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Long before the X-Men made a splash on the big screen, Marvel Comics tried things on a smaller scale with a television film based on a spin-off of the X titles. They made a very wise decision, and the result signals the beginning of Marvel’s rise as a theatrical force to be reckoned with. Breezy and entertaining, audiences will be surprised how effective the low budget entry “Generation X” is.
“Generation X” takes us to a world where children are born with genetic anomalies. These children are labeled mutants, and are endowed with superior abilities that make them feared by the general (re: non-mutant) populace. Several of these children are taken to the Xavier Institute and trained by Emma Frost aka the White Queen (Finola Hughes) and Sean Cassidy aka Banshee (Jeremy Rachford) to be a force for good. But not everyone has the children’s best interests at heart. An insane scientist named Russel Tresh (Matt Frewer) schemes to capture the young mutants to use in his questionable dream experiments.
Eric Blakeney’s script, based on the Marvel Comics series, is actually quite good. There’s plenty of sly humor to complement an engaging storyline and it’s fun to see the White Queen, Banshee, Jubilee, and a primitive version of Cerebro, as live-action characters. In a way it all makes for a nice taste of things to come with the feature length X movies. The only flaw is the concept of the “dream realm” and Tresh’s experiments into the subconscious. It sounds too derivative of “Batman Forever” and the Freddy Krueger films, and only ends up detracting from the originality of the work. The exclusion of Chamber and Penance is also a disappointment, but understandable since the budget wasn’t there to fully realize them.
The cast approaches their roles with enthusiasm, and their energy helps propel the film above its budgetary constraints. And while Finola Hughes looks awkward in her light blonde wig as the White Queen, she still manages to project a steely resolve tempered by moral ambiguity. Matt Frewer is delightfully over the top as Tresh, whose wardrobe is as loud and eccentric as his personality. As Banshee, Jeremy Ratchford looks comfortable and self-assured, and is a warm presence to balance out the icy White Queen in the leadership department. Meanwhile, Heather McComb is adequate as Jubilee, but simply fails to capture the character’s daring side as depicted in the comic books.
Veteran helmer Jack Sholder (“Arachnid”) handles the film with ease, allowing the pace to briskly proceed with nary a slow stretch. He also works wonders with the limited budget, managing to make the movie look more expensive and elaborate than a television film ought to. His use of bright colors and attractive scenery also helps to add visual flair to the film’s world. This was essentially filmdom’s first exposure to Marvel’s mutants, and Sholder ensures that they make a memorable impression.
“Generation X” may not have had the big budget of “X-Men”, or even the more recognizable characters, but it does have some great acting, a good script, and expert direction. For a television film, “Generation X” overachieves in many respects and heralds the beginning of a golden age for Marvel in film. If only the script was a bit more original and the budget bigger, this could have been a truly spectacular movie experience.
Jack Sholder (director) / Eric Blakeney (screenplay)
CAST: Amarilis …. M
Suzanne Davis …. Arlee Hicks
Matt Frewer …. Russel Tresh
Finola Hughes …. Emma Frost
Heather McComb …. Jubilee