SHANGHAI NOON: anachronistic escapism that has worn well (2000 in Film #22)

This year, 20 years on from the year 2000, I’m going to celebrate the first year of cinema in the 21st century by looking back at some of the films across the year at the turn of the millennium which took No #1 at the box office for their opening weekends.

This week, released on the weekend of May 26th, Tom Dey’s Shanghai Noon

Again, this week I’m cheating, because I just cannot bring myself to devote time, energy and words to the box office winner of the June 2nd weekend: Big Momma’s House.

This is partly because in a few weeks, Nutty Professor II: The Klumps is incoming and touching on similar ground, but also because there doesn’t seem to be any cultural relevance or reward in discussing Martin Lawrence gurning as a woman while dressed in a fat suit. The thought of devoting time to that is depressing, even while the proliferation of such base, lowest common denominator comedy is arguably an extension of content we saw in the 90’s such as the Farrelly Brothers successes such as Dumb & Dumber or There’s Something About Mary, simply taken to a different level, and partly designed to appeal to an African-American audience. It is, put simply, not my thing.

Shanghai Noon, however, perhaps does warrant a look. Tom Dey’s comedic action adventure was released the same weekend as Mission Impossible II and, as you can imagine, struggled to hold its own under the weight of the Tom Cruise sequel and Disney’s Dinosaur, but it nevertheless slightly out performed its modest budget and struck something of a chord, with not just the star wattage of Jackie Chan and Owen Wilson but the mash-up of multiple genres that came together for quite an old-fashioned bit of fun; the kind of film you could imagine having been made in the lighter, brighter 1980’s, and almost at odds with the darker, serious, dour blockbusters that would come to define an edgier, even more earnest decade before the Age of Marvel.

To discuss this one in more detail, however, I’m handing back over to 2013-era Tony, who reviewed the film back then, and who you may remember discussing Road Trip recently, before returning with a postscript. Take it away, younger self…

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Mutated Anxiety at the Millennium: X-Men (2000)

With X-Men: Dark Phoenix on the horizon, a film predicted to signal the end of the original iteration of the X-Men franchise, I’ve decided to go back and revisit this highly influential collection of comic-book movies.

We start with Bryan Singer’s original, 2000’s X-Men…

Though not always discussed in the annals of great comic-book cinema, or even considered the height of its own franchise, Bryan Singer’s original adaptation of X-Men is a seminal moment in superhero cinema.

Before Singer brought Stan Lee & Jack Kirby’s formative 1960’s Marvel Comics property to the screen, after over a decade of attempts by a range of filmmakers (most notably James Cameron and Kathryn Bigelow), comic-book cinema was principally dominated across the 1980’s and 1990’s by two heavyweights: Superman and Batman. The former ruled the late 1970’s into the 80’s before falling from grace with a succession of sequels whereby the budget went down as the schlock went up, while the latter moved away in the 90’s from Tim Burton’s initial Neo-Gothic vision into a high camp, overblown blockbuster confection. Beyond these behemoths, comic-book films were curiosities – The Rocketeer, The Shadow, The Phantom, The Crow, Darkman, Spawn – films which either garnered a cult audience or disappeared from the radar entirely.

X-Men changed all that. While not the first Marvel property brought to bear on the big-screen, Singer’s film was without doubt the first adaptation of their source material to go mainstream as a major box-office success – two years earlier, the Wesley Snipes-fronted Blade arguably also did well but was too violent and pulpy to reach a wide audience, and many to this day are unaware it even *is* a Marvel adaptation. X-Men changed the game. X-Men showed that comic-book movies could be more than kitsch spectacle or showy theatrics. Superheroes could be *real* people with heart and soul, their villainous antagonists complicated foes, both morally and psychologically; plus, these films could, much like the related genre of science-fiction, work as powerful allegory and social commentary. In other words, comic-book cinema could do what actual comic-books had been doing, without much in the way of critical respect, for decades.

While X-Men absolutely gives in to some of the silliness that weakened comic-book movies of decades past, it also shows what is possible in this sub-genre, and unknowingly lays down a template for the eventual rise and domination of superhero cinema.

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