Friday, May 26, 2006

"X-Men United" (Twentieth Century Fox/Marvel Entertainment)
X-Men 2 When: 2003
Why: Bryan Singer, Zak Penn, David Hayter, Michael Dougherty, Dan Harris How: Patrick Stewart, Hugh Jackman, Sir Ian McKellan, Halle Berry, Famke Janssen, James Marsden, Anna Paquin, Rebecca Romijn, Brian Cox, Alan Cumming, Bruce Davidson, Aaron Stanford, Shawn Ashmore, Kelly Hu, Cotter Smith

The story so far...
Having spent life as a loner, a school for gifted youngsters seems like the last place the man called Wolverine would come to settle.

Never the less, caught between two warring factions of mutants, Wolverine finds refuge with the militant X-Men, and joins them in their battle against evil mutants, and the prejudicial forces of humanity.

As human-mutant tensions mount, a staged attack on the United States President prompts presidential authorization to unleash William Stryker and his forces on the X-Men.

Stryker, though a zealous anti-mutant bigot, holds the keys to Wolverine's past with the Weapon X project. Thus, it is with great reluctance that he draws his claws against him.

Tale of the tape...
Strength: Deathstrike 4 (Steroid Popper)
Intelligence: Wolverine 4 (Tactician)
Speed: Deathstrike 3 (Trained Athlete)
Stamina: Wolverine 6 (Generator)
Agility: Deathstrike 3 (Acrobat)
Fighting Ability: Wolverine 6 (Warrior)
Energy Powers: Draw 1 (None)

As has been the standard at Secret Earths, the statistics listed above are an average assessment of a character's abilities based on as close to a definitive version as possible. Usually this means info is drawn from the comic book incarnation of these characters, but as we have a very special circumstance here, we should perhaps look at the price of adaptation.

Changes to the Wolverine character are minimal, but Deathstrike slides significantly down the scale.

In the X2 film Lady Deathstrike is without any kind of cybernetic enhancements, yet, she does possess organic, retractable nails on each of her fingers, which have all been laced with unbreakable adamantium.
She also retains the healing factor that has appeared in certain incarnations of the character, but ramped up to a level parallel with Wolverine's healing abilities.

Thus, in many ways the character becomes more grounded in the context of the X-Men mythos, but no less formidable. In fact, this Deathstrike retains the impressive fighting abilities, but displays them in a far more refined fashion than the comic book Deathstrike, who bares a clumsy resemblence to the slashing stylings of other comic book fighters.

All of that said - Wolverine is the best there is at what he does.
Perhaps not as quick or agile as Deathstrike, Wolverine brings with him a certain ferocity and brutality that always manages to get the job done. The only frequent question with Wolverine is whether or not it will take more than one go.

This incarnation, at least as far as we know, has no personal connection or history with Wolverine. This serves to nullify one of Deathstrike's great advantages, and so, one would have to lean toward Wolverine as the victor here.

Still, like so many of these fantastic feuds, these are two closely matched warriors with common abilities.

What went down...
In the place of his rebirth, the Wolverine scours the underground labs and corridors for clues and glimpses of his past. Here he walks into a lab laden with slashed concrete, with a vat of bubbling metal, and a table that's all too familiar.

Wolverine's maker, William Stryker enters, and shows Wolverine that he isn't the unique specimen he may have otherwise thought he was.

Deathstrike, under the influence of Stryker's mind-controlling substance, charges in and prevents any pirsuit of Stryker with a stiff backhand to the face.
Popping his claws, Wolverine discovers just how similar the mutant before him is, as she brandishes her own long, adamantium laced claws.

Deathstrike launches herself into a spinning attack - claws extended - slashing Wolverine's face and gut mercilessly. Wolverine retaliates with a brutish stab, but Deathstrike ducks, weaves, and strikes. Deathstrike's superior speed, and stinging shots are more than enough to best most men, but the Wolverine's healing factor keeps him in the fight.

Deathstrike continues the assault, stabbing the gut and abdomen, before whipping Wolverine across the room to crash into one of the concrete support pillars. Wolverine recovers, and launches into a berzerker attack, ultimately running the controlled Deathstrike through with his razor claws.

In a brilliant piece of cinema, Deathstrike's defeated gasp turns to a glee filled smirk as she wraps one taloned hand around Wolverine's arms, and then another, only to launch herself from her position of impalement.
The stunned Wolverine is capable of little more than rolling with the punches [or kicks] to the head.

The fight continues with further lethal blows nailed, before Wolverine finds himself stabbed and flipped into the air, landing on a metal lowering platform above the watery tub that was the scene of his metallic injection.

Blood drips to the water below, as Deathstrike continues to pierce organs and innards that would instantly murder any ordinary man.

Desperately seeking space, Wolveirne throws his claws out and severs the chains that connect the platform to the ceiling. With Deahstrike clinging below, the platform crashes to a stop atop the tub below, and gives Wolverine a moment to heal and breathe.

The relief does not last long, as Deathstrike emerges from the pool below with claws at the ready.
Desperately the Wolverine rolls, and reaches for aid, as Deathstrike continues to puncture and pierce the troubled hero like a pin cushion.

Wracked with pain, Wolverine is able to reach for one of the injection devices above, and drives it deep into Deathstrike, before flipping the switch.

As Deathstrike jolts to a stop, the haze incurred by Stryker's chemical dissipates.
For the briefest of moments Deathstrike appears a sympathetic character, before she clunks to the bottom of the pool below. Filled with adamatium, and mournful sorrow for her own life.

The hammer...
Okay, maybe I embellished a little on the ending there, regardless, Wolverine emerges from this film victorious.

[Though quite delayed, this entry was to acknowledge and tribute the release of the third instalment of the X-franchise - X-Men: The Last Stand. - Mike]

There probably isn't much that hasn't already been said about the first two X-Men films.
Though preceded by the sleeper hit, Blade, the first X-Men film arguably propelled superhero films into the mainstream spotlight -- not as cheesy concession films -- but as real deal stories with big screen characters. Of course, most of us comic readers already knew the untapped potential between the pages, but we won't hold that against anyone.

X-Men 2, which introduced Alan Cumming as Nightcrawler, took the world established in the first film and expanded upon similar themes to encompass the human element of bigotry and hatred.
While William Stryker was a character superbly handled by Brian Cox, and the story made good use of adapting material from Chris Claremont's graphic novel [God loves, Man kills.]; I do tend to find the film a little shallow.

One particularly simple cinema philosphy says of a sequel, 'the audience simply wants to see what they saw last time, only different, and more of it.'
Seeing Magneto [McKellen] and his crusade against humans justified was certainly a thrilling prospect, but instead this film, in many ways, feels more like everything the first wished it could have been had it not been required to pander through introductions.

The monotoned seriousness of these pictures did incredibly well to deliver the source material with the maturity and diction it deserved; however, it unfortunately leaves the finished product somewhat hollow.
Quiet character moments, such as religious waxings between Nightcrawler and Storm [Halle Berry], serve more as actor-indulgent distractions, than as layers of diversity. Thus, instead, a second viewing reviews a meandering one-note plot.

Of course, that over simiplified statement does not represent everything on screen. While a little painful to watch in succession, both films truly honor the spirit of the grand concept of the X-Men, and accurately deliver incarnations of some of it's most popular characters.

Superb action, fantastic effects, and as far as story diversity goes - Hugh Jackman certainly earns his Wolverine spin-off film.
The unlikely understudy from Oz perpetuates the franchise legend of Wolverine, and does it with energy and a rugged charm. This once unknown stage actor mixes it up with the best of them - quite literally. This character not only competes against the mutant powers of Magneto and Mystique, but also shares a screen with the likes of; Patrick Stewart, Sir Ian McKellen, Brian Cox, Anna Paquin and Alan Cumming.

As for the fate of Deathstrike?
Fact finders may be interested to refer to X-Men: The Official Game, which features story bridging between X2: X-Men United and X3: The Last Stand.

In the game, it is revealed Deathstrike was able to survive her adamantium 'overdose' and she returns as an agent of HYDRA previously trained by Silver Samurai.

The Fight: 4.5 The Movie: 5

NEXT: June is Hulk month, with four rounds of puny human smashing Monday madness! More about everything to come in the punch-up!

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