Friday, July 12, 2013

Worth Mentioning - Van Damme United

We watch several movies a week. Every Friday, we'll talk a little about some of the movies we watched that we felt were Worth Mentioning.

Cody watches as the X-Men fumble and JCVD scores.


X-Men and X2 director Bryan Singer had some grand intentions for X-Men 3. X2 screenwriters Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris were going to write an adaptation of the popular comics storyline The Dark Phoenix Saga, set up in the final moments of 2, that would have Jean Grey returning from her apparent death at the end of that film with her powers having reached god-like levels. Aligning with neither the X-Men nor Magneto's Brotherhood, she would use her powers to take matters into her own hands and fight for mutant causes on a global scale, causing mass destruction while doing so. A guilt-racked Cyclops would fully step up into the leadership role and work to get the X-Men into fighting shape so they could attempt to get the Phoenix, Jean, the woman he loves, under control. The villainous group The Hellfire Club was going to be involved, including Emma Frost, The White Queen, with Sigourney Weaver, who starred in Dan Harris's movie Imaginary Heroes, in mind to play the character.

But then the chance to make Superman Returns arose and Singer chose to do that instead, taking Dougherty and Harris with him and leaving X3 wide open.

With filming firmly set to start in July of 2005, Fox went on a director hunt and got passes from people like Darren Aronofsky, Joss Whedon, Alex Proyas, and Zack Snyder for various reasons. Eventually, Matthew Vaughn, an established producer who had recently made his directorial debut on the gangster film Layer Cake (which set the stage for its star Daniel Craig to land the James Bond gig), was signed on to direct. A story was developed with screenwriters Simon Kinberg and Zak Penn that combined elements of Chris Claremont and John Byrne's Dark Phoenix Saga with a then very recent storyline from the comics that had been part of Joss Whedon and John Cassaday's run on Astonishing X-Men. Vaughn cast several characters, storyboarded the entire film, then with two weeks to go before filming he dropped out of the project, largely because he felt the schedule was too rushed. Vaughn's exit didn't change the schedule, though. Brett Ratner, best known for directing the Rush Hour trilogy, was brought in as his emergency replacement and filming began on time.

The character of Cyclops had been underused in X2, but since actor James Marsden was another who followed Singer to Superman, Cyclops really got marginalized in this one. Heartbroken, scruffy, still mourning the loss of Jean, he goes back to the scene of her death, Alkali Lake, where she had been caught in a flood of water from a busted dam while helping her fellow mutants escape. When he reaches the lake, Jean rises from her watery grave like Jason Voorhees. Now the Dark Phoenix, she gives Cyclops a kiss... and seems to blast him out of existence as a result, leaving nothing behind but his sunglasses. Cyclops is killed off early on in this movie, completely removed from this version of the Phoenix Saga, and though the character has been thought dead in the comics before, I don't think he's ever been taken out with such apparent finality.

Clearly unbalanced, Jean/Phoenix grapples with her new level of power. While the X-Men and the Brotherhood compete to get her on their side, she shows ambivalence about the state she's in, one moment asking to be put out of her misery, the next saying she doesn't want to lose these abilities. She loses control, she causes damage. Also falling victim to her during an out-of-control moment is Professor X. Unlike Cyclops, the Professor seems to get killed off with some regularity in the comics, and he has a post-credits loophole here anyway.

The X-Men want Jean to join them so they can help their friend, but it's important to Magneto that he get her on his side because he's once again planning to wage war on humanity.

Driven by the fact this his own son is a mutant (the winged Angel), wealthy Warren Worthington Jr. has worked to find a cure for this epidemic of mutations, and he has finally found a way to permanently suppress the mutant gene. He has converted Alcatraz Island and the old prison into a base of operations for Worthington Labs, and is offering the cure to any mutant who wants it. They just have to come in for a simple shot.

The idea that anyone would dare try to cure mutantism is insulting enough to Magneto, but he's also aware that the military has weaponized it, arming soldiers with guns that fire out darts full of the curing liquid. And he knows it works, because his beloved Mystique takes a dart for him, loses her blue hue and becomes a regular human, a sight that appalls him. To put a stop to this cure nonsense, Magento expands his Brotherhood into an army that includes Phoenix, Pyro, Juggernaut, Multiple Man, Callisto, Kid Omega (with the powers of Quill), Arclight, Spike, Psylocke, Phat, Ash, Anole/Lizard Man, and Glob Herman, and plans to raid the lab on Alcatraz and destroy the cure at its source. Since the cure is actually produced from the powers of a young boy called Leech, destroying the source would mean killing this mutant child.

Rogue ditches the X-Men to get the cure so she can finally touch people without killing them, so it's left up to Wolverine, Storm, newly recruited X-Men Iceman, Colossus, and Shadowcat, and a former team member who no longer fits into his uniform, the super-intelligent and blue-furred Beast, to thwart Magneto's plans and try to pull Jean back from the dark side during a big third act battle sequence.

I commend Brett Ratner for being able to get the movie together as well as he did, coming on to a project like this just two weeks before filming is a bad situation, and it has some bright spots - the action beats are cool, Kelsey Grammer is perfectly cast as Beast - but it also has plenty of missteps.

The rush to meet the filming date is felt in the final product. The movie feels rushed, like it's just going through the motions. Matthew Vaughn went on to direct X-Men: First Class, and around the time that movie was coming out he bashed the finished version of The Last Stand as being not a speck on the version he would've made if he had stayed on. That's not really tactful to say, but he did have a point with the issues he pointed out - that the movie never lets moments breathe, squandering the potential for emotion and drama. Major characters die, but these deaths have very little impact on the viewer because of the pacing and the way they're presented.

Rather than heavy and emotional, things here feel kind of cheeseball, especially when you have moments like Vinnie Jones being introduced as the badass Juggernaut and in his first line he's saying he needs to pee. It's such a bad, groaner line that it sticks in my mind and I can't help mimicking the delivery of "I need a pee" at certain points in my life when it's appropriate.

The Dark Phoenix is also wasted. I haven't read the original Dark Phoenix Saga comics, but I have to imagine that it was more interesting than what's in the movie, otherwise it wouldn't still be talked about thirty years later. The version that could've been from Singer sounds like it would've been great and played out on an epic scale. Jean is now essentially a goddess walking the earth, but aside from a few scenes, like when she's killing major characters, she spends a lot of her screen time just standing around as a mute lackey to Magneto. It seems like such a missed opportunity.

X-Men: The Last Stand has the reputation of being one of the worst comic book movies out there, and while I do think it's weak, a letdown from what came before, I don't think it's the total disaster that it's often made out to be. It's just not all that it could've been. This is exemplified in the ending: in the comics, Dark Phoenix is so powerful that emergency measures are in place that would destroy an entire solar system just to take her out. Singer's Phoenix story would've ended with her leaving Earth and ascending into godhood. In The Last Stand, she gets stabbed. It's an emotional moment for her and Wolverine and will play into the Wolverine movie that's coming out later this month, but compared to the other possibilities...


Marketed with the promise that it would be delivering "Double the Van damage!" (or is that Van Damme-age?), Double Impact stars Jean-Claude Van Damme in dual roles as twins Alex and Chad Wagner.

Born to wealthy British parents, the boys were separated as infants when, during a business trip to Hong Kong, their parents were brutally murdered in an attack orchestrated by their father's traitorous business partner Nigel Griffith and local crime boss Raymond Zhang. The boys' nanny managed to escape with Alex and get him to an orphanage, while their parents' bodyguard Frank Avery saved Chad and raised him as his own child in France and Hollywood.

Twenty-five years after their parents were murdered, Frank is able to track Alex down and takes Chad to Hong Kong to meet his long lost twin. The boys have turned out very differently - Chad is the pampered type, dressing in preppy pastels. Alex is rough and tough, his hair slicked back, a cigar in his mouth, his voice coming out as a croak. Frank reveals to them what happened to their parents, stirring them up to seek revenge on Griffith and Zhang, but things are complicated on Alex's side of things. Not only is he mixed up in the Hong Kong underworld and has Zhang looking to recruit him into his organization, but his girlfriend has been working for Griffith's company for five years.

These connections to the villains don't hold off the seeking of vengeance for long, though, and Alex and Chad get to work disrupting Zhang and Griffith's criminal dealings and attempting to bring the murderers to justice. The brothers wade into battle with both karate skills and firearms, so we're treated to copious amounts of martial arts fights and gunfire.

Of all the Van Damme movies that I've mentioned on the blog and watched repeatedly in my youth, Double Impact may be my top favorite. I wrote a lot of fan fiction as I was growing up, even ran a fan fiction website for several years, and while I considered writing sequels to other Van Damme movies, the only one I went through with was Double Impact 2. I filled a notebook with a handwritten screenplay telling the further adventures of Alex and Chad Wagner.

The standout villains of the movie aren't Zhang and Griffith so much as a couple of their lackeys, lesbian bodybuilder Kara (played by Ms. Olympia Cory Everson) and Van Damme's Bloodsport nemesis Bolo Yeung as a henchman named Moon. Moon is a deadly force of nature who had a hand in killing the Wagner parents, takes a bullet, receives a face wound that disfigures him and blinds him in one eye, but he's still around twenty-five years later to bust heads and give Alex and Chad trouble. He appears to be killed in the climax, but he returned to be the main bad guy in my sequel, just covered with more scars. I can't remember much about my story and have no idea where that notebook ended up, but I do know that the climactic fight took place in the gear room of a draw bridge.

I had a soft spot for stories about brothers like this, the video game Double Dragon, etc. because of my older brother who I've talked about on the blog multiple times before, the one who was a big fan of Van Damme's Bloodsport and Kickboxer. I used to imagine that someday my brother and I would get caught up in a situation where we would have to have ass-kicking adventures of this sort. Double Impact was one of the easiest to relate to because my brother's name is Chad, and he has the happy-go-lucky show-off disposition that the character Chad displays in the movie. Me, I've always been drawn to the darker characters, my favorite Ninja Turtle as a child was the angry and brooding Raphael, so Alex was my sort of character. At one point he makes himself an emotional wreck over scenarios that exist only in his mind, and I can definitely relate to that...

In addition to playing the twin leads, Van Damme also co-wrote the screenplay with director Sheldon Lettich, who was involved in Thou Shalt Not Kill... Except, wrote Bloodsport, and wrote/directed Lionheart.

Recently, Van Damme has been talking up his desire to get a real Double Impact sequel made. In the first, one brother travels from Hollywood to Hong Kong, where the other is mixed up with criminal elements, in part 2 one brother would travel from Hong Kong to Hollywood, where the other is mixed up with criminal elements. Van Damme wants to make it, I would love to see it, but in an interview I watched he said it seems like it'd be impossible to actually get it together.

No comments:

Post a Comment