X-Men: Apocalypse Drops In With It’s Final Trailer


X-Men Apocalypse

20th Century Fox have to be feeling quite giddy and confident with their slate of blockbusters this summer. Deadpool slayed everyone that went up against it during it’s February release and has climbed the box-office charts to the levels I think even Fox executives couldn’t imagine.

Now comes it’s main comic book film property returning this summer with it’s biggest story, yet. X-Men: Apocalypse has been a storyline fans of the Marvel Mutants (not part of the MCU) have been clamoring for ever since the first X-Men film surprised everyone all the way back in 2000.

Bryan Singer returns for his 4th go-round with these new band of Merry Mutants (Hugh Jackman as Wolverine the only holdover from his original cast) with the immortal and first mutant En Sabah Nur aka Apocalypse up to no good. We get a bit more of the plot in this final trailer and even more city-wide destruction (I’ll give it a pass considering it’s being committed by someone called Apocalypse and not Superman).

X-Men: Apocalypse will bring the war on May 27, 2016

X-Men Apocalypse Super Bowl TV Spot


X-Men Apocalypse

The X-Men film franchise helped usher in the this golden age of comic book films. Looking back at those early films makes for a love them or hate them reaction. The first two helped establish the beloved characters onto the bigscreen while successive sequels and spinoffs did much to try and tear down the goodwill created by the former.

Matthew Vaughn helped in the franchise course correction with the surprisingly good X-Men: First Class. Bryan Singer’s return with that film’s follow-up with X-Men: Days of Future Past was another step in the right direction. It even marked the beginning of Fox’s attempt to replicate Marvel Studios’ cinematic universe building.

X-Men: Apocalypse is suppose to help build on the foundation laid down by the last film. It also looks to be a sort of reboot of the core characters to their much younger versions. The doomsday vibe of the film really comes off well in the trailer and it shows enough action to excite fans.

Then they show a great looking Psylocke using her psy-blade in a way it was never meant to be as. Just embrace books Fox. Just embrace it instead of mucking it up.

X-Men: Apocalypse will bring the war on May 27, 2016

A Very Red Band Deadpool Trailer for Christmas


Deadpool

Twentieth Century Fox has had a stranglehold on the film rights to one of Marvel Comics’ biggest properties: the X-Men and every character associated with them. So far, the studio has only taken the core X-Men and Wolverine properties and adapted them onto the big-screen to mixed results. Some fans of the properties have even come to see the Fox vision for these mutant characters as tame and water-down version of the classic comic book characters.

One such mutant character which had languished in development hell within Fox was the character of Deadpool. The so-called “Merc with a Mouth” had an off and on development cycle throughout the years. The character finally appeared in the forgettable Wolverine stand-alone film, X-Men Origins: Wolverine. The character was played by Ryan Reynolds and just like another superhero film (this time for DC as the classic character of Green Lantern) he starred in, this one bombed and he was starting to be seen as a curse on superhero projects his named gets attached to.

If there was one major effect that Marvel Studios’ success with their Marvel Cinematic Universe has had with the rest of the Hollywood studios was to force them to treat their comic book property licenses seriously. They had to embrace the comic book nature of the properties they held the license to and work with it instead of against it.

It looks like Fox might be doing just that with their R-rated attempt at the Deadpool live-action adaptation starring the star who campained long and hard to produce and star as the title character: Ryan Reynolds. If the tone we’ve seen with the Comic-Con trailer and this latest red band trailer is any indication then the Ryan Reynolds superhero curse could be ending in early February of 2012.

Deadpool is set for a February 12, 2016 release date.

Super Bowl Trailer: The Amazing Spider-Man 2 “Enemies Unite”


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The Amazing Spider-Man 2 continues the reboot Sony began with the Spider-Man franchise minus Sam Raimi and Tobey Maguire. While The Amazing Spider-Man did quite well in the box-office when it came out in 2012 the general consensus with fans and critics alike was that it was just another origins tale that rehashed events from the Peter Parker story that was already well-known to comic book and non-comic book fans alike.

This sequel will now bring in villains and some plot points that fans have been waiting for since the franchise first began in the early 2000’s. We have Jamie Foxx and Paul Giamatti as the villains Electro and Rhino finally appearing on film with hints that other iconic Spider-Man villains such as the Vulture and the Hobgoblin probably having a cameo. This sudden flood of villains looks to be Sony’s attempt to set-up a Sinister Six film that would be the studio’s way to counter the success of Marvel’s and Disney’s success with The Avengers.

Time will tell if this gamble will end up paying off for Sony and many comic books wish it won’t since there’s a chance it would return Spider-Man to Marvel Studios thus making him available to appear in future films as an Avenger.

Sony went to unprecedented lengths to make sure people knew about the new trailer arriving on Super Bowl Sunday. We had a teaser teasing the trailer for the Super Bowl. Then we had the brief teaser shown during the Super Bowl. Below is the full 3-minute plus trailer that was shown on-line soon after.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is set for a May 2, 2014 release date.

Trailer: The Wolverine (CinemaCon Exclusive)


TheWolverine

First we had the WonderCon Exclusive trailer for Pacific Rim drop a couple days ago. Now we have the CinemaCon Exclusive trailer for the upcoming The Wolverine which looks to be an improvement from this film’s first trailer.

This trailer for The Wolverine looks to emphasize the action in the film instead of the film’s story. We get many scenes of Wolverine doing what he does best. For fans of the character this storyline and setting should be recognizable as being based off of the Chris Claremont and Frank Miller mini-series about the character that helped create one of this character’s better backstory.

The Wolverine drops in the theaters on July 26, 2013.

Source: AMC Theaters

Review: The Amazing Spider-Man (dir. by Marc Webb)


It was in the summer of 2002 that the superhero film genre finally entered it’s Golden Age (or Silver Age for some). X-Men had come out two years before to positive acclaim and, most importantly, in the box-office. It wasn’t until Sam Raimi released the first in what would be his trilogy in the Spider-Man film franchise that superhero comic book films became the power in Hollywood it remains to this day. The first film from Raimi easily captured the pulp and campy sensibilities of the source material and for an origin story film it was done quite well in that it introduced the titular character and what made him tick. In 2004, Raimi and company released what many consider the best comic book film with Spider-Man 2. The film brought a level of Greek tragedy to the fun of the first film and it definitely brought one of the best realized comic book villains on film with Alfred Molina as Dr. Octopus. Then the franchise hit a major bump in 2007 with Raimi third entry in the franchise with the bloated Spider-Man 3.

Sony Pictures, who owned the film rights to the Spider-Man franchise, were so quick to churn out a fourth film, but in doing so lost the filmmaker and cast that made the trilogy happen. In the studios’ thinking they needed to get a fourth film up and running in order to keep the rights to the film from reverting back to Marvel and Disney. So, out goes Sam Raimi, Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst and in comes Marc Webb, Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone. Instead of getting Spider-Man 4 we get The Amazing Spider-Man which doesn’t continue what Raimi had established with the first three films, but reboots the franchise all the way to the beginning.

Marc Webb takes the screenplay worked on by a trio of screenwriters (James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sargent, Steve Kloves) and reboots the origin story of Peter Parker’s transformation into Spider-Man. We find Peter Parker back in high school as a student and still getting bullied by Flash Thompson while remaining awkward around girls (especially one Gwen Stacy played by Emma Stone). yet, before we even get to this part of the film we get an introductory coda where we find a preadolescent Peter Parker playing hide and seek with his scientist father. These early scenes show hints that the enhanced spider thatwill bite and give eter his abilities may have had his father’s research and work written all over it.

This intro influences much of the storyline and leaves a huge impact on the character of Peter Parker which the previous three films never explored. The rest of the film has Peter investigating the circumstances of his parent’s disappearance and his adjustment to having been given the superhuman abilities by the spider that his father may or may not have been responsible in breeding.

First off, the film does a good job in re-establishing Peter Parker as a high school student. The original film spent some time in this part of Peter Parker’s life but never truly explored it. We see Peter not just the class genius, but also one who also shows an affinity for photography (something that the original trilogy never really explained other than he needed the job and money). There’s also some added layers to the character as this version of Peter Parker is more than willing to stand up to the bullies picking on the weaker students other than himself. It’s a huge departure from the meek and geeky Peter Parker of the past. We still get a geeky and smart Peter, but one who is also a sort of a well-intentioned slacker. We also get a proper introduction for Gwen Stacy (something the third film criminally mishandled)

The film introduces once again many of the characters the first film in the series had already done. From Uncle Ben (played by Martin Sheen this time around) and Aunt May (Sally Field) right up to the robber who runs into Uncle Ben and changes Peter Parker’s outlook on his role as a hero forever. Again these were character that had already been explored by the first three films and they’re scenes that had an air of familiarity to them though Sheen performance as Uncle Ben added more layers to the character who becomes Peter Parker’s moral center.

Another thing that the film did a good job with was the design of the film. It has been ten years since the first film and the technology in CGI-effects has leapfrogged exponentially since. The look of the OsCorp Tower was a beautiful piece of architectural design. The building loomed over New York City like something dark with a hint of malice. There were changes to the suit Peter wears that really harkens back to the McFarlane years of the Spider-Man comics. Even the return of the web-shooters was a nice surprise that I had some reservations when first hearing about it.

A third good thing about the film was the extended montage when Peter Parker realizes he has gained new abilities and begins to test them out. It’s familiar territory from the first film, but Marc Webb and Andrew Garfield adds a new level of youthful exuberance to the proceedings. Even the use of parkour by Peter Parker to show his growing abilities didn’t come off as silly. Garfield’s performance as Peter Parker in this montage was pretty great. One could believe at how much fun he was having at discovering each new level of abilities. Even some of the growing pains he goes through after getting bit were some of the more hilarious moments in the film that ultimately lacked much of it in the end.

Which brings us to what made this entertaining film end up becoming a failure in the end.

I admit that the film entertained me in the end, but there were things aboutThe Amazing Spider-Manwhich nagged at me throughout and afterwards. While the film was entertaining the story self and most of the characters were inconsistently written. Once one looked past the action and some of the witty dialogue in the beginning the film’s many plot-holes and head-scratching moments become too glaring to ignore.

The character of Peter Parker does get some new layers of characterization in the beginning, but as the film played out the more the Peter Parker of this film began to stray away from not just what Raimi had created and guided through the first three films but also most of the character’s decade’s long growth in the comics. Yes, we see Peter Parker as the science-genius and even moreso than the one portrayed by Tobey Maguire, but we also don’t get the awkward teen who grows into his abilities, but most importantly, one who learns through tragedy that he has a responsibility to the people around him to protect them even if it means sacrificing his wants and dreams to do so. We don’t just see Peter Parker saving people, but also one who seemed to relish beating up and abusing those who used to do the same to him and/or others. Spider-Man in this film acts more like a bully than a reluctant hero by film’s end. Even the events that should’ve taught him the lessons of self-sacrifice and heeding the needs of the many fail to make much of an impact on the teen superhero. All one has to look at as the perfect example of this darker and more selfish turn to the character was Peter’s whisper to Gwen about promises not being kept being the best ones.

Other characters get inconsistencies in how they’re written. The other big one being Dr. Curt Connors who begins the film as a scientist so intent of not just curing his disability but also helping the world. It’s a character similar in tone to Alfred Molina as Dr. Octopus, yet where that villain remained a tragic one throughout the film and we could see the path which led him to become a villain with Dr. Connors in this fourth film there’s such a huge turnabout in the character’s motivations that whatever sympathy we may have had for Connors was squandered.

Not every character fails to impress. Martin Sheen and Denis Leary as Uncle Ben and Capt. Stacy respectively were fully realized characters who become Peter Parker’s moral centers and voice of reason. In fact, both Sheen and Leary helped anchor the scenes they appeared in and thus made their characters’ fate have the sort of emotional impact that a growing hero needs to move from being reluctant to accepting of his lot in life. It’s a shame that the writers failed to capitalize on the performances of these two character actors to help make Peter Parker more a hero and less a teenager more in love with what he can do instead of realizing that he has more to offer those who are weakest.

This is not to say that the performances by the cast was bad. From Garfield and Stone right up to Ifans, Sheen, Leary and Field, the cast did a great job with an uneven and inconsistent script that was too full of themes and ideas but no focus on any one of them. It’s a wasted opportunity to build on what the previous cast of the three films had created. Even the third film which many would agree as being a huge, bloated mess actually had a singular focus. It was a story that tried to explore Peter Parker’s darker side andhow his life as a superhero negatively impacts everyone around him he cares for. With this Marc Webb production we get a Peter Parker who at times was compassionate when it came to others being bullied and then we get one who relished on doing the same to those he now sees deserving of payback. Even Parker’s hunt for his uncle’s killer which the film spent a considerable time following just got dropped without any sort of resolution. One of the most significant events in Peter’s life gets dumped to the wayside to concentrate on finally pitting Spider-Man against the film’s Lizard.

Did The Amazing Spider-Man need to have gotten made? The answer to that would be a yes.

Did Marc Webb, the three writers in Vanderbilt, Sargent and Kloves and the new cast get the reboot correctly? I would say no.

This was a film that spent too much time reintroducing characters both comic book and film fans already knew intimately. The storyline itself shared many similarities to the second film in the series yet none of the cohesiveness which made that first sequel such an instant classic the moment it premiered in 2004. The Amazing Spider-Man spent so much time trying to come off as a grittier and edgier version of the character (I call this the Christopher Nolan-effect) that what should’ve been coming off as a fun-loving, albeit self-sacrificing hero, came off as a dick once he finally got the full costume on. The people in charge of this reboot sacrificed what was fun about the film franchise for realism that the character and his universe were never steeped in to begin with.

Gritty, edgy and realism may work for Nolan’s take on the Batman film franchise, but for Spidey it fails and just turns what could’ve been a fresh new take on the franchise into another entertaining, but ultimately forgettable entry in the series. Maybe it’s time Sony just realize that it’s just pushing this franchise downhill and let the rights revert back to Marvel who seem to have found a balance between pulpy camp and serious realism.

Trailer: The Amazing Spider-Man (3rd Official)


I will say it now that when I first heard that Sony was going to reboot the Spider-Man film franchise I wasn’t enthused by their decision not to mention saying bye to Sam Raimi as the franchise director. I saw this decision as Sony’s attempt to hold onto the licensing rights to the character. Without a new film coming out soon the rights were going to revert back to it’s parent company in Marvel Comics (something comic book fans probably hope would’ve happened). So, a new film was rushed, with a new director in Marc Webb and a new Peter Parker in Andrew Garfield.

This reboot will retell Spider-Man’s origin story once again and much more grittier than the more fun, pulpy Raimi trilogy. I think the fact that it was going to be another origin story is what made me hesitant to embrace this reboot. I’m still not fully committed to this film, but with each new trailer released my interest continues to rise. With this latest trailer we can see that the effects look to be much improved from the first three films which is understandable with advancement in CGI. We can also see in this new trailer the “grittier” aspect Sony was promising. I will say that I’m still not sold on Andrew Garfield as Peter Parker/Spider-Man, but maybe seeing the finished product will prove me wrong.

The Amazing Spider-Man is set for a July 3, 2012 release date.

Review: Captain America: The First Avenger (dir. by Joe Johnston)


It is called the “Marvel Cinematic Universe” and it’s a world-building program that’s been in the making for almost half a decade. It first began when Kevin Feige and the powers-that-be at Marvel Entertainment decided to forgo licensing out the rest of their comic book characters to other studios to play with (Spider-Man, X-Men, Wolverine, Fantastic Four, Daredevil, etc.). Marvel Entertainment was getting rich off of these films without having to help finance any of the films, but the results of these films where hit-or-miss and recently they’ve been really misses (X-Men: Last Stand, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, Ghost Rider to name a few). So, the decision was made for Marvel to open up their own film studio, Marvel Studios, and use money from those licensed films to adapt the remaining characters in the Marvel Universe the Marvel way.

The first film to come out with Marvel Studios as the primary company was 2008’s Iron Man which was followed very closely with a reboot of the Hulk with The Incredible Hulk later that same summer. Iron Man 2 arrived in 2010 (though it was a mixed bagged depending on who one asks about this sequel) and in 2011 two more Marvel Studio films arrived to continue building this so-called “Marvel Cinematic Universe”. In early May 2011, the first one was Kenneth Branagh’s Thor hitting the big-screen which was widely-acclaimed to be a good and fun entry to this cinematic universe. The final piece and the second Marvel Studio film to arrive in 2011 is the Joe Johnston-helmed film adaptation of one of Marvel Comics’ most iconic characters. The “Marvel Cinematic Universe” finally finds it’s last piece before 2012’s arrival of Marvel Studios’ superhero team film, The Avengers.

Captain America: The First Avenger was being predicted as a film that could fail because of the character itself. Steve Rogers aka Captain America is the All-American G.I. who was straight-laced and never morally ambiguous. This was a character sure of himself and saw the world through a moral prism of black and white. The film that came out of the work by Joe Johnston and his capable film crew was one which surprised most everyone by it’s retro and nostalgic look at action serials of the past but without becoming to beholden to those tropes and losing all the fun in the story. This film played out like a throwback to those very serial action films of the 40’s and 50’s before cynicism and snark took over Hollywood and most of the entertainment industry.

Joe Johnston and his screenwriters, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely (and an uncredited Joss Whedon whose strength with dialogue could be seen in this film), were able to make an origin tale which didn’t seem too rushed in laying out just who Captain America was and his early adventures during World War II. It was a great decision to keep most of the film set in World War II since Captain America’s origins would be the hardest to pull off and even harder to convince audiences too used to conflicted and unsure superheroes in their superhero films.

The film begins in current Marvel times as an expedition finds Captain America’s shield in the frozen ice floes of Greenland in what looks to be the wreck of a giant flying wing-type aircraft. Once the shield’s discovery was made the film quickly transitions back in time to 1942 where we get to see first-hand the evil mastermind Johann Schmitt aka the Red Skull (Hugo Weaving) whose obsession and search for ultimate power finally garners him the Tesseract from Odin’s weapon’s vault (the Cosmic Cube last scene in Thor). He would use this cosmic power to power the superweapons being developed by his Nazi-funded splinter group, HYDRA, and it’s lead scientist in Dr. Armin Zola (Toby Jones).

Both Markus and McFeely actually wrote the film to be two storylines running concurrently with Red Skull and HYDRA running in one storyline and the other with Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) as the 90-lbs Brooklyn-native weakling whose attempt to enlist in the Army gets shotdown each and every time he tries. Rogers is just not the type of man the US Army requires no matter how much courage and heart his asthmatic and weak body may hold within. But this very non-physical quality of Rogers is what gets the attention of the US Army’s own research division headed by German scientist and expatriate, Dr. Abraham Erskine, who believes Rogers is the perfect candidate for his super-soldier serum program.

Much of the Roger’s storyline in the early-going brings much comedic dialogue and scenes which made Captain America such a fun film. While Roger’s appearance and situation was never played off for laughs, it was how those around him outside of a few people whose reaction never get past the weakling standing in front of them. Once Rogers does become Captain America the film continued to have fun with the character as he’s drafted by politicians who sees him as the perfect pitchman for the government’s program to sell war bonds. This entire part of the character’s arc even got the full Busby Berkeley musical dance number reminiscent of Steven Spielberg’s musical number to start off Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom (this won’t be the first time Johnston would pay homage to the Indiana Jones series).

Once Captain America moves past his war bond selling phase the film’s two concurrent running storylines of the Captain and the Red Skull converge to begin the second-half of Captain America. While the comedic dialogue and sequences take a back seat the film still remains very fun as Johnston ramps up the action. He begins with the Rogers disobeying orders and attacking a HYDRA base to rescue not just his boyhood friend Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) from the clutches of HYDRA, but all the prisoners held in the same weapons manufacturing base. The action sequences were filmed in an almost old-school fashion. There’s no tricks of fast editing and quick cuts to make the battles and action chaotic and real, but brought to mind more the action scenes from the Indiana Jones films of the 80’s which Johnston was a part of. All the action sequences in this film were choreographed to be seen and understood, but at the same time with a sense of fun energy that most action films seem to have lost in the last decade.

Captain America was also the first film in the “Marvel Cinematic Universe” which added to the fun by creating a genuine romantic subplot for it’s main lead. The relationship between Steve Rogers and British agent Peggy Carter was written quite beautifully as one between two people who saw each other as equals. This relationship unfolded very organically and not forced onto the two characters and to the audience. There was no manipulation to create a false couple. Steve Rogers gradually grew to not just admire Peggy Carter as a strong-willed, capable, but still feminine woman who saw beyond his initial weakling appearance, but by film’s end as a person who he truly had feelings for. It wouldn’t have worked if the Peggy Carter was just written to be a damsel in distress which she wasn’t and this character’s own journey to admiring Roger’s courage and tenacity in the face of impossible odds to mutual admiration once he became Captain to full-blown love by the end really added the emotional punch to the film. It’s no wonder that the bittersweet ending to the film between these two characters had such an emotional impact. The audience followed these two characters’ in their growing relationship from sweet beginnings to the tragic and bittersweet climactic finish.

It’s that very writing which made Captain America: The First Avenger more than just another superhero film. This was a film that went beyond just superhero action sequences, but a film which brought to mind not just the retro film of such films as Johnston’s own 1991 retro-futurist superhero film, The Rocketeer, but also the fun inherent in the serialized action films of the 40’s and 50’s which Spielberg did paid homage to with Indiana Jones and The Raiders of the Lost Ark. The action, explosions and witty (though without the snark and cynicism) dialogue didn’t dominate the film but became supports for the well-written characters. Characters that were well-played by it’s cast of exceptional actors.

This film, like any other superhero film of the past quarter century, lives and dies by how it’s hero and villain were played. It’s a great thing to have not just Hugo Weaving playing the Red Skull with such relish (with a voice that sounded like a mash-up of Werner herzog and Klaus Kinski), but the surprise was Chris Evans as Captain America himself. Evans had the tougher role since he was the titular character. He was an actor who was more well-known as playing wiseass and jokester roles, but in this film he plays Steve Rogers straight with a sense of unabashed goodness and confidence that he became Captain America without having to be unsure of his abilities, conflicted about his new role as a hero. Evans showed depth and range that was only hinted at in films such as Sunshine.

Another delight in the film would be Hayley Atwell as Peggy Carter. She could’ve been the weak-link in this film and no one would’ve noticed, but she became the moral anchor and strength for the film as she became not just Steve Rogers’ eventual love interest but also his sounding board whenever doubts creeped in. She kept not just him, but the film on course and it helped that she was just as much as kickass as Captain America. Also, to say that Atwell as Peggy Carter was gorgeous to the point of blinding would be an understatement. It’s no wonder Captain America fell for her.

The rest of the supporting cast were up to the challenge no matter the size of the role. Stanley Tucci and Tommy Lee Jones were great as the compassionate mentor and grizzled commanding officer respectively. Jones’ Col. Phillips actually got some of the best one-liners in the film. When Tommy Lee Jones plays such a character as well as he does it’s no wonder he’s the go-to-guy for such roles. He just lives the part and pulls off the lines with such great comedic timing. Dominic Cooper as the young Howard Stark (father of Tony Stark/Iron Man) brought images of the suave and debonair Howard Hughes while Sebastian Stan as Bucky Barnes did a great job in making the character not just a sidekick, but also show hints of why he would become the Winter Soldier later on in the Captain America stories. It’s Stan’s role as Bucky which gives me hope that future Captain America sequels would tap and mine this character’s own journey from sidekick to potential rival as the Winter Soldier.

Captain America: The First Avenger is Marvel Studios’ last puzzle piece in what would transition into 2012’s The Avengers by Joss Whedon and it more than delivers the goods which was a testament to the creative forces led by Joe Johnston, Chris Evans and everyone involved. This was a fun, rollicking good time which brought back the concept that films were ultimately started as a form of mass entertainment. Not every film had to explore the meaning of life and existence. Not every film had to be a journey into the light and dark of existential themes. Films could be a couple hours spent entertaining and allowing it’s audiences to have a fun and good time. Captain America: The First Avenger was able to deliver this type of experience and do so with not a cynical gene in its code. It’s definitely Marvel Studios’ best film to date and one of the best films of the summer.

(Leonard Wilson’s review of Captain America)

As an added bonus below are some of the character and propaganda-type posters released for the film.

Review: X-Men: First Class (dir. by Matthew Vaughn)


The name Matthew Vaughn should be familiar with comic book fans everywhere. In 2005, Vaughn was introduced as the director to replace Bryan SInger for the third film in the X-Men franchise. The news was met with some cautious optimism. This was a filmmaker who had quite the loyal and growing following for his work on Stardust and Layer Cake. Months after he was picked my 20th Century Fox news came down that he was backing out of the project due to personal reasons and the film scrambled for a replacement which ended up being Brett Ratner. History was made that day as the beginning of the franchise’s decline began and steep plummet which recently reached it’s nadir with 2009’s Wolverine: Origins.

It’s has now been five years since X-Men: The Last Stand made it to the big-screen and now we have a new film in the franchise. X-Men: First Class has a familiar name behind the director’s seat and it looks like Matthew Vaughn stayed this time around (after directing a smaller superhero film in Kick-Ass for 2010) to craft what could become the best film in the X-Men/Wolverine film franchise. This film is a prequel/reboot of sorts (more on that later) and brings a fresh set of eyes and take on the origin story of this franchise.

X-Men: Last Stand actually begins the film exactly how the first X-Men film began with the 1944 World War II concentration camp setting where a young Erik Lensherr (later to become Magneto) finally manifests his power over magnetic fields as he watches his parents torn from his side. The first film ended that sequence once Erik was knocked out, but this time around it continues with a mysterious man named Schmidt (aka Sebastian Shaw and played with James Bond villainous-flair by Kevin Bacon) taking great interest in Erik and his ability which Erik could only use during bouts of pain and anger. The film continues this slight change in the series’ origins by switching over to Westchester County and into the expansive home of a young Charles Xavier who finds a certain young, blue-skinned shapeshifter named Raven who he invites to stay and become his friend once he realized he wasn’t the only one who was different and with abilities.

These two sequences continue to move the film forward as the we see these two “leaders in the making” adults and trying to find their place in the world of the free-swinging lifestyle and the Cold War culture of the 1960’s. Charles Xavier (played like a well-meaning cad and good-natured naivete about the world by James McAvoy) is a student working on his doctorate in Oxford on genetic theories while his “sister” Raven (Jennifer Lawrence) accompanies him. This is a Xavier who still hasn’t found the patient benevelonce of Patrick Stewart’s Professor X and uses his considerable telepathic abilities to help him pick up on beautiful coeds instead. It’s during such a scene where we see Raven show just a hint of jealousy as Xavier tries his lines and moves on a beautiful British lass. It would seem Raven’s feelings for her ‘brother” may go beyond sibling affection though Xavier doesn’t see her as anything other than a sister for him to protect.

Erik Lensherr’s time as an adult was shown as having become a life of obsession over his treatment at the hands of the Nazi’s and those of Schmidt’s as he travels the world in search of escaped Nazi war criminals. Erik takes him throughout South America as he finds the trail of Nazis hiding out in that region since the end of the war. We see this adult Erik hardened by his anger and single-minded need for revenge on Schmidt and those he worked for. He’s not above using his abilities to kill in order to get the information he requires and there’s a hint of satisfaction when he does kill those he sees as responsible for his tragic upbringing with his magnetic abilities. These two adult sequences continues the film’s theme of the ideological difference between Xavier and Erik being formed through nature and nurture as their lives moved down diverging paths from an early beginning until it convergence for a small, brief period around the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis.

The film’s second act begins with Moira McTaggart (Rose Byrne), now a covert CIA Agent, investigating a certain Col. Hendry who she suspects as having betrayed the nation to the Soviets, but instead finds out that the true nature of Hendry’s associations were much more insidious and dangerous. The iconic Hellfire Club of the comics finally make their appearance with Schmidt who actually happens to be Sebastian Shaw (whose powers grant him the ability to absorb all kinetic energy which he uses to keep himself young and can release with explosive results), Emma Frost (January Jones) who’s a telepath with the ability to turn body in a sort of diamond-form, Riptide who can create tornado-like abilities and finally the demonic-looking Azazel whose ability to teleport might give people not well-versed in the “X-Men Universe” a clue as to one-half of parents who may be responsible for Nightcrawler in the second film.

X-Men: First Class spends much of this second act like it was Ocean’s 11 as Xavier and Erik get recruited by the CIA to find other mutants and create their own mutant team to counter Sebastian Shaw’s Hellfire Club and his goal of initiating World War III between the US and the USSR and thus destroy all of humanity and leave the planet for the mutants to rule over. Yeah, it is this part of the film’s plot which may strain the suspension of disbelief for some audiences who never grew up reading the comics, but it shouldn’t. Ian Fleming’s James Bond series used scenarios just as ludicrous with villains just as Machiavellian in the form of SPECTRE so X-Men: First Class and it’s world domination plans shouldn’t be too farfetched to fans of that British superspy and his adventures.

This middle section of the film is where X-Men: First Class actually begins to lag after a strong first act. I don’t know if the sequences of the new recruits training, bonding and learning how to use their powers could’ve been written to move much faster without losing some of the character building scenes. From how this second act played it seemed to look like scenes were actually cut out to try and keep the film from being too long (it’s final cut being just a tad over two hours already upon release), but I wouldn’t be surprised if the DVD/Blu-Ray release actually has a director’s or uncut version that actually expands this middle section to really give life to it instead of having it play out like a perfunctory training montage with a dash of character beats.

The film hits it’s action-film stride with the third and final act as Xavier and Erik’s team of young mutants must now use their abilities to stop Shaw and his Hellfire Club and at the same time prevent World War III from beginning and not freaking out the humans who are still unaware of their existence as a whole. It’s this third section which we see too much of it in the trailers and tv spots that one might say we’ve seen it all before we even see the film as a whole, but it still kept back a lot from those ads to make the whole final twenty minutes of the film thrilling and action-packed.

All of this could just mean that X-Men: First Class was just your run-of-the-mill superhero action film that we get on a yearly basis come summertime, but it’s a testament to Matthew Vaughn’s direction and the strength of the script by Vaughn, longtime collaborator Jane Goldman and Thor scribes Ashley Edward Miller and Zack Stentz that the film goes beyond being just an action film with all it’s sturm und drang coupled with fancy special effects. The previous films in the series always explored important cultural and moral themes that’s always been the bread-and-butter of the X-Men stories in the comic books. We just don’t see the film explore the ideological difference between Xavier’s peaceful co-existence between humans and mutants alike, but also we get more detail on why Magneto finally comes to the conclusion that war between humans and mutants was an inevitability and why his stance doesn’t fall under the aegis of being evil, but something that anyone could understand and even support whether one was human or mutant.

The story also doesn’t just pay lip-service to the idea of how mutants view themselves and how even within the mutant community there’s a visible rift between those whose abilities are invisible to the general population and those whose abilities and genetic mutation physically manifest themselves in such ways that to many might not look to appealing. This idea really gets a major exploration in the subplot involving Raven (soon to be Mystique), Hank McCoy and, to a certain degree, Xavier and Erik. We see how those like Xavier whose abilities don’t show in a physical manner have a sort of “don’t ask, don’t show” about those like Raven when it comes to their power when in public.

Raven (played beautifully by Jennifer Lawrence) is caught between Xavier who wants her to remain incognito so as not to shock the world too soon in realizing that mutants exists and that of Erik who sees Raven’s original blue-skinned form as beauty and perfection and how she should never hide who she truly is. This tug and pull between her two mentors makes for a convincing subplot in how Raven comes to the conclusion which would take her to the side of Magneto in later films, but also highlight how the two sides in later films have so much intertwining bonds of friendship and relationship that seeing them against each other becomes a tragedy on its own. Civil wars are not just a thing of humans but those who sees themselves apart from them.

The great performances by most of the leads add to the film’s strength. McAvoy and Fassbender, at first, look to be unconvincing in terms of their appearance as the younger versions of Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen, respectively. This becomes a non-issue once they’ve established themselves through their performances which gives new layers to the personalities of Professor X and Magneto. Many people always saw these two as the comic book version of Martin Luther King, Jr and Malcolm X, but that’s an oversimplification. The film and the performances by McAvoy and Fassbender digs deeper into both their characters’ motivations and ideologies and how their past experiences and upbringing couple with their time together as brothers-in-arms and friends show more about these two than just being mutant-proxies of MLK and Malcolm X. The other young mutants do an adequate enough job that they don’t seem lost in the film. Nicholas Hoult as the young Hank McCoy and how he plays off Lawrence’s Raven during their little subplot in the film is one stand-out that I hope gets explore even more in any follow-up sequel.

There’s a nice burgeoning young love chemistry between him and Lawrence as Beast and Raven that doesn’t seem too tacked on to create a the prerequisite love couple in any film. Their common trait of having physical mutations and how they seem to both feel apart even from their fellow mutants develop their characters in ways the previous films in the series never did. They never want to rid themselves of their mutant powers. They just want to look normal and still keep their abilities. It’s a having your cake and eat it too mentality that has some surprising results for both Raven and Hank.

X-Men: First Class has had some fans of the series put in a very difficult situation. The film definitely is a prequel to the previous films, but it also does a major time in rewriting continuity in the series. I was one of those fans and thought it would ruin the film in the context of the franchise. I’m surprised that in the end I didn’t really care and actually hope that this film actually is a reboot of the franchise. I see this film and forget the previous three as being part of it. This film was just too good and fun in it the end for continuity issues to become the major flaw that sinks it. I liken this film as similar to Christopher Nolan rebooting the Batman film franchise. That film honored the contributions to the character, but went on it’s own way to tell that character’s tale. I see Vaughn doing the same with this film. He has done something which many thought was a near-impossible task and that’s make the X-Men franchise relevant once more in a pop-culture landscape that seems to have left the franchise behind after the disastrous Wolverine: Origins of 2009.

This film delivered on the ideas that made the comic books so beloved by millions of fans for almost a half-century. It made great use of the 1960’s time and setting to tell a story of these characters beginnings as heroes and villains (though the latter shouldn’t be seen as them being truly just evil bad guys). Even the inclusion of real-world historical event like the Cuban Missile Crisis was a nice touch which gave the film a foundation in realism. Again, this film played off like a superhero, Marvel version of an Iam Fleming James Bond story. For those who are huge fans of the previous films there’s even two brief cameos of those films two favorite characters that appear in this film. They don’t come off as cheesy and unnecessary and actually come off as great additions. I won’t mention who these cameos were but the audience’s reaction to them was very vocal and very positive. I say the same should be said for X-Men: First Class as a film that resuscitates the franchise.

Review: Thor (dir. by Kenneth Branagh)


Marvel Comics has had a much better success in bringing their 2nd-tier characters over onto the big-screen than DC Comics and they’ve made the risky decision to tie-in every film they make into one shared universe. Comic book fans have begun to call this the Marvel Film Universe since it contains the same characters and backgrounds as those of their comic book counterparts but also with enough changes to make them stand-out on their own. They’ve already begun this with the first two Iron Man films and a recent reboot of the Incredible Hulk. With the X-Men, Spider-Man, Daredevil and Fantastic Four film rights still under the control of other film studios it left Marvel (now Disney) to use other characters in their control to fill out the rest of this shared universe. The next one to get their turn on the bigscreen is the live-action adaptation of Marvel’s Asgardian God of Thunder. The studios picked British filmmaker Kenneth Branagh to handle this adaptation and his background in bringing Shakespeare to the big-screen has made Thor a flwed but very entertaining superhero film.

To start off, it has to be said that Thor was always going to be the most difficult of all the characters that will make up The Avengers film to bring to the bigscreen. While all these Marvel films do have their fantastic elements due to each character’s superhero nature it was even more fantastic with the character of Thor. This character is in effect a being who has been worshipped by humans in the past as one of their deities. God-like characters have always been tough to make human and relatable in stories and film. It’s a testament to Branagh’s handle of the Asgard characters such as Thor, Odin and Loki that we don’t end up with just all-powerful beings, but individuals whose impulses and motivations definitely are human. It’s this dynamic between Thor, his father Odin and his brother Loki which drives the Shakespearean angle of the film’s storyline. It’s where Branagh’s history of making Shakespeare accessible to the general film audience that makes their story easy to follow and understand.

The film actually begins with the human characters of Dr. Jane Foster (played by Natalie Portman) and her colleagues (Stellan Skarsgard and Kat Dennings)  driving around in the New Mexico desert at night looking for atmospheric disturbances which should validate Foster’s theories on the Einstein-Rosen Bridge aka wormholes. What they end up running to instead is Thor himself arriving on Earth (Midgard in Asgardian terms) to begin his banishment from his homeworld. Yes, I say homeworld as the film has turned one of the more difficult aspects of Thor’s background into something that makes sense for the audience not steeped and learned from decades of Thor comic books. Thor’s home of Asgard is just one of nine worlds around the galaxy of which Earth is one.

It’s right after this scene that we go back to what started Thor’s banishment. The film does a great job explaining the role the Asgard’s played in Earth’s past history and the consequences of their war against the Frost Giants of the world of Jotunheim (one of the nine worlds). It’s through the narration by Odin himself (Anthony Hopkins) that we learn of the origins of the Gods and myths of Norse culture. This intro scene also shows Odin showing his two young sons in Thor and Loki the relic he had taken to end the wars between Asgard and the Jotunheim. For an origin sequence it was able to set up the rules of this fantastical world of Asgard and it’s Nine Realms. It’s the sequence right after which would lead to Thor’s banishment from Asgard and the stripping of his all-powerful hammer, Mjolnir, and his powers.

For some, and I would have to agree, this sequence which takes Thor, his brother Loki, childhood friends Sif and Warriors Three to the icy world of Jotunheim made up the best action setpiece for the film. The battle which begins between Thor’s forces and those of King Lauhey (Colm Feore under some very elaborate make-up effects) of the Frost Giants. This scene shares some similar qualities with an earlier action setpiece in the first Iron Man film in that it surpasses all other setpieces which would occur later in their respective films. This is not to say that the other action scenes were boring or just simple fare. They were exhilirating and full of energy, but that very first one in the beginning just had even more energy and action that it might’ve been better saved for the climax of the film.

Once the banishment occurs we finally catch up to the film’s first scene and the film begins to go back and forth between Asgard and Earth. With the former we see the machiavellian side of Loki finally assert itself. While Loki’s character is never truly shown to be evil his mischievious streak does show to have a cruel side to it. The bombshell of a news from Odin about his true origins was a nice touch, but it doesn’t lead to the sort of evil character turn we’re used to. In fact, I would say that Loki’s character (played with Iago-like relish by Tom Hiddleston) ends up becoming like the son who does the wrong things for the right reasons. He’s a nice contrast to the more open-faced Thor who does what he says instead of dancing around the subject even to the detriment of his standing with his father.

The scenes on Earth itself is where the comedic aspect of the film comes in. Most of the comedy comes at the expense of Thor’s “fish out of water” reaction to the new world around him. It’s helped much by some great comedic timing by Jane’s assistant Darcy (Kat Dennings who steals the film from Portman whenever they’re on together). It is also the time on Earth where some of the flaws in the film really become apparent. First and foremost would be Portman’s Jane Foster character who seem to be so uneven. She goes from brilliant astrophysicist one moment then giggling schoolgirl the next whenever she’s in close proximity to Thor. While Portman and Hemsworth do make quite the radioactively beautiful couple there’s a sense of untapped chemistry between the two that might have been left on the editing floor. It’s a shame really since so much could’ve been done with the Foster character to really give reasons to why Thor ends up valuing the lives of said mortals to earn his God of Thunder status once again.

Thor really does entertain despite some character and storytelling (really most of it on the Earth side of things) flaws which could’ve sunk the film right from the start. I believe that it’s director Branagh’s handling of the Shakespearean tragedy on the Asgard side of the film that holds the film together. This is one reason and the other being a star-turning turn by Chris Hemsworth as Thor himself. His performance goes from cocky, brash young man on the cusp of leadership to lost, confused and rudderless once banished then back again to a maturing prodigal son who finally learns the lessons his father has been trying to teach him. It would interesting to see Hemsworth’s Thor truly interact with Downey’s Tony Stark and Chris Evans’ Steve Rogers when The Avengers comes out in 2012.

The riskiest part of Marvel’s attempt to create their Marvel Cinematic Universe succeeds where most seem to think it will fail. It’s not as strong an origin film as Favreau’s first Iron Man, but it does add a sense of wonder that film could never grasp through two films. Even the controversial casting choices to put non-white actors to play Asgard roles (Tadanobu Asano as Hogun and Idris Elba as Heimdall) comes off well that the audience shouldn’t even wonder why a black and Asian person were playing characters written originally as white.

From the look of things there’s no official word whether there will be a second Thor film, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there was no matter how the film does boxoffice-wise. There’s just too much great stories to tell about Thor, Asgard and the rest of the Asgard Nine Realms now that the foundation has been laid down with this first film. I do hope that Branagh returns for those sequels if they do happen. One thing which Branagh has proven was his handling of action sequences. They weren’t amazing, but they were handled with enough skill that I believe a second time around we’d get even better action from a director known more for serious dramatic films.

A final thing to mention would be the Easter Egg final scene which occurs once the end credits finish their run at the end of the film. For those who stayed to see this scene it should be a nice treat for Marvel and comic book fans. It shows a certain artifact that should tie Thor to the upcoming Captain America film later this summer. All I can say for those who didn’t stay to see it and knows their Marvel trivia are two words: Cosmic and cube.

PS: An Avenger member makes a cameo appearance halfway in the film that doesn’t look tacked on despite what some of the more “glass half-empty” film bloggers on the net would make you think…Also, it’s safe to forgo seeing Thor in 3D. It’s not a bad post-conversion but it doesn’t really add to the film. See it in 2D to save yourself a few bucks on the ticket price.