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X2: X-Men United

X2 is a great sequel and one of the best comic book movies to date. Bryan Singer returns to direct, and most of the cast from the original come back, with a few new mutants and characters joining the fun. The story is bigger, the stakes are higher, the fights are more elaborate… this is a perfect sequel.

The movie starts with a bang as the teleporting Nightcrawler (Alan Cumming) launches a near fatal attack on the US President. The President escapes injury, but the stage is set for the next level of the mutant/human war. Professor X (Patrick Stewart) dispatches Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) and Storm (Halle Berry) to track down Nightcrawler, while Professor X and Cyclops (James Marsden) go to visit Magneto in his plastic prison.

Magneto (Ian McKellen) has been tortured into giving William Stryker (Brian Cox) information about Xavier’s school for mutants. Stryker has been using his son’s power to manipulate and control mutants. Professor X and Cyclops walk into Stryker’s trap and they are captured. He plans on manipulating Xavier into using Cerebro to kill all the mutants.

Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) has been hunting around Alkali Lake for clues to his past, but when he doesn’t find anything, he returns to the mansion and winds up acting as the babysitter while everyone else is advancing the plot. He catches up with Rogue (Anna Paquin) and meets her new boyfriend Bobby Drake a.k.a. Iceman (Shawn Ashmore). The happy homecoming is short-lived as Stryker’s forces attack the mansion and the mutants are forced to flee.

Iceman takes Rogue, Wolverine and their friend John/Pyro (Aaron Stanford) to his parent’s house to hide out. Iceman comes out as a mutant to his family, and they aren’t too accepting. His little brother calls the cops on them and there’s a little showcase of raw mutant power before the X-Men (minus Cyclops and Xavier) all meet up again.

The X-Men are making their escape, but then the get attacked, but then they are saved by Magneto and Mystique. And so they decide to all join forces and become X-Men United. They make their way to Alkali Lake to confront Stryker, save Xavier, and save the world. Of course there has to be a slight twist and so there is one. So if you haven’t seen this movie that’s been out for more than nine years, be grateful that I didn’t spoil anything. This movie sets everything up for a great third installment, but then Bryan Singer left and Brett Ratner came in to ruin the final film.

One thing that has bothered me since the first time that I saw this movie is that Iceman doesn’t stop the raging floodwaters. I mean he’s Iceman. He can turn water vapor into ice. Surely he can turn cold water into ice. I mean there’s snow all around, it’s already cold, and it wouldn’t be that hard.

The first movie uses mutants as a metaphor for racism and equality. Charles Xavier is like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Magneto is like Malcolm X. This movie uses mutants as a metaphor for homosexuality and equality. Iceman comes out to his parents. He fearfully tells them that he is a mutant and his mom’s response is, “Have you tried not being a mutant?”. Director Bryan Singer is gay, and for him to include a scene like this in a summer blockbuster could have been controversial, but I think it adds to the context of the film.

This is a great movie, it’s a great sequel. It’s the best X-Men movie to date. There are great characters and awesome fights. There are morals and messages and themes and references to the comics that only avid fans will get. The opening sequence with Nightcrawler is one of the best opening scenes in any movie. It draws you in and you are instantly hooked.

Critically Rated at 16/17

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Top Gun

If you haven’t seen Top Gun, you have not lived. Tom Cruise stars as Maverick, a renegade Navy pilot who gets recruited to the elusive Top Gun program, where the best of the best compete to be the best. Ridley Scott’s younger brother Tony Scott directs this classic action film. Ridley Scott may be a genius, but Tony has some pretty good action films under his belt. Top Gun is probably his best.

Maverick (Tom Cruise) is a natural pilot, but is impulsive and has some daddy issues. His dad was also a pilot, but his plane went down under some shady circumstances, and Maverick has to deal with his father’s tainted legacy. Maverick and his wingman Goose (Anthony Edwards) fly recklessly, but get the job done. Despite some reservations, Maverick gets a chance to prove himself as one of the best Naval Aviators.

Maverick and Goose face some fierce competition, but their main rivals are soon revealed to be Iceman (Val Kilmer) and his wingman Slider. Iceman is the best pilot, not because he is naturally gifted, but because he works hard to be the best. He doesn’t like the way Maverick flies, because Maverick doesn’t fly safe, and he doesn’t want to work as a team. Iceman is made out to be the villain. Iceman should be the hero. He trains and studies and strives to do well, he does the right thing, and he looks out for the team. He calls Maverick out for being a maverick and he gets shat on. You can’t look out for yourself in the military, you endanger everyone else.

No matter how arrogant Maverick is, no matter how brash and stuck up, he is still a gifted pilot, and so everyone bends over backwards for him. Even though Charlie (Kelly McGillis) repeatedly stresses that she can’t date him because it wouldn’t be professional, she ends up spreading her legs. Even though Maverick kills his best friend and wingman Goose, he still gets more chances to prove himself.

He struggles a bit, and then regains his confidence, just in time to shoot down some real enemy MiGs and save the day. And then gets the girl at the end. Hurray for cliché Hollywood endings.

Top Gun was made in a different time. Back then there was no CG… if you saw a couple of jets doing some crazy cool maneuvers, you knew that shit was real. I know Tom Cruise isn’t flying an F-14, but some guy is, and that guy is a bad ass.

Every ‘80s movie needs a hit soundtrack. And the Top Gun soundtrack is epic. Danger Zone by Kenny Loggins is one of the cheesiest macho songs ever. Berlin’s Take My Breath Away is an awesome and awkward love song. There might have been a few more songs on the soundtrack. None of them matter.

No movie about military life is complete without a homoerotic beach volleyball scene. Maverick knows that he has a date that night, with a really hot instructor nonetheless, but playing shirtless volleyball with the boys is a little more important apparently.

Top Gun is one of those action films that defines a decade. It’s like Star Wars, if you haven’t seen it, you are weird. Real planes doing real stunts means real excitement. Is anyone else slightly distracted by Tom Cruise’s unibrow?

Critically Rated at 14/17

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