After several rewrites, late reshoots and a change of directors X-Men: First Class has finally hit the big screen. I was initially skeptical of this film. X-Men has long been my favourite comic book franchise but I felt burned with the last 2 releases (the ridiculous X-Men: The Last Stand and Wolverine: Origins) which squandered interesting story lines in the pursuit of ‘mutant power mania’, creating self indulgent CGI spectacles. So needless to say my expectations for X-Men: First Class were fairly low. However, director Matthew Vaughn was able to defy the odds and pull off a very entertaining and cohesive film. X-Men: First Class is very cleverly set during the The Cuban Missle Crisis of the 1960′s. The story follows the origins of Erik Lensherr (Michael Fassbender) aka Magneto, and Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) , aka Professor X. Opening scenes focus on the childhood of both men; Erik was a prisoner in Hitler’s concentration camps while Charles led a privileged, though neglected life in New York. Fast forward a few years and Charles has finished his doctorate in genetics, while Erik is busy hunting ex-Nazi’s, looking for Dr. Schmidt (Kevin Bacon), the man responsible for killing his mother. In a twist of fate, both him and Charles team up with the CIA to look for Schmidt, now known as Sebastian Shaw, in the hopes of stopping his sinister plans with the Russian and US Army to start a new world war. The driving force of the film relies on the push and pull of Erik and Charles’ basic moral values. Erik is all about survival and has no confidence in man’s ability to accept and live in peaceful cohabitation with mutants. Charles, on the other hand, is an idealist and dreams of a time when mutants and man can mutually respect each other. This key characterization and the other moral questions presented play off quite well, especially since the ‘superhuman’ aspect of the film is muted. While there is of course the obligatory training montage of super powers and a few awesome action sequences, they are hardly the focus of the film and are not used as a crutch for an underdeveloped story (a common problem in many superhero films). X-Men: First Class’ also boasts an excellent lead cast. Michael Fassbender in particular stands out above the rest, fusing Erik with appropriate amounts of brutal morality and passionate conviction as he seeks revenge and ultimately strives to stop history from repeating itself in the form of a mutant holocaust. The story moves quickly, making it’s 2 hour and 12 minute run time fly by. I have only a few qualms with the film. One glaring issue is the quality of January Jones’ acting. While beautiful, she spends most of the film walking about in her underwear looking vacuous and unfortunately for Ms. Jones, her talent is not nearly as developed as her breasts. While her character, Emma Frost, is meant to be calculated and cold (pun intended), Jones’ complete lack of passion leaves the majority of her lines falling flat and lacking any conviction. Finally, there is the matter of continuity with the rest of the X-Men series. It is hard to tell if this is a reboot or a prequel. The entertaining cameos from former X-men actors, as well as the film’s advertisements, point towards it being a prequel. This could just be my raging nerd sensibilities talking but there are some points that don’t quite match up. Such as the use of Emma Frost, shown to be a young teenager in Wolverine: Origins which takes place roughly 10 years after this film or the differing roles of Moira MacTaggert (played in First Class by Rose Byrne) in X-Men: Last Stand and X-Men: First Class. However, continuity issues and January Jones aside, I tip my hat to Matthew Vaughn who rescued this fertile franchise from almost certain destruction.
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Shakespeare meets a hammer wielding Norse God. Sounds like an interesting combination, and it is for the most part. Kenneth Branagh takes the helm of Thor which leads this summer’s pack of comic releases (soon to be followed by X-Men: First Class and Captain America) and deviates from the regular fare of superhuman characters to something more divine. Branagh focuses the film on his characters inner struggles against self and identity and thus shies away from the obvious choice of making Thor an explosive action flick. It’s an interesting gamble, and it succeeds to a certain degree. Unfortunately, Branagh is contending with a script that does not have the writing or character development to allow for a very interesting story. Furthermore, while there are a few action scenes to raise the audience’s collective heart rate, they feel uninspired and fail to give Thor a much needed spark. Thus Thor is an odd chimera, sitting in a no man’s land, wedged between an action film and a Shakespearean-esque character drama. The film’s main plot revolves around Thor’s redemption after he breaks a long standing truce between the Asgardian’s (his people) and the Frost Giants. After this little indiscretion his father, Odin, banishes Thor from Asgard faster than you can mispronounce ‘Mjolnir’, in the hopes of teaching him humility. He lands on Earth, befriends a ragtag group of humans led by scientist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) and from here hilarity ensues as Thor is thrust into everyday earthly activities armed only with his Asgardian know-how. Typically, I think redemption storylines work quite well in comic adaptations (i.e. Iron Man), however it feels as though the writers didn’t take much time developing the plot or characters, focusing more on the jokes then the overall story arch. Thor’s path to redemption does not feel like a journey of personal growth for as soon as he hits earth, he quickly sheds most of his arrogance and becomes the perfect gentleman. Furthermore, the subplot regarding Thor’s treacherous brother Loki feels even less loved as it is both dull and predictable, culminating in a very anticlimactic ending.
The films strongest points are definitely in the performances of Anthony Hopkins and Chris Hemsworth. Hopkins brings a restrained power to his character and makes good of his limited screen time as the ruler of Asgard and Thor’s father, Odin. Hemsworth is a lot of fun to watch as Thor, infusing the character with the perfect amount of passion, aggression and good humour. Co-stars Natalie Portman, Stellen Skarsgard, and Kat Dennings prove capable in their roles though like the story their characters feel a little undercooked. Although Portman is an intelligent woman, she is not scripted as a believable scientist, for while she can pronounce complicated theorem she spends most of her screen time giggling in a tizzy over Thor.
Thor is a fun summer film but its weak storyline and unsteady character development amounts to only a slightly above average turnout for Marvel Studios, landing it firmly between Iron Man 2 and The Incredible Hulk on my Marvel meter.
Well two months later I return with another post. Apologies for the long wait which is due to extreme stress from moving, being without internet for most of September, and then just general laziness on my behalf. But I press onwards! Here is my latest review on Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, hopefully still available for viewing in a theatre near you!
I was initially sceptical about Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. As a fan of the original graphic novel by fellow Canadian Bryan Lee O’Malley, I was wary when I observed the cast list. Michael Cera as Scott Pilgrim?! Horrifying; Keiran Culkin as Wallace Wells?! Highly doubtful! My hopes picked up when I discovered that Edgar Wright would be directing. Excited and anxious I entered the theatre to have my expectations blown out of the water. Wright dives fast and hard into the world of Scott Pilgrim in the opening sequences, offering audiences a visual feast and full submersion into O’Malley’s erratic imagination. The story is ridiculous. Scott Pilgrim, a geeky bassist, meets the girl of his dreams, American courier Ramona Flowers. However, in order to date her he must defeat her 7 evil exes.
While there is not very much in the way of character development, that is not what this film and O’Malley’s original vision is about. The film embodies a look and sound that is comparable to an electric shock with the visual style of the material borrowing heavily from video games and anime. The film is often hilarious, with several of the most entertaining moments taken straight from the pages of the comic. Besides the humour and the pitch perfect performance of Keiran Culkin as Wallace Wells, Scott Pilgrims long suffering gay roommate, the soundtrack is one of the strongest elements of the film. The fictional bands which appear in the film such as The Clash at the Demonhead and Crash and the Boys, all have music provided by top selling artists Metric and Broken Social Scene respectively. The music for Sex Bob-omb, Scott Pilgrim’s own self proclaimed ‘terrible’ band, is all penned by Beck Hansen, who is able to channel the grungy early punk sounds of acts like the MC5. The only downside the film carries with it is its run time. Like Edgar Wright’s other ventures, Hot Fuzz in particular, Scott Pilgrim out stays its welcome by roughly 20 minutes. The final scene’s of the film seem to lose their wind and feel too long and stretched out. However, this is a small concern, for the price of admission allows audiences entrance to a wildly entertaining movie-going experience.