This was the film that came out before any of the X-Men movies or any well known Marvel comics movie produced. Generation X came out on February 20th, 1996 on Fox’s Tuesday Movie Night. When people say that comic book movies were cheesy they are usually referring to the Captain America movie done in the ’90s as well as the unreleased Fantastic Four, 70’s Spider-man movie and Hulk movie. But this is a film that is so lame it seems like it became quickly forgotten the following week. It’s like a time capsule of all things the 90s even down to the extreme edge guy with the “oh so cool” RayBan sunglasses, the Revlon Street Wear metallic makeup, mini skirts, Hootie and the Blowfish reference, vibrant colour gels, arcade games, big box monitors and flashy people talking a lot about the powers of advertising and computers.
This film is about young mutant discovering that they have special abilities and are sent to the Charles Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngster. It was either the school or be sent to a restraint camp for mutants which exists in this movie and is feared among all mutants at any age. They discover a Dream machine that can access the dream dimension. They start playing around with this broken equipment and discover a man in a neon red suit on the other side willing to manipulate them to gain more control of the dream dimension.
The film is loosely based on the X-Men comics series spin-off Generation X which was releasing a large amount of book worldwide. According to the LA Times, it was 200,000 worldwide. The characters it showcased were some that were in Generation X but were already featured in some way in the very successful groundbreaking cartoon series who were previously on X-Men piggybacking on the success of that show for views for the movie. When you watch the live action movie it’s obvious that they were making this film for adults. It’s technically a X-Men movie like how Deadpool and Wolverine is an X-Men movie dealing with X-Men characters from Xavier’s mansion.
A mad scientist (Matt Frewer) somehow employed at an ad agency invented the machine that could control minds through arcade games. The scientist’s experiments on the mutant population to further his research. Dr. Russell Tress is this flashy, over the top mad scientist that almost verges on being like the alien mutant Mojo who was the reality TV show producer on Planet Mojo. (I had to Google that.) He was a former colleague of Emma Frost (Finola Hughes) until his research of mutant kind became more about extracting their abilities in technology for more psychic powers. Much of the movie is based on what Dr. Tress and Emma Frost discovered in their science paper about the Dream realm and is referenced back to often. The machine that he builds can help him manipulate minds and play within people’s dreams. When Dr. Tress is in this Dream realm, he is in this neon red suit and a black dress shirt. The dream realm area mostly takes place on a blacked out sound stage. The special effects for the inside your mind scenes were actually really good. It was one or possibly the only scenes that hold up in the special effects meet practical effect department throughout the whole film.
Vancouver’s Hatley Castle that was used in every single X-Men movie had it starts in this movie first. In some shots, you can see the British Columbia background of what it looked like almost 20 years ago. It very interesting to see was has changed in the house and what hasn’t. They do film inside the castle and only the front of the castle before they are a small town hanging out. But the room they used for Cerebro was a green and blue lite room with a much of computers, monitors with charts, gadgetry and maps. It’s very different from the hollowed out empty space room like in the comics and films.
The movie uses very vibrant colours that give the movie a bit of a comic book feel. Some scenes were in Batman Forever territory with the use of fluorescent colours. It looks like they used colour gels anywhere the actors where not in the scene, for instance, on walls, objects that don’t hold any importance in the scene and the background in intense spotlights. It’s an effect that was always used in kids programming for fantasy or spooky effect but is rarely used today for since dark shadows and computer graphics replaced that effect. Due to the colour gels used it made some scenes look a little dark. Also, the Dutch angles and extreme close-ups were excessive. A hallway scene where they are just waiting to use the bathroom has a Dutch angle for no reason.
The teen characters are angsty, edgy and in your face with an attitude. This was made targeting young preteens and teenagers. Some of the teenagers were too selfish, too rude and too obnoxious at times. The worst was M, the perfect human with all the great powers of strength, intelligence, stamina and durability. And an incredibly big ego. Oh, boy 🙄. The edgy with attitude posturing characteristics were also too much. There were too much tough guy bullies in one film. This was a fade that was only apparent in a lot of formulaic 80s and 90s film that wanted a character look like a tough guy without doing anything tough.
They have a few original characters from the franchise and two additional characters that were only added for the TV movie.
The main teenage characters are Skins (Agustin Rodriguez) and Jubilee (Heather McComb) with some changes. Jubilee was not Chinese-American which was a pointless change even though the well-fitted actor being the average typical teenager once again navigating the audience into the world of the mutants with firework fingers but now with some psychic powers for the Dream realm. She’s the typical teenager going through the new discovery of new powers while not being the damsel in distress throughout the whole movie. Skins had very little changes to the characters name and abilities to stretch his skin and limbs too far distances. He was not gray and 6 feet tall, he’s just a regular guy with some sisters and brothers from the downtown Los Angeles area. But he now has some psychic powers and computer skills. The movie somewhat has Skins has a main character since he has more of the character arches and troubles to overcome. Jubilee and Skins form a friendship and since they are the newest people in the academy they go exploring in the castle. They were the ones that found the research papers and the machine that Emma Frost kept during her research days with Dr. Tress. Also, Jubliee and Skins are the ones that stumble upon Dr. Tress in the Dream realm.
Also, I previously mention M (Amarilis) who has “level five invulnerability”. And Mondo (Bumper Robinson) can adsorb the physical properties of anything he touches. It’s an interesting power but make up or special effects could of made it more different. His power is mostly seen has strength but I guess with three characters with the super human power of super strength what one more. He is more of the best friend to Refrax than the stand alone character.
The two adults in charge are Emma Frost and Banshee (Jeremy Ratchford). Emma Frost is covered up more in this movie than any other publication of the character, film and television. She’s in pants and a bustier with a white cape instead of a diamond bikini and a see-through the cape. But the white wig the actor had to wear just looked like a furry hat with long threads. Even in the weekend animation series, she had on something similar to what the movies had. It’s just different in a good way. She still can control people with her mind but you never will see her turn into diamonds. There’s a lot of jokes about how she controls other people’s mind. The list of names and explanations of situations she gives police officers within the hour and a half is pretty funny. Banshee had a more grounded character but has a “thick” Scottish accent which was anything but not authentic. His voice can stick out like a sore thumb depending on the situation. His powers are visible within the movie. He has the power of shouting at a high frequency creating wind effects. The air ripples around him when he supposedly sings or yelps loud. His power was pretty interesting to see with the effects available. The chemistry between the two adult leads was good. They really seemed like they really got along and had fun.
The two added in characters were Buff (Suzanne Davis) and Refrax (Randall Slavin). Their characters were adjusted for budgetary reasons since the characters that they were originally adding in were Husk and Chamber. Buff a really strong girl with a mutation that builds upon muscle mass in her body from Husk a person who can shed her skin revealing a different composition like metal or stone. Refrax a guy who can emit X-Ray laser beams and heat vision out of his eyes most of the time (similar to Cyclops but can turn it off) Chamber a guy that could blast energy from his chest with the possibility of damaging his chest and lower face if used. But they gave him more attitude, sunglasses and a growing X-Ray vision that was developing at the school.
In movies like this there are scene constructed only to show the powers of the characters. This is where the special effects either shines or fails. The effects that they use for this movie looks like a combination of a lot of practical effects with some special effects. The fireworks that come out of Jubilee’s fingertips look like very simple explosion effects in comparison to today’s technology but for technology in the ’90s for a TV movie, it looks well done. The arm stretching of Skin is almost funny looking in 90’s standards. The latex used for stretchy skin was always like a Stretch Armstrong doll stretched to his limit. It was not good. Another actor’s hand was used for the up close shots with the original actor in the background. Special effects in films no matter the story is hard to pull off especially with a small budget. It’s apparent throughout the whole film that they changed a lot of the story to fit within the budget and schedule. A lot of TV movies and TV shows have a significantly smaller budget than theatrical released production. Superhero movies need a lot of money and time in the production process that sad story and appearance doesn’t suffer.
The last scene with all the mutants sitting around looking at the “new uniforms” that resembled the bright cartoon-like red and yellow uniform just like in the comics was like the wink to the audience who likes the X-Men comics series. The film was also a vehicle for other projects of Marvel comics property to make into a series of films. Most of them have been already released since this film was the testing ground for more Marvel movies. The top executives of Marvel comics were on set and liked what they saw.
Then four years later the first theatrical release of X-Men had great critical and audience reviews. This film remained mostly forgotten and rare as the real first X-Men movie ever.
The LA Times article about Generation X written around the time of release.
The interview Exclusive: Director Jack Sholder had with SpfyWire about Generation X