Film Review: X-Men: First Class (2011)

Release Date: May 25th, 2011 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Matthew Vaughn
Written by: Ashley Edward Miller, Zack Stentz, Jane Goldman, Matthew Vaughn, Sheldon Turner, Bryan Singer
Based on: X-Men by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby
Music by: Henry Jackman
Cast: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Rose Byrne, January Jones, Oliver Plat, Kevin Bacon, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Jason Flemyng, Lucas Till, Edi Gathegi, Caleb Landry Jones, Zoe Kravitz, Michael Ironside, Ray Wise, James Remar, Hugh Jackman (cameo)

Marvel Entertainment, Dune Entertainment, The Donners’ Company, Bad Hat Harry Productions, Ingenious Film Partners, Twentieth Century Fox, 131 Minutes

Review:

“I can’t stop thinking about the others out there, all those minds that I touched. I could feel them, their isolation, their hopes, their ambitions. I tell you we can start something incredible, Erik. We can help them.” – Professor Charles Xavier

While I haven’t seen this picture since it was in the theater, it left a great impression on me and gave me hope for the future of the X-Men franchise in film. Granted, we’d get two pretty good movies and two mostly poopy ones, but the weak whimpering farts of the second half of the prequel series of films didn’t take away my satisfaction with this one and its followup, Days of Future Past.

It was nice to revisit this, all these years later, as it holds up fairly well, even if I’m not as optimistic about the franchise now.

To start, this was much better than the last of the first run of films, X-Men: The Last Stand. That movie left such a bad taste in my mouth that anything better would have made me happy. Luckily, this was a lot better but I think that my original impression was a bit over-inflated due to the precedent set before it.

That’s not to say that this isn’t solid, it is. This is, in fact, a damn good superhero film and one of the best in the schizophrenic X-Men series.

What really sets this one on a pedestal is that the story was pretty good and the acting, at least from the core actors, was convincing and impressive. I didn’t know much about Michael Fassbender, before this, and I wasn’t yet sold on James McAvoy, but this picture cemented both men as two of my favorites over the last decade.

On the flip side of that, you also had some really weak performances from January Jones, who felt out of place and awkward, as well as the younger actors in the cast. A few of them would become better actors over time but they all mostly felt green, here.

I did like the inclusion of Kevin Bacon and Oliver Platt in this, as well as character actors Michael Ironside, James Remar and Ray Wise. While the character actors had small roles, they added an extra level of legitimacy and coolness to the picture.

I loved that this took place in the ’60s, tied to the Cuban Missile Crisis and also went back into Nazi Germany to establish the relationship between Magneto and Sebastian Shaw. The general look and aesthetic of the film were really good and it actually fits with the previous X-Men films, despite those being set over thirty years later. One thing Fox did well, while they managed the X-Men movie franchise, was that they kept everything sort of visually consistent.

My only real gripe about the film is that there isn’t enough emphasis on the actual “first class” of students, which this film is named after. They all felt generic and disposable, cast to play archetypes and nothing more. Sure, some of them are major comic book characters but they didn’t feel that way in this movie.

Overall, this was a good, fresh, soft reboot of the series. It eventually ties to the older films and the series becomes an even bigger continuity clusterfuck but at least this generation of the franchise started out on the right foot.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: the other Fox X-Men films.

Film Review: X-Men: Apocalypse (2016)

Release Date: May 9th, 2016 (London premiere)
Directed by: Bryan Singer
Written by: Simon Kinberg, Bryan Singer, Michael Dougherty, Dan Harris
Based on: X-Men by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby
Music by: John Ottman
Cast: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Oscar Isaac, Nicholas Hoult, Rose Byrne, Tye Sheridan, Sophie Turner, Olivia Munn, Lucas Till, Hugh Jackman (cameo), Caleb Landry Jones (archive footage)

Marvel Entertainment, TSG Entertainment, Bad Hat Harry Productions, Kinberg Genre, The Donners’ Company, 20th Century Fox, 144 Minutes

Review:

“[sends the world’s nuclear weapons into space] Always the same, and now all this. No more stones. No more spears. No more slings. No more swords. No more weapons! No more systems! No more! No more superpowers… So much faith in their tools, in their machines. You can fire your arrows from the Tower of Babel, but you can never strike god!” – Apocalypse

At this point, the X-Men films don’t give a crap about continuity and I don’t care that Days of Future Past was used to try and fix that. Fox still dismisses a lot of what’s happened and just does what works well for each movie as a standalone picture. Because you can’t have Angel appear as a late teen in a 2006 movie and then have him in his twenties in 1983, regardless of whatever Doctor Who timey wimey shenanigans you try to pull. But truthfully, I don’t care at this point. I sort of just see each film as its own reality where each movie just shares some similarities. Sorry, I’ve got to make it make sense for my brain or I have to just dismiss the absurdity of it.

That being said, I don’t hate this chapter in the X-Men movie franchise. In fact, I liked it quite a bit in spite of its flaws, continuity hiccups and the underwhelming way that they presented Apocalypse.

What made this film work for me was the evolution of Magneto, who is the best character in these films and who seems to be handled with great care. I don’t care so much about all the teens and the constant influx of new characters every time I blink my eyes. It’s the core characters that matter in these movies. That being said, I think McAvoy’s Charles Xavier is damn good too.

When I first saw this film in theaters, my initial reaction was worse than it is now. Having time to digest and reflect on Apocalypse, it really isn’t as bad of a movie as I thought it was at first glance. It is the weakest of the newer generation of pictures but it is certainly better than 2000’s X-Men and 2006’s X-Men: The Last Stand. Don’t even get me started on X-Men Origins: Wolverine, as I find it less enjoyable than a piranha enema.

The plot in this is a bit rushed and shaky. Apocalypse, one of the most powerful forces in the entirety of the Marvel Universe just shows up, learns all about human history by touching a TV and starts taking over the Earth and brainwashing other mutants to be his “Four Horsemen”. It was interesting that Oscar Issac played Apocalypse because it wouldn’t have really mattered who played him, as he was just a dry, one note tyrant. Frankly, he should have been the X-Men‘s version of Thanos, at least in their movie universe.

The sequence with Wolverine is, by far, the high point of the movie. Hugh Jackman only shows up for about ten minutes but it is some of the best Wolverine action ever put to celluloid. Granted, Hollywood is allergic to celluloid now.

This is an epic film but it doesn’t feel as grandiose as its predecessor. It isn’t as good as its predecessor either and I think that is why I was disappointed with it initially. But the main players in the cast add more to their stories in a good way and ultimately, this enriched the modern X-Men movie universe.

I can’t say that I’m excited about the upcoming X-Men: Dark Phoenix movie but I’ll still see it because these films still have more positives than negatives. But really, it’s just time for the X-Men movies to get a much needed reboot and join the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: The current crop of X-Men movies since James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender took over the lead roles. Also, the last two Wolverine pictures.

Film Review: The ‘Star Wars’ Prequel Trilogy (1999-2005)

*Written in 2015.

I haven’t watched these films in a few years. I catch glimpses of them from time to time as I am flipping through channels on cable but it has been at least five years since I’ve sat down and watched this trilogy in its entirety.

It is universally agreed upon that this trilogy was not on par with the original trilogy and many people have griped about these three films for well over a decade now. I knew they weren’t as good but I used to try and defend them, as I could look passed their faults because at least they were new Star Wars movies.

Having had a lot of time away from this series and being less enthusiastic than I probably should be about the upcoming Disney films, I can no longer defend the prequels in good conscience. They are what essentially killed the Star Wars magic inside of me, even if I didn’t want to see it at the time.

But let me address each one individually.

Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999):

Release Date: May 25th, 1999
Directed by: George Lucas
Written by: George Lucas
Music by: John Williams
Cast: Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Jake Lloyd, Ian McDiarmid, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Pernilla August, Frank Oz, Samuel L. Jackson, Ahmed Best, Ray Park, Terence Stamp, Keira Knightley, Peter Serafinowicz, Sofia Coppola, Warwick Davis

Lucasfilm Ltd., 20th Century Fox, 133 Minutes

Review:

“I have a bad feeling about this.” – Obi-Wan Kenobi

The Phantom Menace is a bad film, plain and simple.

There are only a few good things even worth mentioning as positives.

To start, Liam Neeson and Ewan McGregor were great as Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi. Also, Darth Maul is the most bad ass looking Sith of all-time. Unfortunately, Darth Maul has little screen time and meets his demise before this film is over and Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan have to share most of their scenes with any combination of the characters Jar Jar Binks, Anakin Skywalker and Padmé Amidala. All three of those characters, in this film and really all of the films, were mostly unbearable.

This installment into the Star Wars mega franchise was too full of political nonsense and pointless babble about stuff no one cares about. Sure, we’d like to know how the Galactic Empire came to be and how the Sith rose to power and conquered the Jedi but we didn’t need endless diatribes about details no one even remotely wanted to follow.

Also, take into account what this franchise was before this movie. You have now replaced terrifying and cool Storm Troopers with anorexic and bumbling Battle Droids. You replaced Rebel soldiers with thousands of Jar Jars and armed them with bubbles. You replaced X-wing Starfighters and TIE Fighters with awfully designed Naboo Starfighters and Vulture Droids. You replaced desolate and wild worlds with the Singapore Botanical Gardens. Everything about this film was wrong: in tone, in characters, in design, in total execution.

It was corny, cheesy, way too child friendly and full of more annoyances than things that are actually cool.

Fuck pod racing. Fuck midichlorians.

There really is nothing I like about this film other than the few things mentioned around paragraph two. And even then, they certainly aren’t enough to save this movie.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: This specific Star Wars trilogy of films.

Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones (2002):

Release Date: May 12th, 2002 (Tribeca)
Directed by: George Lucas
Written by: George Lucas, Jonathan Hales
Music by: John Williams
Cast: Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Hayden Christensen, Ian McDiarmid, Samuel L. Jackson, Christopher Lee, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Frank Oz, Jimmy Smits, Temuera Morrison, Joel Edgerton, Rose Byrne, Ahmed Best, Pernilla August, Liam Neeson

Lucasfilm Ltd., 20th Century Fox, 142 Minutes

Review:

“I’ve got a bad feeling about this.” – Anakin Skywalker

Attack of the Clones may be even worse than The Phantom Menace.

This film offers up a lot of the same as the previous. Luckily though, Jar Jar Binks has pretty limited screen time, as the backlash of that character was tremendous. In fact, I’ll be shocked if future Star Wars films even remotely show a Gungan.

The cool thing about this film is the inclusion of Jango Fett and the origin of his son, the uber popular and awesome Boba Fett. Also, Christoper Lee, one of my three favorite actors of all-time, shows up as the Sith Lord, Count Dooku.

This film should have been awesome. Well, for the first time ever, we get to see what happens when an army of Jedi fights together. While it was visually cool to see a bunch of Jedi light up a few dozen lightsabers, it happened against Battle Droids. You know, those clumsy metal comedians that the idiotic Gungans beat in the previous film. Somehow, now, they present a challenge to the best Jedi in the galaxy. Am I missing something here?

Also, one thing that has always bothered me about the Star Wars films was the ambiguous travel times. Never is it as much of a continuity problem, as it is here.

Look at the timeline of people traveling to Geonosis. Yoda shows up five minutes after Mace Windu, even though they both left Coruscant at the same time and Yoda had to make a pit stop at Kamino to pick up the Clone Army. Anakin and Padmé got there not too long before Windu because they knew Windu would not make it in time to stop Kenobi’s execution. However, Windu walks up just as the attempt at execution is going down. And Windu was walking casually slow. Had he tried not to look so cool, he could’ve probably beat the clock for sure.

This movie is a mess. Hayden Christensen and Natalie Portman’s acting during the Anakin and Padmé romance scenes was beyond painful to watch.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: This specific Star Wars trilogy of films.

Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith (2005):

Release Date: May 15th, 2005 (Cannes)
Directed by: George Lucas
Written by: George Lucas
Music by: John Williams
Cast: Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Hayden Christensen, Ian McDiarmid, Samuel L. Jackson, Christopher Lee, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Frank Oz, Jimmy Smits, Peter Mayhew, Ahmed Best, Temuera Morrison, Joel Edgerton, Bruce Spence, Keisha Castle-Hughes, James Earl Jones, Bai Ling (scenes cut)

Lucasfilm Ltd., 20th Century Fox, 140 Minutes

Review:

“Oh, I have a bad feeling about this.” – Obi-Wan Kenobi

The third and final movie in the prequel trilogy is the best of the three. However, it still isn’t very good by Star Wars standards.

In this one, we see Anakin’s destiny reach full climax as, by film’s end, he becomes the iconic Darth Vader. Of course, the path to full Vaderdom is just more of the same bullshit that we’ve had to endure over multiple films now. And Hayden Christensen continues to give a wooden performance accented by Natalie Portman, who doesn’t even want to be there and Ewan McGregor, who is trying to be passionate with the shitty lines George Lucas gave him to speak.

This film solidifies just how stupid the Jedi Council is or just how bad of a writer that George Lucas is. Why are only two Jedi sent to rescue the Supreme Chancellor who is held hostage over Coruscant, the capital of the galaxy? I mean, there is a Jedi Temple full of Jedi below, even if many are off fighting on other planets. And why did Yoda and Obi-Wan not tag team Palpatine and then Anakin? And somehow, Yoda and Obi-Wan fought their battles at the same time, even though they took off for them simultaneously but one was down the street and the other was on the other side of the galaxy. Again, ambiguous travel times.

Count Dooku dies too early. General Grievous is a dumb villain and it is clear that instead of having long lasting iconic bad guys like Darth Vader, Lucas would rather give us Maul then Dooku then Grievous in an effort to sell more toys. Sacrifice the story, sell more shit.

Fuck this movie too.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: This specific Star Wars trilogy of films.