Even though I live left-of-centre in the heart of Tokyo (actually Setagaya, about 25 minutes by train from Shibuya), lately I haven’t been thinking about Japan at all. My brain has shelved lingua franca, ignored the neon signage, sushi train restaurants, the manga and anime – heck, even the saké. Instead, I’ve had my head stuck in comicbooks.
And, yes, I do put the two words together (“comic” + “book” = “comicbook”) since I recently saw Stan Lee’s rant on Twitter about doing so. Which is why I delivered up my monthly rant to Forces Of Geek about this comicbook fixation and its influence (along with classic 1930s-40s noir) on the novel I’m currently finishing off.
If vaguely interested, you can read more about the whole caboodle here.
I also have to quickly thank Lee Sibbald for a wunderbar review of my last published novel, One Hundred Years of Vicissitude. “Charles Dickens collides with Haruki Murakami”, she assessed @ the Fantasy Book Review, “in a pulsating tale of history, redemption and revenge (that’s) by turns educational, inspiring, traumatic and humourous.”
Otherwise, since my head is wrapped up in comicbooks as I mentioned, I remembered an interview I did with former Bond girl Famke Janssen – this was on the occasion of her promotional visit to Tokyo in 2006 to talk up X-Men 3, and was published in local newspaper the Yomiuri Shinbun. Famke was great, very easy-going and fun, and we talked about everything from superhero group over-population (a theme in the new book) to Tintin — and capes.
Here’s the piece that was originally published:
September 02, 2006 | From the Daily Yomiuri 読売新聞 |Tokyo, Japan
‘X’ woman: ‘X-Men’ star Famke Janssen talks about the extremes of the series’ 3rd chapter
Andrez Bergen / Special to The Daily Yomiuri
“I’ve played a lot of psychos, for some reason. Don’t think I’m some kind of psycho myself–or you can if you want to. I really don’t care!” So jested Famke Janssen in a recent interview with The Daily Yomiuri, while in Tokyo with costars Hugh Jackman and Halle Berry to promote the third X-Men movie.
In The Last Stand, Janssen switches tack from the loyal and heroic Jean Grey of the earlier chapters, and smolders instead as the increasingly insane, all-powerful Phoenix.
The actress has relevant experience–you may recall her turn, a decade ago, as the über-sexy assassin with lethal legs, Xenia Onatopp, in the James Bond movie GoldenEye.
“Playing psychos is fun,” Janssen confessed. “They give you the license and freedom that you don’t have when you play a normal person. Because, with a psycho, there’s no limit, you can absolutely ham it up.”
In Chris Claremont and John Byrne’s original Marvel Comics incarnation of this X-Men tale in the early ’80s, the “Phoenix” storyline centered upon the corruptive influence of absolute power, and the redemptive qualities of love and loyalty.
It’s been a recurring theme in myriad Marvel offshoots.
The celluloid interpretation, 25 years on, follows a similar dictum, but much darker, and this time–as a direct result of Jean’s psychotic turn–a bunch of integral characters die.
Don’t sit around waiting for these recently deceased characters to rise phoenix-like themselves in any future franchise spin-offs. Janssen herself suggested that the resurrection jig is up.
“At this point that may become laughable,” she asserted. “I know that the comic book fans were really hoping that we’d go with the Phoenix saga after the second movie, but for a lot of people who don’t know the comic angle there’s some confusion–I mean, my character died! How did she come back? And so on. I think you could lose a sizeable chunk of the audience if you keep bringing characters back from the dead two or three times”.
The man most responsible for successfully adapting X-Men’s comic franchise into the movie biz was director Bryan Singer (The Usual Suspects), who helmed the first two movies.
“Bryan is an amazing director,” Janssen said during the interview. “He set up those films with a great group of actors, and he definitely established the tone–it was a very realistic setting. It wasn’t all glitz and glamour, the way comic books had been portrayed up until that point. Comic books are dark, and I think Bryan tapped into that. Teenagers like these comics because they sit at home wondering why they don’t belong, and then they read these stories and realize these characters are just like them–they don’t belong, either.”
Ironically Janssen, who grew up in the Netherlands, wasn’t one of these typical angst-ridden, comic-obsessed teenagers at all. Well, perhaps not in quite the same way.
“We were more likely to be reading Tintin,” she admitted. “Personally I found comics a little confusing; I was more into novels. With a novel you simply read from left to right, but comics have all those little balloons, and I never knew where to look.”
For the third and possibly final chapter in the X-Men series, Singer vacated the director’s chair to helm Superman Returns instead.
In his absence, first Matthew Vaughn (Layer Cake), then Brett Ratner (Rush Hour) worked on this most recent “X”-travaganza.
“Yes, we had a different director and, yes, we had a different kind of sensibility–which I think you can tell when you watch the movie,” Janssen said. “But for me, personally, it became a much more challenging experience because the character became much more emotional and much deeper. Bryan has specific ideas and can be a tad more controlling as a director. Brett, on the other hand, is a lot more all over the place.” She said with a laugh. “Anyway, I had that whole Phoenix character plotted out in my head when I came in to do this third movie. Brett let me do it that way, and I have no regrets.”
If there’s one major weakness inherent in the sequel, however, it’s the movie’s attempted scope: There are enough disparate themes and characters to pad out three X-Men sequels, instead of the single 104-minute effort cobbled together here.
It’s a similar fate that befell another Marvel title, The Avengers, in its comic book form from the late ’70s.
It, too, pursued a policy of superhero overpopulation, at one point boasting 18 different members of the team, along with their respective subplots, spouses and nemeses–not one of whom you cared a single iota about, because the individual protagonists had been so watered down.
The Avengers worked best in the ’60s, with its originator (and the creator of X-Men) Stan Lee, then later Roy Thomas, scribing the yarns.
Back then, when the group was composed of a quartet of highly emotional characters, time was given to develop their baser emotions like jealously, envy and rivalry, alongside their obvious strengths, developing loyalty, and an inclination to do the right thing.
The first two X-Men movies focused in such a manner on the core foursome of Jean Grey, Wolverine, Rogue and Scott Summers, supported by an ensemble cast of personalities like Magneto, Prof. Xavier, Mystique, Nightcrawler, Storm, Pyro and Iceman.
This third film rams together all of them–sans Nightcrawler–and a helluva lot of other people besides: two-dimensional walk-ons just begging for further development.
“It’s tricky when you have that many characters,” Janssen agreed. “At one point I think there were 12 or 15 main ones, and to even think about giving every single character a storyline with a beginning, middle and end is almost unheard of. There were a lot of actors to please, and a lot of characters to somehow make interesting. At times you might find that there are a lot of bold brushstrokes instead of intricate development, but in some way–across the three movies–they managed to give each of the central figures a solid character.”
And then there are the capes.
We all thought Pixar had finally put paid to superheroes’ attachment to their capes, when The Incredibles referenced the demise of several whose deaths were directly attributable to their voluminous fashion accoutrement.
Marvel comics themselves have also previously poked fun at capes, which dominated the superhero costumes of their chief rival, D.C.
Way back in 1974 when Captain America adopted a cape to go with his new alias as the Nomad, he tripped on it in pursuit of evil fiends–then promptly tore it off and tossed it.
Yet, incredibly, the X-Men have paid little heed.
Here you’ll find that Storm (Halle Berry) and Magneto (Ian McKellen, who should know better) revel in their swirling, camp attire.
“Clearly they haven’t seen it,” Janssen quipped, with a wry smile. “But I guess a lot of superheroes wear capes. I only remember because I have a dog, and one Halloween I gave him a little Superman costume, and it had a cape.”
As the interview wound up, Janssen adopted a comically rueful tone. “But poor Jean Grey–and Phoenix–never had a cape.”
Copyright 2006 The Daily Yomiuri