Sunday, May 29, 2016

Nostalgia Theater: Generation X -- The X-Men's First Movie!

Finola Hughes and Jeremy Ratchford head up the mutants of Generation X
X-Men: Apocalypse is sitting atop the box office this weekend (read my review here), and as the ninth X-Men flick in sixteen years, it's easy to look at the Fox superhero franchise as one of those evergreens that's just always been around. But believe it or not, there was actually a time when the X-Men just couldn't catch a break in live action. With a theatrical feature mired in development hell for most of the '90s, Marvel Productions rolled the dice by taking the franchise to primetime in Generation X, the X-Men's very first movie.

Airing on Fox in February of 1996, the Generation X TV movie was intended as a backdoor pilot for a weekly skein, taking its title and premise from the comic series of the same name created by Scott Lobdell and Chris Bachalo. The comic book was built around two longtime X-Men supporting characters mentoring a new batch of students at Charles Xavier's vaunted school for Gifted Youngsters, and as you can tell from the title, it was a quintessentially '90s book, which the telefilm did a pretty good job of adhering to, I'd say. Here, dig this trailer:

Starring Cold Case's Jeremy Ratchford as Sean "Banshee" Cassidy, who has a mutant "sonic scream," and soap opera vet Finola Hughes as telepath Emma "White Queen" Frost, the film was directed by horror vet Jack Sholder (A Nightmare on Elm Street 2), putting all his experience to bear in getting the most out of a movie-of-the-week budget. And as these things go, Generation X isn't that bad. Sure, it feels held back by both the technical and narrative constraints of the era, but it's important to view the thing through the proper contextual lens.

Bear in mind, we were still four years away from Hugh Jackman strapping on his trademark knuckle knives, in the process legitimizing Marvel's cinematic fortunes forever and always. In Generation X we see the first tenuous steps toward figuring out how best to realize that universe onscreen. To that end, the casting is actually pretty decent overall. Ratchford and Hughes are both fun, and far better realizations of their respective characters than we saw in 2011's X-Men: First Class (especially January Jones' memorably wooden Frost).

While none of the higher-profile X-characters like Cyclops or Wolverine show up in this flick, fan favorite Jubilee, who was well known by then thanks to her prime role on the hit Saturday morning cartoon show, gets a featured role in this movie that's escaped her through four different appearances in the cinematic franchise (though, as played by Heather McComb, she also loses her trademark Asian ethnicity, so there's that). The film also boasts a gonzo turn by the always-fun Matt Frewer (he of Max Headroom fame) as baddie Russel Tresh.

Generation X aired at a time when Fox was taking wild swings with quirky cult properties (they also aired a Doctor Who TV movie during that same era, several years before the BBC successfully brought that show back), but ratings and interest ultimately didn't justify expanding it to a weekly canvas. I was disappointed at the time, but it was probably for the best given what was coming movie-wise a few years down the line. The film isn't available to own, but you can see it in its entirety (for now) via the embed below:

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