Hop has the veneer of a subpar kids' flick, but it's actually a stealth sequel to the total clusterfuck that was X-Men: The Last Stand. This secularized-Easter-cum-talking-creature feature tells the lost history of Cyclops, who supposedly died offscreen in X3.

I didn't have high expectations for Hop. In fact, the only reason I went is because I am contractually obligated to attend every single talking animal film Hollywood churns out. Yes, like Edward Prendick shipwrecked on the island of Dr. Moreau, I must bear witness to sentient fauna babbling at each other for 90 minutes in their G-rated shibboleth, stark reminders why we should never play God.

The only reason I was slightly looking forward to Hop was the fugitive possibility of a wiseacre lagomorph. After all, the anthropomorphic bunny has long played the blackguard in popular culture — think Beatrix Potter's food riots against Clan McGregor, the claymation rabbit from Moonwalker, and the Trix Rabbit's recidivistic cereal larceny. The film's CG-animated Easter Bunny protagonist is voiced by Russell Brand, a fellow who once called the President of the United States a retarded cowboy on live television, so Hop seemed par for the course.

But boy howdy, was I astounded by Hop's gutsiness. The film is a coda to Marvel's X-Men franchise, an unheralded epilogue that transcends copyright and the studio system. Not only does Hop evince a nuanced knowledge X-Men lore, it also makes X-Men 3 way more satisfying. Yes, dear readers — X-Men: First Class isn't the only mutant movie at the multiplex in 2011.

The linchpin of the operation is actor James Marsden, who plays Scott "Cyclops" Summers in 2006's X-Men: The Last Stand and Fred O'Hare in Hop. Allow me to recap Marsden's roles in both films.

X3: In the third installment of this Marvel superhero film, Cyclops is distraught over the passing of his girlfriend Jean Grey, who dies saving her compatriots in 2003's X2: X-Men United. Bryan Singer, who helmed the first two films of the X-trilogy, turned down X3 to direct Superman Returns. Marsden too was involved with Superman Returns, playing Lois Lane's poor schmuck human fiancé.

Caught between playing a guy defined by his ability to shoot lasers out of his eyes and another guy defined by his inability to shoot lasers out of his eyes, Marsden got the short shrift in X3. Cyclops — an otherwise major player in the comic book X-Men mythos — is almost entirely cut out of the film. He's onscreen for maybe 5 minutes and "dies" lickety-split when Jean Grey comes back as her evil telekinetic alter ego, Dark Phoenix.

Hop: Here Marsden plays Fred O'Hare, a slacker human who befriends the Easter Bunny after the latter neglects his gig. Hop expunges all the Christianity from Easter Sunday. Jesus' resurrection just happened to fall on a four-millennia-old pagan holiday devoted to dispensing sweets to tots worldwide. Incidentally, Easter bunnies defecate jellybean (coprophagia was big with the old gods, I suppose). After failing to find his true calling in the human world, Fred realizes his destiny is to become the world's first human Easter Bunny.


Now, I'm about to indulge in a quasi-tortuous X-Men history lesson. Explaining X-Men continuity is like teaching the quadratic equation via charades, so apologies in advance.

The X-Men movies mined famous comic book X-tales. For example, X2 pulled from God Loves, Man Kills whereas X3 drew inspiration from Joss Whedon's run on Astonishing X-Men and the Dark Phoenix saga.

In the comics, Phoenix is a god-like psychokinetic entity with the power to rejigger reality. During author Grant Morrison's tenure on New X-Men from 2001-2004, a dead Jean Grey/omniscient Phoenix famously warped reality so that Cyclops gets over her death. She "repairs" the broken universe so that her hubby can be happy.


I find it hard to believe that the filmmakers behind X3 would so callously kill an important X-Man like Cyclops. Surely Brett Ratner — the auteur behind Rush Hours 1, 2, and 3 — would never fuck over a multimillion-dollar superhero franchise that badly. No, the audience never actually sees Cyclops' corpse. All that's left of Cyke after his brief encounter with Dark Phoenix are his ruby-tinted Wayfarers.

Ergo, it's patently obvious that Dark Phoenix altered reality and shanghaied an amnesiac Cyclops to a paradise universe where he would be happy. And that universe is Hop.

What subtle cues in Hop denote that it's a tacit sequel to X3?

A destiny deferred

In Hop, Cyclops is Fred O'Hare, an adult slacker who lives with his parents. Fred has no annoying laser eyes or responsibility (Cyke was a notoriously anal Type A personality). Fred however constantly muses that he's special and destined for greater things. This existential yearning stems from the disappearance of his mutant powers. Fred's full potential is realized when he becomes the first human Easter Bunny. In the X-Universe, mutants like Cyclops are feared and loathed. In the Hop pocket dimension, Fredclops is beloved by millions.

Themes of resurrection

Some critics may dismiss the Hop's candy-coating of all Christian theology as a crass attempt to secularize Easter (or to prosthelytize about some ancient Babylonian confectionary festival; Marduk loved Peeps after all). However I believe the filmmakers left out all that Jesus stuff to avoid thematic overkill.


In the Marvel Universe, the Phoenix Force is a primal entity with the power of resurrection. In terms of Christian theology, the Phoenix Force = Old Testament God + Jesus + Ray Harryhausen's roc from The 7th Voyage of Sinbad.

There's a thematic symmetry between Phoenix and Easter. When Dark Phoenix (an anti-Christ analogue) transports Cyclops to the paradise dimension, she impels him to take over Easter, a celebration of resurrection. Indubitably, Fredclops is Hop's Christ figure — he died in X3 and is reborn as the Easter Bunny. Jesus Christ would only muddle this already heady metaphorical brew, and the audience would find his presence in an Easter film wholly redundant.

.be#t=2m50s The M'Krann Crystal

In Hop, the Easter Bunny draws his power from an artifact known as the Scepter of Destiny. The Scepter is encrusted with a large ruby-like jewel that's a spitting image of the M'Kraan Crystal, a cosmic gemstone that is the nexus of all alternate realities. The M'Kraan Crystal is protected by Phoenix in the comics, so it's totally logical that she would also entrust it to Cyclops.


A parallel nemesis
In X3, Cyclops must fight the mutant Magneto, a demagogue who rises up violently against human oppression. In Hop, Fred must battle the mutated chick Carlos, a dictator who leads his avian proletariat up against their bunny overlords.

Indeed, Hop is the addendum to The Last Stand X-fans have been waiting for. Cyclops' story arc comes to a satisfying close in a thematically rich way this critic just didn't see coming. Sure, Hop may look like a mildly less shitty version of Alvin and the Chipmunks, but don't be fooled. It's a clandestine conclusion to Marvel's mutant canon and exemplary guerilla filmmaking. Anyone who tells you otherwise just isn't looking hard enough.