Mexico City might affect opening weekend revenue, much like the downloaded film. My guess is that these "worries" were just desired extra publicity and a safety net. You'd have to be a blind, deaf, comic book hater to think Wolverine was a good representation of the character (or Gambit or Deadpool). The makers must have known this, so they prepared to justify their softer-than-expected opening with a ton of reasons why the debut might not live up to expectations. What we have now is $85 million, which is enough to deem the movie a success but still low enough that Fox is thrilled they released possible "justifiable" reasons. Everybody wins, right? Well, everyone but the fanboys. Sorry kids. Here's hoping next week's "Star Trek" release lives up to the hype. I have faith in you, J.J. Abrams! You saved the Mission: Impossible franchise and you can definitely save Star Trek.
Luckily, this last month has brought us more than just Wolverine news and updates. There are plenty of other interesting superhero and supernatural news bits floating around to help soften the disappointing blow of Hugh's spin-off/prequel/cash-grab. I'm not sure anyone will care after seeing Wolverine, but another X-Men spin-off/prequel/cash-grab is in the works. X-Men: First Class promises (ha!) to tell the tale of early days with Professor X, Cyclops, Jean Grey and Beast, among others, while providing entertainment and exploding buildings out the ears. There are many takes on the first class of mutants, so I'm not expecting the plot to be too true to anything. However, if Fox continues adding too many random mutants (or mutants that never existed in the universe prior to the film) for the sake of special effects and box office receipts, true fanboys may never get to see the saga continue. Wolverine's debut proves people are losing interest in this branch of Marvel. As a fan, I beg Hollywood to stop targeting these movies at children and start doing them justice!
Hoping to reclaim some of that lost shine is the Spider-Man franchise. After two stellar entries and a disappointing third one, the webslinger returns in May 2011 with a vengeance. It will all be for nothing if Kirsten Dunst doesn't get her bum in gear and get on board. I don't think anybody would miss her too much if she didn't make the film but it sure won't help rebuild interest in the series if the cast itself won't return. Luckily, director Sam Raimi is optimistic. While this third sequel is expected to stay in the light-hearted vein of the first three movies, Sam does hope to dive deeper into "who Peter Parker really is." He doesn't dance, Sam, and he doesn't whine like a little sissy.
He also doesn't appear in 3-D. I can't believe I stumbled across news that Spider-Man 4 might be a 3-D movie. Really, Hollywood? The gimmick works well for some movies but unless they reboot the franchise and make it something other than the first three, it should probably stay in 2-D. Moviegoers are easily sold but they aren't stupid. Most people should know by now that changing the actors and dimensions in a franchise are signs of wear-and-tear, and after Spider-Man 3 I don't think Sam Raimi and crew should be taking any more gambles. What is Spider-Man going to do in 3-D? Shoot a load of web from the screen onto the audience? See, the jokes have already begun!
The only superhero franchise that seems to be alive and successfully kicking is Iron Man. The first one was better than expected and the sequel is on a roll in production. Like all other films, though, there is some reason for doubt. Gary Oldman, who was rumored to be in the movie, is officially not in it. Go figure. I bet DC Comics heard the Dark Knight star was thinking of being in a Marvel movie and killed the idea real quick. Whoever the person is, Iron Man's casting director needs to figure out what's going on. As I said earlier in the article, it doesn't bode well for a film to swap actors in and out of roles. I'm hesitant to see Don Cheadle replace Terrence Howard, but I'll overlook it for the sake of Scarlet Johansson, my favorite new addition. In other Iron Man news, pictures of production are starting to be released. In many cases, early set photos and movie stills can be boring and unnecessary, used only as tools for promotion. While Iron Man is probably no different in its desire to publicize itself, the picture is actually pretty cool. Seeing a still of Robert Downey Jr. in his basement lab with a row of Iron Man suits behind him is a great way to remind past and future fans of the fun that is come in May 2010.
Never one to drop the ball creating unnecessary pre-release noise is Michael Bay, who can't wait to take our money for Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. Despite his publicized rejection to complete the next sequel in two years (he's demanding an extra year to "take some time off"), he is pushing this release in a Bay way: with half-hearted effort and high expectations for a return on investment. What we've been given in the last few weeks are tidbits on the two leading stars, Shia LaBeouf and Megan Fox. With Shia, we're offered MORE news about injuries he sustained during filming in an attempt for some sympathy votes. Will he get them? Not from me. First it was his broken hand, the only thing he was left with after a suspected DUI. Then, the news spread that he COULD HAVE gone blind from an prop that ALMOST hit him in the face. Huh? Why does Bay expect us to care about hypotheticals? Oh, because he wants free press for his movie? Yeah, that makes sense. To balance this news, pictures of Fox from the film were posted online. Unlike those released for "Iron Man", which clearly show Downey in his role, the pictures of Fox serve more as head shots than Transformers screen-shots. Instead of drawing an audience in with good directing and respected actors, Transformers begs that you come see its sequel because the lead actor almost hurt himself again and the lead actress is a pretty girl. Does this really work on anyone? The full trailer was recently released and it is amazing. So why fill our minds with garbage about Shia and Megan? Nobody is seeing this movie for them! Gosh, Hollywood sure loves to scratch its own back. It's like nobody told them that fanboys make up so much of the audience and pre-release awareness.
In any case, check back in a month for the latest news in the world of superheroes and the supernatural. With the summer movie season now in session, and with all the fanboy fanfare coming in the next few months, there are sure to be plenty more production updates, stills and trailers on their way. Hopefully Hollywood will stop treating their audience like they're all children and start giving us tidbits worth drooling over. Or maybe I'm completely wrong and I'm the only one bothered by the news and quality of films being released. The only way to tell would be the second weekend drop of Wolverine. If it holds well and becomes the next Iron Man, then I was wrong and my ranting it personal. If it crashes, burns and barely makes it to a $200 million finish, then, well... PAY ATTENTION HOLLYWOOD. More Dark Knight and less Ghost Rider, okay? See you all at the midnight showing of Star Trek!