Monthly Archives: June 2011

X-Men: First Class – Magneto Turns Evil and Xavier Gets a New Ride

And a First Class film it was!

Not since 2003 have we been graced with a truly good X-Men movie, but it seems the curse of the Wolverine has been lifted, for X-Men: First Class is a film that has evolved beyond its ancestors, a film that is equal parts entertaining and compelling, that portrays relatable, human (technically non-human) characters while still placing the fate of the world in their hands. Somehow, amidst a profusion of by-the-numbers superhero movies, a mutant has been born, and its power far exceeds that of the average cinematic experience.

One of the main reasons this film succeeds is because the CGI battles take a back seat to more poignant scenes about mutants grappling with their place in the world. The villain Shaw (Kevin Bacon) believes humans and mutants will never be able to coexist, and since his power allows him to absorb energy, he attempts to provoke Russia and America into nuclear war. In one fell swoop, the war will wipe out a huge percentage of humanity and at the same time provide Shaw with nearly limitless power. The backdrop of the Cuban Missile Crisis is a parallel that casts a thought-provoking light on the difficulty of coexistence. For once, an X-Men movie’s plot is poignant and metaphorically effective.

[Mini Spoiler Alert] And it thankfully chooses not to focus on Wolverine for a fifth time. After eleven long years spent watching Wolverine carcajou his way through his problems, it was a nice change of pace to have Hugh Jackman’s role cut down to about 15 seconds of screen time—just long enough to drop the PG-13’s one F-bomb (and it’s a great one). Other than that, however, we’re met with an entirely new cast who manage to make us truly feel for these mutants. [End Mini Spoiler Alert]

They look normal enough, well, except for their movie-star attractiveness levels.

James McAvoy steals the show as a young Charles Xavier. He’s a walking, charming, drinking, womanizing piece of brain who just so happens to be a telepath. It’s nice to see that he’s not that different from us, really. The so-wise-he’s-untouchable Yoda version of Professor X from the prior films is gone, and in his place is someone you feel you could get along with at a party, though he’d probably beat you in a chugging contest. I never truly understood Xavier’s idealism before, but McAvoy shows us that doing the right thing can be a struggle. Xavier feels what all others feel, remembers what they remember. When he reads Magneto’s mind, he is filled with just as much rage, and yet he is somehow able to still walk the path of righteousness. When I noticed how deeply I was reading into his character, it became apparent that this film was incredibly well written. How do you write dialogue for someone who is able to empathize completely with everyone he meets? Personally, I don’t know (and as an aspiring screenwriter, this distresses me), but these guys nailed it.

While there are epic stakes and CGI mutant powers aplenty, this film is mostly about the relationship between Charles Xavier and Erik Lehnsherr a.k.a. Magneto. Luckily, Michael Fassbender does just as well with Magneto as McAvoy does with the Professor. The two have a genuine rapport, and Fassbender perfectly straddles the line between evil and relatable. After witnessing his life story, you can’t really begrudge him his actions. His parents’ death at the hands of the Nazis left him broken, a man for whom “peace was never an option.”

The movie seemed not to want me to have peace either, since right about the time Magneto’s explaining his situation, I felt this itch on the top of my big toe. I go to scratch it with my flip flop, but I guess there’s a shard of glass in the bottom and I manage to impale it into my foot. Honestly, this must have been poison glass or something, cause suddenly I’m in excruciating pain and can’t focus on anything except not disgracing myself by whimpering like a little girl. I quickly determine the only course of action is to turn on my phone and use the light to perform some mid-movie surgery. But as soon as the phone boots up it gets all the messages it’s missed for the last half hour. “DROID!” it yells. “DROID!” Then “You dare speak to me.” Everyone at the theater’s pissed and I’m bending over in my seat using this totally ineffective light to try to pick some glass out of my toe that feels like it’s been dipped in some terrible, scalding acid. It was HORRIBLE. Now I’m at home writing this review and my foot just keeps getting bigger. I guess I’m a lot more like Beast than Wolverine. Huge feet, terrible at healing.

All I have to win over the ladies is hang upside down by my feet? It's so simple! Why didn't I see it before?

Speaking of Beast, I found his romance with Mystique to be uncharacteristically weak. For a film so good at delving into the hearts of its characters, I was disappointed to see their love story reduced to nothing more than a high-school level cliché. I get it, you’re both blue and neither of you can accept what you’ve become. But if the civil rights movement has taught us anything, it’s that you’re not required to have sex with people who are the same color as you. Branch out a little, blue folk. Then again, this was the early 1960s, so maybe they were just taking care to avoid any anachronisms. Either way, their potential relationship was nothing more than Mystique fawning over Beast with endless doe-eyed gazes just because he also didn’t fit in. I guess he’s probably into the doe-eyed thing though—deer are beasts, right?

Poorly executed romantic entanglements aside, Mystique still brought a good deal of heart to this film. One of my favorite aspects of the X-Men franchise is that Magneto the villain and Xavier the hero share a close bond. Good and evil are more subtle here, shades of gray drawn with the ink of human emotion, rather than unrealistic characters who embody pure justice and malice. X-Men: First Class delivered on this complicated relationship more successfully than I could have thought possible, perfectly portraying the way two groups can be enemies in intent and method, but friends on a personal level. It was in this way that Mystique’s presence was so compelling, for she and Xavier are foster siblings, yet in the end, she sides with Magneto, unable to come to terms with the world Xavier is working toward, a world in which mutants may forever remain downtrodden. The two siblings still love each other, but they are unable to reconcile their differences, and their parting is a touching moment.

Real issues, real relationships, real badass. I never thought I’d like another X-Men film, but it turns out I was wrong. The actors nail these roles, and the script is fantastic, actually making you care about its characters in a way that no superhero film ever has. It’s a great movie!

Score: 4/5¢

Alignment: Spectacular Gold (It just squeaks into the low end of gold. Still, an impressive feat for a superhero movie.)

How did a bunch of drunk kids pick perfect character aliases first try every time? Mutants with powers that make physics look like a set of suggestions is one thing, but there weren’t any mutants with the power of overwhelming creativity on the team, were there? WERE THERE? Ok, sorry. Maybe this is just hitting a little too close to home.

Written by Russ Nickel


Filed under Review

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides A.K.A. Mermaids, Zombies, Blackbeard!

Arr. It be a good enough film.

So imagine you’re a mermaid, right? The top half of you is insanely hot. Your hair’s got that sexy, just-came-out-of-the-shower thing going on, maybe the smallest strand of it is stuck to your face. The buoyancy of the water means that your breasts are always bouncing, and somehow your skin never gets pruny. The bottom half of you is kind of fishy, but you’re still fully capable of holding intelligent conversation, of making rational choices, and, most importantly, of feeling human emotion. Look, I understand that you and I are different, but do you seriously have to devour us regular folk? I mean honestly. I don’t eat other people, and do you know why? Because I like talking to them! Because I empathize with them. Because they’re my friends. For god’s sake, there’s a crapload of reasons I don’t eat people. And I don’t see why mermaids should be any different.

Plus, when mermaids are out of the water, their somewhat-less-than-attractive fish tails magically go away and turn into alluring lady parts. On land, they’re completely human! All I’m saying is instead of cannibalistically devouring us homo sapiens, they should just eat fish or something—I’m sure there’s a way. I mean, one of the mermaids is even the center of the main love story. You can’t have it both ways, Pirates of the Caribbean. Either they’re horrible sea monsters who just use their charm to feed, or they’re sexy, briny, love trout. The only way I can even begin to make sense of this, and the movie doesn’t give us much to go on, mind you, is that the mermaids were the guardians of the fountain of youth, and the only reason they were killing people was because they knew these were bad men who would use the fountain for their own, evil ends.

Phew. So as you may or may not have gathered, this new installment of Pirates is about the quest for the fountain of youth, which so happens to be located on an island surrounded by lovely, fangy mermaids. Blackbeard (Ian McShane), Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), and the Spaniards (various) are all racing to be the first to unlock the power of the fountain, and these mermaids are hell bent on stopping them. The only person they don’t attempt to kill is a missionary (Sam Claflin). The reason I spent so long ranting about this is not because I disliked the mermaids. Quite the contrary. The mermaid love story was, in my opinion, the most touching and interesting part of the film. The major players were acted expertly, mind you, but they just didn’t have good story arcs. Ian McShane made a menacing Blackbeard, but his character was one note and weak. Geoffrey Rush is one of the best actors of our day, and he lent a great deal of formidability to Captain Barbossa, but his story is nothing compared to his quest to free himself from the Curse of the Black Pearl. And we’ve already seen so much of the infamous Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp). Sure, he’s great and all, but it’s the random missionary and his mermaid lover (Astrid Berges-Frisbey) who manage to capture our imaginations.

Aww, look how cute she is when she's not eating you.

Other than the love story, which feels almost tacked on, this movie is very simple, which is actually a good thing! After a great start to this series, the sequel and threequel were huge letdowns. Each became more mired in its sense of the grandiose. The plots became a tangled jumble of unrelated elements, each more confusing than the last. Impossibly hard to follow, these sequels left audiences with nothing but Johnny Depp’s charm and a good deal of sword fighting. Here, though, the plot is straightforward. Three different groups are racing toward the same goal, and everything comes together nicely. Yet, for all their effort, the film lacks a certain something. The story structure is there, but there’s just no magic to it. Because things are so clearly foreshadowed, there’s no mystery, no surprise, and this makes it nigh impossible to become emotionally invested. I almost nodded off at the beginning, but by the end all I could say was, “Well done, I guess. Things did sort of come together there, didn’t they?”

At least most of the basic plot made sense, because if you start digging a little deeper, this movie is riddled with details that do not add up to two licks of a wench’s tongue on Tuesday. In fantasy, you’re allowed to invent some things, but On Stranger Tides goes too far. In the first film, for example, there’s a curse that causes men to live forever, but their bodies wither away, turning to skeletons. That’s the one example of magic that drives the whole story. Here, however, the writers throw in an endless barrage of unexplained mysteries. Why does Blackbeard’s ship have giant flamethrowers? I don’t think they had that kind of technology back then. And I’ll grant Blackbeard a sword that lets him magically control his rigging, but how does that translate to his being able to capture real life ships in tiny bottles? For that matter, how is Blackbeard able to create zombie deckhands that can’t be killed? And why doesn’t he have more of them? And why is it never important to the story?

"Woah. Watch Where You Point That Thing: An in depth analysis of Blackbeard compensating for something."

Things may not hold together completely, but there’s still a lot to love. This is definitely the 2nd best Pirates movies and will provide a bit of fun for those who decide to go. Thanks to the expert acting, a reasonably well-plotted story, and some compelling missionary mermaid action, I give Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides:

Score: 3.5/5¢

Alignment: Standard Fluff

Mermaids are just too hot for me to believe they’re killing those poor guys. Hot girls can’t possible have bad intentions, right? Maybe they’re just dragging them underwater to the love kelp?

Written by Russ Nickel


Filed under Review