Film Review: The Divergent Series: Allegiant (dir by Robert Schwentke)


Oh, Who Gives A Fuck About This Fucking Movie?

Oh, who cares?

I really hate to start my review with such a negative statement but seriously, after watching Allegiant today, I am now convinced that the Divergent movies are perhaps the least interesting film franchise since the Paranormal Activity sequels.  Not only are the films so derivative of The Hunger Games that I’m always surprised that Donald Sutherland isn’t lurking around in the background but they’ve also managed to waste the talents of some of the best actors of my generation.  When you’ve got performers like Shailene Woodley and Miles Teller at your disposal, there’s no excuse not to be interesting.

I watched Allegiant with my BFF Evelyn and I’ll admit right now that we talked throughout the entire movie.  We laughed at the most serious of moments.  When Jeff Daniels showed up, we had a very long discussion about how, when he’s good, Jeff Daniels is really good but when he’s bad, he manages to come across as being the most boring man on the planet.  When Miles Teller betrayed his allies, Evelyn said, “Again!?” and then she had to remind me that Miles Teller always ends up betraying everyone in every Divergent film.

(It makes you wonder why the Tris (played by Shailene Woodley) and Four (Theo James) always bring Miles Teller with them as opposed to just killing him.  I suppose some of it might have to do with the fact that he’s Miles Teller and he’s a badass.  In fact, he probably should be playing Four.  He certainly has more chemistry with Shailene Woodley than Theo James does.  In fact, Theo James always looks like he’d rather be doing anything other than appearing in another goddamn Divergent film.)

And yes, Evelyn and I did get a few dirty looks from some people in the audience but you know what?  I fully understand that it’s rude to talk through a movie but oh my God, we had to do something.  Allegiant is such a boring movie.  The film moves slowly, as if the filmmakers don’t understand that everyone in the audience has seen enough YA adaptations to already know everything that’s going to happen.  If you want to truly understand what film critics mean when they say that a film is “draggy,” try to watch an entire Divergent film without standing up to stretch your legs or get something to drink.  Perhaps the biggest mistake you can make while watching Allegiant is to actually concentrate on what’s slowly playing out on screen.

The Divergent films aren’t terribly complicated and yet, I always find myself struggling to follow them.  They’re so bland and forgettable that I can never remember what happened in the previous film.  As Allegiant started, I was like, “Why is Naomi Watts in charge of Chicago now?  Oh yeah, Kate Winslet did die at the end of the last movie!”  And then I remembered that Evelyn was Four’s mother.

And then my BFF Evelyn (as opposed to the film’s Evelyn) said, “Four is a stupid name,” and I started laughing way too hard.  In fact, we made many jokes about Four’s nickname and then eventually, I remembered that he was called Four because he only has four fears.  But it took me a while to remember and, once I did remember, I couldn’t help but think about how stupid a backstory that was.

Anyway, the plot of the film is that the movie’s Evelyn is now in charge of Chicago but she’s turning out to be just as bad as the system that she’s replacing.  So, Tris, Four, and friends escape from Chicago and explore the barren landscape that surrounds the city.  Eventually, they are found by the Bureau of Genetic Welfare.  The Bureau is headed up by a boring guy named David (Jeff Daniels).  At first, David seems to be a good guy but then it turns out that the Bureau was behind the whole Faction experiment.  And now the Bureau wants to attack Chicago, wipe the slate clean, and start the experiment all over again.

Will Four and Tris go along with David’s plan or will they try to stop him?

At this point, who cares?

The thing that’s annoying about the Divergent films is that the storyline has potential.  At the heart of it all, the battle between the Factions and the Factionless has the potential to be a powerful, if simplistic, metaphor.  But the films are so plodding and take such an obvious approach that most of that potential is wasted.  Add to that, Shailene Woodley is a great actress.  In fact, I think it can be argued that she actually has more range than Jennifer Lawrence.  (Just check out her performance in The Spectacular Now.)  But the franchise has never known what to do with her uniquely off-center style.  Instead, it simply gives her speeches that feel as if they’ve been lifted from every other dystopian YA franchise.  The films insist on trying to make Shailene Woodley predictable and she deserves better on that.

As is typical of big franchise films nowadays, Allegiant is just part one of the Divergent finale and even the “to be continued” ending feels annoying because it’s so obviously lifted from every other franchise finale that’s ever been produced.  As with all the Divergent films, Allegiant never escapes the shadow of The Hunger Games.  The best that can be said about this franchise is that it will be over soon.  Hopefully, Shailene Woodley will be able to move onto a film more worthy of her considerable talents.

Playing Catch-Up With 6 Film Reviews: Avengers Grimm, Bad Asses On The Bayou, Hayride 2, Insurgent, Poltergeist, Tomorrowland


Here are 6 films that I saw during the first half of 2015.  Some of them are on Netflix and some of them were major studio releases.  Some of them are worth seeing.  Some of them most definitely are not.

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Avengers Grimm (dir by Jeremy M. Inman)

Obviously made to capitalize on the popularity of Avengers: Age of UltronAvengers Grimm opens with a war in the world of fairy tales.  Evil Rumpelstiltskin (Casper Van Dien) uses Snow White’s (Laura Parkinson) magic mirror to cross over into our world and he takes Snow White with him!  It’s now up to Cinderella (Milynn Sharley), Sleeping Beauty (Marah Fairclough), and Rapunzel (Rileah Vanderbilt) to cross over into our world, save Snow White, and defeat Rumpelstiltskin.  Also sneaking over is rebellious Red Riding Hood (Elizabeth Petersen) who is determined to kill Rumpelstiltskin’s henchman, The Wolf (Kimo Leopoldo).  

Got all that?

Avengers Grimm is another enjoyably insane mockbuster from The Asylum.  The budget’s low, the performances are intentionally melodramatic, and it’s all lot of fun.  Casper Van Dien has a lot of fun playing evil, the women all get to kick ass, and Lou Ferrigno is well-cast as a labor leader named Iron John.

Avengers Grimm is currently available on Netflix.

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Bad Asses On The Bayou (dir by Craig Moss)

Apparently, this is the third film in which Danny Trejo and Danny Glover have respectively played Frank Vega and Bernie Pope, two old guys who kick ass in between worrying about their prostates.  I haven’t seen the previous two Bad Asses films but I imagine that it really doesn’t matter.

In this film, Trejo and Glover go to Louisiana to attend a friend’s wedding.  When she’s kidnapped, they have to rescue her and impart some important life lessons to her younger brother.  It’s all pretty predictable but then again, it’s also pretty good for a film called Bad Asses On The Bayou.  This is a film that promises two things: Danny Trejo kicking ass and lots of bayou action.  And it delivers on both counts.

In fact, I would say that Bad Asses On The Bayou is a better showcase for Danny Trejo’s unique style than the better known Machete films.  Danny Trejo is a surprisingly adept comedic actor and he gives a performance here that shows his talent goes beyond mere physical presence.

Bad Asses On The Bayou is currently available on Netflix.

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Hayride 2 (dir by Terron R. Parsons)

I should admit up front that I haven’t seen the first Hayride film.  Luckily, Hayride 2 picks up directly from the end of the first film and is filled with so many flashbacks and so much conversation about what happened that it probably doesn’t matter.

Essentially, Pitchfork (Wayne Dean) is a murderous urban legend who turns out to be real.  He killed a lot of people in the first film and he stalks those that escaped throughout the 2nd film.  Like all good slasher villains, Pitchfork is a relentless killer.  He’s also an unrepentant racist, which leads to a genuinely unpleasant scene where he attacks a black detective (Corlandos Scott).  Say whatever else you will about the film, Hayride 2 deserves some credit for being on the side of the victims.  No attempt is made to turn Pitchfork into an anti-hero and the movie is relentlessly grim.

Hayride 2 is an odd film.  The film’s low-budget is obvious in every single scene.  The pacing is abysmal and the performances are amateurish.  And yet, when taken on its own meager terms, it has a dream-like intensity to it that I appreciated.  Then again, I always have had a weakness for low-budget, regional horror films.

Hayride 2 is available on Netflix.

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Insurgent (dir by Robert Schwentke)

Insurgent is both the sequel to Divergent and was also 2015’s first YA dystopia film.  Shailene Woodley is as good as ever and I guess it’s good that she has a commercially successful franchise, which will hopefully inspire audiences to track down better Shailene Woodley films like The Spectacular Now.  

All that said, Insurgent often felt even more pointless than Divergent.  For a two-hour film featuring performers like Woodley, Kate Winslet, Octavia Spencer, Ansel Elgort, and Miles Teller, Insurgent has no excuse for being as forgettable and boring as it actually was.  The next installment in The Hunger Games can not get here soon enough.

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Poltergeist (dir by Gil Kenan)

When a family (led by Sam Rockwell and Rosemarie DeWitt) move into a new house, they discover that everything is not what it seems.  For one thing, they come across a bunch of creepy clown dolls.  They also hear a lot of scary sounds.  They discover that the house was built on an old cemetery.  Their youngest daughter vanishes.  And finally, someone says, “Isn’t this like that old movie that was on TCM last night?”

Okay, they don’t actually say that.  However, as everyone knows, the 2015 Poltergeist is a remake of the 1982 Poltergeist.  Since the 1982 Poltergeist still holds up fairly well, the 2015 Poltergeist feels incredibly unnecessary.  It has a few good jump scenes and it’s always good to see Sam Rockwell and Rosemarie DeWitt in lead roles but ultimately, who cares?  It’s just all so pointless.

Watch the wall-dancing original.  Ignore the remake.

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Tomorrowland (dir by Brad Bird)

Welcome to the world of tomorrow!  Wow, is it ever boring!

Actually, I feel a little bit bad about just how much I disliked Tomorrowland because this is a film that really did have the best intentions.  Watching the film, you get the sinking feeling that the people involved actually did think that they were going to make the world a better place.  Unfortunately, their idea of a better world is boring and almost oppressively optimistic.  There is no room for cynicism in Tomorrowland.  Bleh.  What fun is that?

Anyway, the film basically steals its general idea from the Atlas Shrugged trilogy.  Tomorrowland is a secret place that is inhabited by inventors, dreamers, and iconoclasts.  Years ago, Frank (George Clooney) was banished from Tomorrowland because, after learning that the Earth was destined to end, he lost “hope” in mankind’s future.  Fortunately, he meets Casey (Britt Robertson), who is full of hope and through her, he gets to return.  They also get a chance to save the world and battle a cartoonish super villain played by Hugh Laurie.  (Why is he a villain?  Because he’s played by Hugh Laurie, of course!)

After all the hype and build-up, Tomorrowland turned out to be dull and predictable.  What a shame.  The Atlas Shrugged trilogy was at least fun because it annoyed the hipsters at the AV Club.  Tomorrowland is just forgettable.

Embracing the Melodrama Part II #108: The Brave One (dir by Neil Jordan)


Brave_one_2007For our next entry in Embracing the Melodrama Part II, we take a look at Jodie Foster in the 2007 film The Brave One.  And…

Well, how to put this delicately?

I hate hate hate hate HATE this movie, with every last fiber of my being.  I hated it the first time that I saw it and I hated it when I recently rewatched it and right now, I’m hating the fact that I even decided to review this damn film because it means that I’m going to have to think about it.  I’m going to try to get this review over with quickly because, with each minute that I think about this film, I doubt my commitment to cinema.  That’s how much I hate this movie.  If I’m not careful, I’m going to end up joining a nunnery before I finish this review…

So, in The Brave One, Jodie Foster plays Erica Bain.  Erica lives in New York and hosts one of those pretentious late night radio shows that are always popular in movies like this but which, in real life, nobody in their right mind would waste a second listening to.  Erica spends her time musing about life in the big city and hoping that we can all just love one another and expressing a lot of other thoughts that sound like they’ve been stolen from an automated twitter account.

Erica also has a boyfriend.  His name is David and he’s played by Naveen Andrews.  That means that he looks good and he has a sexy accent and when he first shows up, you hope that he’ll stick around for a while because otherwise, you’re going to have to listen to move of Erica’s radio monologues.  But nope — one night, while walking through Central Park, David and Erica are attacked.  David is killed.  Erica is raped.  And their dog is taken by the gang!

(And the film doesn’t seem to know which it thinks is worse…)

When Erica gets out of the hospital, she is, at first, terrified to leave her apartment.  Or, at least, she’s terrified to leave her apartment for about five minutes.  But then she does find the courage to go outside and, of course, the first thing she does is buy a gun.  At first, she’s buying the gun for her own state of mind but, almost immediately after purchasing her firearms, she happens to stumble across a convenience store robbery.

Bang!  Bang!  Erica’s a vigilante now!

But, of course, she’s not really sure if that’s what she wants to be.  Even though she eventually ends up sitting on a subway and waiting for a guy to approach her so she can shoot him, Erica is still never really that comfortable with the idea of seeking vengeance.  And this is why I hated The Brave One.  The film is so damned wishy washy about Erica’s motivations.  Instead of allowing Erica to get any sort of satisfaction or emotional fulfillment out of her actions, The Brave One has her constantly doubting whether or not violence is the answer.  And don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that violence is the answer.  But if you’re going to make a film about a female vigilante who is out looking for vengeance, why don’t you at least allow her to get some sort of empowerment out of her actions?  That doesn’t mean that the film itself can’t be ambiguous about what she’s doing.  But by having Erica constantly questioning her actions, it makes her into a weak character and it lets the men who raped her and the ones who subsequently threaten to do the same off the hook.  It allows them to be seen as victims, as opposed to products of a society where men are raised to believe that women will never fight back.

There’s a far superior New York-set film that has almost the same plot as The Brave One.  The title of that film was Ms. 45.  It was made for a hundred times less money than The Brave One and, at the same time, it was and remains a hundred times better.  (I previously wrote about Ms. 45 and The Brave One in my essay, Too Sordid To Ever Be Corrupted.)

The difference between the two films can be summed up by the film’s tag lines.  The Brave One was advertised with, “How many wrongs to make it right?”  Ms. 45 was advertised with: “She was abused and violated … IT WILL NEVER HAPPEN AGAIN!”   Ms. 45 features a vigilante who never doubts her actions and, as a result, she becomes a symbol not of violence but of empowerment.  Meanwhile, Jodie Foster is so constantly wracked with guilt and doubt that the film almost seems to be criticizing her for not staying in her apartment and trusting the police (represented by Terrence Howard and Nicky Katt) to do their job.

Oh!  And, of course, at the end of the film, Erica gets her dog back.  Because nobody ever permanently loses their dog in a big budget studio film…

And really, that’s why The Brave One is such a failure.  It takes a subject that was tailor-made for the grindhouse and attempts to give it the slick and self-important studio approach.  And part of that approach is that no one can be offended.  This is a film that both wants to celebrate and condemn at the same time.

And that’s why I say, “Give me Ms. 45!”

At least that movie knows what it wants to say…

Film Review: Good Kill (dir by Andrew Niccol)


Good_Kill_poster

Good Kill is an angry film that is somewhat grounded by a strong lead performance from Ethan Hawke.  Hawke was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in Boyhood and … well, he probably won’t be nominated for anything for Good Kill.  The film’s coming out too early in the year and it’s not really a crowd-pleasing Oscar movie.  It’s too angry and polemical but still, Ethan Hawke gives an excellent performance.

Hawke plays Thomas Egan, an air force pilot who, after serving 6 tours in Afghanistan, is reassigned to pilot drones from a base in Las Vegas.  For 12 hours a day, Egan sits in a cramped room where he and three other pilots spend their time staring at video monitors and observing people going about their lives on the other side of the world.  Occasionally, a phone rings and they are given orders by a never seen CIA supervisor.  All Egan has to do is push a button and, in just ten seconds, he can blow up a stranger 7,000 miles away.

Of course, it’s not just the targets who get blown up.  Anyone unlucky enough to be standing nearby ends up getting blown up as well, which is something that Egan’s commanding officer (Bruce Greenwood) insists is a regretful but acceptable consequence of fighting the War of Terror.  Except, of course, nobody’s quite sure that they’re actually blowing up terrorists.  Instead, often times, it’s a matter of guesswork.  People are blown up because they could be terrorists, not because they definitely are.

While most of the members of Egan’s unit are unconcerned about the ethics or the legalities of drone warfare, Vera Suarez (Zoe Kravitz) is an exception.  She worries that they’re just creating more terrorists.  (And yet, interestingly enough, she still follows orders whenever she’s told to blow someone up.)  Egan is troubled by the implications of what he’s doing but, for the most part, he keeps his feelings to himself.

From the beginning, the tightly wound Egan struggles with the pressure of being a drone pilot.  After spending half of the day killing strangers who may or may not be terrorists, Egan finds it difficult to spend the rest of the day with his wife (January Jones) and his children.  Slowly but surely, cracks start to appear on Egan’s facade.  He starts drinking.  He drives recklessly.  He yells at his family.  He grows paranoid about the neighbors.  When a cop asks him how the War on Terror is going, Egan smirks and replies that it’s going as well as the War on Drugs…

Even though I agreed, for the most part, with everything that the film had to say, I still found it to be incredibly heavy-handed.  There is something to be said for subtlety and Good Kill is definitely not a subtle movie.  Rabidly anti-military audiences will enjoy having their own prejudices confirmed but, with everyone other than Egan and Vera being portrayed as being bloodthirsty and ignorant, you can be sure that this film won’t change any minds.  Politically, this a political film that’s not going to make a bit of difference.

At the same time, there is an interesting subtext running through the film.  During the 12 hours that Egan spends in that room, he essentially ceases to be a human being and becomes an extension of that drone.  Both literally and figuratively, he becomes a part of the war machine.  Just imagine if a director like David Cronenberg had handled this material.  Director Anrew Niccol briefly touches on the Cronenbergian aspects of the story but, in the end, he gets too bogged down in all of the speeches.

The problem with political films like Good Kill is that they often feel very artificial and that’s why you’re thankful for Ethan Hawke’s performance.  Hawke gives a performance of such raw power that he cuts through all of the polemical bullshit.  The film is nearly smothered under the director’s heavy hand but Hawke breathes it back to life.  Hawke’s performance brings much needed authenticity to Good Kill and, as a result, he elevates the entire film.

Quick Review: Mad Max – Fury Road (dir. by George Miller)


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When Mad Max: Fury Road was first announced, I was skeptical. We saw what happened when a director returns to a franchise they excelled at. Neither Ridley Scott’s Prometheus nor Lucas’ work on the Star Wars prequels were as amazing as the originals. Fury Road may be the exception to that rule, at least when compared to The Road Warrior and Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome. The visuals are bright and colorful, with chase sequences that left me smiling through it all. The 3D adds a nice touch, particularly in the chases (without giving too much away), the movie feels as if it was built for a 3D showing. I’m not sure how it comes across in a regular format.

Without looking at those films, Fury Road hits the ground running (almost literally) and continues to do so for most of the film. While the title of the film belongs to Tom Hardy’s character, Max takes something of a back seat to Charlize Theron’s Furiosa, who is the true heroine here. Max is the character that introduces the audience to the Wasteland, a world left barren after war and where Gas, Water & Blood are the richest commodities around. While I liked Hardy in this, I had the feeling that they could have put anyone in the role of Max and it wouldn’t have made much of a difference.
Furiosa is the one that carries the bulk of the story.

Fury Road’s plot is simple & thin, but given that it all takes place in a Wasteland made mostly of desert, it worked out okay for me. I wasnt expecting a whole lot on the story front, but was happily surprised with it. Imperator Furiosa is sent out with a crew for a Gas run, but decides to follow her own agenda, putting into motion the pursuit from the Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) and one of gis up and comimg lackeys, Nux (Nicholas Hoult).

From a pacing standpoint, Fury Road shifts it’s gears often while managing to still keep the engine purring. Some of the chases are chaotic, with cars flipping through the air and wanton destruction all over the place. You even have cycles riding over dunes and speeding through salt flats. However, it never reaches a point where you can’t see what’s occurring. The film has just one moment that I thought was slower than it should be halfway in, but it also serves to set up the 2nd act. The movie is mostly one big truck chase, but it’s done incredibly well. If you’re looking for something incredibly deep, this might not be the film you’re looking for, though the movie does try it’s best to accommodate with the script.

Another standout is the music. I’m used to hearing Tom Holkenborg (a.k.a. Junkie XL) as the remix track maker for most of Hans Zimmer’s scores. With Fury Road, Holkenborg has a number of pulsing drum rhythms and guitar pieces that fuel the chases. While it may sound a little like his work on 300:Rise of an Empire, the music fits. Note that I if you’re looking to buy the score, there’s a deluxe version with extended tracks, perfect background music for motorcycle rides on your favorite highway.

Fury Road is rated R, though I’ll admit that it wasn’t as violent as I expected it to be. It can get bloody at times, but the film never becomes a gore fest or anything along those lines. As far as nudity is concerned, there are only two instances of this and both are related to the story. In my showing, we had full families, but there didn’t seem to be any kind of reaction (as far as I can tell).

So far, we’re on track for an interesting summer.

What a Lovely Day To Be Mad Max: Fury Road


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We have the first official trailer (not teaser which the others last year had been) for the upcoming vehicular masterpiece mayhem from the mind of George Miller. It’s been a couple of decades since Miller played in the post-apocalyptic world of one Max Rockatansky.

A special teaser trailer was released during last year’s Comic-Con in San Diego and it was universally-hailed as mind-blowing and melt-your-face in it’s awesomeness.

Today we get the first official trailer and, most likely, the only one since the film is nearing it’s release date. So, watch and try not to melt your face as you stare into the mayhem before you.

Mad Max: Fury Road is set for a May 15, 2015 release date.

Mad Max: Fury Road Official Teaser Trailer


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What a lovely day, indeed.

At this year’s Hall H over at Comc-Con this past summer a trailer was shown that figuratively blew off the roof at the convention. It was the trailer for all the upcoming films for 2015 and beyond that everyone ended up geeking up over. It wasn’t the sizzle reel for the upcoming Age of Ultron (though it seems that was a close second). It wasn’t the brief tease of Batman v. Superman (though from people I know who went the teaser went a long way in removing doubts about the film).

No, the film the trailer was all about was George Miller’s return to his post-apocalyptic world inhabited by one of the original badasses of the 1980’s: Max Rockatansky aka Mad Max.

Yes, we are going to have sandwiched between Avengers: Age of Ultron and Star Wars: The Force Awakens a new Mad Max film (4th in the series) with Tom Hardy in the title role. The title to this latest entry in the series will be Mad Max: Fury Road.

The Comic-Con teaser for Fury Road whetted the appetite and this latest teaser trailer released by Warner Brothers today will just feed the thirst for post-apocalyptic vehicle mayhem.

Mad Max: Fury Road will be set for a May 15, 2015 release.

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.

X-Men: First Class (2nd Official Trailer)


Today we saw the release of the second official trailer for the upcoming X-Men prequel/reboot helmed by British director Matthew Vaughn.

X-Men: First Class looks to show the early days when Professor X and Magneto were still friends and allies instead of the adversarial relationship they had in the first three films in the franchise. This new trailer shows more of the characters who will be involved in this film. It also shows the mutants and their powers in action. I must admit that I wasn’t too thrilled with the previous trailers shown about this film, but this latest shows more action and finally reveals it’s summer blockbuster pedigree. The sequence with Magneto lifting the submarine out of the water was really cool.

It’s still not the superhero film this summer that tops my must-see list, but this trailer has put this film in the running as one of the films I must-see.

X-Men: First Class is still slated to have a June 3, 2011 release.