random thoughts after rewatching the x-men movie series

[extreme stefon voice] This series has everything… [/extreme stefon voice]

Looking for something pleasant and familiar to watch in the background recently I decided to dive back in to the X-Men film franchise, beginning with the 2000 original and running through 2019’s Dark Phoenix but not including the Deadpool, Wolverine or New Mutants off-shoots.

Some of the movies like X-Men and X2: X-Men United I’d watched a number of times. Others, including The Last Stand and Dark Phoenix, I’d only seen once before. But watching all seven of the core franchise films was a fascinating experience, especially given how the primary narrative around many series these days is how planned and connected everything is.

the movies themselves

First let’s talk about the movies themselves and how they hold up.

X-Men: It’s a little surprising how creaky this movie feels over 20 years after it came out. There’s some good stuff in here, of course, but all the flaws that were apparent in 2000 (Halle Berry being given nothing to do, wooden performances from Paquin and others) are even more so today. Of course the Stewart/McKellan scenes are still great, and Joss Whedon’s script-doctoring saves more than a few scenes.

X-Men Wolverine GIF by 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment - Find & Share on GIPHY

X2: X-Men United: Still a slick, impressive sequel that improves on almost every aspect of the original. Janssen is a standout for how much more assured her character is, and the addition of Nightcrawler and a couple other characters, especially Brian Cox as William Stryker, helps spread the action a bit and adds some depth to the universe. It also has an all-time great ending that’s completely undermined by the lackluster…

Ian Mckellan Magneto GIF by 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment - Find & Share on GIPHY

X-Men: The Last Stand: It’s the worst of the original trilogy but, upon further review, not the worst of the overall series. That being said, it is simply bad in just about every respect, from Brett Ratner’s directing to Hugh Jackman being openly bored to how it abjectly fumbles the Phoenix storyline. Ratner is borderline amateurish and isn’t helped by a script that is a perfect example of how to jump from plot point to plot point without earning or validating each step. I mean…if you cut Kelsey Grammer reciting the St. Crispin’s Day speech while wearing blue fur and makeup, what kind of filmmaker even are you?

X-Men: First Class: The tightest of the seven movies by a fair margin, thanks in part to director Matthew Vaughn’s knack for pacing while also sprinkling in solid character moments. Yes, there’s a bit of fluff here and there and I still can’t tell you what the names of half the characters are because they’re so incidental, but it all keeps moving and it doesn’t matter. Where the previous movies had Stewart and McKellan the easy professionalism, this one has McAvoy and Fassbender offering more kinetic performances as Xavier and Magneto, setting the tone for the whole film.

First Class Students GIF by 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment - Find & Share on GIPHY

X-Men: Days of Future Past: What even is the point of this movie? Upon rewatch I have to say it’s the worst of the series because of how convoluted and messy it is. Nothing makes any sense, none of the performances are coherent or mean anything. This all despite it introducing Evan Peters’ Quicksilver in one of the best sequences of the entire series. It’s particularly marked by Fassbender and Jennifer Lawrence both already looking like they regret the contracts they signed.

GIF by 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment - Find & Share on GIPHY

X-Men: Apocalypse: For whatever reason this entry held up slightly better than it has in the past, but it’s still all over the place and, for as long as it is, doesn’t amount to much. Aside from the fact it’s hard to take Apocalypse seriously when you see his leather pants wrinkle and stretch, the worst thing you can say about it is that it’s forgettable. Also, the very cool reveal of the X team in something akin to their classic uniforms at the end goes absolutely nowhere because the story then jumps another 10 years and they’re in their New X-Men costumes by the time you get to…

Olivia Munn Apocalypse GIF by X-Men Movies - Find & Share on GIPHY

X-Men: Dark Phoenix: Better on second viewing than it was initially but still there’s so much going on that defies belief or explanation:

  • It’s remarkable that, given the opportunity to not make the same mistake twice, writer Simon Kinberg does just that. I’m talking specifically about having the story involve Xavier intentionally putting a mental block in Jean Grey’s mind to keep her from accessing her full power. It was more than a little problematic in 2005’s Last Stand and it’s even more so in 2019.
  • Because of that, the storyline plays very much like “men are afraid of powerful women because as soon as they’re no longer under men’s control they will destroy the world.” Which was not the point of the original Dark Phoenix story. Even the animated series did a better job.
  • Jennifer Lawrence is so checked out it looks like she’s wearing a Party City Mystique costume. And that’s before she dies in the first act.

Dark Phoenix Ok GIF by Regal - Find & Share on GIPHY

other random observations

It’s honestly remarkable that they made seven X-Men movies, three Wolverine movies, two Deadpool movies and one New Mutants movie and never once actually addressed the issue of civil rights, prejudice, racism or any of the other themes that were the whole damn point of the comic books.

The series really offers the full range of potential performance types, including but not limited to:

  • Casual Elegant (Stewart, McKellan)
  • Trying So Hard (Rose Byrne)
  • Bored Bored Bored (Hugh Jackman in Last Stand)
  • Totally Not Paying Attention (Evan Peters)
  • Scenery Chewing (Brian Cox in X2)
  • Mugging For the Camera Because You Die Offscreen (James Marsden, Last Stand)
  • Actively Plotting Your Agent’s Demise (Fassbender in Apocalypse)
  • Owning It (Kevin Bacon, First Class)

It’s even more the polar opposite of the MCU in so many ways than the DC films. In the MCU the characters are almost always in motion. By comparison in the X-Men movies characters spend large chunks of each movie standing stock still and engaging in mid-tempo dialogue.

Also, the MCU movies are almost all examples of characters over story. The plots are largely the same (especially for the solo origin stories) but that doesn’t matter because the characters are out in front. The X-Men movies are all story and the characters fall to the wayside, given little to do but endlessly explain to each other what the story is.

You do have to respect, though, how so much of the action and stunt work in the movies is done practically instead of through elaborate CGI, as is the cast in almost every other super hero film since 2002.

Frequently reminded of how there was an X-Men Origins: Magneto in development at one point.

How do you not get Emma Frost right? How?

I don’t know who to feel more sorry for, the actress who played Kitty Pryde in the first two movies and then got pushed out for Elliot Page, or Elliot Page who’s given nothing to do in Apocalypse but grunt in Hugh Jackman’s face?

Poor Olivia Munn.

Poor…well…every actor playing a female character because clearly no one involved was interested in the female characters.

By my count, the U.S. government goes back and forth from fear to acceptance to fear of the X-Men like five times and that’s just in the four First Class-era movies.

No, seriously, like 45% of each of the movies is the characters just standing in a line together.

Like everyone else, I’ve tried my best to make the timeline of all seven movies work but it can’t be done. It just can’t.

Bad Education – Marketing Recap

How HBO is selling its new drama set in the world of public education.

bad education poster

This week HBO is debuting a new drama directed by Cory Finley and based on a true story. Bad Education stars Hugh Jackman as Frank Tassone, superintendent of a Long Island school district and the architect of the district’s ranking as the fourth best in the country. He’s beloved by staff and popular with parents and can seemingly do no wrong.

His end begins with what should be a routine story for the school newspaper being written by student Rachel Kellog (Geraldine Viswanathan) about the budget. Kellog’s investigation, though, uncovers irregularities that point to potential embezzlement. Tassone, on the verge of having all his work undone, begins scrambling to cover up the emerging scandal, ultimately turning him from hero to criminal.

HBO’s campaign for the feature has focused on Jackman and costar Allison Janney as the company worked to keep positive buzz from festival screenings going.

The Posters

Earlier this month the first and only poster (by marketing agency Leroy and Rose) came out. It features Tassone and coworker Pam Gluckin (Janney) sitting on stadium bleachers, firmly establishing the story’s setting. Both of the actor’s names include the fact Jackman is an Academy Award nominee and Janney is a winner, helping to give it an air of prestige. That sense is reinforced by a couple positive pull quotes from festival reviews. The copy reading “Some people learn the hard way” hits on the education theme but doesn’t offer a lot of insights into the story.

The Trailers

There are certainly shenanigans afoot in the first trailer (since removed from YouTube) released at the end of January. Frank has been placed in charge of an effort to raise the school district’s profile, something that’s meant to help the whole community. But how he does so may not be strictly ethical, and the hints we see of his plans falling down around him show a scramble to maintain a coverup even as those around him still see Frank as the key to fixing the problems.

Things are going well as the full trailer, (383,000 views on YouTube) released in March, begins, with Frank and his team enjoying the success of their efforts to raise their school’s prestige. The discovery of some budgetary discrepancies puts everyone on edge, though, threatening to expose embezzlement and other problems with the school leadership. All of this because of a story being written for the school newspaper.

Online and Social

No unique online presence of note, but the movie has been given plenty of promotion on HBO’s social channels.

Advertising and Promotions

A debut screening at the Toronto Film Festival led to widespread positive reviews, especially for Jackman’s performance as well as the timeliness of the story. HBO picked up distribution rights shortly after the festival ended. It was later scheduled at the Tribeca Film Festival.

Beginning in early April a series of commercials and other promoted spots started running. Some were cutdown versions of the trailer while others were formatted as more traditional spots. There were also videos that focused on some of the main characters, including Bob (Ray Romano), Pam, Frank, Rachel and others. Some of those offered more insights into what kind of trouble exactly the people have gotten themselves into than the trailers do.

Media and Press

An interview with Jackman had the actor talking about working to perfect a Long Island accent as well as the process of playing a man with multiple layers of both personal and professional deceit going on. Another had him offering some admiration for Tassone, pointing out that despite the problems many of his solutions were so good they’re now in widespread use.

There were also interviews with Janney where she talked about how she approached her character and the story and with Viswanathan, who commented on working with Jackman and her career to date.

Jackman was also among the celebrities dialing into talk shows – in this case “The Late Late Show” – to promote the film and talk about all sorts of other things.

Many of the stars and filmmakers were quoted in a piece that explored the movie’s background, why it fits into HBO’s history of original films and more.


Having Jackman in the lead is never really a bad thing, and the campaign makes sure everyone knows he’s in it and that he’s a big reason to see the movie. That effort is helped by the plethora of positive festival reviews there were to draw quotes from, many of which are sprinkled liberally around the campaign. Janney too is a big presence here.

Sometimes that emphasis, though, gets in the way of the story. As mentioned above, the trailers never really explain what’s going on other than that it’s financial shenanigans in some manner, but that is cleared up later in the marketing as the paid spots began running.

HBO is likely hoping the movie is attractive enough not only to retain its current subscribers but maybe even add a few who are in the midst of isolation and social distancing. Goals like that explain why, more than some of its other recent features, this one seems particularly geared to garner mainstream attention, positioned as a breezy drama with a bunch of extremely likeable actors.

Picking Up the Spare

More from Jackman  here  on how he embraced the crazy true softy of his character during filming. 

Another interview with Viswanathan where she talked about working with Jackman on the film and more.

Missing Link – Marketing Recap

missing link poster 3Laika Studios is known for its funny, emotional and moving animated features. It hopes to add to that reputation with this week’s Missing Link. Zach Galifianakis voices Mr. Link – also known as Susan – the last like him where he lives. One day he’s discovered by the explorer Sir Lionel Frost (Hugh Jackman), who wants to bring this fascinating and remarkably intelligent creature back to civilization.

Link also wants to find others like him, and so Frost, with the assistance of Adelina Fortnight (Zoe Saldana), works to transport him across dangerous territory to see if there’s a potential mate out there. The story allows for plenty of opportunities for adventure, laughs and heartfelt emotional journeys.

The Posters

Mr. Link is introduced on the first poster, shown in a fancy suit and tie that contrasts with the fact that he’s a big furry creature, albeit one that walks upright and appears to have a bright and sunny disposition. The second poster presents Link sans all that clothing but still looking like he’s curious and optimistic while the copy tells us “Things are about to get hairy.”

All three main characters are arranged on the final poster, set against the backdrop of the locations the adventures take those characters to and the train and boat that help them get from one point to the other. It’s a nice design featuring a soft, almost watercolor look that is different from the harder look of the first two posters. This one encourages the audience to “Discover a comedy of epic proportions.”

The Trailers

The first trailer opens by setting up the notion we’re going to be encountering the long-lost connection between modern humans and our far-off ancestors, which happens after he writes to an explorer to come find him. Link is brought back to society to be shown off, but of course he just gets lots of stares and awkward looks. The two discover Link may have relatives on the other side of the world and so set out to find them, engaging in plenty of misadventures and hinkings along the way.

It’s a cute spot that definitely has that Aardman vibe happening, with lots of good natured humor and characters that look cute and act innocently and sweetly in whatever circumstances they find themselves in. That’s not a bad thing at all, it’s completely on-brand, which is the biggest message this trailer has to offer other than selling a neat little animated adventure.

The second trailer is more about the adventures taken by Link and Frost, including how Link convinces the explorer to help take him halfway across the world to find those he thinks are his long-lost cousins. There are a lot of the same jokes, but also a lot of the same humor and charm.

Online and Social

A rarity these days, the movie’s website has a lot of useful information. In addition to “Videos” with the trailers and a “Synopsis,” there are more opportunities to engage with the movie and learn more.

First, “Group Sales” gives you the opportunity to learn how to get tickets for bigger groups. There are dates for the “Meet & Greet” Laika organized that included photo ops with Mr. Link at select theaters across the country and information on the Alexa-enabled “Adventure.”

Outside of ticket sales prompts and links to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram profiles there’s information on the movie’s promotional “Partners.”

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

The second trailer was used in Promoted Tweets in early February. Further promoted posts used short videos featuring tips on how to get along with Link and more. A number of TV spots were run that sold the fish out of water comedy of the story.

iMessage users could add movie-themed stickers to their messages.

Partners for the movie included:

  • Amazon, which offered an Alexa skill that let users take an interactive adventure with the movie’s characters.
  • Boost Mobile, which ran a sweepstakes for its Perks rewards members awarding a trip to Portland and more.
  • California Pizza Kitchen, which partnered with Boys and Girls Clubs of America to donate 20% of their order to that organization.
  • Clif Kid, but details on that promotion were hard to find.
  • Color Me Mine, which held events at locations around the country with movie-themed items to paint.
  • Frontier Airlines, which ran a sweepstakes awarding a group of winners a trip to see an an advance screening.
  • Grand Canyon Railroad & Hotel, but again the details are scarce.
  • Langers Juice, similarly mysterious.
  • Lolli & Pops, which ran a sweepstakes giving the winner a trip to an advance screening and created movie-branded packaging.
  • Menchie’s, which ran a sweepstakes offering a trip to the Grand Canyon.
  • Sierra Club, which used the movie to inspire people to get outside and see what mysteries they could discover.
  • Spring Free Trampolines, which ran a sweepstakes awarding a free trampoline and tickets to the movie.
  • Nike, which created a new version of their Air Max shoe featuring movie-inspired designs.

Media and Publicity

Details about the movie, including some of the voice cast and a tentative release date, were released by Annapurna at Cannes along with a first still.

Closer to release there were features that focused on the technical aspects of production, including how Laika cracked the development of the title character and how it took advantage of new 3D printing technology to create an even wider variety of nuanced facial expressions for the characters.

Director Chris Butler and some of the movie’s artists appeared at WonderCon on a panel to talk about the movie, its animation and more.

A short featurette from Fandango focused on how Galifianakis brought Link to life. A number of clips came out in the first week of April to offer better looks at scenes shown in the trailers. Laika also offered a number of “Meet…” videos with the actors introducing the characters they voice and more.

Mr. Link showed up on the recent “Kids Choice Awards” to make sure that audience knew the movie was coming.

As is common, there were features like this that explored the behind the scenes process of creating the movie and its characters.

Galifianakis, Saldana and Jackman all made appearances on late night and early morning TV talk shows as well as elsewhere in the media to talk up the movie and reinforce what a good time it would be for audiences.


It’s not surprising to find that the campaign is filled with lighthearted charm and breezy, inoffensive but still exciting adventure. That’s very on-brand for Laika Studios and helps sell the film as an antidote to the constant grim, violent movies the bigger studios are putting out there as super hero and other franchise films.

The presence of the stars, at least from my perspective, doesn’t actually add much to the overall appeal of the film. They should be major factors, and their involvement certainly opened up more opportunities for press and media coverage, but in terms of the movie itself it doesn’t seem like they offer much value to the storytelling, at least not based on what’s seen here.

So we have a pleasant, seemingly inoffensive film coming out inbetween massive franchise blockbusters and my guess is it doesn’t make a huge impact on the box office. With tracking estimating a top-end opening weekend of $15 million, that would appear to bear out.

Picking Up the Spare

More on the technical aspects of the movie’s production here.

Front Runner – Marketing Recap

front runner poster2Believe it or not there was a time when politicians were held accountable by the electorate for the actions in their personal lives. I know that may seem far-fetched to younger audiences, but it’s true. Political careers were ruined by weird howls, misspellings of common words and other incidents that were, admittedly, inconsequential and often unrelated to their actual jobs or positions.

The Front Runner, directed by Jason Reitman, tells just such a story. Hugh Jackman stars as Gary Hart, a U.S. Senator running for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1988. Hailed as a man with widespread appeal and a knack for common sense talk, Hart’s trajectory is derailed when it’s revealed he’s had an affair. The story follows his fall, examines the role of the press in prying into a candidate’s personal life and more.

The Posters

Hart’s campaign bus is seen careening off a cliff on the first poster, an apt metaphor for how things played out. Seen still on the cliff are members of the press, though it’s unclear whether they were simply following it or if they chased it to that predicament. The copy at the bottom lays out the premise of the story by stating “Gary Hart was going to be President. Instead he changed politics forever.”

The second poster takes a more star-centric approach, using Jackman’s face as the central component as he looks a bit overwhelmed and bewildered while surrounded by a gaggle of microphones and cameras. The final poster uses a variation on that, just shifting the setting to the inside of a car that Hart is using to escape the throng.

The Trailers

As the first trailer starts Gary Hart is the affable, plain-spoken front runner in the 1988 Presidential campaign, uncomfortable with the trappings of campaigning and just wanting to talk about the issues. All of that comes crumbling down when someone discovers a young woman leaving his home, leading to the downfall of his candidacy and the end of his time in politics as well as causing problems in his marriage.

What’s most interesting here is not just the picture of Hart that’s being painted but the conversations happening among members of the press, who are uncertain whether such rumors and gossip are worth passing on. That, along with the rest of what’s shown here, present a story about men being held accountable for their actions, actions they thought they could get away with free from repercussions.

It’s the same basic story in the second trailer, though there’s a bit more overt examination of what role the press can – and should – play in reporting on the tawdry details of someone’s life.

Online and Social

Not much beyond the usual information on Sony’s official website. As usual, I wish there was a bit more historical context for the story the movie is telling to help inform audiences.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

Online ads used some of the key art and social ads used the trailers and other videos. There’s nothing I could find that’s explicitly labeled a TV spot, but videos like this that were shared on social look and feel like commercials.

Of course Ryan Reynolds, who’s long had a friendly rivalry with Jackman, couldn’t resist running a negative political ad of his own.

Media and Publicity

The publicity for the movie kicked off with the release of a still of Jackman in character, showing just what he’d look like in the role of the real-life politician. Sony later picked up distribution rights to the movie.

Right after the first trailer was released in late August the announcement came the movie would screen at the Telluride Film Festival as well as at Toronto. It was later slated as the closing night film for the Vancouver International Film Festival.

During the Toronto screening Jackman shot down speculation the movie had awakened any political aspirations of his own as well as what it took to get into character, including what his least favorite part of that process was. Sony released a sizzle reel that recapped some of the happenings at TIFF.

It was then announced among the titles appearing at the Austin Film Festival and the Chicago Film Festival.

The production crew was put in the spotlight for their efforts in recreating the world of 1988.

Jackman was interviewed about taking on the role of a real life person and more. Meanwhile Reitman spoke about the movie but also about the changing way technology has enabled a new generation of filmmakers to learn the ropes.


This is a really solid campaign. It’s not flashy or splashy but positions itself as a middle-of-the-road drama about an era in American politics that seems to have passed us by. Jackman looks very good as does the rest of the cast.

If there’s a problem, it’s in the lack of information about the larger issues the movie tackles that accompanies the campaign. As I stated above, I would have liked to have seen more historical context, or some attempt to educate people about the media issues raised by the story. That kind of additional effort would have helped generate a lot of interest in specialty audiences that could have spilled out into the general audience and helped raise its profile. As it is it’s coming out amidst a sea of holiday spectacle movies aimed at families and doesn’t have a super-strong point of differentiation.

Picking Up The Spare

Sony has released a couple featurettes, one that looked at the history of the real Gary Hart and one with Reitman and Jackman talking more about the story. Jackman and Reitman were interviewed about bringing the true-life tale to the screen and how Hart really changed the tenor of political campaigns.

Costar Mamoudou Athie showed up on “Late Night” to talk about the movie and working with Jackman, while Jackman himself appeared on “The Late Show.”

Jackman was interviewed here about the reservations he had in taking on the role of Hart.

One of the real life journalists portrayed in the movie has taken serious issue with that portrayal.

The Greatest Showman – Marketing Recap

greatest showman poster 4It’s interesting timing that a movie telling the story of how P.T. Barnum began his famous (and sometimes infamous) American Museum comes the same year the circus that for 146 years bore his name shut down. The Greatest Showman sees Hugh Jackman starring as Barnum, beginning at a low point in his life and career, suffering one setback after another. He soon devises the idea to collect oddities and people of interest and fascination under one roof, then charge admission for the public to see them.

Descriptions of the movie have been careful to use the word “inspired by” when alluding to how much of the story should be taken with a generous helping of salt. That story includes Barnum’s wife Charity (Michelle Williams) and Philip, the production assistant who joins him in his quest for show business fame (Zac Efron) as well as Anne, the young performer who catches Phillip’s eye.

Continue reading “The Greatest Showman – Marketing Recap”