The Gifted: season one review

So mutants have moved to the small screen these days, with The Gifted, starring Stephen Moyer (of True Blood fame) – and it’s set in a world which runs on an alternate mutant timeline to the big screen films (although those are all over the place these days), and it’s one where the main X-Men have disappeared and have seemingly left John Proudstar/Thunderbird (Blair Retford) in charge of what’s known as the mutant underground. Although he’s not the show’s primary character.

We first meet the underground when Reed Strucker (Stephen Moyer), a district attorney who prosecutes mutants, is forced to go on the run with his family after learning his kids, Lauren (Natalie Alyn Lind) and Andy (Percy Hynes White), are, shock horror, mutants themselves. The sweet, sweet irony. This setup means the Strucker family are our way in as an audience.

And so we have a cat and mouse game of back and forth between the evil government agency, Sentinel Services (S.S., see what they did there), and the sweet little Struckers and their mutant friends, forced to live in hiding.

Not that hiding seems that bad. The underground has food, water and an array of hi-tech computers to aid tracking of the enemy. There’s a lot of mutants there too, with most of them pleasingly attractive, which is important if we’re going to stay interested in their plight.

First, we’ve got hunky Johnny/Thunderbird, part Apache with tracking abilities and super pecs, sorry, strength; then Lorna Dane/Polaris (Emma Dumont), a pale, sexy goth type with green hair who’s also the daughter of Magneto, so she can manipulate metal; her partner Marcos Diaz/Eclipse (Sean Teale), a tall, dark and brooding dude with links to the Mexican cartel, so he’s a bit of a bad boy, oh, and he can manipulate photons to shoot hot beams from his hands; and there’s Clarice Gong/Blink (Jamie Chung), a sexy teleporter with a bit of a thing for Johnny; plus Johnny’s actual ex-girlfriend, Sonya Simonson/Dreamer (Elena Satine), a sultry lady who’s all lips and boobs and blows seductive pink smoke at you to manipulate memories. What a temptress.

There’s also a bunch of other lesser characters we don’t really get to know that well, so I won’t spend a lot of time on them.

So with each of these main lot they all seem to have their own personal soap opera going on, and some are more compelling than others. I guess the show’s creators wanted an ensemble cast so they didn’t have all eggs in one basket. Because it’s probably a bit of a burden being the lead in a new X-Men property, even if it is TV.

And thinking on it, I wonder how much the reputation of the films loom over this show.

So much so that the show’s creators aren’t taking massive risks, from what I’ve seen so far. By this I mean, it’s a show that has a lot of action, an abundance of characters, and plenty going on, but at the same time nothing of much significance actually happens. Which is a skill in the writing in itself, but in this golden age of TV one cannot simply amble along for the majority of a season without getting to the sodding point.

Where is this story going exactly?
Is anything bad actually going to happen?
Will I care it if it does?
Are any of these sexy people going to hook up with each other?
Can we see some nudity? (If only relevant to the plot of course.)

Clearly the questions that plague me are the same ones I’m sure you’re asking yourself. Or perhaps you’re not. Perhaps I shouldn’t be? Maybe this is more aimed at young teens, I don’t know.

Maybe you’ll be asking yourself, why am I watching it if I’m not that engaged?
Probably because I’m engaged just enough, and I’m praying more happens. But it’s also one of those shows that, from probably the second episode, I filed under ‘easy watch’. Like when you’re tired and home from work and don’t want anything too taxing that you have to focus on a great deal.

So that’s that really. A solid, dependable 6/10 for entertainment, story and character. If that’s your thing, then get watching. If not, and you’re after geeky TV that has something more to give, try Agents of SHIELD or Jessica Jones.

Logan: sad, beautiful and final

James Mangold is a compelling director; in that a lot of his work has real emotional depth and nuance, and often benefits from repeat viewing. And he’s kind of underappreciated. I mean, Girl, Interrupted, 3:10 To Yuma and Walk The Line all had him at the helm.

And yes, granted, he’s also got The Wolverine on his filmography, but we’re all allowed a little stumble now and then, right?

And I have to say, with Logan – almost certainly Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart’s last portrayal of the characters – Mangold has finished with superheroes on a high (assuming he’s not coming back to direct again). Because, simply put, this film is poles apart from almost ALL superhero movies (even Deadpool), in that it’s a melancholy love letter to Logan, aka Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) and Charles Xavier, aka Professor X (Patrick Stewart), as the two that are heart and soul – and indeed spine – of the X-Men franchise.

Theirs is the father-son dynamic that’s touched on consistently throughout prior films, but is really brought front and centre here. And, structure wise, we’re in somewhat different territory. Because whilst superhero films (these days) are often Westerns half in disguise, Logan wears this badge proudly, with Mangold really playing to his strengths as a director.

In that it’s a muscular, visceral, downtrodden and wistful story. One that’s gritty, painfully real, and lacks any semblance of a Hollywood shine. (I mean, within one scene more F bombs get dropped than the rest of the franchise put together.)

Indeed, Mangold has previously stated his touchpoints were Shane, The Cowboys, Paper Moon, Little Miss Sunshine and The Wrestler. And, for me, the latter two cited really shine through. Whether it’s the road trip structure or the fact Logan shares a lot of common ground with Mickey Rourke’s wrestler, in that he’s a ‘broken down old piece of meat’, you sense these influences keenly.

And, story wise, it also takes its cues from the Old Man Logan series of graphic novels. So within the opening scenes where we meet Logan, he’s a grey-haired, shabby limo driver. He drinks, he’s bleary-eyed, bent, broken and walks with a limp. So he’s oceans away from his body being the temple of earlier films. Now it’s more a urinal. In short, he’s a right mess and borderline suicidal.

Plus the fact he’s got a half-senile Charles to look after; shacked up in a metal bunker in Mexico (described in one scene as a man with the world’s most dangerous brain and a degenerative brain disorder to match. A lethal combination). So gone are the days of the mansion and gone are the days of mutants and the X-Men. Logan and Charles are practically all that’s left. And they’re barely clinging to life as it is.

But… they’re given purpose by the arrival of a young girl, Laura (Dafne Keen), who has certain familiar abilities. And so Logan is tasked – with Charles in tow – to attempt to evade bad guys and get her to the safety of Canada. So we end up with a sort of mismatched family road movie – with Logan as the cantankerous yet caring father, Charles as the doddering yet insightful grandfather, and Laura as the wild, precocious daughter looking for a family and sense of belonging.

And, whilst the whole film has many sweet notes, it’s also immensely sad and surprisingly violent (every Wolverine kill is far bloodier and more gory than ever before).

This is also, without a shadow of a doubt, both Jackman and Stewart’s best performances as these characters. The studio has clearly given Mangold license to do things a bit differently, and it’s really paid off.

The world feels more real. It’s the most emotional ‘superhero’ film yet (in any franchise) and it’s focused in its use of a handful of characters tops, which is really refreshing (the swollen cast of recent X-Men outings was beginning to bore me a bit).

So ultimately, this is a strong contender for the best X-Men movie to date, or at least a firm second place. And you could argue that without all the prior films the weight of emotion wouldn’t ring true here, and that this movie needs to stand fully alone to be considered the best. And that’s valid.

But it’s also worth noting that this movie does FAR more right than it does wrong. Coupled with the fact that more than a handful of scenes are truly heartbreaking.

Now how many X-Men films could you say that about?