Retro Marvel TV
Generation X Is X-Men Worst Class

Bob Chipman | 6 Aug 2014 12:00
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Our story? The same one they've used to start every X-Men adaptation as far back as the 80s: A new student (or two, in this case) enrolls at the school and meets the crew while a tangentially-related villain plot brews in the background. Our audience POV characters this time? Skin, who's stretchy like Mr. Fantastic except it hurts him so he's consequently sort-of useless, and Jubilee, aka the one super-relatable kid character from the cartoon you reeeeeaally liked and were later crushed to discover was an almost completely unimportant minor figure in the actual comics. (Funnily enough, even though she was a member of the comics' Generation X team, she's only in this movie because of the cartoon's popularity: They originally wanted to use Dazzler.)

As for the rest of team? Well, there's M, a self-described "perfect mutant" with superhuman physical reflexes and no immediately-apparent flaws, Mondo, who has The Absorbing Man's powers, new character Refrax (well, "new" in the sense that he's just Cyclops but with blue eye-lasers instead of red) and fellow newbie Buff, who... well, she's got super-strength and the muscle-definition you'd expect to come with it, so... her power is "being buff," basically. The conceit is that while she looks conventionally pretty from the neck-up, the rest of her is all lumpy and roided-out looking (the "effect" is accomplished by having the actress wear loose baggy clothes all the time and an insert-shot of a body-builder's back at one point) and she's self-conscious about it -- which gets worse when Refrax (who can also have X-Ray vision if he tries hard) sees through her clothes during a makeout-session and seems to freak out a bit.

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Soap opera mainstay Finola Hughes is an inert Emma Frost (she's not required to do much beyond cock her head to the side for Jedi Mind-Trick business and look decent in shiny white tights) and Jeremy Ratchford ("Nick" from Cold Case) looking profoundly uncomfortable pantomiming "sonic screams" as Banshee. Our villain for the piece is Matt "Max Headroom" Frewer doing his level-best Jim Carrey impression as a mad scientist putting subliminal mind-control messages in arcade cabinets. He wants to extract the "X-Factor" genes from mutants' brains to power up his own, eventually leading to a "dream world" confrontation that's not as embarrassing as the otherworld-sequences in Dr. Strange, but not by much. They keep calling it "The Dream Dimension," which (when I watched this as a gullible kid in '94) had me expecting The Shadow King was going to turn up eventually. He did not, because that might have been interesting.

I'll say this: A set of scenes dealing with the Xavier students getting into scrapes with unfriendly bullies their own age from the surrounding upstate New York rural township suggest that there might have been an interesting series developed from this had it ended up getting a chance. It's all pretty bog-standard stuff (yes, there's an extended "Teen Romance at The County Fair" sequence and yes, the macho-jerk bullies don't go anywhere without their varsity letterman jackets) but it approaches authenticity more so than any of the TV-budgeted superheroics do. Then again, it also possibly sets up a potentially problematic dynamic of the already-superior (literally) mutants as educated/upscale collegiates versus the working-class "townies."

The effects range in quality from "not bad for a TV movie" to flat-out bad, particularly when things go all Lawnmower Man with Frewer in Act 3. As expected, Jubilee's "make fireworks out of thin air" powers translate pretty well, and Refrax acquits himself pretty decently since "eye-beams" are kind of difficult to screw up. Skin, you'll be unsurprised to learn, looks almost as ridiculous as the instantly-tacky early-90s fashions everyone is wearing the whole time... though, to be fair, when Buff shows up at the end modeling "our new uniforms" the example looks precisely one helmet removed from being a Power Ranger -- and not in a good way.

The movie supposedly drew a decent audience in its original broadcast, but didn't exactly light the kind of fire to make Fox want to risk a series -- especially not when Batman & Robin briefly made "live-action superheroes" a dirty word in Hollywood and the X-Men comics' franchise as a whole was just hitting the "milked dry" point with even the most mutant-obsessed fans. Fox would, however, hold onto the license to make X-Men movies, which of course paid off for them in a big way four years later.

But before that! Fox would try one more time to launch a Marvel series to TV in 1998, and this time they called in The Big Guns... well, technically, they called in the guy who ran in slow-motion next to The Big Guns, but, hey -- that's.... kinda the same, right?

Well, either way, come back next week for that.

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