Thursday, June 5, 2014

Project Terrible: Generation X


Well, well, another round of Project Terrible, and Al's gone easy on me, it seems. For some reason he's given me one of the X-cellent X-men films, and...


Oh.

No, folks, sadly, this isn't one of the big budget blockbusters that wonderfully adapted one of Marvel's most famous and best-loved teams to the big screen, toads being struck by lightning lines aside. It isn't even X-Men Origins: Wolverine, the lesser but still rather likable Wolverine solo film. This is Generation X, a TV pilot from Fox that tried its hand at adapting one of the X-Men spin-off comics.

Forget Xavier, Cyclops, Wolverine, Storm, Jean Grey, Rogue, Nightcrawler, the villainous Magneto (Cerebro), and the like. Here, we've got Emma Frost, Banshee, M, Jubilee, Mondo (hey!), Skin, Buff (kind of a creepy-sounding combo with the former), Refrax, and the villainous Dr. Russel Tresh, who makes me sad because he's played by Matt Frewer, who played cryptozoologist and town dog catcher Taggart on Eureka.



Excuse me while I go swear at Syfy again for cancelling that show.

Ok, back now.


So, right off the bat, I have to admit I stopped this film almost immediately the first time when the very first power they present was pretty much utterly wrong. Emma Frost gives us the first use of power in the film, and...well, if someone hadn't shouted "Emma" at her during the scene I would have thought she was a Caucasian version of Storm. She kicks up a wind (while lightning flashes) and blows people down. I guess it could be telekinesis--sure as hell doesn't look like it, but it could be--but even then, that's not really right...Emma's said to have telekinetic potential in the comics, but she's primarily telepathic (and diamond-bodied). So, yeah. Faithful adaptation, this is not.

What it is...is...a kind of okay movie. Good, no, but not all that bad. I guess the right word would be watchable. It makes some major flubs, but I can certainly see some potential in this--maybe, just maybe, it might have made a decent show with a few more revisions.


Let's start with what's done pretty well. The cast is pretty good--everyone seems up to par for playing a role. Everyone seems competent and looks to have some actual acting talent, and no one lets down the film at any point with a portrayal. Matt Frewer in particular is kind of a standout as the film's villain, as he gleefully throws himself into a very strange role. He's kind of a mad scientist version of the Joker, personality-wise, and acts rather like Jim Carrey in a lot of ways--lots of gesticulation, contortions, and sudden vocal changes combined with kind of stream-of-consciousness dialogue. It threw me off at first, but grew on me very quickly...I'm honestly not sure if it's a great acting job, but he sure seemed like he was having a ton of fun and he made me laugh a lot. Except for one line...see the weird section for that one.


The character part of the writing is also pretty much fine. Aside from a few missteps in the early film (again, I'll get to that), the teens are all pretty likable. They all have their faults and their strengths, and I can definitely see the beginnings of a good dynamic for a show's cast, with points to serve as interpersonal conflicts that can mix in with whatever the plot of the week might be. I can't say I had much of an issue with them in general, though Mondo and Refrax pushed me a bit as they're sometimes written as jerkish to the point of being unsympathetic. It's pretty clear the movie doesn't intend them to be quite that bad, as they're frequently portrayed as reliable or as standing up for the group, too, but...they just go a little far sometimes.

Low budget Cyclops! Run!
Effects are...hit or miss. This obviously doesn't have a huge budget, and it makes do pretty well at times...but only at times. You can sense the hand of the budget over this entire thing, really. Mondo doesn't even have effects for his power--he can take on the properties of things he touches, kind of like the Absorbing Man...but he doesn't change appearance at all. Refrax gets effects for his laser vision that aren't too bad, but his other power, a kind of X-ray vision, just gets sound effects. Buff and M both have powers that just give them enhanced physical abilities, so no effects there. You can really tell that budgetary concerns were responsible for some of the character choices here (in fact, apparently several characters from the comics were replaced by new or alternate characters here for exactly that reason). Banshee's scream is pretty nicely done, though, and the effects used for Jubilee's fireworks are pretty good when they're used for quick effects...not so much when they're being used for extended fireworks shows.

This is not one of the effects' shining moments.
So, that's what I can highlight as good or passable...now let's talk about what this gets wrong.

First up, the pace. This isn't an awful film, but it is dreadfully boring at times. It moves very, very slowly, and spends a tremendous amount of time just showing the students studying, Matt Frewer's villain talking with his boss at the advertising agency he works for (seriously), or some very basic hijinks when the students get to go into town a couple times. There no sense of urgency or threat, much as with Frankenstein: The College Years, so just as with that film it kind of feels dull for large stretches and there's not a lot of reason to invest in what's going on.


Which brings me to my next point: threat. There isn't one, as I've already mentioned. It isn't until Skin (aka Angelo) just kind of does something utterly stupid that our villain even gets the slightest inkling of a way to progress his evil plot. There's really a feeling that he's just kind of walking on a treadmill for most of the film, not getting anywhere, and then suddenly he accidentally steps off the treadmill and realizes, "Hey, I can move forward now!" when there's like a fifth of the film to go. There's not much time where he's truly acting as the villain and presenting a threat to the heroes, and that makes for a very slow-moving comic book film.


Compare these to the first X-Men movie. We've actually got a ton of things grabbing our attention from the get-go. Wolverine's amnesia plot, Rogue's inability to touch anyone without killing them, the anti-mutant sentiment...but most importantly, we very quickly get a direct confrontation between Wolverine and Sabretooth, one of Magneto's henchmen. Not long after that, Mystique tricks Rogue into leaving the school, and we get a direct confrontation with Magneto. We still get to see all the school stuff, but we're interjecting lots of villainous activity, and that massively benefits the pacing and tension of the film. Without that, we're just kind of watching a bunch of teenagers go about their day, which is not exactly exciting. Even with mutant powers, that's just kind of...everyday life.

I was seriously tempted to fill this review with pictures of Matt Frewer's wonderfully strange expressions and call it a night.
The tense parts of the plot have some issues too, though. There are a lot of cases where things seem to happen--or not happen--"just because." A few examples:

  • The villain is trapped in the dream world...because while he was talking to Angelo, some cops came in and took him out of his dream machine for no apparent reason. The only crime he's committed, really, is the death of his boss...and there is no way in heck anyone could actually prove that, at least as long as they're against mutant intervention. So I really don't buy cops breaking into his place and all at this point. It's clearly just a way to get him wandering the dream realm.
  • Angelo and Jubilee find Emma's dream machine because, evidently, Angelo is a master hacker who can hack Cerebro somehow. Yes. Cerebro (Magneto?). And somehow, despite the fact that Emma Frost is one of the foremost telepaths in the world, doesn't trust the teens to behave, and should absolutely be paying attention to whether anyone gets into what might be the Most Secure Room at the School...Angelo goes in multiple times without getting caught, because the plot must progress.
  • Apparently, if you spend a lot of time wandering in the dream realm, you become a mutant. Yeah, that makes sens...what?!? They clearly just wanted to try to make the villain an actual threat somehow, but this throwaway line makes absolutely no sense. It it genetic or not? It's like when the Blade movies tried to have science-version vampires and do the "crosses don't work" thing, but then the vampires have bat-skeleton souls and Deacon Frost uses a mystic ritual to turn into the blood god. You can't have it both ways.
  • (Also, apparently all mutants have some form of latent psychic ability and they all have the potential to enter this alternate dimension dream world if properly trained. Yeah. I don't get why that's even necessary.)

Furthermore, while I love Frewer's portrayal, there's quite a problem with the choice of the villain. He's...an ordinary human. A genius, sure, but an ordinary human. There is absolutely no reason why Emma Frost couldn't take him down the first time he gets on her bad side, at the very beginning of the film. And even if she wouldn't because somehow this is a much less ruthless version of dear Ms. Frost than I've ever seen, this normal scientist who specializes not in weapons technology but in controlling a person through their dreams--i.e., when they are asleep--is somehow portrayed as being very dangerous to an entire group of mutants when they're awake. The film gives a throwaway line about him probably having mutated because of dream realm exposure late in the plot, but that's not really enough...even if he's a mutant now, they're all mutants and they've got him drastically outnumbered. It makes zero sense to say this guy is unstoppable or dangerous in the least. There are three mutants on the team with physical mutations that increase their strength, durability, or both. One of those three apparently has the mutant power of being absolutely perfect.

So that's how he did it.
Another fires laser beams from his eyes that can apparently chop through metal or make TV sets explode. Any one of these should take him out alone. They do say that the group is in the dream realm at the time, which is where he'd have his power, of course, but they also clearly state he's not aware of it at the moment. The final battle should seriously just be Buff or someone walking up, punching him in his stupid face (sorry, Frewer, just an expression), and walking back out. Done.


Heck, they even try to claim he could face Emma Frost in psionic combat and at least fight her to a standstill! That's something I have to comment on, honestly, because a lot of movies do this and it really gets on my nerves. Even if you're dealing with magic or psionics, there's a difference between power and skill. Emma, who has had true psychic powers since her youth, has both. This guy apparently develops power at the end of the film, but he really shouldn't have much skill, if any. Sure, he did his dream advertising stuff, but that's a vastly different thing from psychic combat. He's just not a believable threat. To make matters worse, he's built up unbelievably as a threat, but then taken down in a way that really shouldn't work given all that buildup! He's both too strong and too weak!

I do love the "Guys, I'm feeling seriously omnipotent!" line, though. Frewer's delivery is magic.


Finally, a quick note on character development. While I rather like the characters by the end of the film, I don't really like the journey they take to get there. Several of the teens start out as somewhat unlikable, even as bullies...and there's not really any progression or transition from that mode to them all getting along. It's just like someone flips a switch, and they go from "we don't really like each other and we get on each others' nerves" to "we may not always get along, but we're standing up for each other." It's like we're missing a middle section of the movie where they really start to bond. It isn't a problem with every one of the relationships, mind, but there's just some cases where it doesn't seem to work.


Those are the most major things, really...this isn't a bad film, just one with poor pacing, a lack of direct confrontations, a few events that just kind of happen, a villain who doesn't quite feel right for the heroes' level of power, and a kind of stuttering character development. I know that sounds like a lot of problems, and...there are, really. But they aren't utterly ruinous. I think this could have become something quite good with some revisions.

So, we're done with the good and the bad, let's talk weird! As I often do, I'm going to just post in the notes I took writing the film. Sometimes knee-jerk reactions are the best, especially out of context!

  • Oh, hey, it's Jubilee...who isn't even remotely Asian. And what is with that gold lipstick?
Thank goodness she drops that part of the look pretty fast.
  • "These things don't just happen. They begin when the mutant enters puberty. She was just hiding it." I"m pretty sure that's not quite right either--puberty is when the potential rises, but it often doesn't happen right away, taking effect instead when an emotional event or trauma happens. At least that's how I recall it. Could be wrong. Al? You're the true comic nerd here.
  • Banshee's accent makes me angry. This is like me trying to do an Irish accent...and really hamming it up. It is impossible to take him seriously. He's not doing a bad actual acting job, but...basically, he does accents in such a way that every line has the same tempo and pitch pattern, so it's clear it isn't natural. Plus it's very exaggerated. Probably doesn't help that I'd been listening to the Irish lads from OSW Review just before watching this.
  • Okay, I admit that Emma just blatantly flaunting her power by convincing the guard she and Banshee are officers Hootie and Blowfish is kind of awesome.
  • Okay, is taking a giant bite out of a burger an insulting gesture? I was not familiar with that one.
  • And Eureka's Deputy Andy, version 2.0 (Kavan Smith) shows up as a jerkish jock. What is this, a Eureka preunion show?

  • Heh. Security code Beta Hexa 90210. I get it. Cute.
  • If I were Sega, I'm not sure I would be down with Virtua Fighter's success being attributed to the machinations of a mad scientist specializing in mind control.
  • Okay...seriously, he makes all the board members fart. Wow.  This is our villain. I'm alternating between liking this film and hating this film.
  • Hey, I discovered a device that lets me pass into a dimension of dreams! I think I'll immediately use it without any consideration of the consequences! They're teenagers, not seven-year-olds. ...come to think of it, they're teenagers, not seven-year-olds. So this is pretty accurate. Carry on.
  • Hey, Jubilee came back crying about a creepy guy stalking her in the dream! I think I'll go try the machine next, totally disregarding the potential danger! Yeah...also pretty accurate. Carry on.
  • If he's catatonic, wouldn't he have a feeding tube or something? Why are they bringing a tray full of food?
  • If M is supposed to be really good at...everything, please teach the poor girl some martial arts or something before you have her punch something.
  • We need to teach them responsibility...so I shall expel them all! That'll work!
  • One thing that's kind of cool and kind of bad at the same time...the building used to represent the school here, Hatley Castle, is the same one used to represent the school in X-Men 2: X-Men United and X-Men: The Last Stand (though apparently not in X-Men). The bad part...it's actually being used to represent Xavier's school just like in the movies, which was not the setting of the Generation X comics. That was set at Massachusetts Academy, a splinter school. Honestly a minor point, I guess, but worth noting. If you wanted to have it set in Xavier's so much, why not just make an X-Men TV show?
  • Holy crap, did he just say "mind-rape"? In reference to a kid, too. This got really dark and a little sick all of a sudden.
  • Wait, so Angelo is tied up...but does he really need to dream-summon Jubilee for help? I mean...he's super-stretchy. It seems like he should be able to free himself somehow with that, doesn't it? I'd buy it if he were, like, drugged or something, but just being tied up doesn't seem like much for him.
So, there you have it. Generation X isn't a good film, but it's a reasonable enough attempt. I wouldn't have picked up the show either from seeing this...but I might be inclined to give the writers access to an editor I trusted, and have them make a second attempt, if I thought the company budget could handle it. Or just, you know, make the X-Men film franchise, which was probably the better decision. Not terrible, but definitely not recommended.

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! ...now I really wish this series had been picked up. The belt buckle even gives off shining light for some reason.

3 comments:

  1. Aw, you glossed over the weird 'Strip down and get in the scanning machine bit' in your Review. That is one of the few parts that I remember since it is so out-of-place.

    I figured that you'd either love or hate Frewer here. He's so OOT that it is divisive. I knew that you'd hate Banshee's voice though.

    Some other notes for you:
    * Banshee here was also Banshee on the X-Men Cartoon.
    * 'Mondo' has done the voice of many Marvel/DC Characters like Falcon, War Machine and...Trask in the 'X-Men Origins' Game.
    * 'Emma Frost' has voiced Superman's Mom Lara and Lady Shiva.
    * 'Ralston' was in both 'Fantastic Four' and 'Fantastic Four: RotSS.'
    * Frewer also voiced Hulk villain The Leader and was also sucked into a dream machine in 'Lawnmower Man 2'- both in the same year as this!

    Sorry to see that you liked it more than I thought you would. :-)

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  2. Actually really glad to hear that so many of these folks found continuing work. Everyone was pretty good (Banshee's actor's acting was fine, but I can't believe they let him do the voice there too...then again, if I recall, his dialogue was generally written with a pretty awful portrayal of the accent in comics, too), and all deserved to have more chances in the acting biz.

    Liked is a strong word. I didn't hate it, but I wouldn't really say I liked it. It's a very boring film, due to the problems I list above. It's about an hour and a half long. It took me more than four hours to watch it...over twice as long as the movie's length. I kept pausing it and going to look at something interesting for a while. Would have taken longer if it weren't for Frewer's crazy performance, which was actively entertaining (I think there are two reasons I wasn't bothered by how crazy he acted: he's not portraying a character from comics that I had preexisting views of, and he was Taggart on Eureka, who was often a very comedic character, albeit in different ways.)

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    1. And yeah, I actually forgot about the scanning machine part. It's really weird and unnecessary. Nothing comes of it at all...it's like some weird joke that they put in there, but no one really seems to know how to react to it. I don't know...maybe the idea is that's where they're getting the measurements for the eventual superhero outfit? It's just a totally unnecessary addition. It's not even a pointless nudity moment since they only show her back (thankfully, since she either is or is at least portraying someone underage).

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