In 1996, four years before 20th Century Fox took the X-Men to cinemas for a big budget adventure, Fox’s TV division took a stab at bringing Marvel’s merry mutants to the small screen. The project was Generation X – a television movie based on one of the many X-Men spin-off comics of the 1990s.
Directed by Jack Sholder, Generation X centred on a group of mutants, recruited to join Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters. The movie – which included characters such as Emma Frost, Jubilee, and Banshee – was created as a pilot, to test the waters for a potential television series or a string of TV movies.
Produced on a budget of $4 million, Generation X aired on February 20th 1996, via the Fox network. It was later released oversees, including here in the UK, on VHS to rent and buy.
Yet, despite a significant fanbase, as well as strong interest in the X-Men franchise (thanks to top-selling comics and a smash-hit cartoon show), Generation X was not well received. Critics didn’t care for it, fans were disappointed, and it largely came and went, with no sequel or follow-up TV series.
Since 1996, Generation X has been largely forgotten. It occasionally crops up during fan discussions about the X-Men movie series, but outside of some chit-chat, Generation X is considered an odd little curio, which has long since been consigned to the history books.
Well, not today. Today, and for one day only, I am talking about the movie.
In a moment I will be re-watching Generation X, while recording my thoughts below. I will run through the film in real-time, while it plays out on my TV screen.
You should know that I have previously watched this movie more than once, so it is a film that I am very familiar with. Does that mean that it contains a few nuggets of gold? Well, you’ll have to continue reading to find out.
Watching Generation X (1996)
Before I begin, I should mention that to date, Generation X has never received an official DVD, Blu-ray, or digital release. To the best of my knowledge, it has only been made available via VHS, and this was back during the mid-to-late ‘90s.
For a while during the ‘00s, bootleg DVD copies of the movie were in regular rotation on the convention circuit. These days it can be viewed on YouTube.
The images that feature in this post are screen grabs taken from YouTube. The fuzzy quality is indicative of the picture quality currently available for this film.
30secs – The movie opens with some onscreen text, to help make it clear to the audience what a mutant is. I guess prior to 2000, and the release of X-Men, most people either connected the word ‘mutant’ to the Ninja Turtles or to bad B-movies from the 1950s.
1min – It’s worth mentioning that this opening explanation of what a mutant is, would later be replicated for a number of the X-Men movies. Those movies used a voiceover, but in essence it is the same concept.
1min 15mins – The action begins in what appears to be a hospital operating room, with a mutant strapped to a bed. He is about to be operated on by two men – one of who is Russel Tresh, played by Matt Frewer.
1min 20mins – Tresh is the villain of Generation X. He was created specifically for this movie and did not originate in the comics.
1min – Why not use one of the mutant super villains from the comics? Because using an ordinary man is much cheaper.
1min 45secs – Just as the operation is about to begin, the procedure is interrupted and halted. This allows for the introduction of Emma Frost, who is played by Finola Hughes.
2mins 15secs – The mutant has been saved from having his body cut open. Hurrah! But he is being taken away by a shadowy government agency, who lock up mutants. Boo!
2mins 40secs – Emma Frost is pissed, and is displaying her powers. Nice.
3mins – And now for a time jump. The movie has suddenly moved forward five years, to the home of Angelo Espinosa aka Skin. Skin is a character from the Generation X comics, who has the ability to stretch his skin.
4mins 20secs – Skin’s mutant ability has just been demonstrated, and… it looked pretty lame. Imagine something from a ‘90s Stretch Armstrong commercial and you wouldn’t be far off.
5mins – Although five years have passed, Tresh is back, and he’s working on a machine which will allow him to enter peoples’ dreams. For this role, Matt Frewer is channelling his inner Jim Carrey circa 1995’s Batman Forever.
6mins 30secs – The action moves to a gaming arcade now, where Jubilee is playing a video game. Heather McComb is playing the role of Jubilee, and she is one of the bright spots of this movie.
Incidentally, in 1996 when Generation X aired, Jubilee was the most recognisable character in this movie and this was largely to do with her inclusion in X-Men: The Animated Series. Outside of comic book fans (who are familiar with countless characters), none of the mutants in this film were well known to general audiences, so Jubilee is effectively the Wolverine of this tale.
7mins 30secs – After getting spooked in the arcade, Jubilee has lost control of her powers, and this has caught the attention of Tresh and the shadowy government agency.
8mins 30secs – Jubilee’s little power outburst has also caught the attention of Cerebro – the mutant tracking device which is housed at Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters.
Unlike the device seen in the X-Men movies, this is Cerebro on a budget. It is essentially a couple of computer monitors and a printer – but hey, it works!
8mins 35secs – While Cerebro is going haywire, Jubilee is being held by the police because she is an unregistered mutant, prompting her to ask here mother: “What kind of freak am I, mum?”
This is all pretty good stuff so far. The set up for this character is working well.
9mins 15secs – Back at Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters, and having been alerted to Jubilee’s plight, Emma Frost and Banshee are preparing to break her out of jail.
Banshee is played by Jeremy Ratchford. Banshee is an Irish mutant. Ratchford is not delivering a good Irish accent.
10mins 35secs – According to the police, any mutant who is not registered and who is deemed to be disruptive, is viewed as a terrorist. This means Jubilee will be sent away to a mutant camp, unless anyone intervenes. Cue Banshee and Emma Frost to the rescue!
12mins 15secs – Arriving at the police station, Emma uses her mind manipulation powers to free Jubilee. Once again, this is all fairly decent stuff.
13mins – You know, despite some creaky moments, so far Generation X is showing signs of a being a watchable movie. Finola Hughes is relishing playing Emma Frost and there is a sense that director, Jack Sholder is attempting to recreate the mutant oppression that is a key component of the X-Men comics.
And speaking of the comics, the initial screening of this movie on Fox was proceeded by a small advertising campaign, including print adverts and a tie-in sweepstakes competition in various Marvel comics. I don’t live in the US, but as a comic book reader I would stare at the adverts and keep my fingers crossed that the movie would head over to the UK as soon as possible.
Although I should add, I tried not to get my hopes up too much. I had previously been burned by some of the other Marvel adaptations, including The Punisher (1989) and Captain America (1990). In fact, Marvel’s comic-to-movie hit rate was beyond lousy, so while I was excited, I was realistic too.
17mins 45secs – Jubilee is being taken to the X-Mansion, along with Skin. This is the same mansion that features in most of the X-Men movies (which in reality is Hatley Castle in Colwood, British Columbia).
19mins 35secs – And now for an introduction to the other students, who already live in the mansion. The students include Mondo, M, Buff, and Refrax.
Mondo and M originated in the comics. Buff and Refrax were created for this movie.
The most notable Generation X characters not to appear in this film are Chamber and Husk. These two were replaced by Refrax and Buff due to budgetary reasons. In short, trying to replicate Chamber and Husk’s powers on screen would have cost far too much.
Another comic book character who did not make it to the screen was Synch – a mutant who can temporarily ‘synch up’ the powers of another mutant. So, if they have the ability to shoot lasers from their eyes, he can do the same thing.
I guess Synch’s absence from this movie has nothing to do with the budget, and more to do with not wanting to repeat the same effects shots. It would have made little sense to include a character who would end up displaying the same powers as someone else.
20mins 25secs – A couple of notes about some of the cast.
M is played by Amarilis. Prior to Generation X, Amarilis appeared in episodes of Sweet Valley High, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and Dream On, but after Generation X, she acted in one episode of Smart Guy, and appears to have quit acting.
Arguably the most famous actor amongst the students is Bumper Robinson, who plays Mondo. Robinson has had an extensive career in TV and games, and is known for his voiceover work.
25mins – I must say, this mix of students is not working for me right now – and it is a shame. The movie feels like it has hit a bit of slow patch with these guys, and that is a big problem for a film centred around this cast of characters.
27mins 45secs – While the students are getting to know each other, a TV news report playing in the background has just likened mutants to the AIDS epidemic. This one brief moment has explained how the wider world views mutants – through fear and misunderstanding.
It is small moments like this news report which demonstrate that Generation X really is trying to capture the feel of the comics, and deal with some interesting ideas. I would like to say this continues, but I am afraid this is not the case.
31mins 45secs – Some exposition here about Emma Frost being involved with a machine that allows people to enter the dreamscape. This will be important later.
34mins – The students are heading into town for a day of fun and bonding. This whole sequence is designed to help develop the characters, but it’s largely dull stuff.
35mins – I do really want to like the characters.
37mins – I believe the problem I’m having is that most of these characters are unlikeable. M is a bitch, Mondo is an ass, Refrax is one-dimensional, and Skin is almost NOTHING like his counterpart from the comics.
Buff is fine, but rather dull, and this just leaves Jubilee to carry every scene. And sadly, she’s not in every scene.
41mins – Moving away from the students, and Russel Tresh is in a boardroom explaining how his dream technology works. He used his tech to enter the dreamscape, where he implanted a hidden suggestion into the minds of the board members.
At a set time, all of the board members will fart simultaneously. Yep, you read that correctly, they are all going to fart.
This movie has gone from comparing mutants with the AIDS epidemic, to making fart gags. Whoever thought this was a good idea should have had a serious rethink.
The tone of this movie is all over the place.
44mins 30secs – Tresh continues to demonstrate the power of the dreamscape – this time while entering the dream of one of the chief board members. The board member is killed off, and the movie has switched back to having a darker edge. No room for fart gags here.
45mins – On a side note, Generation X director, Jack Sholder is no stranger to directing movies about dreams. He previously helmed A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985).
49mins – Tresh is continuing to enter the dreamscape, getting in the minds of Jubilee and Skin.
51mins 30secs – Tresh’s mind has become separated from his body, and now only exists in the dreamscape.
52mins 45secs – This film is not afraid to drop a few swear words. Jubilee has dropped the F-bomb multiple times – which always surprises me.
I don’t remember any bad language being used when I watched the movie on VHS during the mid-‘90s, so I wonder if this was edited out? If anyone knows for sure, please feel free to comment below.
59mins – Some more student bonding at a fun fair.
1hr 4mins – The fun fair sequence has ended up in a fist fight with some of the local residents. This whole scene has led to the students bonding.
1hr 4mins 55secs – A little reference has just been made to the Hellions – a former group that Emma Frost was in charge of. This is a nod to the X-Men comics, but presumably if Generation X had been a success and had developed beyond this film, then this reference could have been something to return to in future instalments.
1hr 11mins – Back in the dreamscape, Tresh is threatening Skin. He wants Skin to help him return his mind to his body.
I will say that despite some of the earlier goofiness, Frewer has ramped up the scare factor considerably and there is something interesting and menacing here. It’s just a shame that this dream plot is so lacklustre.
One of the reasons the X-Men movies got off the ground from 2000 onward, is because the first couple of entries told stories which were allegorical, and played into our understanding of race relations and bigotry. This helped the movies connect with audiences.
Generation X suffers because it doesn’t have a story which connects in the same way. A plot about someone invading dreams is so generic and feels like it simply has no relevance to these characters.
1hr 16mins – I haven’t stated this previously, but for those unfamiliar with this film, Generation X does not include any other mutant characters, other than the ones I have highlighted. There are no other students at the X-Mansion; there is no Cyclops, no Storm, no Jean Grey, and absolutely no Wolverine.
There is also no explanation as to who Xavier is – despite the film spending a great deal of time in his house. And there is no explanation for why Emma Frost dresses like a hooker either.
1hr 19mins – There is less than ten minutes to go, so it is time for the big finale. Thanks to some assistance from Skin, Tresh is back in his body, he has Skin strapped to an operating chair, and it is up to Jubilee and Co to come to the rescue.
1hr 22mins – As you might expect, all of the budget has been saved up for this final sequence, which means a display of mutant powers. But presumably the budget was already running out, which is why they are in such short supply.
1hr 25mins 30secs – And in the blink of an eye, Skin is saved, Tresh is defeated, and the plot involving the dreamscape went absolutely nowhere. Oh.
Well, on the plus side, the students worked together (sort of) and that means they are now a team. Or at least, that is what the script says.
1hr 26mins – Back at the X-Mansion, and with mere moments to go, Buff steps forward in the new team outfit – a comic-accurate Generation X costume. But note, only Buff gets to wear the costume, because there was no money left in the budget to kit out the whole team.
Oh, and this whole scene, with the comic-accurate costume being introduced at the very last minute (never to be seen again) is an idea which is later re-used in the finales of both X-Men: First Class (2011) and X-Men: Apocalypse (2016) – which both introduce costumes to score points with fans. It appears to be something Fox was keen to do, to win over fans without actually spending money on using the costumes for more than a few seconds of screen time.
Since the very first screening of Generation X (on VHS) back in the late ‘90s, I have probably watched this movie four or five times. Some will tell you this is insanity, but I will tell you that I am as sane as the next person – even if the sanity level of the next person is still up for debate.
I have watched it a few times, because there are elements of Generation X that I believe work. Emma Frost is camp and fun, Jubilee demonstrates potential, and throughout the film there are hints of how this low-budget TV movie could develop into a blockbuster franchise.
In some ways, Generation X provides the blueprint for what was to come. It’s pretty clear, the X-Men movie franchise was never going to get its big break with this picture, but the early steps are here and all of the best ideas were later re-used for other movies.
And I must say, Generation X should be commended for wearing its ambition on its sleeve. Its ambition is totally obliterated by the limitations of the budget, but it is clear what the movie is trying to achieve with limited resources.
However, ‘trying’ is very different from ‘succeeding’ and Generation X falls very, very short in the success department. For comic book fans it fails to truly capture the spirit of the X-Men/Generation X comics, and for general audiences there is simply nothing to invest in.
When I first watched Generation X, I remember feeling disappointed – it just wasn’t a good enough representation of the comics. Later viewings helped me understand that money was a big factor in this, but even so, it still missed the mark.
I hope that one day, Marvel Studios/Disney revives Generation X as a new movie and gives it the financial support it deserves. But as for this movie, it remains one of those projects that is only of interest to die-hard X-Men fans and it is never going to win over new audiences.
Thank you for stopping by It’s A Stampede! to read this post about Generation X. For more Marvel-related content, be sure to check out the recommended reads below.
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