This is a very strange time for movie mutants. With the Disney/FOX merger nearly complete, the X-franchises, which ushered in the modern age of superhero films with 2000’s X-Men, are in limbo. New Mutants and Dark Phoenix will likely wrap up the FOX-era X-Men films, and you could see Xavier and Co. in the MCU in the next three years. Where does that leave the insanely successful Deadpool franchise? That’s a really good question.
The MCU is traditionally PG-13, something that Deadpool never has been…until this Christmas. The release of Once Upon a Deadpool, essentially a PG-13 recut of Deadpool 2, may be an audition for a more family-friendly Merc With a Mouth…or it could just be a naked cash grab to squeeze just a little more money out of Deadpool 2‘s run.
One thing that is dead is the X-Force spinoff that Deadpool 2 sets up. That is a crying shame because for the problems I did have with the film (and I did like it very much overall), the introduction and execution (literally) of X-Force was the best thing about ‘Pool 2. Deadpool is at his best when he’s just allowed to be the unhinged, manic id of the Marvel Universe. It’s why the character is better off without PG-13 shackles. A huge part of Deadpool’s appeal is the anticipation that he may say or do absolutely anything at any given moment, and you lose that if you bring him down a rating level.
If you were a comic book fan in the 1990s, you could not avoid X-Force. Rob Liefeld’s supergroup of pouty-lipped, barely-footed mutants was a sales juggernaut. They could also be…well, I don’t currently have the mental bandwidth to get into Rob Liefeld, but suffice it to say that there are few things that made me as happy and laugh as hard as watching Shatterstar’s demise. The entire sequence, from Deadpool’s open casting call, to his inspirational plane speech, to the shortest outing in super-team history is sheer brilliance. Special recognition to Brad Pitt for one of the most unexpected cameos in recent memory and to Rob Delaney’s Peter. Oh, Peter. I miss you the most, too.
Mission Impossible: Fallout defied the two defining trends of 2018 at the films. It exceeded the wildest expectations anyone had for the sixth film in a 22-year-old series, and it managed to be the poster child for how franchises can be amazing in a year when franchise fatigue seemed to reach a new level of punishing. Not only is Fallout the best MI film, but it’s also arguably the best film of last year and the best action film since at least Mad Max: Fury Road. The film manages to weave a coherent and compelling plot around a series of action set pieces that play like a compelling audition tape for the creation of a Best Stunt Work Oscar category. No matter what kind of action scene is your personal favorite (skydive; gunfight; fist fight; crashes; explosions; and chases by foot, helicopter, motorcycle, and car) Fallout does them and does them as well as any film ever has.
Picking one of those set pieces to elevate over the others is a tough call. The HALO jump is astonishing. Cruise and Cavill’s restroom rumble is fantastic. My favorite sequence of the film though is the extraction of the film’s villain, Solomon Lane, from custody and the ensuing madness in Paris. Director Christopher McQuarrie, who also wrote the film, crafted a masterful action sequence in which an improvising Ethan Hunt has to figure out a way to break his nemesis out of a moving armored convoy while minimizing any collateral damage intended by his allies of the moment. The sequence, which also highlights the film’s gorgeous cinematography and score by Lorne Balfe, typifies what I think is Fallout’s best move: humanizing Ethan Hunt. There’s more characterization for Ethan in this film than in the previous five combined and, with a few exceptions, most of is done in the beats between actions. He’s tired in this film. Always so cocksure and calculated, Hunt spends a lot of Fallout looking out-of-breath and in overt exasperated disbelief at some of the things he still has to do to keep the world safe. Tom Cruise, at age 56, finally lets his character look his age, and I think he’s a more interesting protagonist for it. Fallout a bar for quality that’s going to be a near (brace for it) impossible standard for future installments of the franchise to follow. If there’s a flaw in the film, I can’t find it.
Some Oscar wins are the product of decades of work. Some reward powerhouse performances that carry a film. Sometimes, though, they go to the best five minutes of the year. I’m not a giant Anne Hathaway fan. I am not a part of the disturbingly vocal “Hathahate” community on the net, but I honestly have never been blown away by her. The giant exception to that is the best five minutes performed by any actor or actress in 2012: Hathaway’s phenomenal performance of “I Dreamed a Dream” in Les Miserables.
Holding the camera for five minutes by simply acting your way through a song performance is about as difficult a task as a screen actor can be handed, but Hathaway is mesmerizing. “I Dreamed a Dream” is unquestionably Les Miserables’s signature number, and there are a staggering amount of awful things happening to her character by the time she breaks into the anthem about shattered hope. It would have been easy to end up chewing the scenery or being swallowed by the material, but Hathaway gives a nuanced and powerful vocal that stole this film. I saw this on Christmas Day 2012, which was a bit of a surreal experience. To me, misadventures of tuberculosis-ridden French revolutionaries does not exactly say, “Seasons Greetings!” I was, however, soundly outvoted by my family. While I may be lukewarm on the film as a whole, this scene was easily more than worth the ticket price.
We have, at this point, dozens and dozens of superhero films. I think you could stack the overall quality of the genre against any other in filmdom, but that doesn’t mean we haven’t had our share of devastating missteps along the way. Watch Mojo has two videos categorizing the most egregious times comic book movies deviated from the source material or were poorly received by fans. The greatest hits are here: Spider-Man 3’s disco striding evil Peter, Iron Man 3’s Mandarin switcheroo, Superman II’s amnesia kiss, and Batman vs. Superman’s Martha madness. Some of their entries feel like stretches. Yes, The Killing Joke was an abomination, but were people overly upset Thor: Ragnarok was funny? X-Men Origins: Wolverine’s treatment of Deadpool was awful, but did anyone actually expect more than what we got out of Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (the Bay edition)? What moments are missing from WM’s lists?
Quick and dirty In Theaters column this week. Mission Impossible: Fallout returned us to our winning ways. Fallout took in a franchise record $61.3 million to handily take the weekend crown last week over #2 Mama Mia: Here We Go Again, which managed $15.2 million. This weekend brings three new wide releases: Disney’s Christopher Robin, Kate McKinnon’s comedy The Spy Who Loved Me, and the critically-acclaimed Eighth Grade. This weekend’s box office race will be between Fallout in its sophomore week and Christopher Robin. Right now, looking at it, I think Fallout will be able to hang on due to repeat business and its crazy good reviews pulling in people who normally wouldn’t see a Mission Impossible film in the theater. Looks like it will be really, really close.