It’s kind of fun to compare the X-Men film franchise to its original source material. Remarkably enough, in just 14 years, the movie universe has managed to become as convoluted and confusing as 50 years of comic books—even if the two are quite different, story-wise. The big, important stuff is in place—kind of like the way a stick figure looks like a person as long as you don’t forget where limbs are supposed to go. Everything else is played pretty fast and loose. And that’s fine! Adaptations shouldn’t be slavish recreations.
But boy, did they mess up this Nightcrawler movie.
Nightcrawler joined the X-Men movie-verse in X2: X-Men United. As played by Alan Cumming, the character is easily one of the best parts of what’s probably the best X-Men movie. So, of course, they never brought him back.
Imagine my surprise, then, when I discovered that Nightcrawler was playing in cinemas. A real movie about the greatest X-Man of the bunch! It had to happen sooner or later. Reboots and spinoffs are all the rage now—and studio execs are probably starting to realize that they can’t keep Hugh Jackman frozen in a tube forever, only to be trotted out for more X-Men movies. It’s probably in their best interest to follow the advice of Wu-Tang Financial and diversify their bonds, or something.
Although it’s a shame that they had to replace Alan Cumming, Jake Gyllenhaal seems to be getting rave reviews for his performance—which is a really exciting thing to hear, since acting under pounds of blue makeup and fur can’t be easy. I mean, he’s not alone in this—the X-Men are really fond of blue hair and blue makeup. Like, weirdly fond. Just ask Rebecca Romijn, Kelsey Grammar, Nicholas Hoult, or Jennifer Lawrence—fine actors, all of them, but none have stirred up Oscar talk for the times they blue themselves. Gyllenhaal must be next-level good here. Nightcrawler was going to break the mold. The first prestige superhero movie.
And it got everything astonishingly wrong.
First of all, it’s set in Los Angeles. Which is fine, I guess—I’m a hip comic book liberal, down with “re-imagining” and artistic liberty and stuff. But then Jake Gyllenhaal shows up, and the “artistic liberties” just start piling up. He’s not German, Catholic, or even particularly charming. And his name is wrong! He’s not “Lou Bloom,” he’s Kurt Wagner! Did they even read the comic?
“Actually, that’s all right,” I thought. I could be patient. I know that it’s important to trust filmmakers and not to overreact too rashly. Maybe “Lou Bloom” is an alias. Maybe Nightcrawler is on the run, the last living mutant, forced to sell stolen scraps to junkyards to make a living before he discovers that freelance crime video news is something he’s ideally suited for (given that he can teleport and stuff).
Then again, maybe the filmmakers don’t actually care about comic books. I kept waiting for “Lou Bloom” to become blue and furry. He doesn’t become blue and furry. At least, not in the literal sense. I watched more closely, to see if the filmmakers were going for a more abstract version of the character—maybe he was depressed, and the other kind of furry? No luck.
Same with his powers. “Lou Bloom” never teleports once. I mean, I guess I can understand this—a superhero movie where none of the superheroes use their powers is probably the sort of thing the Academy would go nuts over. But he doesn’t even walk into a door, then walk out of another door that’s far away, like a Scooby-Doo villain or something. That would’ve been a neat, arty way of implying teleportation. Nope; Lou Bloom sticks to strictly conventional modes of travel in this film. How disappointing.
All this doesn’t even account for the film’s biggest offense: “Lou Bloom” is a huge jerk. That’s not Nightcrawler! He’s the nicest guy. Like, that’s the whole point—looks like a demon, acts like a saint. (Not his official catchphrase, but not too shabby all things considered.) I mean, props to Jake Gyllenhaal for playing such a great creep, but shouldn’t he know better? This is the guy who worked hard to give us a faithful portrayal of The Prince from Prince of Persia! Not a good look, bro.
So should comic book fans see Nightcrawler? That depends. Although it’s unfortunate that Mr. Gyllenhaal has no idea that he’s supposed to be a superhero, that’s more the fault of his director and screenwriter. It’s weird, though—watching the movie, it’s almost like these issues were intentional. I’m not sure why they even bothered calling their movie Nightcrawler. News Creep would be a better title. That way you wouldn’t confuse anybody.
It’s kind of like watching a really well-made Superman movie where they forget he has freeze breath, never call him Superman, make him the cause of endless horrific destruction, then have him straight up kill a dude.